Wednesday, November 28, 2012

d4 Thieves can suck it

Can you spot the incompetent weakling?  The eyeliner should be a dead giveaway.
During my brief tenure in Holmesian D&D no one ever played a thief; partly because we thought they were bad guys and we all still wanted to be good guys at that point, partly because--shamefully--we had no idea how to roll percentile dice and, thus, could not figure out how to determine the success of thief abilities.  No, my first encounter with the thief class didn't happen until months later, after I had read The Hobbit and started playing D&D of the A variety.  As such, in my experience, thieves have always, always, always drawn their hit points from six-sided dice.  To this day, when I see these B/X retroblasters with d4 hitpointed thieves it makes me double over in agonizing cognitive dissonance.

Even if I accept that a lot of gamerfolk prefer Moldvanian D&D over all other forms, I still can't, in my mind, justify d4 thieves.  What exactly did they do to deserve such shoddy hit points?  They're only slightly better off than MUs in the armor category, with whom they share  hit dice, and yet they lack their magical potency.  Clerics, meanwhile, get better Hit dice, but also get to use bitchin' armor and spells along with combat acumen near to that of fighters.  The payoff for thieves is, ostensibly, a bunch of reusable abilities, but their chance of success with these is pretty atrocious.  And if you abide by Moldvay's overly stringent rule that, in the event of a failed "move silently" roll, the thief will be the only person in the vicinity who can't hear himself blunder across the dungeon floor, then you've got an absurdly impotent character class.  Why saddle them with such horrid hitpoints?  Why?


strangebrew said...

I think that the rationale is that the thief requires significantly less experience than the other classes, especially compared to their d4 peers the magic-users. So they reach 2nd level quicker, then getting 2d4, which puts them at a slight advantage over 1d8 fighters for a little while, and they generally seem to be a level ahead of the rest as progress continues.

So when it's played out it's really not so bad. Not great, but not so bad.

Timrod said...

Base hit dice on level advancement? You may be right, but it seems a backward way to create a character class.

Anonymous said...

XP for sure. Thieves get a level up on everyone almost immediately and stay there, with some classes even further behind (though Clerics have a favourable progression at higher levels, and catch up to Thieves at 11th).

Though there might be some element of using low HP to incentivize Thiefly beahviour.

ClawCarver said...

I love B/X, but I tend to agree with you that thieves are unnecessarily weak. The campaign I'm intermittently working on will be cleric-less, so I'm thinking of giving thieves clerical XP progression (1,500, etc.) and d6 hp per level, just like LotFP specialists.

Erin Smale said...

I hear you on the d4, but come with me on a little thought journey:

IMC, thieves are basically 3rd-rate adventurers - more capable than a Normal Man, but not as heroic as the lofty cleric, fighter, or MU. They're the peasant emo kids who suck at fighting, sneer at religion, and aren't patient enough try magic.

So they hone the easy-weasel skills: sneaking, shoplifting, cowardly backstabbing, climbing walls to flee the cops, and solving Rubik's Cube (aka find/remove traps) to make them look expert at *something*.

Being just a *hair* above the average schmuck, they gain levels rapidly, still suck at fighting, and the only way they can cast a spell is by faking their way through a scroll. Oh, and they only get d4 hit points.

Timrod said...

Hey Smales, long time.

Your little thought excursion is an excellent illustration of why a particular thief might have low hit points, but is, to me, an unconvincing illustration of why every thief should look like that.

Just as every fighter need not look like a barbarian or centurion or samurai or swashbuckler, not every thief should be the snivelly wiseass you've described. There should be room for the Bilbo Bagginses, the Thomas Crowns, the Cugels and Mousers, as well.

Also, solving Rubik's cube wasn't all that easy for some of us.

Anonymous said...

I think the d4 thing has been explained; their fast level rise makes up for it. Although personally I'd like it if average classes (maybe thief and cleric in Moldvay) had d6, weaker ones had d4 and stronger ones had d8.

I think the best way to beef up the thief would be to give them decent chances of using their special abilities. Would you trust that a thief had found a trap, etc. at low levels? It's risking your life on an "Expert" who is essentially incompetent. Makes no sense.

If you want someone to *climb*, however...

Cirsova said...

I'm going to throw out a 'second' on encouraging thiefy behavior. Having low HP encourages a more cautious play-style, taking fewer unnecessary risks and avoiding toe to toe confrontations. In the AD&D game I'm in, I'm an illusionist (which is pretty close to playing a thief, being a magic con-man); he's a coward and can't go toe to toe with much, but when he's needed, he can pack a hell of a punch. Similarly, with a thief, hiding and cowering in the shadows for a round or two to not take a hit is more than worth it when you get that critical backstab in.