Friday, October 18, 2013

D4 Thieves Can Suck It Revisited

It would seem that my endless back-linking to this post from last year has finally sparked a debate--yes, around here, a single comment constitutes a debate.  
Ugh. Not him again.

In a nutshell, folks generally seem to agree that the thief class's fast level advancement compensates for their sub-prime hit dice.  I don't agree with that. Sit tight and I'll tell you why.

I'm of the school of thought that your hit point potential (aka hit dice) at the outset of your career--which is to say at level 1, not level 4--are a product of your background, and therefore there is some basic assumption about your background that justifies your hit points at inception.  For instance, Fighters are hardened from combat training and perhaps even actual warfare--especially if we take the "veteran" level title literally,as some do--and thus warrant heightened hit dice.  Magic Users, meanwhile, earn their pathetic pyramidal hit dice either from a sedentary life of study, or from contact with the soul-sucking arcane forces of the universe, or some other wussifying factor.

But what is there about the thief class that should make them universally sub-normal in the HP-category?  Sure, some of' em--even a lot of them--might be underfed pipsqueaks who stole their last meal from a fruit cart.  But even so, thieves are out-and-about, actively sneaking around, climbing stuff, and, if they come from the illicit branch of the class, they're probably even getting in more than their fair share of fights: administering beat-downs on deadbeats and narks when they're not rumbling with rivals; whatever it takes to get ahead in the world.  They are survivors.  All of which should at least allow for a normal hit point potential at the outset; but saddling thieves with d4 HD negates this sort of thief.  While there is definitely room for malnourished street urchins, why should they be the sole model for the class? 

Admittedly, my counter-argument assumes that a Normal Person gets 1d6 HP, a tenet of AD&D that might not have existed in Basic.  Holmes, to the best of my knowledge, was mum on the topic; the only corollary I've found being the bandits in the monster section, though they get 1d8 hit points, making them actually better off than their AD&D compatriots--and making d4 thieves look even more pathetic by comparison.  I can't speak to the Original rules or the Moldvanian or Mentzerian versions; they may very well insist that all normals get d4 hit dice.  If such is the case, you may ignore everything I just said.


Stu Rat said...

Normal Person = 1d6

Character = Normal Person + 1st level

1st Level Thief 1d6 + 1d4
1st Level M-U 1d6 + 1d4
1st Level Cleric 1d6 + 1d6
1st Level Fighter 1d6 + 1d8

Philip Rice said...

One other thing in Holmes about "normal people" HD: the pirates in the sample dungeon, room M, "...are normal men (1 6-sided hit die)."

Erin Smale said...

Hey Chucker,

Good post, and I'm happy to be the spark that sets your readers ablaze with furious debate.

After I commented on your original post, I thought I might have taken my example too far. I agree with you that my specifics could be the backstory for a particular thief, but not all thieves. My bad.

My example was a single instance of a broader concept, which is that, IMC, thieves (rogues) are a sort of "middle-ground" class between a normal guy and an actual hero (ie., warrior, priest, or mage). I'm playing B/X here, and Moldvay Basic put Normal Human at 1d4 hit points (B40). So the thief as a 'tweener with d4 HD was like, you have better skills than the Average Joe, but you aren't better at hit dice.

That said, I did create some new thief-like classes in my B/X game that went with d6 HD because they were a little more "fighty." So I can see your point.

Might be cool to let the player choose d4 or d6 during character gen - d4 gets you sneaky and tinker bonuses, while d6 gives you climby, stabby bonuses.

Timrod said...

No probs E. Your comment made the weakness of my original post obvious; I appreciate the editorial insight.

Timrod said...

Thanks Philip for uncovering that tidbit! Nice work.

Erin Smale said...

I don't think your original post was weak - given the Holmes reliance on d6 (esp. for Normal Man), I totally see where you're coming from.

If anything, this discussion shines a light on Holmes' antiquated notions on hit dice and how Moldvay ushered in a new era of hit dice clarity with his sparkling insight.

Timrod said...

Grumble grumble grumble

Anonymous said...

Labyrinth Lord gives normals 1d4, so I assume moldvay does the same.

Darrell Osgood said...

As a beginner, you naturally ask (or assume you understand) what hit points mean. Upon trivial inspection, you realize that HP do not accurately represent the real world analog of toughness (or your personal variation on the theme). IMNSHO, the system is irredeemable; you either accept it as a quirk and get used to it, you fenagle a bit with unsatisfying results, or you use a different game system. Any attempt to rationalize HP is insane.I concur with Chuckie's sentiment. nevertheless, if you buy the enchilada (accept the quirk as a feature, not a bug) then fast level progression becomes an exceedingly robust argument. See for yourself - make a scatter diagram of HP vs XP. Clerics are the best at levels 2-5, then are overtaken by fighters, but they are always neck and neck. d4 thieves are as good as dwarves. Then halflings. Elves are on the bottom with magic-users not much better. If you switch thieves to d6, they become the best in the game by a long shot.

Timrod said...

"Any attempt to rationalize HP is insane"

Odin gave us blogging for the very purpose of rationalizing the insane.