First-Class Larceny: Thieves in AD&D1e

Woodcut of a woman chasing a thief by Wladyslaw Skoczylas (1883-1934).
Woodcut of a woman chasing a thief by Wladyslaw Skoczylas (1883-1934).
Okay, going forward all thieves in my games must dress like this guy.

I’m doing a series on the character classes in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st Edition, and I wanted to start with the Thief because it’s my favorite class to play. This will be a review of the class in 1e, taking into account both the previous and subsequent history of the class. And it’s going to be a bit wry, because while I love AD&D1e with all my heart, it’s kind of objectively bad, compared to some later editions.

I will discuss thieves, assassins, and thief-acrobats; the ninja from Oriental (bleaugh) Adventures will be discussed in another post.

A typical thief rendered in HeroForge.
A typical thief rendered in HeroForge.

Thieves, Rogues, Tomato, Tomahto: A Bit of History

I was recently listening to an old episode of the Save or Die podcast, with an interview of D. Daniel Wagner, who created the first iteration of the Thief class for original brown-book D&D as a fan project (he was also the author of the very first third-party game supplement). The inspiration was a player who asked if his dwarf henchman (remember henchmen?) could pick a lock on a chest with a knife, instead of smashing the chest and possibly breaking any potions. He also had in mind Fritz Lieber’s Gray Mouser, Jack Vance’s Cugel the Clever, and JRR Tolkien’s Bilbo Baggins.

In Wagner’s rules, thieves had a hit die of d4; and like spells in that edition the thief skills, which set the thief apart from other classes, worked automatically.

HIs friend Gary Switzer shared the idea with Gary Gygax over the phone, and basically Gygax stole the idea, which does not seem to have bothered Wagner at all. The Thief was first published in the Game Players Newsletter #9 in June 1974, and then in the original 1975 Greyhawk supplement. The official Thief, as adapted by Gygax, had a d6 hit die and skills were based on a percentile roll, with the skills having uselessly low chances of success until about 6th level. Importantly, thieves could use a Backstab ability, which became a signature of the class.

In AD&D1e, thieves became a core class, and came with two subclasses, the Assassin and the Thief-Acrobat. I’ll go into more details about the 1e Thief below.

In the 1977 Basic D&D set, thieves could only be human, and gained additional abilities at a higher level, like the ability to read any language or code, or to cast spells from scrolls. In AD&D2e, the thief became a subclass of the Rogue, with the other subclass being the Bard. Assassins were not included in that edition—I like to think this was Pat Pulling’s fault, but it was not.

D&D really hit its stride with 3e and 3.5, where the thief itself was officially renamed the Rogue, which is cool and classy but not nearly as cool and classy as Mountebank. The class was expanded conceptually to include not just criminals, but spies, scouts, detectives, pirates, and sundry ne’er-do-wells. Rogues started with the most skill points and had the most skills to choose from, and they could still backstab although this became the Sneak Attack. Assassins were also reintroduced.

Do we have to talk about 4th Edition? Didn’t Disney do a song called “We Don’t Talk About 4th Edition?” Maybe I’m misremembering. Rogues in 4e were more combat-oriented, and came in a variety of flavors: Artful Dodgers, Brutal Scoundrels, Ruthless Ruffians, Cunning Sneaks, and the creatively-named Thief and Assassin. This was as dumb as it sounds. Rogue skills were called Exploits, which I actually like. Then 4th Edition, which was based on the idiotic idea that tabletop gamers want their RPGs to be more like World of Warcraft, died an ignominious death.

Finally, we arrive at the modern world, and 5th Edition. The rogue now has a number of subclasses, which they call Archetypes: Thief, Assassin, Arcane Trickster (which sounds pretty cool, it’s a thief with magic), Mastermind, Swashbuckler, Inquisitive (detective), Scout, Phantom (kind of a necromancer-thief, which has interesting possibilities), and Soulknife (a psionic thief). It’s still a skill-based character, and still has Sneak Attack.

A typical Drow Assassin in HeroForge.
A typical Drow Assassin in HeroForge.

Hobbits and Halflings and Gnomes, Oh My: Thieves in First Edition

Thieves in AD&D1e are of course Dexterity-based, and have a d6 hit die. They must be neutral and/or evil in alignment. (More on thief alignments in a bit.) They can wear only leather, studded, or padded armor, as well as non-magical elfin chainmail. The canon thief skills are Pick Pockets, Open Locks, Find/Remove Traps, Move Silently, Hide in Shadows, Hear Noise, Climb Walls, and Read Language (because a primary attribute of the historical medieval thief was linguistics). They understand the secret thief language, Thieves Cant, and at 10th level can read magical documents like scrolls.

They may not build strongholds, but may construct a small tower or castle in or near a city. (AD&D1e had some pretty unnecessary rules laid out in great detail; henchmen and strongholds come to mind.) The first nine levels had their own names: Rogue, Footpad, Cutpurse, Robber, Burglar, Filcher, Sharper, Magsman, Thief, and from 10th level on you were just a Master Thief. In case you were wondering, “sharper” is a 17th Century term for conman, and “magsman” is from the 19th Century and means the same thing and also raconteur.

Based on racial skill adjustments, the best thieves are halflings and gnomes. Keep an eye on those lawn gnomes in your front yard, they’re stealing your stuff!

The Assassin subclass is basically a thief who can (1) use poison and (2) has their own specialty combat table for surprise attacks. They must be Evil. They can learn alignment languages different from their own, and they have disguise abilities. Seems to me if you’re going to play an AD&D1e thief just play an assassin whether you intend to assassinate people or not, just for the extra abilities.

A typical thief-acrobat in HeroForge.
A typical thief-acrobat in HeroForge.

Then there’s the Thief-Acrobat. They need a minimum 15 Strength and 16 Dexterity, a pretty high bar to jump if you’re 3d6ing your stats. They can’t achieve higher than 5th level in certain thief skills, supposedly because they’re too busy practicing parkour. What they get instead are Tightrope Walking, Pole Vaulting, High and Broad Jumping, and three varieties of Tumbling, one of which prevents damage from falls. Again, gnomes and halflings excel at this subclass, because those beings are so well known for their gymnastics ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

The 1e thief class is, well, a thief. The concept had not officially expanded yet to things like detectives and archaeologists. In my games, even in the 80s I had expanded the conception in ways that would become official D&D lore. My current game has a player character named Wen, a Hengeyokai Thief. But her actual job is actress; she’s a “face” character, leveraging her high Charisma to interact with NPCs on the party’s behalf. This makes sense even in a 1e milieu, as in the actual Middle Ages the average person classified actors as part of the same lumpenproletariat as thieves, sex workers, and beggars.

Chaotic Klepto: Thieves and Alignment

I have my own, very precise view of D&D Alignments, which I will undoubtedly share in another post. But for now, viewing alignments as primarily ethical philosophies, I wish to address this paragraph from the AD&D1e Player’s Handbook:

All thieves are neutral or evil, although they can be neutral good (rarely), and of lawful or chaotic nature. Most thieves tend towards evil.

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Players Handbook (1978), page 27

Back in the day, my general rule (poorly enforced, as I’m pretty much willing to let a player get away with anything if it’s (1) good for the story or (2) funny) was that thieves cannot be a Good alignment. Anything non-good was fine.

Today, I allow thieves to be any alignment. How do I justify it? I’ve prepared a list of fictional characters who fall into the thief/spy/detective/treasure-hunter category, and what I deem their alignment to be. These alignments are just my opinion—feel free to tear them apart in the comments.

Lawful Good: Sherlock Holmes. Although a sneaky master of disguise with ties to the criminal underworld, he always follows the law and seeks to help others.

Neutral Good: Indiana Jones. Legal or illegal, I’m getting this artifact where it belongs!

Chaotic Good: Robin Hood. An anti-government subversive who aids the poor and oppressed.

Lawful Neutral: Rorschach. He’ll do anything to punish those he sees as evil.

True Neutral: River Song. Good? Evil? Lawful? Chaotic? Her love for The Doctor encourages her to trend towards Good, but essentially Melody Pond gonna Melody Pond.

Chaotic Neutral: Lupin III. Hero? Sometimes. Villain? Sometimes. Troublemaker? All the time.

Lawful Evil: James Bond. Lawful because almost everything he does, including kill people, is authorized by his government; and Evil because he’s an assassin who murders extrajudicially.

Neutral Evil: Lex Luthor. He’ll follow the law or break it, anything to get what he wants.

Chaotic Evil: Keyser Soze. He’s vengeful, manipulative, a criminal mastermind, and a murderer.

So yes, you can have a Lawful Good thief, if you have an expansive definition of “thief.” For AD&D this is totally homebrew, but I doubt I’m alone in thinking this way, or the first to do so.

A typical pickpocket in HeroForge.
A typical pickpocket in HeroForge.

Looting, Lockpicking, and Lurking: Thief Skills

Let’s break down the eight canon thief skills (I’m not going to address the thief-acrobat skills, for the compelling reason that I don’t wanna.)

Pick Pockets: The Player’s Handbook says “Picking pockets (or folds of a garment or a girdle) also includes such activities as pilfering and filching small items. It is done by light touch and sleight of hand.” There’s no adjustment for circumstances, like the guardedness of the victim or the plausibility of the thief having a reason to get so close to the victim. Of course, the DM can just declare a percentage adjustment to the chance of success, or simply declare an action impossible (“I sneak up to the throne and steal the king’s crown”).

Open Locks: “Opening locks includes figuring out how to open sliding puzzle locks and foiling magical closures. It is done by picking with tools and by cleverness, plus knowledge and study of such items.” Foiling magical closures? That’s pretty powerful. But I guess it’s not fair to neuter the thief player by throwing an enchantment on everything. I do think the thief must have their tools to use this skill; I would assign a steep minus to the percentage chance if they try to use a makeshift tool. I might also dock them if they have an Intelligence below 8.

Find/Remove Traps: “Finding/removing traps pertains to relatively small mechanical devices such as poisoned needles, spring blades, and the like. Finding is accomplished by inspection, and they are nullified by mechanical removal or by being rendered harmless.” This is funny, because I definitely remember players using this for large traps during the day. I don’t even think there were small traps, other than maybe a crossbow trap. Also, you can disable a trap, but not another mechanical device? A portcullis? The town clock? A non-magical automation? That’s why I would expand the scope and rename this Find/Remove Devices. More on this below.

Move Silently: “Moving silently is the ability to move with little sound and disturbance, even across a squeaky wooden floor, for instance. It is an ability which improves with experience.” Being silent on a squeaky floor is pretty powerful—seems like magic to me. But Bilbo had a quasi-magical ability to move silently, so why not all thieves? Anyway, I like my fantasy thieves a little magical.

Hide in Shadows: “Hiding in shadows is the ability to blend into dark areas, to flatten oneself, and by remaining motionless when in sight, to remain unobserved. It is a function of dress and practice.” I think this skill really depends on circumstances. I mean, you can at least attempt Pick Locks on any lock with a keyhole. But don’t tell me you’re in a brightly lit circular room and you’re just going to stand flat against the wall and disappear, no magic. The DM has to be reasonable with this one.

Hear Noise: “Listening at doors includes like activity at other portals such as windows. It is accomplished by moving silently to the door and pressing an ear against it to detect sound.” Okay, seriously, anyone can do that. It makes no sense to limit this to thieves. I would think of this as a perception check on very low, very subtle sounds, and on understanding muffled speech.

Climb Walls: “Ascending and descending vertical surfaces is the ability of the thief to climb up and down walls. It assumes that the surface is coarse and offers ledges and cracks for toe and hand holds.” This is also situational, but I’m pretty cinematic with it rather than worrying too much about realism. I would also allow some kind of climbing claws, if the thief had aquired such a thing.

Read Language: “At 4th level (Burglar), thieves are able to read 20% of languages, and this ability increases by 5% with each additional level of experience until an 80% probability is attained. This enables the possible reading of instructions and treasure maps without having to resort to a magic item or spell.” Huh. I don’t really see this as a thief thing so much as a scholar or treasure hunter thing. Of course, most PC thieves are treasure hunters, as well as murder hobos. It’s a weird ability for the thief class, but I’ll allow it.

“At 10th Level (Master Thief), thieves are able to decipher magical writings and utilize scrolls of all sorts, excluding those of clerical, but not druidic, nature. However, the fact that thieves do not fully comprehend magic means that there is a 25% chance that writings will be misunderstood. Furthermore, magic spells from scrolls can be mispronounced when uttered, so that there is an increasing chance per level of the spell that it will be the reverse of its intent.” Huh again. I love the idea of the Arcane Trickster, and letting thieves read scrolls and use cantrips seems fun to me. Dragon Magazine #62 has an article about “Magic for merchants” by Lenard Lakofka, which gives merchants cantrips; and merchants are a subset of thief if anything—don’t get me started.

Now, I think that skill list is a bit thin, and doesn’t work for all thiefy characters. I have a DMPC in my current game named Laureline Silverwood, an Elf scholar who became obsessed with finding a certain powerful artifact. Deciding to go into the field herself and search tombs, she paid a member of the local thieves guild to train her. Now she’s a Level 1 Elf Thief.

But in her case, knowing how to Pick Pockets or speak Thieves Cant makes no sense. She would have other skills, as would the Hengeyokai Thief actress I mentioned above. So I sat down to come up with eight new optional homebrew skills for the 1e thief.

I came up with 90.

So I’ll list all those in another blog post. But here I will mention eight of them that I find to be important or useful. A couple I made up, and others came from other games or someone’s homebrew. I am calling them Exploits rather than skills because I think that’s neat, and I am dividing them into Knowledge Exploits and and Physical Exploits. You can grant them to a character if it matches their concept, and you can take away a canon skill to maintain balance if you feel that’s necessary.

I’m giving the percent chance for 1st Level, then the chance goes up 5% each level capping at 80%. On a percentile roll I make 96-100 a critical success and 1-5 a critical fail.

Knowledge Exploits  

Mastermind: This is the character’s ability to plan and execute a criminal scheme. It can be used two ways. If the scheme is taking place in downtime, then the roll simply determines if the scheme works (this is a great time for crits). If players are actually planning the scheme and you’re going to roleplay it out as an adventure, and the thief has Mastermind, the DM rolls secretly. If the roll is successful, the scheme goes generally according to plan, barring player mistakes and bad rolls. On a fail, there are unexpected problems and challenges—the guards changed their schedule, they changed the locks, the princess is not in this castle. On a crit success the plan’s a cakewalk (unless a player screws it up), on a crit fail it’s a debacle no matter what the players do. Base chance at 1st level: 20%.

Appraise: The Dungeon Master’s Guide discusses henchmen and NPCs appraising valuables, but a thief should have some knowledge of the value of the things they steal, or at least what they’ll be able to get for it on the Black Market. On a success they know the approximate GP value (within 10%); on a fail they don’t know. On a crit success the value triples (it’s one-of-a-kind or there’s a reward for it); on a crit fail the thief damages or loses the item while examining it, or maybe it’s cursed. Base chance at 1st Level: 25%.

Detect Lies: The thief can tell if someone believes what they are saying or not, based on physical cues and speech patterns. This works on any race or creature with a sufficiently humanoid face and voice. If the thief cannot see the speaker and can only hear them, the chance is halved. If the thief does not understand the language of the speaker, the chance is halved. If the thief has previously successfully Detected Lies on a speaker, they get a 15% bonus on later attempts. Base chance at 1st Level: 15%.

Intimidation: The fine art of using threats and physical imposingness to coerce an NPC, animal, or monster into doing something they don’t want to do. A successful roll means you get a +5 bonus on a CHA check; the person obeys out of fear rather than attraction. Failure has no effect. A critical success means the person will do ANYTHING the thief wants (at DM’s discretion); critical failure means the target intimidates the thief, and/or finds the thief absurd. Of course, some thieves will be able to back up their threats…. Base chance goes up 3 points for every level of STR 13 and above. Base chance at 1st Level: 30%.

Physical Exploits 

Find/Disarm Large Devices: If you include this, then Find/Remove Traps/Devices only works on small devices, nothing bigger than a breadbox. This is for big things like the Boulder Trap in Raiders of the Lost Ark. This skill becomes available at 5th Level. You must have Find/Remove Traps/Devices to gain it. At the DMs discretion, the thief will need large tools like a pickaxe or a sledgehammer rather than an awl or a pliers. Base chance at 5th Level: 30%.

Act Natural: This is looking like you belong in a location you’re not supposed be in; hanging out in a bar frequented by the City Guard; walking right past the soldier who’s on the lookout for suspicious characters; not looking nervous or sketchy just before you rob the bank. The DM can adjust the chance of success based on factors like wearing the wrong clothes, having wanted posters with your face all over town, or you’re a Drow Elf. Success means you pass unnoticed for the duration of the scene, at DM’S discretion; failure means you get no special protection and have to take your chances. A critical success means you succeed even if you’re an Illithid or are wearing a giant “I’M A THIEF” sign; critical failure and you’re caught, even if you did nothing suspicious. Base chance at 1st Level: 20%

Quick Change: Wanna change your clothes fast to help you escape detection? The Quick Change is just the exploit for you. Completely change from one outfit to another pre-prepared outfit in just seconds! Out of combat completely changing your outfit takes one minute; in combat it takes six rounds. The character must have the new clothes handy, and Quick Change fails if the thief is interrupted while changing. If they are wearing armor, there’s a 10% decrease in their base chance, 20% if they are also changing into different armor. Base chance at 1st Level: 30%.

Sniper: This one’s powerful, so use with discretion. Starting at 5th Level (3rd Level for assassins), on a successful roll the thief can make one shot with an allowed ranged weapon (so a short bow or hand crossbow) at 150% of maximum range; this range extension goes up 50% per level until it caps at 450% of the normal maximum range. The thief must still make a standard long-range to-hit roll, and damage is normal. A critical hit does triple damage; a critical miss hits something comical like another PC or that king whose crown you wanted to steal. Base chance at 3rd/5th Level: 15%.

Dressed to Steal: Weapon and Armor Restrictions

AD&D1e was written with a bunch of weird character restrictions for things like weapons and armor. Some of this made a certain sense; a thief in plate mail isn’t going to be doing much thieving, and a thief with a bastard sword won’t fit through a sewer grate. But this was really an attempt at game balance—thieves have skills no other class has, so they take the disadvantage of a limited gear list.

I’ve never really taken these restrictions seriously. In my games the list of thief- and thief-acrobat-approved tools (club, dagger, dart, hand crossbow, knife, lasso, short bow, sling, broadsword, longsword, short sword, and staff) is suggestive only. Same with the armor list (padded armor, studded armor, leather armor, elfin mail); what, a thief can’t wear full chainmail to sneak unnoticed into a castle? I will restrict a player’s options or nerf their rolls if a weapon or their armor would get in the way.

AD&D1e attempts to be balanced, and largely fails. Later editions did a much better job. I don’t mean to slam Gygax and team; they were inventing an entire genre of game, and did their best in uncharted waters. I usually don’t care about game balance very much, and to be honest, that’s gotten me into trouble with players a few times. If you want to avoid that, stick to gear restrictions.

Race and class restrictions suck, though. Fuck that shit.

Typical Thieves' Guildmaster in HeroForge.
Typical Thieves’ Guildmaster in HeroForge.

They’ll Bust Your Kneecaps: Thieves’ Guilds

The medieval European guild was a kind of professional organization for artisans and merchants, often made official by letters of patent from the monarch. A guild would control a particular trade in a particular area, regulating prices and guaranteeing quality. Apprentice and Journeyman artisans and merchants in training would work for a Master, until they were skilled enough to create an example product (a “masterpiece”) and become Masters themselves. Some guilds became very powerful, both economically and politically.

The idea that thieves would have a guild is a common trope in modern fantasy fiction. They never existed in real life in Europe—criminal organizations did, but they couldn’t reasonably be referred to as guilds. According to Wikipedia, there were actual thieves guilds in Egypt during the Ottoman Empire. But in Europe they have always been a literary fiction, going back as far as the 15th Century.

In Dungeons & Dragons, the thieves’ guilds were largely inspired by Fritz Leiber‘s fantasy series Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. The AD&D1e Player’s Handbook was the first official D&D publication to mention the concept (it also mentions assassins’ guilds). In my experience, thieves guilds are usually conceived of as medieval fantasy organized crime syndicates, like the Mafia or the triads. In fact, I have always liked the idea that like the Mafia and triads, thieves’ guilds started as mutual aid societies of peasants protecting themselves from an oppressive government.

The fantasy thieves’ guild will be led by a Guildmaster, invariably a high-level thief. (Unearthed Arcana provides the desperately-needed information that a Thieves’ Guildmaster would be Upper-Middle Class.) The size of a thieves’ guild is not stated in AD&D1e, but an assassins’ guild is said to contain seven to 28 assassins.

In Dragon Magazine #160, August 1990, there is an article, “The Touch of the Black Hand” by Matthew J. Iden, that offers a comprehensive blueprint for a thieves’ guild, detailing its structure, operations, and intricacies, suitable for integration into an AD&D game setting. The guild is not an adventure on its own, but can be part of a city adventure, a model for a player character to establish their guild, or the guild to which a thief player character belongs.

The sample guild, known as The Black Hand, operates discreetly, aiming to remain unseen. Instead of a conspicuous location, it’s situated in a provisioner’s shop, with the owner being the guildmaster. This setup allows them to act as their own fence and move contraband under the guise of trading supplies.

The guild is involved in various money-making schemes. Low-level thieves handle pickpocketing and protection rackets; mid-level thieves manage more skilled tasks like breaking-and-entering; while high-level thieves operate in wealthy political circles.

The guild has successfully remained largely unknown. The local government is aware, but due to the guild’s seldom-violent and non-treasonous activities, they face minimal pressure.The guild has ties with city officials through bribes, and also collaborates with a group of bandits outside the city. It was established seven years previously by the guildmaster, who used magic to overthrow the existing thieves’ guild.

That’s just one idea for how a thieves’ guild can work. In my current game, the city’s one thieves’ guild is disguised as the Lamplighter’s Guild (they do actually control the lamplighters, who spy on the city’s nighttime activities). The thieves largely run the city, sharing power with the merchants’ guild and the legitimate government. The city state is surrounded by an enemy country, and the government supports the thieves’ guild’s widespread criminal efforts in that country. The city is a haven for pirates for the same reason, although they have their own king and their own rules.

Yes, They Most Certainly Can: Thieves’ Cant

So AD&D1e introduces the fascinating idea that thieves have a private language, that they can use to communicate their secrets to each other. Thieves’ Cant really existed, in Britain starting in the 16th Century; but it was less of a language and more of an argot or slang dialect.

Here’s what the classic AD&D books have to say:

All thieves, regardless of alignment, have their own language, the “Thieves’ Cant[.”] This language is known in addition to others which may be learned because of race and/or intelligence.

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Players Handbook (1978). pg. 27

The specialty tongues of Druidic and the Thieves’ Cant are designed to handle conversations pertaining to things druidical on the one hand and thievery, robbery[,] and the disposal of stolen goods on the other. Druids could discuss at length and in detail the state of the crops, weather, animal husbandry[,] and foresting; but warfare, politics, adventuring, and like matter would be impossible to detail with the language.

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Masters Guide (1979), pg. 24

Dragon Magazine #66 (October 1982) contained an article by Aurelio Locsin called “Thieves Cant: A primer for the language of larceny.” It not only contained actual linguistic information about Thieves Cant, but included two dictionaries you could pull out of the magazine and fold up to create little books. JRR Tolkien would be proud. Did you know that the Thieves’ Cant word for “thief” is basim, and the name of the language itself is Basifem? Well, now you do.

A thieves’ language is a cool idea. I would suggest that different cities or nations have different Thieves’ Cants, and that assassins and pirates have their own versions (for obvious reasons, Pirates’ Cant might be one global dialect). Traveling merchants might have their own argot, and I love the idea that magic-users, especially Alchemists, have one.

By the way, my pronouns in Basifem are i/i, and so are yours, since i means “he, she, it, him, and her.”

Masters of Shadows, Fumblers of Friendships: Is Thief the Worst Class?

The Internet is full of bad ideas, and once of them is that the Thief is the worst character class in D&D. I mean, come on, Ranger is right there. But the information superhighway is littered with posts and videos arguing that thieves suck.

I think most of the complainers play very rules-bound, mechanics-driven games, where the thief is the hardest class to minmax. My games are story-driven and roleplay heavy, and it’s a milieu where the thief excels. They complain that thieves have too low a chance of successfully using their skills until much higher levels. Well, the magic-user starts out “completely expendable” too. And anyway, if you feel that way and the thief player isn’t having fun (which is the whole point, not strict adherence to the rules), just bump up the percentage chances! Boy, that was easy!

One complaint that made no sense to me was that the thief abilities were too situational, that you can’t use Pick Locks unless the character happens to come across a lock. Um, okay, that’s true for every single ability in the game. You don’t get to use your sword unless you happen to run into someone or something to fight. You’re probably not going to use Magic Missile unless you stumble into a combat situation. This is just dense.

Some other complaints are that thieves aren’t useful enough in combat; that they are hobbled by the lack of a crafting system; that thieves are somehow redundant and unnecessary; that they really only make sense in a dungeon crawl scenario; and that thief should be an occupation, not a class.

A complaint that actually holds water is that thieves are disruptive to party cohesion and negatively affect the game, ruining it for other players. The thief player is often a “that’s what my character would do” type. Because they tend to be criminals and tend to be chaotic and/or evil, thieves sometimes do unfun bullshit like stealing from other player characters, starting unnecessary combats, killing NPCs on a whim, ignoring or undermining the party’s plans, and just generally causing havoc.

This is a terrible way to run a player character, but it’s a problem with the specific player, not with the thief class. If you have a Good party, Good thieves are entirely possible. And even Evil or Chaotic thieves can choose to genuinely like the other player characters (just as the thief player would ideally like the other players), and choose not to “shit where they eat.”

In my current game, Wen the actress is a Chaotic Evil Thief. She recently tried to pull something Chaotic Evil, when she suggested sacrificing an innocent moon god priest to the moon god in the hopes of summoning him. The party argued the efficacy and morality of this for a typically long time (it’s a party of scoundrels living in a thieves’ city), but the consensus was to not do it. So the Wen player didn’t do it. Everyone respected the player and the character enough to take the idea seriously, but decided against it and that’s party cohesion.

Thieves Will Steal… Your Heart: In Conclusion

I love playing thief characters. They’re fun, adventurous, and definitely cool. I’ve played Evil ones, Good ones, even Lawful ones. I’m playing one as a DMNPC right now. I’m a fan, and will continue to be one. Let me know what you think in the comments—just be polite!

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