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In addition, at low levels, Thieves leveled up more quickly than other classes, so for a little while they could keep pace with Fighters and clerics with their THAC0 (they get around 3rd level a little after Fighters and Magic-Users get to 2nd level..etc).

The leveling thing was genuinely huge. It really did make a big difference. The THAC0 is interesting too especially since the weirdness of the cleric THAC0 means they are better than the cleric at level 3, then they are equal to them 5-6, on then on 9

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Voadam

Legend
Thieves were not that bad at combat in 2e. Not sure why some had so many problems with them.

They could use two weapons for starters, and that was one of the things that some considered broken in 2e. In Combat and Tactics it was something that was made even better. It wasn't uncommon to see a Thief with two weapons in melee, and of course using missile weapons with a dexterity focused class was also something Thieves could excel at (and bows were seen as overpowered by some in 2e).
I think it would be two weapon fighting's extra attack on top of fighter specialization extra attacks and compounding an extra attack with strength bonuses that was more of a concern for two weapon fighting. A lightly armored low HD non-strength class who could have an extra attack in front line melee does not raise the same issues.

18 dex only gave you a +2 to hit max bonus on missile fire in 2e. That is nice, but not as nice as Strength to hit and damage bonuses.

Bows gave two attacks a round, so a thief with a short bow was getting two attacks which was really nice. With THACO advancements only once every two levels the high rate of fire bows, daggers, and darts were a way to claw back an edge for rogues and (for the latter two) wizards.
In addition, at low levels, Thieves leveled up more quickly than other classes, so for a little while they could keep pace with Fighters and clerics with their THAC0 (they get around 3rd level a little after Fighters and Magic-Users get to 2nd level..etc).
Yep. At first level everybody has the same THAC0, at 2nd level the rogue has the same THAC0 as a 1st level fighter. Then for the range when they are both 2nd level the rogue falls behind but catches up again for the range when the 3rd level rogue has the same xp as the 2nd level fighter. Theives increasingly fall behind on attack accuracy after that with their 1/2 THAC0 advancement.
I have heard more complaints about Low-Level Magic-users in general than I have about Low Level Thieves in 2e.

Sure, 1st level wizards have one one-shot spell (two if they are a specialist) and then for all their class abilities they are essentially a pastry chef in a dungeon.

With a High Dexterity and a Short Bow a Thief may even be a BEAST in combat getting more kills than others at lower levels without the risk of getting as hurt themselves (because the Fighters and Clerics are at the front...obviously...and hopefully not accidentally getting shot by said Thief).
Low level is a significantly different environment from the rest of the game, most everybody can be one-shotted or brought down quickly in combat, everybody is equally inept with weapons, the static things like ranged ROF, individual weapon damage size, and stats are much more of a factor than level in class stuff.

Every level the hp and THAC0 and power differential grows though. Fighters get more attacks while priests, wizards, and bards get increasing magic. Thieves are left being the not really combatants who can use a bow a little bit more accurately than they could at 1st level.
 
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Yep. At first level everybody has the same THAC0, at 2nd level the rogue has the same THAC0 as a 1st level fighter. Then for the range when they are both 2nd level the rogue falls behind but catches up again for the range when the 3rd level rogue has the same xp as the 2nd level fighter. Theives increasingly fall behind on attack accuracy after that with their 1/2 THAC0 advancement.

That is all true, but rogues are also generally ahead of everyone in terms of level. And obviously fighters are better at them at combat (that is the job of a fighter so it makes sense). But the XP thing is important here. Experience could vary a bit, but if the party is getting about equal XP the rogue has an additional advantage by being higher level than others. The priest is generally something like one level behind. They are typically 1-2 levels ahead of the fighter. When a rogue hits level 10, the fighter is still level 8. At higher levels the gap can get much bigger with some of the classes. A rogue just needs 2,200,000 XP to hit level 20, whereas a fighter with that much XP is only at level 16. With wizards when a rogue is level 19, the mage is still at level 15.

Something else I think is worth pointing out about thieves and fighters in general, those were generally options for people who didn't roll well. you only need a 9 in each of their primary attributes. So if you roll a character who has low stats and their highest score is Dexterity you are often playing a rogue because that was the best choice with what you had.
 

James Gasik

We don't talk about Pun-Pun
Supporter
Thieves were not that bad at combat in 2e. Not sure why some had so many problems with them.

They could use two weapons for starters, and that was one of the things that some considered broken in 2e. In Combat and Tactics it was something that was made even better. It wasn't uncommon to see a Thief with two weapons in melee, and of course using missile weapons with a dexterity focused class was also something Thieves could excel at (and bows were seen as overpowered by some in 2e).

In addition, at low levels, Thieves leveled up more quickly than other classes, so for a little while they could keep pace with Fighters and clerics with their THAC0 (they get around 3rd level a little after Fighters and Magic-Users get to 2nd level..etc).

I have heard more complaints about Low-Level Magic-users in general than I have about Low Level Thieves in 2e.

With a High Dexterity and a Short Bow a Thief may even be a BEAST in combat getting more kills than others at lower levels without the risk of getting as hurt themselves (because the Fighters and Clerics are at the front...obviously...and hopefully not accidentally getting shot by said Thief).
Ah yes, two weapons, at -2 to hit with your main weapon, and -4 with your off hand (barring 16 or higher Dexterity or a copy of the Fighter's Handbook to give up one of your two weapon proficiency slots for Two-Weapon Style Specialization (or Ambidexterity), when you have the 2nd worse Thac0 in the game, and are designed to prioritize Dexterity over Strength hard, and have no armor class or hit points to actually stand toe-to-toe with any monster who might take offense with your damage dealing.

And no, check your xp tables again. See how fast a Thief really levels compared to a Fighter. Compare the Thac0 improvement of the two classes.

Hm, let's pick a reasonable level, how about 5th? 16,000 xp for Fighter 5. Thaco 16, 5d10 hit dice for an average of 26.5 w/o Constitution, ability to be AC 0 with full plate and shield. Ok, now the Thief. Why, with that same xp he's...gasp, wait, still level 5? Ok well, let's put them both at 20,000 xp then.

The level 6 Thief has Thaco 18 (20 and 22 for our baseline two weapon fighting friend!) and 6d6 hit dice for an average of 21 w/o Con, and the ability to be AC 8 unless he wants to suffer massive penalties to thieving abilities...

Yeah, not seeing how this is so amazing.
 

Cruentus

Adventurer
Its not amazing. He's not a front line fighter. If you try to use him like that, he'll get mulched. But, of course, you knew that. The thief can also do a lot of stuff around combat, or out of combat that the full plate + shield fighter can't.

You probably also know that in 2e, roles are a thing, unlike 5e. A rogue tries to not be seen, not get into combat, and helps with traps, locks, and scouting. The fighter is the fighter. The cleric is the backup fighter and healer. The wizard is the 'stay the heck away from anything dangerous' artillery.
 

James Gasik

We don't talk about Pun-Pun
Supporter
Disclaimer the first: this is a long, math-filled post. Ignore if these things are not interesting to you!

Disclaimer the second: math was my worst subject in school. Playing D&D has greatly improved my skills, but there's a lot of numbers here, so there could easily be a math error. Oops!

It's well known that I'm not terribly impressed with the AD&D Thief class; until levels beyond 7, it really seems to lag behind every other class, with terrible combat abilities, terrible Non-Weapon Proficiencies (ie, lowest acquisition rate at ¼ levels, only vaguely compensated for by their quicker level progression), and a low chance to use most Thieving Abilities.

Backstab can be so difficult to use if your DM is a stickler for the letter of the law that you might as well erase it from your character sheet in some games.

But I got to thinking, what would the most optimized version of the Thief look like? Here's my take...but a quick note. This isn't going to be useful in every game, I'm assuming an 18 Dexterity and certain minimum ability score requirements, as well as being allowed content from the Complete Bard's Handbook and from Warriors and Rogues of the Realms (oh and a small bit from the Complete Book of Elves as well).

Disclaimer the third: if you hate the idea of optimization, stop reading, please! This is for fun, since a few assumptions are being made, but I will state I don't think there's anything wrong with this character, since you are making sacrifices to be the best Thief you can be.

Obviously, your DM needs to allow those books, as well as be on board with this character concept in general; a Thief who is great at thieving, but bad at most everything else, who mostly levels up at the same speed as a Wizard and only has lesser spellcasting. They aren't great at combat, they don't wear armor, and they can't backstab.

So what's going on here?

The Complete Bard's Handbook has as section on Demi-Human Bards, and it covers Multiclassing with Bard and other classes, expanding on the rules in the PHB. Despite everywhere else disallowing multiclassing within the same group, this book allows for a few Thief/Bard options, though with certain limits (like having to take a particular Bard Kit).

Half-Elves, however, are allowed to be True (that is, normal) Bard-Thieves.*

*Theoretically, the True Bard, despite being the standard Bard is treated as a Kit in this book; for the purposes of this exercise, I'm assuming the DM won't rule that you aren't forced to take a Kit that does nothing!

The Complete Book of Elves (which includes Half-Elves) states under Kits that Multiclassed Elves can have a single Kit from any of their component classes. It specifically calls out “for example, a mage/thief can use a mage kit, a thief kit, or a mage/thief kit” on page 82.

With that said, we go looking for a good Thief Kit, and in Wizards and Rogues of the Realms, we find some very interesting choices for a lot of neat Thief builds, but for our purposes, we want to be a Rogue of the Realms- specifically a Rogue of Deepingdale.

The benefits of this Kit are immense; you gain a +25% bonus on three Thieving abilities, Pick Pockets (meh), Open Locks (great), and Find/Remove Traps (fantastic). Further, the benefits for not wearing armor are doubled, giving you +10% Pick Pockets, +20% Move Silently, +10% Hide in Shadows, and +20% to Climb Walls.

The downside, however, is a standing -1 on attack rolls and the loss of Backstab.

We're a Half-Elf, which is all upside; +10% Pick Pockets and +5% Hide in Shadows.

For this exercise, as mentioned, I'm going with 18 Dexterity. We also need 13 Intelligence and 15 Charisma.

So how does this work? Being a level 1 Thief gives us:

Pick Pockets 15%
Open Locks 10%
Find/Remove Traps 5%
Move Silently 10%
Hide in Shadows 5%
Detect Noise 15%
Climb Walls 60%
Read Languages 0%

You gain 60 points to place among these abilities, no more than 30% to a given one. On gaining a Thief level, you gain 30 more points, with a maximum of 15 points to a given ability.

Now, as a level 1 Bard, you have:

Climb Walls 50%
Detect Noise 20%
Pick Pockets 10%
Read Languages 5%

You gain 20 points to divide among these four (no limit) and 15 additional points on level up.
There are a few interpretations on how this works for this multiclass. I assume the following:

*You gain the most favorable base % of the two classes.

*You cannot combine points from both classes. Thus, only Bard discretionary points will ever be added to Climb Walls, Detect Noise, Pick Pockets, and Read Languages.

I assume that if you were to spend points from both classes on the same ability, only the best result would apply. There is a more favorable ruling, that you can freely mix these points, and a slightly worse ruling, that if you have Climb Walls from two sources, you would always use one or the other.

So our result, once we add up all the above bonuses (including no armor) is:

Pick Pockets 75%
Open Locks 60%
Find/Remove Traps 65%
Move Silently 40%
Hide in Shadows 30%
Detect Noise 45%
Climb Walls 85%
Read Languages 5%

To this, I'll first add the Bard 20 points as evenly as possible, 5 to each of the four thieving abilities. Read Languages isn't great at this point, but eventually it might come in handy. You could get lucky and find Comprehend Languages to add to your spell list, but you don't get many spell slots, so this can still be useful.

Then our 60 Thief points. Here I'm being more discerning; while being a great scout is useful, at first, I'm going to focus on being a door opening, trap finding Thief, though I am dropping points in Detect Noise, because knowing if there's an enemy on the other side of a locked door is really nice, so 20 points to each of these.

No, you know what, I'm changing my mind, 10 points to Open Locks, and 25 points to the other two.

Pick Pockets 70%
Open Locks 60%
Find/Remove Traps 65%
Move Silently 40%
Hide in Shadows 30%
Detect Noise 55%
Climb Walls 85%
Read Languages 10%

Now if you compared this to a level 1 Halfling Thief with the same Kit, and assumed that 19 Dexterity, they'd look like this:

Pick Pockets 70%
Open Locks 60%
Find/Remove Traps 45%
Move Silently 55%
Hide in Shadows 45%
Detect Noise 20%
Climb Walls 65%
Read Languages -5%

Adding the 60 points, the rules note we have to bring Read Languages to at least 1%, so that costs us 6 points. Of the remaining 54, that's 10 to Open Locks, 22 to Find/Remove Traps, and 22 to Detect Noise.

Pick Pockets 70%
Open Locks 70%
Find/Remove Traps 67%
Move Silently 55%
Hide in Shadows 45%
Detect Noise 42%
Climb Walls 65%
Read Languages 1%

Looks better, I know. And when the Halfling hits level 2 and gets their 30 extra points, they'll be even better. But things take a turn quickly.

At level 3 (2500 xp), our Halfling has a total of 120 bonus points. Our Bard-Thief has...125 (80 at level 1, 45 from level 2).

The progression up until level 7 goes like this:

120 3 vs. 125 2/2
150 4 vs. 170 3/3
180 5 vs. 215 4/4
210 6 vs. 260 5/5
240 7 vs. 305 6/6

And while our Halfling retains his x3 Backstab, our Half-Elf has the benefits of being a Bard at this point, which include: Singing proficiency, Musical Instrument proficiency, Reading/Writing proficiency, Local History proficiency (all free), 1st and 2nd level Wizard spells, situational abilities like inspiration, countersong, influencing NPC reactions, and a 30% chance to identify an unknown magic item in some way.

At 70,000 xp when the Halfling is level 8, they pull ahead a bit on levels, since it takes a whopping 140,000 xp for the Half-Elf...at which point the Halfling is level 9, but the Half-Elf is still ahead on bonus points (300 vs. 360) and now has the potential for 3rd level spell use.

So from here on out, the progression looks like this:

160,000 (H 10, H-E 8/8): 330 vs. 405
220,000 (H 11, H-E 9/9): 360 vs. 450
320,000 (H 11, H-E 10/10): 360 vs. 495
440,000 (H 12, H-E 11/11): 390 vs. 495
660,000 (H 13, H-E 11/11): 420 vs. 495
880,000 (H 14, H-E 12/12): 450 vs. 540
1,100,000 (H 15, H-E 15, H-E 12/12): 480 vs. 585
1,320,000 (H 16, H-E 13): 510 vs. 620

And so on. Now you might be asking if bonus points are relevant at this point, and likely not; even though you can continue to add points to abilities beyond 95% as per the Complete Thieves' Handbook, that's only sufficient to counter penalties; without magic items, you're generally capped at 95% success.

At this point, the saving grace of our “ultimate Thief” is actually their Bard spell progression, ability to use a wider variety of magic items, and slightly better ability to use scrolls. There is the question of followers the Halfling gets theirs first which is a big boon, and while the Half-Elf gets them with another 160,000 xp, there is the addition of 10d6 0-level soldiers, for what that's worth.
 

cbwjm

Seb-wejem
My favourite single classed thief has to be the swashbuckler from baldurs gate/icewind dale enhanced games, the kits in that game were altered and more powerful than standard 2e kits but you could turn a high level swashbuckler into a death dealing swirl of blades while keeping the various thief skills and not having to multiclass.

  • The swashbuckler could specialise in any weapon available to the thief and could get 3 slots of two-weapon fighting.
  • They gained +1 to hit and damage at level 1 and at levels 5, 10, 15, etc.
  • They gained +1 AC at the same rate as above.
All that and you just had to give up the ability to backstab which I never used anyway because I only wanted a thief to check for/disarm traps and open locks.

I had a swashbuckler in icewind dale enhanced that started with an 18 strength and later found a potion that gave +1 strength/-1 charisma. It was a little unfair for the bad guys.
 

Voadam

Legend
Just for comparison here is the xp amounts to compare 2e thieves and fighters and THAC0 for xp levels. The numbers are not entirely intuitive or regular. Bolding for which class advances at that xp level.

XP
T1 THAC0 20 F1 THAC0 20 0 xp
T2 THAC0 20 F1 THAC0 20 1,250 xp
T2 THAC0 20 F2 THAC0 19 2,000 xp
T3 THAC0 19 F2 THAC0 19 2,500 xp
T3 THAC0 19 F3 THAC0 18 4,000 xp
T4 THAC0 19 F3 THAC0 18 5,000 xp
T4 THAC0 19 F4 THAC0 17 8,000 xp
T5 THAC0 18 F4 THAC0 17 10,000 xp
T5 THAC0 18 F5 THAC0 16 16,000 xp
T6 THAC0 18 F5 THAC0 16 20,000 xp
T6 THAC0 18 F6 THAC0 15 32,000 xp
T7 THAC0 17 F6 THAC0 15 40,000 xp
T7 THAC0 17 F7 THAC0 14 64,000 xp
T8 THAC0 17 F7 THAC0 14 70,000 xp
T9 THAC0 16 F7 THAC0 14 110,000 xp
T9 THAC0 16 F8 THAC0 13 125,000 xp
T10 THAC0 16 F8 THAC0 13 160,000 xp
T11 THAC0 15 F8 THAC0 13 220,00 xp
T11 THAC0 15 F9 THAC0 12 250,00 xp
T12 THAC0 15 F9 THAC0 12 440,000 xp
T12 THAC0 15 F10 THAC0 11 500,000 xp
T13 THAC0 14 F10 THAC0 11 660,000 xp
T13 THAC0 14 F11 THAC0 10 750,000 xp
T14 THAC0 14 F11 THAC0 10 880,000 xp
T14 THAC0 14 F12 THAC0 9 1,000,000 xp
T15 THAC0 13 F12 THAC0 9 1,100,000 xp
T15 THAC0 13 F13 THAC0 8 1,250,000 xp
T16 THAC0 13 F13 THAC0 8 1,320,000 xp
T16 THAC0 13 F14 THAC0 7 1,500,000 xp
T17 THAC0 12 F14 THAC0 7 1,540,000 xp
T17 THAC0 12 F15 THAC0 6 1,500,000 xp
T18 THAC0 12 F15 THAC0 6 1,760,000 xp
T19 THAC0 11 F15 THAC0 6 1,980,000 xp
T19 THAC0 11 F16 THAC0 5 2,000,000 xp
T20 THAC0 11 F1 THAC0 20 2,200,000 xp
 

That's true, but one aspect of AD&D is that if you get lucky enough to get a high value, the character's effectiveness spikes hard. One of the changes in 3e and beyond that I particularly liked is that the spike is shaved off and improvements are accessible at much lower values.

If they wanted to round off effectiveness spikes, I wish they'd done it at the resolution mechanic primarily. Having a single die roll and the swinginess that creates still gives heavy incentive to try to "beat" the dice by stacking as many bonuses as you can, and at least in 3.5E, that was possible to do consistently through character builds, thus the birth of the CharOp community. I feel a more predictable resolution mechanic with spikes coming from situation, in-play decision making and resource expenditure would achieve the "bounded accuracy" goal of 5E far better than 5E managed. For D&D's style of design, I prefer AD&D's style of ability score generation (particularly referring to Method I here) and bonus distribution. The wide range of zero-to-low bonuses and random generation force more variety of character than standard array or point buy (where the results are going to trend towards optimal builds) while ensuring they are still viable assuming that challenges are balanced with the largely inactive middle range and any bonuses being treated exactly as described: a bonus.

My favourite single classed thief has to be the swashbuckler from baldurs gate/icewind dale enhanced games, the kits in that game were altered and more powerful than standard 2e kits but you could turn a high level swashbuckler into a death dealing swirl of blades while keeping the various thief skills and not having to multiclass.

  • The swashbuckler could specialise in any weapon available to the thief and could get 3 slots of two-weapon fighting.
  • They gained +1 to hit and damage at level 1 and at levels 5, 10, 15, etc.
  • They gained +1 AC at the same rate as above.
All that and you just had to give up the ability to backstab which I never used anyway because I only wanted a thief to check for/disarm traps and open locks.

I had a swashbuckler in icewind dale enhanced that started with an 18 strength and later found a potion that gave +1 strength/-1 charisma. It was a little unfair for the bad guys.

I don't know why it never occurred to me, but I wonder how AD&D might play out with backported BG2 kits allowed at the table.
 

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