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OSR OSR Gripes

Arilyn

Explorer
I have to agree with the very original grognards, who were upset at the introduction of the thief, back in the day.
In OD&D, it was assumed players used their own wits to solve traps and obstacles, but along came the thief with skills. It was assumed that all characters could sneak, hide and climb. Every table had a different system for resolving the rolls, but nobody argued there shouldn't be any of these checks. Along came the thief. He had these skills, and he was very bad at them, so now where did that leave the other characters? I believe the official word was only thieves could do these things, and even if that wasn't true, or tables ignored this rule, if a thief has a 15% chance to hide, then the fighter has to be noticeably worse. This did not go over well with many players. Back in the original game, it was assumed that characters were all thieves, at heart, looting and slipping into dangerous places to gather treasure. The introduction of the thief meant there was now a class for these activities, but the poor thief couldn't do his job. Those chances were pathetic.

Have to agree with Celebrim. The thief was not a viable class.
 
And yet he was a front line character much of the time and managed to live to old age and retirement.
Hold that thought.

Often, but not always. And the cleric didn't always have enough resources to prevent save or dies- imagine the (not uncommon) scenario of poison gas that gets the whole party (of 8ish!).
So we always sort of treated the entire party dynamic as the party exists to keep the cleric alive, and in turn the cleric exists to keep the party alive. Only a supremely powerful character could go anywhere without a cleric along and not expect to have a very short lifespan, and even then that was usually a combination of 'cleric in a bottle' in the form of healing magic items and healing that opens up with higher level paladins, druids, etc. That is because, as you noted, the only good answers to poison and disease were magical, and without clerics you are going to eventually die to one bad situation.

But then you ask me to imagine the "not uncommon" scenario of a save or die gas cloud, which would have then and does now strike me as an extremely bloody minded challenge for a DM to pit against a party. There are in fact no save or die gas clouds in Tomb of Horrors for example (that I recall), and the most bloody minded challenge in the whole dungeon is the sleep gas. If you consider save or die gas clouds "not uncommon" it's not a wonder to me that your impression of the game is one of completely random and unavoidable deaths and so the character you play is basically as good as any other. I think I'd gravitate to only playing Dwarves in a game like that.

Which gets to the idea of how you managed to get a melee fighter to high level without a CON bonus to speak of, and apparently not a lot of clerics. You mentioned early DM fudging, but I'm wondering even more about the mix of challenges involved. You're clearly not trying to face anything like the G series with its loads of giants trying to squish you flat, or anything like DL with its save or die dragon breath weapons. (I'm not necessarily saying everyone played those modules, but remember my assumption was that homebrew games resembled modules or campaigns to some extent.) The real sort of fudging that I think is going on here is more like what I talked about with making a character useful through campaign and encounter design. Then again, this is apparently a game where despite not throwing a lot of difficult combat challenges at the party - few 16HD hydras or yagnodaemons for example - the DMs feel perfectly free to hit the whole party with regular save or die gas traps...

We didn't use henchmen much. With ony pcs and porters, one bad roll was indeed enough.
We had tons of henchmen. In fact, it was possible on a game night where most of the group wasn't showing up, to do ensemble or troupe play where one or two PC's went off on their own and any player that showed up who didn't have a main PC available could play one of the henchmen. Henchmen were essential for providing valuable skills like healing, magic, tanking when key PC's weren't around or were down or out of resources or whatever. The could also guard the baggage/camp if you were going into a dungeon.

Anyway, we're still stuck on my assertion of 'viable', despite my lengthy attempt to explain it and despite the fact that you don't dispute my analysis of the rules.

What I'm not sure of from my end of the conversation is why you think a statement like "There is more to D&D than your ability scores" or "I had fun playing a thief and saw others have fun playing a thief." is a refutation. We agree on both of those concepts, and I don't think either harms my assertion about viability. There is more to D&D than your ability scores, and though you don't define what you think that "more" is, it still remains true that even if your goal is narrative ability scores help that goal by ensuring character survival which in turn ensures continuity of the narrative. There may be more to D&D than ability scores, but the structure of AD&D and to a lesser but still large extent BECMI weighted all the viability of a character to having one or more scores of 16 or higher because it was only at that point that you got advantages in play and those advantages while they seem small were in fact enormous when you start doing the math. Consider that the fighter's most powerful and impactful class ability before weapon specialization showed up and broke the game was the massive advantage they got from 18 STR or 17 or higher CON.

My numbers don't go away just because we both agree you could have fun despite them, nor do they go away just because we both agree that skillful play (by the player) and the attitude of the group could overcome bad design. My point is, even so, "despite" and "bad design".

This is in contrast to say 3e which had advantages start at 12 and linearly increase and had well defined advantages for all ability scores that applied to all classes, so that while pure optimization still might go for Jack One Big Hammer, a broad range of comparatively low scores (12's and 14's) was still plenty viable.

In the context of the "OSR Gripes" what I'm essentially asking is, "Why would you try to have fidelity to older editions exponential and very top loaded ability scores and not utilize the obvious improvements of 3e's ability score bonuses"? I mean, yes I can agree we all had fun in the '80s, but do we not all agree that there were bad design elements? Why are we building games that sell themselves as faithfully recreating the bad design elements?
 
I have to agree with the very original grognards, who were upset at the introduction of the thief, back in the day.
Ironically, I don't.

In OD&D, it was assumed players used their own wits to solve traps and obstacles, but along came the thief with skills. It was assumed that all characters could sneak, hide and climb.
OD&D players are fond of saying this, but they are just wrong. OD&D made no effort to suggest anyone could sneak, hide or climb and if it had have done so no one would have been inspired to create the thief class or if they had have done so they would have been inspired to create a very different class.

The grognards grumbling about the thief are being very disingenuous. The introduction of the thief in no fashion (in and of itself) asserted that any character could no longer climb any wall that the DM said he could. Every character could continue to climb walls that the DM said were climbable, and such climbable walls continued to appear in published materials. What the thief did was allow the player to climb a wall that the DM had not explicitly called out as climbable, and that was something no PC could otherwise do and that was the impetus around the creation of the class.

Now, I obviously agree that the thief was very badly designed and exactly why it is badly designed is a long topic, but I could probably shorten it to the problem that D&D had no notion of the idea of difficulty and without a notion of difficulty its every attempt to deal with the problem of skills was doomed to failure.

Every table had a different system for resolving the rolls, but nobody argued there shouldn't be any of these checks.
Obviously someone must have or else no one would have ever wanted a thief class to exist. I'm much less sanguine about how wide open and free the games were in OD&D based on the self-reporting of people of the era (for the same reason that I take with a grain of salt people talking about the 'good old days'), and I think there are clues in AD&D as to what things were really like. For example, in Gygax's example of play in the DMG, the party has to climb a wall. And they do it by forming a human pyramid and boosting a PC up to the top of the wall. Now this is not something that the AD&D thief stops and it's a good example of open ended problem solving, but it's also equally clear that neither could they climb a wall - even one with handholds in it - and that the writer (Gygax) so takes this for granted that no one in the example of play even asks to try.

So sure, back in the day you could climb, sneak or hide if you convinced the DM that the wall was climbable, or if you convinced the DM that the enemy was far enough away and unalert enough to allow it, or if you could convince the DM that you had something to hide behind. And after the thief was introduced you could still do all of those things. But what the player who wanted the thief class wanted that class to be and what the class was intended to be was a class that could climb more or less sheer walls that previously the DM wouldn't have considered climbable (no resorting to human pyramids), and which could move silently right past a guard at close range, and who could hide without having anything to hide behind but merely 'in shadows'. You didn't have to convince the DM that this wall was of the climbable sort, you could climb walls. The DM's role was then reversed - he had to explicitly mark walls as non-climbable by making them out of glass or ice or polished marble something. You didn't have to convince the DM you could move quietly enough to not be notice - you could move silently. That's a huge increase in the player's agency.

And if some DMs out there couldn't deal with that, then that is on them and not on the thief class.

Have to agree with Celebrim. The thief was not a viable class.
You don't agree with me at all. You have a very different complaint, one that I disagree with in every way except that fundamentally all of the attempts to add the idea of character skillfulness to D&D prior to 3e were bad design.
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
Along came the thief. He had these skills, and he was very bad at them, so now where did that leave the other characters? I believe the official word was only thieves could do these things, and even if that wasn't true, or tables ignored this rule, if a thief has a 15% chance to hide, then the fighter has to be noticeably worse.
From what has been explained to me the 15 percent thief technique was only supposed to be needed if the task was impossible for other methods. Now I do not think that was well presented if that was actually the intent and it feels a little weird how does that work you make a d20 vs dexterity check and if that fails then roll the thief percentages?

Anyone else here of that thinking?
 

Tony Vargas

Adventurer
From what has been explained to me the 15 percent thief technique was only supposed to be needed if the task was impossible for other methods. Now I do not think that was well presented if that was actually the intent and it feels a little weird how does that work you make a d20 vs dexterity check and if that fails then roll the thief percentages?
Anyone else here of that thinking?
I never got that impression that the Thief's special abilities were to perform tasks that fit the description, but were otherwise impossible. Quite the opposite, it seemed like the existence of the Thief made those other tasks impossible for everyone else (or what was the point). Especially given that there weren't a lot of systems for performing those tasks. The closest thing I can think of was the ability of certain characters to surprise more often under certain circumstances, which /implied/ moving silently/hiding, and used entirely different mechanics.

The problem I see with the Thief, in retrospect, is that it started a trend of hyper-specializing non-casters, in a game where casters rapidly expanded both the power & versatility of their abilities. That is, the Thief, along with Vance, indirectly, was responsible for casters growing into the Tier 1 campaign-stomping-Kaiju of 3e.

And no edition has every pulled completely free of that. 4e, as much flack as it gets for daring to be somewhat balanced, left Rogues & Rangers as exploration specialists relative to the incompetent-out-of-combat Fighter, while giving Clerics & especially, Wizards, more & more versatile out-of-combat options - both more skills /and/ free rituals. 5e restored LFQW, and largely reduced skill-based contributions to 'warm body' anyone-might-randomly-succeed BA - with the traditional exception of the Rogue, this time specialized via Expertise.
 
From what has been explained to me the 15 percent thief technique was only supposed to be needed if the task was impossible for other methods. Now I do not think that was well presented if that was actually the intent and it feels a little weird how does that work you make a d20 vs dexterity check and if that fails then roll the thief percentages?

Anyone else here of that thinking?
Your assumption that there were many or any tables out there which let you climb a wall after make D20 under dexterity check is what I think is entirely wrong here. I don't think that existed as a consistent methodology more or less anywhere. There may have been some tables doing that before or after the introduction of the thief because anything is possible, but if I had to bet based on the evidence I'd say, "Nope."

The evidence I would cite is the complete lack of submissions to Dragon or any attempt by TSR itself to fix the skills problem with that methodology. No one ever even thought of it, and I knew people writing into dragon trying to get published and certainly no one at TSR was going, "Hey, you wouldn't happen to have a fix to the skills problem would you?" We mentioned Len Lakofka earlier, and he was one of the best most self-aware critics of the D&D system of the era and he addressed the problem with the thief design and it's intent, but not in the way or context you are imagining which is I think a very anachronistic and very modern view that assumes the existence of a fortune test.

Even when NWP did consistently get to make a D20 or under roll, it was still a silo'd skill or ability granted to you and not something that worked off the assumption of a broad system available to all.

My suspicion is that before the thief there was no system. And after all, this is EXACTLY what the OD&D people most often trumpet as why it was better. So the 'system' such as it was for climbing a wall is you described your approach for doing so to the DM and he gave you a pass/fail on whether it worked. That is to say, prior to the thief, no one was rolling the dice as part of a fortune check for hiding or climbing at all. They just asked the DM to describe the wall, and if it was rough and uneven then they tried to convince the DM that they had a successful approach for climbing the wall, and if they succeeded in that they just had climbed the wall. I think based on everything I've read and first hand testimony that was in fact how OD&D was played.

And you could still play AD&D that way and in fact I think it was intended to play that way after the introduction of the thief. What the thief let you do for the first time is get a roll to succeed even if you couldn't talk the DM into letting you automatically succeed. And in a way that was revolutionary. We were moving away from a pure Braunstein resolution methodology where everything was about convincing the referee your plan would work.

In point of fact, I doubt very many walls were climbed in OD&D unless before the session the DM wrote up, "The north wall if closely inspected is rough enough that handholds can be used to climb it." And again, the reason is that I knew players from that era (a cousin for example) and I also joined just after that era and I know how DMs tended to approach the problem. For example, for wall climbing if a fighter proposed climbing a wall, the DM would probably point out the wall was of brick or closely fitted stone or carved stone and that would be it. You couldn't climb it. If a table argument erupted (because no rules!) it would focus on 'realism', and the DM would probably say something like, "You put on plate mail and a 40lb backpack and climb yonder cinderblock or brick wall, and I'll let your character climb this wall. Climbing a brick/stone wall is not realistic." In practice, the only walls that would have been climbed were ones the DM blessed as climbable for reasons of their own.
 
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The problem I see with the Thief, in retrospect, is that it started a trend of hyper-specializing non-casters, in a game where casters rapidly expanded both the power & versatility of their abilities.
I pretty much agree with this.

That is, the Thief, along with Vance, indirectly, was responsible for casters growing into the Tier 1 campaign-stomping-Kaiju of 3e.
I don't fully agree with that. My take is that casters hit tier 1 in 3e because a) they made the decision to remove a lot of the fiddly restrictions on when you could cast so that getting casting interrupted became unreasonably hard and b) because when they finally invented difficulty they made the mistake of applying it to the magic system as well as the skills system in a way that was extremely over aggressive and c) because they from experience in 1e they erroneously thought the only real balance problems with magic was probably things like fireball.

I never got that impression that the Thief's special abilities were to perform tasks that fit the description, but were otherwise impossible.
I need to dig up Len Lakofka's write up on the thief, but the its somewhere between what you are thinking and what Garthanos is thinking. In brief, yes the thief is meant to give you abilities that are otherwise impossible. But it's not meant to make impossible what is an act of ordinary skill. So for example, the fact that the thief can hide in shadows isn't meant to imply that no one can hide or even that only thieves could hide in darkness. It's coming from the sort of resolution methodology that I think applied to OD&D, where in order to hide you'd normally need full concealment of some sort in order to get the DM to say you automatically hide, or else if you don't have full concealment you automatically would fail. The thief skills are meant to live in that ambiguous space between obvious success and obvious failure.

Quite the opposite, it seemed like the existence of the Thief made those other tasks impossible for everyone else (or what was the point). Especially given that there weren't a lot of systems for performing those tasks. The closest thing I can think of was the ability of certain characters to surprise more often under certain circumstances, which /implied/ moving silently/hiding, and used entirely different mechanics.
I think that in practice before the thief mostly everyone did find those tasks impossible. That is to say walls weren't normally climbed. Players never normally convinced the DM that they could move silently. I'm sure some player out there convinced some DM that if he took his boots and armor off and crept across the floor slowly that he could do so quietly, but in general I don't get the impression that non-magical stealth was really much a part of OD&D play before the thief. Again, I can just imagine the argument about realism, with the DM holding the trump card as to what works. This would have been even more unreliable than the notoriously unreliable thief skills, and in my head I imagine the designer of the thief must have imagined that at least a 25% chance of success was a big step up in reliability - 1 in 4 chance to actually move silently across the room.

And no edition has every pulled completely free of that. 4e, as much flack as it gets for daring to be somewhat balanced, left Rogues & Rangers as exploration specialists relative to the incompetent-out-of-combat Fighter, while giving Clerics & especially, Wizards, more & more versatile out-of-combat options - both more skills /and/ free rituals. 5e restored LFQW, and largely reduced skill-based contributions to 'warm body' anyone-might-randomly-succeed BA - with the traditional exception of the Rogue, this time specialized via Expertise.
The fighter is the biggest victim in all of this, in part because we are still locked into a thief skills defined list of what is a skill.
 

Sacrosanct

Slayer of Keraptis
From what has been explained to me the 15 percent thief technique was only supposed to be needed if the task was impossible for other methods. Now I do not think that was well presented if that was actually the intent and it feels a little weird how does that work you make a d20 vs dexterity check and if that fails then roll the thief percentages?

Anyone else here of that thinking?
Yes. And the 1e PHB implies this as well. Things like how hiding in shadows essentially makes one invisible, even to infravision (if a heat source is nearby). And how move silently makes you totally silent even across squeaky boards. I.e., the thief progression %s are above and beyond what normal PCs could do just by narrating their actions. Any non thief can try to be sneaky, but if there is something like squeaky boards, they will automatically fail. Or anyone can hide, but they won't be invisible like a thief can be.
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
Your assumption that there were many or any tables out there which let you climb a wall after make D20 under dexterity check is what I think is entirely wrong here. I don't think that existed as a consistent methodology more or less anywhere. There may have been some tables doing that before or after the introduction of the thief because anything is possible, but if I had to bet based on the evidence I'd say, "Nope."

The evidence I would cite is the complete lack of submissions to Dragon or any attempt by TSR itself to fix the skills problem with that methodology. No one ever even thought of it, and I knew people writing into dragon trying to get published and certainly no one at TSR was going, "Hey, you wouldn't happen to have a fix to the skills problem would you?" We mentioned Len Lakofka earlier, and he was one of the best most self-aware critics of the D&D system of the era and he addressed the problem with the thief design and it's intent, but not in the way or context you are imagining which is I think a very anachronistic and very modern view that assumes the existence of a fortune test.

Even when NWP did consistently get to make a D20 or under roll, it was still a silo'd skill or ability granted to you and not something that worked off the assumption of a broad system available to all.

My suspicion is that before the thief there was no system. And after all, this is EXACTLY what the OD&D people most often trumpet as why it was better. So the 'system' such as it was for climbing a wall is you described your approach for doing so to the DM and he gave you a pass/fail on whether it worked. That is to say, prior to the thief, no one was rolling the dice as part of a fortune check for hiding or climbing at all. They just asked the DM to describe the wall, and if it was rough and uneven then they tried to convince the DM that they had a successful approach for climbing the wall, and if they succeeded in that they just had climbed the wall. I think based on everything I've read and first hand testimony that was in fact how OD&D was played.

And you could still play AD&D that way and in fact I think it was intended to play that way after the introduction of the thief. What the thief let you do for the first time is get a roll to succeed even if you couldn't talk the DM into letting you automatically succeed. And in a way that was revolutionary. We were moving away from a pure Braunstein resolution methodology where everything was about convincing the referee your plan would work.

In point of fact, I doubt very many walls were climbed in OD&D unless before the session the DM wrote up, "The north wall if closely inspected is rough enough that handholds can be used to climb it." And again, the reason is that I knew players from that era (a cousin for example) and I also joined just after that era and I know how DMs tended to approach the problem. For example, for wall climbing if a fighter proposed climbing a wall, the DM would probably point out the wall was of brick or closely fitted stone or carved stone and that would be it. You couldn't climb it. If a table argument erupted (because no rules!) it would focus on 'realism', and the DM would probably say something like, "You put on plate mail and a 40lb backpack and climb yonder cinderblock or brick wall, and I'll let your character climb this wall. Climbing a brick/stone wall is not realistic." In practice, the only walls that would have been climbed were ones the DM blessed as climbable for reasons of their own.
I definitely do not think it was consistent it may have become a "fix" someone came up with later and was being "rationalized" in defense of the thief.

Definitely focus on realism yup. I have seen people in plate do obstacle courses (its way better tech than the armor before it and climbing is more doable than most people think - the stories of William Le Marshal in his 50s climbing castle walls are maybe less hyperbole than my gut reaction considered them when I first read of it) but I agree that is unlikely a table was aware of any of that even so.
 

qstor

Explorer
I'm wondering "where's the fun?" in OSR games like Labyrinth Lord/Swords and Wizardry?
The fun for me is playing a "stripped" down PC without all the bells and whistles of 5e/PF/d20.

I started with 1e so I'm actually more partial to OSRIC than LL and S&W but I'm been playing DCC with a friend of mine lately and that's fun too.
 

Tony Vargas

Adventurer
I don't fully agree with that. My take is that casters hit tier 1 in 3e because a) they made the decision to remove a lot of the fiddly restrictions on when you could cast so that getting casting interrupted became unreasonably hard and b) because when they finally invented difficulty they made the mistake of applying it to the magic system as well as the skills system in a way that was extremely over aggressive and c) because they from experience in 1e they erroneously thought the only real balance problems with magic was probably things like fireball.
Frankly, reversing all those mistakes wouldn't topple 3e casters from Tier 1. Retaining fiddly restrictions on casting, giving everyone all-good saves and nerfing save-DC-inflating loopholes, and nerfing spells like Polymorph et al, would /still/ have left the Tier 1 prepped casters super-versatile relative to the feat-specialized fighter, rage-specialized barbarian, and skill-specialized Rogue.

I need to dig up Len Lakofka's write up on the thief, but the its somewhere between what you are thinking and what Garthanos is thinking. In brief, yes the thief is meant to give you abilities that are otherwise impossible.
I'm surprised that didn't make an impression on me back in the day.
But it's not meant to make impossible what is an act of ordinary skill.
The experience of the game was /so/ varied back in the day. I can only say my experience was it did exactly that: oh, the Thief has these % abilities, other characters don't, these tasks must be the Thief's raison d'etre, that's why it's attack & save matrixes are so bad, why it's HD are low, why it can't wear armor or use many weapons... because those few skills, at such low % are /just that valuable/, and, to protect that niche, /must/ be exclusive.

2e, BTW, did seem to cross that line, and imply that NWPs could duplicate Thief special abilities, and with a much better chance of success. I'm not sure anyone ran with that implication, but I remember being perplexed by it and ultimately not using NWPs, in part, because of that. (I went for a variant that let characters define one skill that they were exceptionally good at, instead, and assumed broad competence with level outside of that.)
 

lowkey13

Exterminate all rational thought
Your assumption that there were many or any tables out there which let you climb a wall after make D20 under dexterity check is what I think is entirely wrong here. I don't think that existed as a consistent methodology more or less anywhere. There may have been some tables doing that before or after the introduction of the thief because anything is possible, but if I had to bet based on the evidence I'd say, "Nope."

....


In point of fact, I doubt very many walls were climbed in OD&D unless before the session the DM wrote up, "The north wall if closely inspected is rough enough that handholds can be used to climb it." And again, the reason is that I knew players from that era (a cousin for example) and I also joined just after that era and I know how DMs tended to approach the problem. For example, for wall climbing if a fighter proposed climbing a wall, the DM would probably point out the wall was of brick or closely fitted stone or carved stone and that would be it. You couldn't climb it. If a table argument erupted (because no rules!) it would focus on 'realism', and the DM would probably say something like, "You put on plate mail and a 40lb backpack and climb yonder cinderblock or brick wall, and I'll let your character climb this wall. Climbing a brick/stone wall is not realistic." In practice, the only walls that would have been climbed were ones the DM blessed as climbable for reasons of their own.
Pointing this out again, although others have already done so.

You are on a forum. A forum where, among other things, we have people that write columns sharing their experience writing the books from back in the day (h/t James Ward). Where we have the archived words of EGG.

And where we have, for better or worse, various Grognards milling about who played and DM'd these games. Not cousins. Not people who may or may not have used Unearthed Arcana (because, to these Grognards, Unearthed Arcana was an abomination late in the 1e lifecycle).

Given that, perhaps it is best to approach this from a position of, "Hey, this is my understanding, which may or may not be universal." As opposed to telling other people that their assumptions are entirely wrong because of what you think you know from your cousin and therefore can extrapolate it to the practice of all the people who used to play.

TLDR; the whole introduction of the Thief class was a tired debate in the late 70s, it's odd that someone would state, now, that they perfectly understand that this wasn't a debate because they knew how DMs would approach the problem, despite not having been there.

Your experiences are your own, but try not to universalize them on to other people, especially if you didn't actually experience it.
 

Monayuris

Explorer
From what has been explained to me the 15 percent thief technique was only supposed to be needed if the task was impossible for other methods. Now I do not think that was well presented if that was actually the intent and it feels a little weird how does that work you make a d20 vs dexterity check and if that fails then roll the thief percentages?

Anyone else here of that thinking?
Yes that is the original intent for the skill as I have come to understand it.

In fact, supplement I: Greyhawk introduces thieves with the following abilities:

Thieves: All thieves are either neutral or chaotic — although lawful characters may hire them on a one-time basis for missions which are basically lawful.
They are not as strong as other classes in hit dice, but thieves have many distinct
advantages which are enumerated below. Thieves can employ magic daggers
and magic swords but none of the other magical weaponry. They can wear
only leather armor and cannot employ shields. While they cannot learn spells,
thieves of the highest levels are able to read those spells written on scrolls. Basic
abilities are:
– open locks by picking or foiling magical closures
– remove small trap devices (such as poisoned needles)
– listen for noise behind closed doors
– move with great stealth
– filch items and pick pockets
– hide in shadows
– strike silently from behind
climb nearly sheer surfaces, upwards or downwards
The thief skill represented the ability to climb sheer surfaces without need for rope. I always thought anyone can climb with the proper gear and with time. It was thieves who have an almost supernatural ability to do so.

Same thing with move silently and hide in shadows. These were literally the ability to move completely silently and to hide from sight within a shadowy corner.

I always assumed thief skills were borderline supernatural and did not prevent other characters from attempting similar actions.

My theory is that over the editions the thief ability became morphed (probably an editorial judgement) to appear more and more mundane with each new edition... losing the original intent of the ability in the process and sparking the whole debate.
 
Pointing this out again, although others have already done so.

You are on a forum. A forum where, among other things, we have people that write columns sharing their experience writing the books from back in the day (h/t James Ward). Where we have the archived words of EGG.

And where we have, for better or worse, various Grognards milling about who played and DM'd these games. Not cousins. Not people who may or may not have used Unearthed Arcana (because, to these Grognards, Unearthed Arcana was an abomination late in the 1e lifecycle).

Given that, perhaps it is best to approach this from a position of, "Hey, this is my understanding, which may or may not be universal." As opposed to telling other people that their assumptions are entirely wrong because of what you think you know from your cousin and therefore can extrapolate it to the practice of all the people who used to play.

TLDR; the whole introduction of the Thief class was a tired debate in the late 70s, it's odd that someone would state, now, that they perfectly understand that this wasn't a debate because they knew how DMs would approach the problem, despite not having been there.

Your experiences are your own, but try not to universalize them on to other people, especially if you didn't actually experience it.
You seem to be continuing some debate I wasn't a part of based on the idea that I am continuing it. But did I say I didn't know such a debate happened? Where do you get that of all things?

You aren't saying anything I don't know. I'm just not sure how what you are saying is applicable or why you think it is.

If in fact you have the archived words of Gygax where he says something useful on this subject, share them.

If in fact you encountered some sort of consistent universally applied skill system preexisting the introduction of the thief which wasn't just DM fiat, please explain how that worked. I'd love to meet that mythical beast. Let's add another bit of evidence to that. I've been on the boards what 17 years now, and in that time not one OD&D player has advocated for a skill system as opposed to DM fiat, despite the fact we've had plenty of grognards that play "the one true system". So yeah, it's an assumption by me that such a skill system didn't exist, but I think it's a pretty strong assumption.

And if you hadn't in fact encountered that consistent universally applied skill system used even by anyone much less a majority of the community, then you aren't actually contradicting me and you whole post amounts to nothing more than, "Oh yeah. Well shut up."
 

Tony Vargas

Adventurer
My theory is that over the editions the thief ability became morphed (probably an editorial judgement) to appear more and more mundane with each new edition... losing the original intent of the ability in the process and sparking the whole debate.
Honestly, none of those things, as described in your quote from the original, sound innate fantastic. "Special" Ability still seems a misnomer after reading them.



But, reminding myself how wildly varied impressions, variants, and play were back in the day:
/Given/ that some folks experience of the Thief was that it represented nigh-supernatural ability on the impossible end of tasks described by it's special abilities, from climbing sheer surfaces to picking pockets and opening medieval locks, a question for any such folks who ever tried 3e.

What was your reaction to the 3e Rogue getting a bunch of skill ranks and the classic Thief special abilities being 'demoted' to mere skills? (And, we might as well note the exception of Trapfinding, which remained niche-protected for Rogues and Clerics casting Find Traps.)
 
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Sacrosanct

Slayer of Keraptis
OK, some clarifications here, although I feel like I'm talking into the void, because some of the things I mentioned as corrections are having people repeat the same error after I've given the correction, so...

The first published skill system was 1976 in Dragon Magazine #1 by Wesley Ives. Literally the 1st Dragon magazine had an article on it. However, that system was extremely cumbersome to use, so shortly after, DMs because using "roll d20 and if you get under your stat, you succeed." That was extremely common, and IIRC was also in an early dragon magazine (trying to find it). But to say it wasn't common is not true.

Now, for the thief, it was, since the beginning, meant to have skills and do things other characters couldn't do (like picking magical locks). Not that it replaced other PCs trying to hide, but to give the thief superhuman abilities to attempt what no one else could. (the 1e PHB infers this as well, as I pointed out earlier) And at higher levels, automatically succeeded. Reference the original thief class as it appears in Gen Con 1974:


 
My theory is that over the editions the thief ability became morphed (probably an editorial judgement) to appear more and more mundane with each new edition... losing the original intent of the ability in the process and sparking the whole debate.
Well, the debate definitely preexisted the evolution of the idea of skillfulness in D&D.

In general, it was mostly climb/find traps/remove traps that I think presented the biggest ideological problems. I've never heard anyone suggest for example that characters were assumed to have skill in picking pockets or picking locks. I think people easily accepted that picking pockets or opening locks were skills most people didn't have.

Remember, you have to look at this through the lens of the Braunstein inspired ruleless open ended game versus the modern notion of a universal fortune system. How did people check for traps before 'check for traps'? Well, they proposed the character carefully inspecting and looking at the object, and if they looked at the right thing carefully enough they maybe convinced the GM that they found the trap. I don't think this process usually involved a fortune test, because when I've witnessed this debate in the past the grognard side normally hates the whole idea of a fortune test. There idea is that by careful play by the player you find the trap and that is how it was done back in the day.

Similarly, I wasn't just pulling out of the air the whole take off your boots and armor thing. That's how I've been told stealthy movement was done back in the day. Again, I don't think the system was, "If you take off your boots and armor and you roll under Dexterity then I'll let you move silently." The judge simply decided whether or not the plan was good enough work and if it did it didn't and if it wasn't it wasn't. If the fortune system preexisted the Thief and was in any way widely known and accepted, my expectation is that the thief would have referenced it instead of having its own table of skills by level and we would have gotten the idea of a NWP way before we did. Nor have I heard anyone, Jordan Peterson included, describe such a nascent skills system.

The problem of course that you always ran into as a DM is that you know had this system for adjudicating extraordinary actions but it only applied to thieves. You had no system for adjudicating extraordinary actions for non thieves and more importantly you had no system for adjudicating ordinary actions. For rather ordinary actions, you still basically had the old Braunstein system of deciding for yourself if something was climbable. Climb a ladder? Yes. (No check.) Climb a dressed stone wall? No. (No check.) Climb a tree? Err.... Yes? Maybe? Not this tree?

And that's where the system started failing. Yes and No were easy answers but the thief skill system still really didn't address the in between cases well. Remember, we wouldn't have a notion of difficulty built into the system until 3e. So how much easier was it to climb a tree than the nearly sheer wall the thief was climbing? How much harder was it to climb a nearly sheer wall of ice? Rules smiths and module writers and other DMs started having to try to work with the system as it was, and as you might expect - just with other attempts to jury rig a skill system - the suggestions that they made were all over the place.
 
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What was your reaction to the 3e Rogue getting a bunch of skill ranks and the classic Thief special abilities being 'demoted' to mere skills? (And, we might as well note the exception of Trapfinding, which remained niche-protected for Rogues and Clerics casting Find Traps.)
You have no way to imagine how much I loved the 3e Rogue. I nearly cried when I read the rules.

So, on one hand, you are right. The baseline difficulty of climbing a nearly sheer wall in 3e is DC 20, and a 1st edition 1st level thief would have probably had a better chance of success at it than a 3e 1st level Rogue. But, neither would have been able to do it reliably at that point, and the 3e rogue would hit the point where they had a +19 bonus on climb and could not only reliably climb a nearly sheer wall but dare climb walls much less climbable. And before then you'd hit the +14 point where you could climb rough walls and the +9 point where you could climb things with hand holds.

And yes, you were no longer the only character that could climb walls so you weren't 'special', but you were outright the most skillful character with the most skills. And by contrast, to show you how crapped on the Thief was in AD&D, when they introduced NWP's as the first proto-skill system, the Thief got the fewest of them and earned the fewest as they increased in levels.

The 3e skill system wasn't perfect. It was IMO still too conservative, and the authors were still too obviously afraid of allowing mere skills to do useful things, but it was an amazing step in the right direction both in terms of the viability of the rogue archetype and in terms of adjudicating all these actions as a DM.

The niche-protection remained a problem.
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
Yes that is the original intent for the skill as I have come to understand it.

In fact, supplement I: Greyhawk introduces thieves with the following abilities:



The thief skill represented the ability to climb sheer surfaces without need for rope. I always thought anyone can climb with the proper gear and with time. It was thieves who have an almost supernatural ability to do so.

Same thing with move silently and hide in shadows. These were literally the ability to move completely silently and to hide from sight within a shadowy corner.

I always assumed thief skills were borderline supernatural and did not prevent other characters from attempting similar actions.

My theory is that over the editions the thief ability became morphed (probably an editorial judgement) to appear more and more mundane with each new edition... losing the original intent of the ability in the process and sparking the whole debate.
By 4th edition when wizards were casting invisibility and flying spells around the rogues abilities are hitting that supernatural element.
 

Tony Vargas

Adventurer
You have no way to imagine how much I loved the 3e Rogue. I nearly cried when I read the rules.

So, on one hand, you are right. The baseline difficulty of climbing a nearly sheer wall in 3e is DC 20, and a 1st edition 1st level thief would have probably had a better chance of success at it than a 3e 1st level Rogue. But, neither would have been able to do it reliably at that point, and the 3e rogue would hit the point where they had a +19 bonus on climb and could not only reliably climb a nearly sheer wall but dare climb walls much less climbable. And before then you'd hit the +14 point where you could climb rough walls and the +9 point where you could climb things with hand holds.
Climb was also STR-based in 3e, so the Rogue was unlikely to have the highest raw check...
...though perhaps likely to be higher than the Fighter after armor penalties.
And, perhaps amusingly, a raging barbarian could /really/ climb. ;P
(Unless you deemed that climbing required some finesse so couldn't be done while raging.)

And yes, you were no longer the only character that could climb walls so you weren't 'special', but you were outright the most skillful character with the most skills.
Had the most skills is a world of difference from the only one with special abilities, that were either the only way to accomplish that range of tasks - or the only way to accomplish 'impossible' examples of those tasks.

It's the latter I'm curious about.

In 3e, the Thief's Trapfinding feature made him able to find traps (with DCs over 20) that non-thieves(non-dwarves-searching stonework, non-clerics-casting-find-traps) couldn't. It looked, to me, like it was a bit of niche-protection - inn the past, only the Thief could look for traps, at all, others could, at most, probe ahead to set them off hopefully while out of danger, now there was a defined line letting them find some easier traps.
From this other point of view I'm hearing about, now, it was a sole example of things staying the same: that, before, everyone could perform every Thief special ability, to a mundane level, though no mechanics were generally forthcoming, but the Thief's facility was truly special in every case, "now" (in 3e) only Trapfinding was special.

And by contrast, to show you how crapped on the Thief was in AD&D, when they introduced NWP's as the first proto-skill system, the Thief got the fewest of them and earned the fewest as they increased in levels.
Not surprising.

The 3e skill system wasn't perfect. It was IMO still too conservative, and the authors were still too obviously afraid of allowing mere skills to do useful things, but it was an amazing step in the right direction both in terms of the viability of the rogue archetype and in terms of adjudicating all these actions as a DM.

The niche-protection remained a problem.
So, were you on the original-Thief Special Abilities were nigh-supernatural, do-the-impossible things, or just considering it as one way of looking at it? Because 3e would seem quite the let-down if you were committed to that viewpoint at the time.
 
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