What's your favorite version of the Thief's skill?

i’ve really come around to diceless skills (not thief-specific, i mostly play Knave hacks instead of retroclones, but you probably could finagle it into a thief in a more traditional D&D game).

the idea is each character starts with X number of skills (more for a thief), and instead of picking from a list you just write something you’re good at. picking pockets, or sneaking, or alchemy, or smuggling, or swimming, or whatever. and any time that comes up in play, unless you’re asking for something genuinely unreasonable, it just… happens. you do it. you’re the climbing guy, you can climb shit any time something needs to be climbed, end of story.

i like skills being more reliable, since i feel it’s in the OSR spirit for dice to be dangerous. combat has lots of die rolls that can kill you, on purpose, as a deterrent to keep you from approaching every situation with swords drawn. that way you end up finagling a complex scheme that requires no dice, which is usually more interesting than murdering people to death. diceless skills in that context end up being another tool for you to integrate into your schemes, like your crowbar or rope or big pile of gold, instead of another way to leave your character’s fate up to chance (which should always be opt-in as a way for players to make interesting decisions about risk management).

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My favourite implementation of Thief Skills in “old school games”, to be honest, is Runequest 2e. Not really OSR I guess, so I’ll move on.

After that, something like LotfP isn’t bad. I actually think the LotfP specialist is a great ‘everyman’ class, because it is MUCH more than being a thief/rogue replacement. Every so often I consider running a game where everyone is a Specialist, or a slightly modified hack of that.

One idea was to let other classes get 2 skill points at the start, and 1 per level, just so the core class concept could be tailored, but without going over the top. This might seem too rapid an advancement rate, but since a lot of campaigns are ‘mini’ at best these days, I’m not sure it would be a problem. Completely untested though.

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I’ve split this topic from the original one because it’s interesting in its own right. This is something I used to do (and mess up) pretty often when the forum was active, because it allows us to pop up more stuff as we talk.

Since you’re pretty new to the forum (and this didn’t happen in a while) I thought it better to put in a notice that you did nothing wrong and this is just a normal thing.

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This is super interesting. I really like having players generated their own stuff so I’m drawn to this. How do you adjudicate skills that run a risk of bypassing other aspects of the game? Like if a player says their character is trained in intimidation, can they just automatically coerce NPCs? Or if a character is trained in languages can they automatically talk to all NPCs and monsters?

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i tend to be more stingy when it comes to social skills, or anything that interacts with game mechanics (like i had one player recently pick first aid as a skill, which obviously encroaches on the territory of stuff like healing spells, so however i end up ruling that definitely won’t be as useful as “you can heal people at any time whenever you want”). anything social like intimidation or deception or gossip is just ruled on a case-by-case basis of what i feel is reasonable, and something like “persuasion” i usually decide is too broad and ask them to pick something more specific.

languages hadn’t occurred to me; i haven’t had a player pick that yet. it doesn’t tend to come up too much in my games, so i probably would just let them talk to any NPC and speaking monster within reason, but if my campaigns involved language barriers more heavily i would probably put a few more limits on that.

it’s definitely a system that requires a bit more player/GM trust than traditional “you have a 40% chance of picking pockets” type skills. if i had a player try and deliberately minmax the most broadly useful skills in bad faith i would have to sit them down and make sure we’re on the same page.

I also like the specialist / adventurer approach. I have backgrounds in my current campaign for each class which determines starting equipment, skills included for theifs / specialists. They get two at level 1 and one / level as they level up.

I don’t have any social skills though. I only have skills for stuff that a character needs knowledge/training/talent to achieve e.g. alchemy, acrobatics or tinkering.

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Lately I’ve been enjoying using the Turn Undead Table to Resolve Thief Special Abilities. There’s a lot more packed into it than the d% or the X-in-6 resolution methods. I blogged about it here:

From time to time, I do sometimes also employ my Unusual Thief Abilities table as well, since the standard list of Special Abilities is a bit Dungeon-centric, and their role tends to shift quite a bit once we get to the Wilderness/Domain Tiers. After they acquire the ability to use Scrolls…many of those have a better Chance of Success and offer more Powerful/Useful Functions and Effects than the standard abilities.


Hello! My first post in this forum. I was playing B/X OSE RAW for about a year and got frustrated with the thief skills.

We switched to Hear Noise progression for all skills. It’s pretty close to the other percentages (except climb walls) and much easier to remember.

Moving forward, we’ll do Hear Noise and a +1 Bonus to the player’s thief skill of choice at Levels 1, 3, 7 (max 5-in-6).