On one hand, when I’m in OD&D mode, I want player skill, reasoning, and description to rule the day. I love the idea of a return to the days when players said “I carefully remove the clothes from the chest, being watchful for tripwires or things of that sort. When I have them emptied, I lightly tap around inside the chest, listening for hollow spots or a false bottom.” To me, that is so much better than “I check out the chest. My Perception Check was a 15. What do I find?”
Yet, there are times when player description just isn’t enough. Describing how to pick a lock isn’t something most of us can do with any degree of accuracy, for example. So, I do think there are instances where player skill needs to give way to character skill. Besides which, I like the idea of a skulking character of unsavory repute, but he is necessary. While I like the idea of any character doing thieving things, I also like the idea that one character may be better at it, or an aspect of it, than another character.
I’ve given some thought to various methods of making this happen. I could just allow the Thief from Greyhawk to the available classes. If I did, though, it would give one class a monopoly on thiefly activities.
I could make available a “graft” of the thief skills, at an XP cost. This seems ok, but just doesn’t feel right. I’m not crazy about the thief skill being this homogenous blob. I prefer the idea that a guy can be a first-rate lockpick and not know a damn thing about sneaking around.
lastly would be some method whereby players could select thief skills for their character, cafeteria-style, at some sort of premium, such as additional XP. The drawback to this option is that it starts straying into the murky area of a skill system, which I prefer to avoid.
Here’s an idea I had. I’m just spitballin’, but here it is. In Greyhawk, the majority of Thief skills are divided up into two broad categories: Open Locks/Remove Traps and Pick Pocket/move Silently/ Hide in Shadows. I propose that Fighters and Magic-Users (only) may opt at character creation to have certain Thief skills. The player may choose one group for his character to have. The choice must be made during character creation, and can not be changed. The character advances in those skills per Greyhawk. In return, the character must forfeit 15% of earned experience. Up to 10% of this may be offset by high Prime Requisites.
I’m not so sure I’m crazy about that either. But there it is. If anyone has an opinion on the matter, or that idea, I would love to hear it.
Ok, I just had another idea. This one can apply to pretty much anything, not just thief-like activities. Very simply, when the outcome of something is too variable to allow a player to simply describe his character’s actions, roll d20 and add the most appropriate stat. The referee will do likewise, high roll is successful. This can be used for anything from picking a lock (give it a rating to be added to the d20 roll), to sneaking past a guard, climbing a wall (d20 + rating based on surface and conditions), deciphering something written in a lost language, etc, etc.
I hate to sound like I’m patting myself on the back, but I really like this idea. It even takes class into account, in a way. If the referee allows players to place stats rather than rolling in order (which I do), then the best numbers will be allocated to the stats that are most relevant to the class. In other words, there’s no need to give Fighters a bonus on a physical roll because he will most likely have his best number in Strength anyway. If you want a guy that is above average in the thieving arts, just be sure and put one of your better numbers on DEX. If it means missing out on the Prime Requisite bonus, then that’s the cost of being a jack-of-all-trades. This should also play very fast at the table. All in all, I think I might be onto to something here.