Monday, November 30, 2009

Blind Thieves

“R” made a comment on my last post that I’d like to address fully:

“I noticed in your other post you use Wisdom for your perception rolls and here you imply that Thieves are the class that uses Wisdom the least ... I don't necessarily have a problem with thieves' least likely ‘decent score’ being Wisdom, but I do consider thieves more naturally perceptive than the other classes.”
Of course, thieves to have a additional aspect to their perception ability, that being their ability to hear noise.  Although I've never done it - though I should start, I suppose - it would make sense to allow a +1 modifier on the die per 5% of hear noise ability.  Thus, a thief with an 11 wisdom and a 20% hear noise would roll a perception check as though their wisdom was 15.

Putting that aside for the moment, I think where R and I differ is in the way we look at thieves ... I would guess that R holds the common perception of thieves inside the movie-making tradition.  That the thief is essentially Thomas Crown, or John Robie, or any number of prestigious cat-burglars with, eventually upon reaching a high level, perfect reflexes and balance.  Certainly, any of these would never fail to notice the slightest detail should it cross their path - and thus, they are deserving of a high perception.

I do not adhere to this model where it comes to thieves.  Yes, I believe the possibility exists for a thief like this in a campaign - if the thief chooses to assign a high wisdom to their character.  On the other hand, there are plenty of thieves in literature that fit perfectly into the model for a thief with low wisdom and perception.  Fagin, for example, who isn't among the more terribly bright pennies in the box - nor the most perceptive.  The same must be said for Pistol, Bardolph or Nym.  Falstaff was drunk most of the time, and hardly as light with his feet or eye as he was with his tongue (you may examine the Merry Wives of Windsor for sources, if you like).

In short, there are thieves and there are thieves.  Just as not every fighter is a duellist with two weapons, and not every assassin is an ugly sprat.  Depending on how the player assigns his scores to his stats, the character is defined.

This is a chief problem I have with skills systems where players gain skills through buying them.  The skills themselves are made according to assumptions made about what a character is and what is important.  There's no room in the lexicon for a Pistol, as every skill is designed expressly to produce a Hudson Hawk.  Every fighter must be a massive Conan; none can be a shrewd Petruchio or a brooding, angst-driven Elric of Melnibone.  The mages must all be Galdalf - there is no room for a weakling Skeeve.

In short, two-dimensionality.  If the skill is good for thieves, ipso facto all thieves must have that skill.  Which I think is a big weakness of some systems.


R said...

I just wanted to mention the something about the difference between being perceptive and being dumb.

When I think of a stereotypical thief, what comes to mind is a generic poor-person-turned cutpurse. These aren't geniuses or master thieves, just run of the mill bozos or thugs who learned some street tricks and slight of hand (how to lift a wallet or notice a out-of-towner or whatever).

That's where the "perceptive thief" ideas comes from. You can be a slack-jawed yokel if you're a thief, but I can't imagine having the ability to Hide in Shadows, Move Silently, or even Pick Pockets if you're bad at noticing what's going on around you.

I'm not saying that thieves have a super-radar and pick up every detail, I was just shocked that perception didn't seem to be correlated with thieves. To me, that's like warriors not caring about constitution. Sure, it's not the main ability score for their class, but the majority of them would like an above average constitution score.

A Dumb Thief to me is one with a low intelligence.

Alexis said...

Fagin ... isn't dumb.

I made no references whatsoever to intelligence.

The dispute here seems to exist between two definitions of 'perception.' The first, the one which R is using, is where one becomes aware of the environment through the senses. The second, which I am using, is that perception is knowledge gained through perception.

It is a fine line - R would argue that if the thief notices the shadow, the thief is aware of the shadow. I would argue that the thief might notice the shadow, but if he or she doesn't have enough wisdom to recognize that the shadow in some way threatens the thief, the thief isn't wise enough to care.

There is no player stat which defines a character's ability to 'sense' things. If a DM were to describe everything a player senses, where would be the challenge? Wisdom must be used as a limitation to the player's own wisdom - obviously, every player is smart enough to know, through playing, that an odd shadow is extremely important. But this does not mean the CHARACTER is blessed with this knowledge. The character is more limited than the player. In this case, the limitation is wisdom, just as the limitation in being able to lift a gate is strength.

R said...

I agree, Alexis, it is a fine line. It just seemed natural to me that thieves' general talents would imply a greater ability to perceive things that go unnoticed by a commoner. Just as you can have a weak warrior or a clumsy rogue, I see no problem with an unperceptive thief. It's just not the norm.

This really came about because you mentioned that classes in your campaign each have one "weak" score that is allowed to fall below 6. Wizards are the only class that can have a strength of 6 or under, for example. You also said that thieves were the only class that can have a wisdom under 6. I think thieves get far less use out of constitution than they would wisdom seeing as how wisdom is your perception score.

(oh, your reference to intelligence was in the title of your post, I guess I read too much into 'dumb')

Obviously at this point, it's your campaign and we're just discussing the merits of whatever system you share with us. I always enjoy reading your rules, and appreciate the discourse.

Alexis said...

Fair enough; title changed from 'dumb thieves' to 'blind thieves.'

Debate is fine, I like it. Just for the info, the stat minimums are from the Players Handbook, AD&D. Not just my campaign.

R said...

Ha - I had no idea they were in the PHB. I assumed because of the level of detail and..."non-essential" nature that it was another rule you came up with along the way.

Carl said...


The problem you're describing with skill systems is readily apparent in later editions of D&D. While billed as systems where you can make any character your heart desires, the reality of which skills are useful (search, spot, listen) and which aren't (Craft: anything) comes crashing down on new players rather quickly. All thieves begin looking the same: high dexterity, high intelligence, class skills maxxed out, no cross-class skills, single classed, and halfling.

One of the things I like about Traveller is that, while a skill-based system, you start play with the character you want instead of a character that might turn into a character you want. The drawback of that game being that significant character improvement over time (increased levels) is not part of the game experience. So you're stuck with the guy you rolled until the bitter end. You may pick up a skill point here and there over the course of the campaign, but you're never going to pick up a D&D-style whopper like 3 attacks per round. That is, unless the nanite treatment you paid for actually works.