Sunday, December 16, 2012

Reconsidering Thieves with Starships & Spacemen

When 2e D&D came out, it didn’t really affect the way in which my group played our version of AD&D (which was really something in-between AD&D and Moldvay’s Basic — much like LL+AEC). We largely ignored most of the rules, with the exception of the new rules surrounding magic-users and thieves.

Whereas my friends were enamored with the new schools of magic and what that meant not only for their characters, but the world they inhabited, I was thoroughly impressed not only with the way thieves finally had a decent chance to succeed at some of their skills at lower levels, but how a player could customize which skills their character was good at. Pick pocketing, for example, has never much been a part of any of the campaigns I have ever been involved in; however, lock picking and reading languages has. Being able to play a thief that was more of a tinkerer and collector of esoteric knowledge rather than a pick pocket really appealed to me.

Without having to track down a copy of the 2e PH (which I got rid of years ago), I now have an option for making Thieves more akin to that 2e version which appealed to me so much more than the standard thief found in older rules of the game. The unlikely source is Starships & Spacemen 2e (S&S) by Goblinoid Games.

As I stated in my review, the way that the inevitable skills found in modern and sci-fi RPGs is handled rather nicely in S&S and invites the system to be used in a number of different applications. One such application is to the classic Thief class.

Thieves in LL/BX have seven skills:

  • Open Locks
  • (Find &) Remove Traps
  • Pick Pockets
  • Move Silently
  • Climb Sheer Surfaces
  • Hide in Shadows
  • Hear Noise

The progression of these skills start somewhere between 10-33% (with the exception of Climb which begins at 87%) at first level to 70-95% (including Climb) at 9th level. In S&S there are three types of skills: Primary, Secondary and Other. At first level they are at 60, 45 and 30% respectively. At 9th level they are at 100, 85 and 70% respectively. Thus, they have a much higher chance of success at lower levels and progress more smoothly (+5% per level) to the same range of success at higher levels.

In order to implement this for the LL/BX Thief, the player chooses one skill as Primary, one as Secondary and the rest are Other. This allows not only for higher success at lower levels, but for the kind of customization I loved about the 2e Thief.

For those interested in using the Thief Skills as a kind of Saving Throw for when the player doesn’t come up with a legitimate way to deal with a situation and thus automatically succeed (e.g. disarming a trap), here are the numbers needed to make a save at first level:

  • Primary = 9
  • Secondary = 12
  • Other = 15

These saves are reduced by one at every level. These saves and skills can be adjusted with bonuses and penalties according to the situation, difficulty of the task at hand, players coming close to a legitimate solution, etc. Since they are "saves" or skills with a higher chance of success, these kinds of ad hoc adjustments by the Referee will be less onerous than for the poor 1st level thief who only has a 10% chance of removing a trap.

Thus, not only does this use of the S&S skill system offer more freedom to the player, it also offers more freedom to the Referee.


  1. This is a great little system, with just enough customization, and no fiddly parts (or min-maxing math). Nice work.

  2. This makes the the thief class much more useful and interesting. And I agree with Brendan.

  3. Very nice, a cool way to grab bits from S&S.

  4. Thanks guys! (And I have to say that it is especially sweet to get the thumbs up of the guy who wrote the rules!)

  5. This is a very decent way to customize thieves. Gotta check into this, as it will have some fascinating effects on game play. I suspect that NPC thieves who check "Pickpocket" as their primary skill might very well be a bother to player-characters recently returned from the dungeon... ;)