There have been a bundle of thief implementations for Swords & Wizardry. I've read through them all. I like bits and pieces of each, but not all of any of them.
I've been thinking a lot about the resistance some grognards have to putting thieves back in to the game. With that much resistance I think it pays to think about why. As I understand it, they feel pre-thief anyone could try anything, post-thief everyone was limited in what they could try to do and the great slip towards skill began.
I think I'm agreeing; why shouldn't every character class, type, or race, be able to try to move stealthily? Why shouldn't they be able to climb walls? But, should they all be able to pick locks? Umm . . . I think I still have the desire to implement a roguish character. And I say rogue, because to me it includes thugs, brigands, and, yes, bards (I don't see a lot of evidence for the bard archetype in literature. Bards to me are witty, talented cons and parasites).
So, I propose a class with only those roguish skills that DMs would have a hard time allowing characters accomplishing without months of training. I also propose a small selection of skills that a player would select from at start of play. This would allow them to decide what kind of rogue they want to be, the burly bully or the delightful dandy.
The good thing about this concept is 1) it prioritizes the ability of all characters to do almost anything they can think of in play, barring the few things that would need training, and 2) you can pick and change the skills you, as DM, think would best fit that description.
Here are my thoughts on some of the most common thieving skills:
Hide in shadows-- unless this is ninja-like hiding in direct sight, it seems like anyone could try this.
Move silently-- If I take off my hauberk and boots, are you saying my fighter can't be silent enough to surprise some bandits?
Climb walls-- Is this preternatural wallcrawling, or just scaling a wall?
Pick pockets-- I think you would have to practice a lot to do this. But, of what use is this in the dungeon? This might be the poster boy for allowing players to pick their core skills.
Pick locks-- This may be one of the takes-a-while-to-learn type of skills. I wouldn't want everyone of my players running around picking open every lock. At the same time, I'd hate for them to have to bash open every chest they find. This skill may be the poster boy for why thieves are a good addition to the game.
Disarm traps-- sounds fiddly, tricky, like taking apart a watch. Experience and training are essential, but it depends on how sophisticated the trap is. I don't mind letting any character try to disarm traps through roleplaying, though.
Hear noises-- ??? Okay, am I just dense? What is the deal with this? I don't understand why it is mentioned in some systems at all. Is this meant to see who has a better chance of hearing through dungeon doors? That seems a twiddly little thing to have a rule for. Exactly the thing a DM should make rulings on (how noisy is the environment outside the door, inside the door, what kind of creatures are inside, etc.) Is this just a factor of who has sharper hearing? I think the 1e DMG talks about this, giving different races different bonuses. This seems the perfect thing for Bohemian's "Good At," system, a player could say Keebler the Elf is good at hearing. But it seems to trivial to add a whole rule to the game. So, how about our rogues? Nah, that extortionate thug over there is hard of hearing from all the punches he's taken, and the sly, dark fellow . . . well, he'd rather you put your ear against that obsidian door there.
Backstab-- anyone should be able to try it, but a person grown up in the back alleys may have a lot more practice at it. Not necessarily a dandy, though, again reason for the player to choose.
Stay tuned for Telecanter's Choose-Your-Own Swords & Wizardry Rogue
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