Monday, March 31, 2014

On the OSR Thief and Hate

“I’m a musician you see. I call myself a repercussionist.”

Excerpt From: Brust, Steven. “Tiassa.” Tom Doherty Associates.

It seems everyone tries to "fix" the OSR thief via Houserules at least once. Why? It's because in a skill light system the OSR thief clings desperately to the deplorable skill system. All the things wrong with skill systems are evident right here at the beginnings of the game. The "new" editions expand and perpetuate the problems found here. Scaling, balance and the "all" you can be good at symptoms originate right here in Greyhawk Supplement I. The thief is that fine line example of mechanics that defines a class. It's existence is a self fulfilling prophecy leading to greater and greater specialization and limitation.

Everyone can attack, anyone can kick in a door or listen. Other classes stand out. MUs have spells. Clerics support via healing and buffs not to mention the Turn undead feature. Fighters are tougher but the thief stands apart. The thief has a handful of specialities that only they excel at. After several months playing OSR, I hate calling for or making in secret a hide in shadows roll. Why, because the Thief excels at this. As a former 4E DM this a wierd statement to make I know. Why do we have this mechanic? Defenders of OSR point to the Grey Mouser as the reason. I get it, I really do. We all have a hard time facing up to our sacred cows. As you can see below there are several proposed ways to nix this trend.

None of these really fix the issue though do they. They just move the problem around. I have a similar issue with Turn Undead but that's an article for another day. So what do we do about this? We can eliminate the thief. We can Houserule the thief as above or similar. Is there another solution?

Thief Skills

  • Climb Walls
  • Pick Pockets
  • Pick Locks
  • Disable Traps
  • Hear Sounds
  • Hide in Shadows
  • Move Silently

Thief Special Abilities

  • Backstab
  • Read Magical Writings
  • Read Normal Languages

The above skills are all things that another class can do, but the Thief "does them better". Why? It's part of their background and training. While his fighter was playing with pointy bits, her MU was nose deep in books, and my cleric was on his knees the Thief was slogging it out in alleys, running for their life and being subjected to Oliver Twist style training. So is it really as simple as a matter of background? Can we sum everything a Thief is as a sneaky underhanded fighter? Is that not just the ideal of a modern day rogue? I don't think so. At the core of the Thief is the idea of an expert. Someone who isn't the best fighter. They are the epitamy of the jack of all trades. The person that picks up these little tid bits of real world, practical hands on knowledge and combine them into surprising results. Now how do we demonstrate this with out creating the skill system above? I think this comes down to luck.

Solo: I call it luck.

Kenobi: In my experience, there is no such thing as luck.

- Star Wars, George Lucas

Make Your Own Luck

Thieves make their own luck via their knowledge. Typically, when a PC kicks in a door, listens, or hides etc. the DM or Player rolls for success. This is done in one of two ways, roll a d6 and compare to a table or roll 3d6, 4d6 or more under a given stat. In the case of the Thief, why not roll an extra die and remove the highest result. Thus when rolling 3d6, instead roll 4d6 and remove the highest die. For example a roll of 1,3,4,5 would remove the 5 and yield an 8. This represents their improved ability. This coupled with any DEX abilities gives them a huge advantage, reflecting their ability. The only "skill" off their list they aren't better at is then Listening. Gone is the need to track individual % for each skill. The harder the task or less likely to succeed the more dice are rolled. Want to pick pocket the Liche of Unholy Doom roll 7D6 and drop the highest result, if less than DEX success!

Leave the special abilities as they stand and roll on.

Wait A Minute

Isn't this method switching one set of skills for another? In a way yes it is. It's balanced against what other players can do, but still gives Thieves a leg up. It doesn't reflect increased power as a Thief levels. Neither does a fighters ability to open doors, a dwarf's ability to detect stone work, or an elves ability to detect secret doors. Rolling that extra die could level just as back stab or turn undead does, but it doesn't need to.

The only other method to keep the Thief not already mentioned is to add mini games, like lock picking and trap disarming. How you indicate a thief is better at these tasks is up to you, though the suggestion of unjamming is workable.

I close having added my take on the senseless enterprise of trying to fix what can not be fixed, and may not even be broken.


Sunday, March 30, 2014

More On Ea-Reth Politics

Not quite happy with the simplistic nature of yesterday's post, I write more on the subject today.

Kuln City Population 52,798 -The surrounding area has a population spread of 55 people per sq mile. Total Pop of City state = 55 x # of sq miles = 55 x 150 x 150 miles = 1.2 million people. This is based on research from here Kuln is surrounded by 21 mid sized towns and 3500 small villages. 43% of the land is used for agriculture, the other 57% is uninhabbited consisting of forest, rivers and lakes. Villages are within 1.5 miles of each other. Towns are 20 miles apart.

After the collapse of the Marsonite empire, refugees flocked to the protection provided by Kuln. With no central government the nearby towns and villages also turned to Kuln. Kuln who had subsisted by purchasing food and wares from the villages found its people demanding those services returned. The dwarves had no choice but to extend their rule outside the Rift. The Council of Thanes responded by establishing its border from Red Falls to the North along the Red River until it met the Azure River in the West. The eastern and southern border is formed by the Ash Mountains. The increased population and government required the city to expand outside the Rift. A multi-ringed wall was built and extended over the hundred years following. With other races came Temples of Foreign Gawds and an increased need for law enforcement. To govern and regulate the commerce of the populace the feudal and guild system of the Marsonites was adapted to the clannish system of the Dwarves.

Peerage of Kuln
  • High Thane
  • 4 x Thanes of the Clans
  • 16 x Cheiftains of the Dwarvish Houses
  • 3 x Marquis of the Marches, Red, Azure, Ash
  • 21 x Counts
  • 96 x Barons - 63 of various baronies, 33 heads of guilds
  • Manor Lords, Baronets of Guilds
  • Sheriffs, Knights, Housecarls
  • Magistrates, Mayors, Reeves
  • Gentry, Goodman, Goodwoman, Tax-Collector
Kuln Class Structure Dwarven


Royal House

Clan House


Craft Master

Craft Apprentice




Kuln Class Structure Non-Dwarven


Noble, Aristocrat

Guild Member, Non-Noble Merchant



Landed Freeman


Un-Landed Freeman, Peasant


Slave, Indentured Servant


Village Life

The masses of lower classes live on the toil of their back. They raise animals and farm on land belonging to a feudal hierarchy of nobles. A manor lord typically oversees several villages. A sheriff, mayor or reeve oversees the village. The lower class lives on and works the land. Typically they own no property. Not the huts they live in nor the tools they use to work with. Most of what is grown is taken to town markets for sale. What isn't sold is the food for the lower class. The overseer takes 90% of the revenue from these sales. The peasants split 10% for next years costs, tithes to the church and 1-2% for odds and ends. The overseer keeps 5% for himself and 3% to pay experts in the village for the next year. 82% is kicked up to The Lord Manor. The Lord Manor takes 8% for up keep of his estates, knights in his service. 74% is passed up to the barony. The Barony takes 12% for himself and his knights. 62% is sent up to the Count. The count claims 18% for road upkeep and protection, his estates and his household. 44% is received by the Marquis. They claim 20% for diplomatic and military purposes, and upkeep of estates. 24% is sent to the Thanes. 5% is taken by each thane with the High Thane taking an additional 4% for his house.



  1. Advocates, Lawyers
  2. Guardsmen, Prison
  3. Scribes and Printers
  4. Cobblers, Tanners and Furriers
  5. Carters, Carvers, Carpenters and Coopers
  6. Painters, Plasterers, and Sculptors
  7. Armorer, Blacksmiths, Silversmith and Tinmen
  8. Weavers and Clothiers
  9. Thatchers and Bricklayers
  10. Mercantile Houses (Transporters, Wagonmasters and Lightermen)
  11. Beer Sellers, Wineries, Inns and Taverns
  12. Masons
  13. Pathfinders and Rangers
  14. Fletcher's and Bowyers
  15. Bakers, Cooks, and Chefs
  16. Apothecaries, Doctors, and Alchemists
  17. Artificers
  18. Magic Users
  19. Bounty hunters, Mercenaries, Warriors, and Fighters
  20. Butchers, Fish Mongers, Hunters, Trappers and Slaughterhouses
  21. Bookbinders, Bleachers and Booksellers
  22. Locksmiths (Thieves Guild)
  23. Seamstresses (Prostitutes)
  24. Barbers, Bathers and Beauticians
  25. Chandlers, and Luminaries
  26. Mercer, Haberdasher, and Textiles
  27. Architect, Engineer
  28. Dyers and Fullers
  29. Engraver and Jewlers
  30. Glassblowers
  31. Moneylenders
  32. Potters
  33. Messengers, and Criers
  34. Gravediggers, Ratcatcher and Wastemen (Unofficial guild)