Thieves seem to be another “choke point” for old-school gamers. To many, the sacred triumvirate of Fighting Man, Cleric and Magic-User is the be all and end all of classes. However, for me, I grew up in an age of RPGs where the thief was not only part of the gang, but one who was used quite often.
One of the chief complaints I’ve seen about thieves in RPGs is the fact that a lot of what thieves do should be possible to ANY character class – things like climbing walls, opening locks, hiding in shadows. The funny thing is, in all the years I played D&D in all its various incarnations… I can’t remember a single occasion where a player complained that they should be able to do what a thief could do. I can recall that I think we had a “handwave” rule that, if your character was with a thief attempting to Hide in Shadows, and he succeeded, then you both hid in shadows. Your character would benefit from the thief’s experience. We never worried about locks we couldn’t pick… we would either break down the door, or go looking for someone with a key. I can totally understand why people complain that ANY character should be able to do some of the thiefly things (and I’ve even considered how to work this point of view into future campaigns), but honestly, I’ve never thought of it as a problem.
Furthermore, a lot of people say that the thief as an archetype isn’t needed in RPGs. To that, I would strongly disagree. If anything, I would argue that the difference between Magic-Users and Clerics is one which should be done away with instead. Look at the source literature…. The three most common archetypes are Warrior, Thief, and Wizard. Until the Dragonlance books, the idea of a cleric in the literature (or at least, in the literature *I* read) was unheard of. Thieves have been a part of thievery genre for years. I mean, heck, even Conan was basically a pumped-up thief in the second Ahnold movie. Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser? Thieves first, barbarian and wizard (respectively) second. The whole THIEVES WORLD series? Duh. Even in modern or science fiction genres… Han Solo was basically a thief. Hell, Pacino and DeNiro have made CAREERS out of portraying ne’er-do-wells.
So where does the OSR problem with thieves come from? Is it the trickle-down effect from years of moral hectoring from all sides? Is it an attempt to sanitize the future? Is it a conscious decision to downplay something that is still extremely prevalent in our own modern world? I don’t have the answer, but I think the question is…. Why not thieves?