“No, really. I swear I have a receipt.”— Average party thief on “supply day.”
I’m still feeling out the look of this blog and I know that there are a lot of changes I want to make to it regarding the way it looks. While I do like the look of the old gaming books and computer magazines of the 1970s, I would like this blog to look a little flashier as well. Any suggestions are very welcome.
But the important part of a blog is the content. And today’s content is about the Thief/ Rogue class in Dungeons and Dragons. The short version of this post is simple: play any class you’d like, but don’t play a Thief.
I’ve played just about every class and most class/ race combinations since the early 80s. I’ve played my share of Thieves. There are plenty of arguments about whether the Thief, especially in older D&D, even deserves to be a separate character, since they’re as squishy as Magic-Users and only have slightly better skills (open locks, climb surfaces) as the average sword-swinger. I sometimes even agree with those arguments, though lately, I’ve been realizing that Thieves (and I’m including all variations up to and including the 5E subclasses of Rogues) are perhaps the best to play if you want to put in the time and effort to role-play more than you do anything else, and if your DM is on board with that as well.
Let me talk about my current character in an Old School Essentials (D&D B/X, more or less) game. Currently, she is 4th Level, a Saucier Chef, and she will hopefully make L5, Grill Chef, after the party escapes their current predicament. They hired her to accompany them on their explorations, and they have never eaten better in their lives. Of course, like any adventurer, that’s not her only job. She has already demonstrated her ability to hit targets with her curiously balanced chef’s knives at 20 feet, including a venomous crab spider over the Cleric’s head. She has skewers that she can throw like darts with deadly accuracy. She’s also been pretty handy with being able to open locks, thanks to a chef she worked for who “always locked his keys in the pantry.” And, she’s displayed considerable talent at sneaking around in absolute silence, even moving to bop someone on the head from behind with her weighted rolling pin. But if anyone asks her, she’s nothing but a simple chef.
Granted, D&D does not have to resemble real life, but there are certain things you can imagine being the same. Very few people will come right out and say “I’m a Thief, with a specialization in Backstabbing and Poisoning,” but they will say that they’re an ostler with a good eye for a good horse, or a wagon teamster, or a bartender, or a bodyguard for a mage’s guild, or whatever. Embrace your character’s background like this. Especially, playing like that’s your main job, and all that scouting and sneaking and finding rings and gems that people have thoughtlessly abandoned in their pockets is just something you might do from time to time, will give you a new-found appreciation of the person who lives on that character sheet in front of you.
This also opens the path to the various subclasses in 5E (and older, if your group doesn’t mind you adding a skill or two from elsewhere in the game). You’re not an Arcane Trickster, you’re a Mage’s Apprentice and you study magic in a reputable school. Just, you happen to know a lot of ways to get in and out of a rival Mage’s tower, or how to “fund” your magical studies. You’re not an Assassin or a Mastermind Rogue, you’re a merchant or jewelry appraiser or a messenger for one of the guilds. Occasionally, though, you find yourself needing to do the other part of your job, and you do that so well that very few people know you can do it. Very few living people, at least.
Embracing the role-play aspect of this character… imagining that your background is your class and using it as cover for your actual profession… will add a unique texture to your character, and to the party as well. It will help you get away from the cookie-cutter approach to playing in this game. And it will give you a unique persona that you will remember long after your character retires… or others ensure the character “retires” for good. Give it a whirl.
(Image Credit: Takehara, Rodrigo C. “Carrying and Encumbrance.” DMs Guild. Accessed 26 November 2020)