So. Way back in the early 1980’s , the gaming market was exploding, and experiencing this sort of Cambrian sprawl of adaptive radiation, with everyone looking for new niches and unexplored concepts. A lot of games just went for the highly specialized — Droids, Bunnies&Burrows, and so on. Others became what would later be known as Fantasy Heartbreakers — yet one more version of D&D except “Our wizards can use swords!”. Others chose to just try to do one thing very well, and that brings us to Thieves’ Guild, one of the most successful of the “D&D But Not Quite” games of the 1980s, spawning a legendary line of supplements and producing games and add-ons known for quality and quirky, very 80s, gamer humor. (Go through “Free City of Haven” and count all the pop-culture and fourth-wall-breaking references sometime, from witches named “Samantha” to an insane dwarf who wants to hire adventurers to find the mythical “bearded female dwarves” he considers to be the pinnacle of beauty. And if you don’t get that last one, you weren’t a D&D player in the early 1980s.)
Anyway, Thieves’ Guild asked the question “What the frack is thief doing playing trap monkey from some doofus in plate mail, a poncy git in robes, and a holier-than-thou bible thumper? Shouldn’t he be, you know, stealing?” And so we had a game in which, pretty much, the only character class was “Thief”. (Other games in the system were promised — “Naked Blade” for fighters and “Paths Of Sorcery” for wizards, but I am fairly certain they never came out, nor did the “Downbelow Station” RPG also advertised for “Coming Soon” release.) I remember playing Thieves’ Guild around 1982 or so. We were all halflings, and we set upon a killing spree in the city, burning bodies and shoving corpses into cabinets. Great fun.
I recently acquired the boxed set Gamelords put out in 1984. This version includes what I assume was intended to be the “core” book, “Basic Character Creation”, and then the “Thieves’ Guild” book, which took your basic characters and made them “Thiefy”. Hmmm…. where have I heard the idea of a Core Book followed by individual Splats before….
Anyway, without further ado (or adon’t), let’s roll something up!
Opening The Box
The cover art on “Basic Character Creation” is by V. Wyman, and it’s fairly nice. It has an odd art-deco look to it, clean lines, and shows a bunch of fantasy type characters looking very… fantasy. This was way before the piercing-and-leather fad of the late 1990s-2000s, and well before the sterile ultra-realism fad of the later 1980s. Really, we were just coming out of the “Sketches by this guy I know who, like, does some art stuff” era. Opening the book, we see we’re very much not out of the “typeset in monospace fonts” age, however. Pagemaker was years in the future, and “sparse” is the only description possible of the layout. A table of contents and an “Index of Key Abbreviations”, including HAC0 (“Hits Armor Class Zero”), EAC (“Effective Armor Class”), and HTK (“Hits To Kill”).
OK, the full, promised, system (with non-Thieves) was called “The Fantasy System”. (Presumably, it was set on The World, with adventurers setting out from The City to go to The Dungeon, where they would fight The Monster and get The Treasure. Shrug. Ah well, blandly functional always beats overly baroque and completely broken.)
There are no fewer than fourteen playable races listed! I’m not going to detail them all, but alongside the Usual Suspects, we have Orcs, Uruk Hai, and Half Orcs, and Goblins, along with “Avanthari” and “Krindorean”. Since I’ve been on a Knights Of The Dinner Table rereading spree lately, I’m going to go for a Pixie, who I will name Iron Blossom. This without knowing anything about what lays ahead for me….
Next we have, logically, detailed data on each race… with Important Mechanical Modifiers buried in blocks of monospace text. Bad game layout! Bad! No biscuit! On the plus side, we don’t have a little list of bullet points telling us to
Play A Dwarf if you want:
- To Be Short And Hairy
- To Talk In A Bad, Fake, Scottish Accent
- To Look Up Ladies Skirts
So, props for that.
Some side notes — this game calls hobbits, hobbits, and apparently didn’t fear the wrath of Tolkien Enterprises. A lot of games, 1980s and onwards, filled their pages with “Halflings”, “Manlings”, “Shirefolk”, “Hibbits”, and Ghu knows what else. Kobolds, by the way, are not yipping little dog-men but “Degenerate hobbits”.
Pixies are are about two feet tall, talk like Alvin and the Chipmunks, and have serious ADD. They get some AC and Dodge bonuses, and enhanced senses. They are also 25% less credible than other races, can’t carry very much, and have “Reduced training opportunities”.
(Oh, Avanthari are bird-men and Krindoreans are… tall men. With beards.)
Time for some stats!
“Roll 3d6 10 times”. Ah, the 1980s. Let’s roll them bones, shall we? It implies, though does not state explicitly, you are to apply them in the order you roll them. Let’s see what we get. (Oh, look — we have gender-based stat mods! A lot of them.) Well, Iron Blossom is female.
STR: 1 (Rolled a 7, -6 for Pixie. Ouch.)
CDN (Coordination: Holy FRACK, a natural 18!!! No mods for Pixie, though.
REF (Reflexes): 13 (7, +6 for sex and race)
STM(Stamina): 17, -5 for race/sex=12.
TAL(Talent — magic):13,+3=16
MGR (Magic Resistance):9,+6=15
APP(Appearance):14 +1 ’cause I’m a girl pixie, 15
Of course I roll the natural 18 on the one stat where I don’t get mods. Coordination covers manual dexterity and the like, so I’m seeing Iron Blossom as a lockpick or pickpocket type thief. With a Strength of 1, she can only steal very, very, very, small things.
You might note a lot of those modifiers are pretty extreme on a 3d6 roll. This was not an era of “balanced fun” where “anyone can do anything” and some races would have only a very slight edge. This was an age when world simulationism was paramount, and you gave stat modifiers based on “what the race was like”, and if someone wanted to play a pixie in full plate wielding a two-handed battleaxe, you told them to stuff it. I should also note the females of every single race have better Appearance mods than the boys… except for the Krindoreans and the Dwarves. Weird. There’s no indication this is relative to anything; it seems there’s an objective standard of Beauty in the world, and Dwarf girls are considered ugly, even by Dwarf men. Note that the Default Baseline, the only race/sex combo with no mods, is Human Male. I can see the feminists having hissy fits about “othering” now. (Human females get a -1 to MGR, which is odd. I guess girls just can’t resist the primal forces of creation as well as boys can.)
So, there’s Iron Blossom’s stats. What do these do for, or to, me?
Oh, wait, I get to roll for “Super Abilities”. This doesn’t mean x-ray vision or ice powers; this means, if I roll a natural 18, I have a slim chance of getting even higher. I roll D1000(!) for a 744… whoo hoo! I get a +1 to CDN, bringing it up to 19! (725 or lower is no effect.)
Back to adjustments. Hit probability is based on CDN, and at 19, I get +3. My REF of 13 gives me a dodge bonus of Bupkis, my INT of 12 gives me an EP bonus of… also Bupkis, my Sex Appeal Bonus, based on my APP, is +1, and my resistance bonus, despite my MGR of only 7, is also +1. Please note Thieves’ Guild follows the 1980s tradition of no unified scale of bonuses and no unified game mechanics.
Hits To Kill, aka Hit Points. (HTK was a very, very, common acronym in the 70s/80s era, I do not know why.) Now, this is kind of cool. What you determine is not your hit points, but your hit die size. With a STR+STM total of 14, my Hit Die Size is D6 — not the lowest possible.
Saving Rolls: Apparently, the generic “Do stuff the game doesn’t cover” mechanic. You roll 2d12 (D12? Whatever) and compare to your attribute, trying to roll lower. It is this impossible for Iron Blossom to succeed on a Strength based “Saving Roll”. Sucks to be her.
Of course it’s random rolled and adjusted by race. You can’t just make up your own background, everyone would be the child of the emperor, or something. And it’s D1000 roll. As a Pixie, I cannot be Guild or Rabble. At 406, I’m a Peasant. (151-700 are all “Yeomanry” types). I roll 1d10*10 for my starting cash, ending up with 80gp, which I probably can’t carry. I get two Weapon Points, 2 Language Points, 5 Training Points, and… uh…
What the frack?
Here’s what the last column reads: 47(10%), 60(50%), 19(10%), 24.
Let me say that again:
47(10%), 60(50%), 19(10%), 24
And a 51 (17%) to you, too, buddy!
OK, the column header is “Automatic Training Fields”, so I guess the numbers indicate the “Field” on some table, and the Percentage is the chance the field is “automatically known”. So I guess I always know Skill 24, and have a 10% chance of Skill 19.
I have played Advanced Squad Leader.
It had clearer rules.
(OK, I’ll be nice, this is the first real “What the frackin’ frack” moment in the rules, and it really isn’t all that bad if you read the footnotes, but it looks like a desperate attempt to cram as much data as possible into one line of a chart. Oh, by the way, rolling really well on Background gives you smegloads of training points, and there’s no balance mechanism other than rarity. “Balance by rarity” was another 1970s/1980s design concept which has, thank all the gods, fallen seriously by the wayside.)
Inborn Abilities: I roll a D10 to see how many I have… 2. Now I roll… D1000… to see what they are.
732: Good judge of mundane value. This means I have a 75% chance of judging the value of mundane objects.
497: Good language abilities, +1d6 language points. 3. Total of 5 Language Points now.
Here’s where those numbers come into play.
47 is Reading, 10%. 18, no go.
60 is Writing, which I can’t learn without Reading.
19 is Cyphering, aka Math, rolled a 32, nada.
24 is Farming! I am an Apprentice Farmer, I can recognize land values +15% and predict weather +0%. I can also annoy all my friends on Facebook by asking them to send me apple trees, or something.
Into The Wide, Wide, World
Well, so much for what I got from Ma and Pa Blossom. Now we move on to “Non Weapon Trainings”. I cross index a D10 with my IQ and then modify according to my Discretion. Naturally, the modifier needs its own chart. All said and done, I have a very pathetic 4 TP. No, wait, I’m a Pixie, so, in addition to being screwed on IQ and Discretion to start with, I also have to shift down two columns on the chart, so, 2 TP. (The maximum is 36.)
This is, I humbly submit, bad design. Pixies have fewer training opportunities? Fine. This is already “built in” by the mods to INT and DSC; it doesn’t need to be doubled up. Oh, well, 2 TP it is.I have to purchase from my class or lower, too.
With 2 TP, the only thing I can buy of even the slightest use is Roguish Pursuits at Novice level. This gives me +10% to judge wealth by appearance and +5% to Hide In Cover.
There’s now a page long list of different activities and values — Judge Value, Know/Recognize, Credibility, and so on. This is a hodge podge of skill-like things, attribute-like things, and other thing-like things. My Credibility, for example, is 30+2*Magentism, or 44, with a -25 for being a pixie, so 19. My base Judge Value is 29, but I can Judge Mundane Value at 44 thanks to my Inborn Attribute. I’m not going to work through the rest just now.
Languages: I have 5 LP. I know Pixie at “Conversational” level by default. Humans speak “Normal” (I can hear the PCniks starting to howl again…), and I want to speak it, too (See how they make you submit to their arbitrary definition of “normalacy”, objectifying and disempowering you by relegating your native tongue to Otherness! Fight the power, Iron Blossom!), so I pay 2 points to get it to “C”. With 3 points left, I will speak Pidgin Ogre. (Learning most languages costs 4 or more LP for even “Bathroom? Where is bathroom? Se habla bathroom?” )
Weapons Training! At long last, I get to stab something!
Well, sort of. Two weapon points, minus one for being a Pixie, and that leaves… one. One Weapon Point! Aha ha ha!
With a STR of one, I am amazingly screwed. The lightest melee weapon is a cudgel, which needs STR 4 — I can use it, but at lesser damage. I go for a Sling, which has no STR requirement, but a CDN of 13. I can buy Rank 1 Proficiency with it, which gives me no bonuses. I do 1d4 points of damage.
(Skip over three pages of detail sensory charts, which include, gods help us, a table where you randomly determine your sense acuity based on a cross index of your race and a D10 roll.)
Now comes buying equipment. There seem to be no adjustments for size, so pixie armor weighs as much as troll armor. Go figure. A sling is 2 GP, and quilted cloth armor is 5GP. There are frighteningly detailed formulae for “field repair kits”, including phrases like “Patches(Q, L s, L h)”. I’m not going to try.
Well, so much for basic character creation! Please note, I’m not yet a Thief of any sort — this is just Iron Blossom as she left her peasant family’s dirt farm to venture forth to the big city! Time to get on to the real rules!
There are 10 basic Thief skills, and of course race determines how good you are at most of them.
|Skill||Base Bonus||My Racial Bonus||My Stat Bonus||My Final Bonus|
|Sense Traps||5||+10||(Talent) +5||20%|
|Disarm Traps||10||-10||(DSC) -30||-30%|
|Hide In Cover||15||-40||(REF)+5||-20%|
|Sense Ambush||10||-15||(DSC) -25||-30%|
”Guys, there’s a trap here! My pixie instincts tell me so! Just don’t ask me where, I haven’t the foggiest!”
So, the tiny little thing to whom the lock is a large mechanism, not a miniscule one, is worse at picking locks than hobbits or dwarves?
The frack? I’m a foot and a half tall! I can hide in a hobbit’s shadow!
So, wait, I can fly, meaning, I hardly ever need to climb, but that’s where my racial bonus lies?
And, rather surprisingly, Iron Blossom is done. The rest of the book has nicely detailed rules for pickpocketing, tailing, disguise, etc, along with combat and XP and so on, but pretty much, the character is ready to enter play. I dimly recall that the original Thieves’ Guild had many thief “classes” like Highwayman and Cutpurse, but maybe they were all rolled up into the more freeform Training Point system in this edition. Anyway, due to bad rolls and really harsh racial penalties, Iron Blossom is just barely competent at being a pickpocket and nearly useless for any other thiefy activity. Except climbing walls she can just as easily fly over!
Not sure what game’s next on the list… I will venture into Ye Olde Game Roome and see what strikes my fancy!