1st Ed. AD&D: The Thief


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We always stand on the shoulders of giants.


For this treatise, I would like to thank Roger E. Moore, one of the early collaborators of the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons game and between the years 1982 and 1983 wrote some terrific pieces about the Races and Thieves; it is from these articles that some of this work is drawing upon.


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Love them or hate them, the Thief class is one of the most prolific classes in the AD&D world. The Thief class can exist anywhere there is a chance for some quick coin and easy targets.


On the face of it, each character class takes part in thievery; the Magic-user is thieving other Spells from opponent spell casters (greedily diving on books even as the body is still warm), Fighters loot bodies looking for a better weapon, and even the noble paladins and Monks take part in thievery (all for the greater good of course); it’s not specific to the Thief class that a Fighter may rob travellers along a highway or perform some smash and grab work to break into a domicile.


To be a Thief (with the capital T), the character has other skills, which make the class better suited to getting in and getting out without being seen by others, they are better at the finesse skills such as ‘looting’ bodies as they live and breathe and happily walking along the plaza square.


As Gary Gygax referenced the Thief class in The Players Handbook, it was The Gray Mouser that acted as the template - the Adventurer/Scoundrel. The other identifiable template, the infamous Bilbo Baggins of Bag End, the accidental Thief/Burglar, who survived relying on his Race’s own natural advantages.


The purpose of this treatise, as with the others, is to bring out the character in Player Character and get players thinking about their Thieves and the different ways for the class to be played, as well as some examples of some Thieves of literature and film.


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A good Thief has a high Dexterity. This statement is, for the most part, correct. The Thief with 16 or higher Dexterity gains +10% on X.P. as a bonus (as if the 1,250 X.P. needed for second Level wasn’t low enough!).


There are modifiers for the exceptionally high and low Dexterity score. Elves and Halflings gain a +1 to the DEX statistic which can take the natural 18 to 19. To any other class, the 19DEX has almost no benefit, but for the Thief class, the extra few percentile results for Thieving abilities can make all the difference.


Possessing a high Dexterity allows the class to make use of any sleight of hand secondary skills and also street hustling, combined with a good Charisma value the Thief can pursue the great con; finally, a Thief with high Intelligence will always be looking for the hard targets to challenge his/her great mind.

Hit Points and Experience

The Thief uses d6 for Hit Points, making this class sit between the Cleric (d8 per level) and the Magic-user (d4 per level), where the Cleric has armour and some combat training, the Thief relies on agility and guile. 


The Thief rises in Level faster than most and often at least one Level of experience ahead of other single-class characters. The Experience Point bottle starts quite narrow to begin with, then tapers out to make the class progression more even.


A Character is awarded experience for successfully completing tasks – read that as each successful use of an ability. That doesn’t mean the Thief is a kleptomaniac, always stealing whatever from whomever. The Character should never gain any benefit from stealing from the party, and eventually excessive use of street skills such as Picking Pockets will eventually get the Character in trouble (with the Party, authorities, or a rival Thieves Guild).

Arms and Armour

The Thief has a limited weapons closet. As defined by The Players Handbook:

Club, Dagger, Dart, Sling, Sword****

Where **** on the sword excludes Bastard sword and Two-handed sword.


The Armour restrictions are limited to Leather (Padded, normal, and Studded), starting the Thief at AC8 (or 7 for Studded Leather).


For the uninitiated, Padded armour is similar to normal clothes with some added protection for vitals and weak spots. A character wandering around in Leather or Studded Leather armour will attract unwanted attention in certain environs, a character wearing Padded will look ‘normal’ under casual observation. Padded armour is lighter, and slightly cheaper than leather, but the armour is more restrictive (in game terms) being Fairly-Bulky by Type and reducing the Base Move rate to 9”.


The Players Handbook makes a suggestion that the Alignment of a Thief be any non-Good; this reflects that taking something from another person that doesn’t belong to you is not the act of a Good aligned person.


That may be true, but some thieves are motivated by more than a desire for personal gain (more on this later). As most Thief players belong to a guild, this makes the Character a Lawful based character. There’s a hierarchy of leaders, training schools, and Guilds need to be able to control their members in order to maintain control.


All of this suggests that most Thief characters – and particularly Guild Thieves - are Lawful Neutral in Alignment.



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Thieving Abilities

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