Sunday, May 28, 2017

Losing Track: Rangers, Thieves, Monks, and What They Really Do

Many years ago my pal Joe Urban ran me, Lew, and a crew of players through some of the Slavers modules. Joe was relatively new to GMing, but we had a ton of fun. I had never read any of the Slavers stuff, so I borrowed Stockade to read through afterwards.
Reading it upset me. A lot.
Some of it was thematic (surgical alterations? Sure, sure, Island of Dr, Moreau, but - really) but the one that really torqued my cookies were the entries that read like this,
"This trap is a rope in the middle of the door on greased rail and cannot be detected by thieves"
First off, this is more of the railroad nature of the module in question. Second, it means the writers (yes, I know who they were) didn't understand what thief abilities really are.

Sure, sure, it seems easy to do. I have run into this situation myself,
DM: "The force of 150 brigands, all on horseback, seem to have dragged the 20 heavily-laden merchants' wagons across the open prairie towards the frontier."
Me: "We follow the tracks."
DM: "There is no ranger in the party, you can't follow."

The DM in this case didn't realize that rangers don't follow tracks like these

but rather tracks like these

Yes, anyone can follow the trail left by 150 horsemen and 20 wagons across the unspoiled grasslands - the grasslands are now spoiled, after all. But when an elven thief wearing Boots of Elvenkind sneaks across bare rock swept free of dust by a constant wind? A ranger can track her.

Monks can be seen as similar. Sure, your fighter can punch this guy until he goes down

but a monk can punch this guy until he goes down.

Anyone can hide in these bushes so only a careful search may find you

but a thief can hide in this room so only a thorough, careful search can find him.

This looks a lot like this internet meme, actually

Likewise, anyone can spot this trap

but a thief can spot this trap

What I am saying is, the various special abilities of thieves, bards, monks, rangers, etc. are not 'stuff that anyone can do' but rather damn near superhuman abilities.

I have had people who are OD&D ultramontanists - I mean purists - tell me things like,
"Thieves? Hell! I just have my fighting man probe ahead with a pole and then tap chests and stuff! Same thing!"
Sure, my fighters on point use poles, too. But it isn't meant to be the same thing!
The writeup in Slavers Stockade that a thief 'can't find' a particular trap gets it backward. It should read 'only 'only a thief has a chance to find...' because the Find Traps ability of thieves is supposed to be like what the Grey Mouser or Nift the Lean can do - an almost mystical ability to find hidden traps no one else can.

"But Rick," you say say, "That isn't what I think."

The DMG says that thieves can climb a sheer wall that is slippery with water. Slowly, but they can climb it. I agree - anyone can climb this for 80'

but I think climbing this for 80'

 is almost a supernatural ability. And that is the difference between someone without the ability to Climb Walls and someone with it.

Like my post about people who want to do away with the cleric (and there are many!) I often think they don't understand what these classes really do, what they are really for, or the impact on play in some combination. That, or they are OGs ('Original Gamers') who want to play with just the 3 brown books and nothing else. Kask strikes me as one of these. Some of these types just like that basic feel, some think anyone who plays d6 thieves is a counter-revolutionary kulak whose badwrong fun proves they are mentally disabled and of poor character and they really should have been on the Taggart Comet.
I like AD&D 1e and 2e. They're fun.

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