After I announced the Martial Artist buffs to my players, I got asked to fix Thieves too. Sucking in combat in comparison to other professions is not the only thing they often catch flak for, but it’s what I wanted to focus on. I originally wrote this article an entire year ago, but put it in a drawer due to wanting to playtest it first… other things took priority after the playtest and eventually I forgot about it. In the meantime ideas on how to make Thieves better have become more widespread in the community so some of this may be old news to you, but amplifying the signal never hurts.
1. Perfect Balance is now an optional advantage for Thieves, not a mandatory one.
Opinions are divided on this advantage. It can certainly be useful, but for example over the course of 16 sessions in my current DF campaign so far there were exactly zero opportunities where it would have enabled a Thief to do something cool, something other professions could not, or would have a hard time trying. Its bonus to Acrobatics and Climbing is nice, but very point inefficient if the Thief doesn’t encounter many tight spaces to walk on (such as in a fully dungeon-based campaign like mine). Hence, making it optional to make space for some other traits dearly needed by Thieves to be more viable.
Update: since I originally wrote this article my DF campaign has run its course over a total of 42 sessions and I still can’t remember opportunities for Perfect Balance to justify its point investment. A part of this is on me since I didn’t really think about providing said opportunities, but if something like this happened in my campaign it is bound to happen in others as well.
2. Trim the skills required by the profession template.
It is a rather common argument that some of the obligatory starting skills for Thieves such as Filch or Smuggling don’t get many usage opportunities in typical Dungeon Fantasy campaigns, or that they should even be rolled into other skills. I personally prefer Peter Dell’Orto’s variant which saves 7 points by dropping some skills to optional and merging others.
3. Weapon Master (Knives), up to 10 levels of Striking ST (Only on surprise attack) and Backstabber are now a core part of the profession template as optional advantages.
These were previously listed as Thief power-ups in GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 11 so some players may have missed them, but they are in fact found on the Thief template in DFRPG (except for Backstabber). This is just getting them in the front row, to make good mileage out of the next item on the docket.
4. Use the Disappearing and Sniping rules from GURPS Action 2 (reprinted in GURPS After The End 2 with additional detail).
These allow Thieves to backstab more than once per combat, as well as to “backstab” with ranged weapons. The Disappear technique included in Backstabber applies to both Disappearing and Sniping, but the First Strike perk still applies only to the first attack in a fight.
5. Heroic Archer and Throwing Master are now optional advantages for Thieves.
This ties into a topic for another day (why is Scout the only capable archer in the game?), but it has been requested often enough and I certainly think it makes sense. Throwing Master is a Krommpost, by the way, and is an analogue to Heroic Archer.
6. The Animals, Faeries and Hybrids specialties of the Physiology skill are now background skills on the Thief template.
Thieves need access to vitals to do their best work. Sure, the skull hit location is mostly where expected on any creature, and armor chinks are another viable option, but vitals are much easier to hit, especially if a Thief is unable to backstab. This lets them do so against many more foes beyond humanoids but still within the bounds of what is established for the stereotype. Physiology is a hard skill, but Thieves have IQ 13 per default so they’re able to use it just fine.
The above changes are relatively conservative and unlike my adjustments to Martial Artists, they mostly bring attention to already existing components and give players more options. Due to their minimal divergence from DF as published and requiring almost no effort, they would be my preferred start to fixing Thieves. Developing interesting Power Ups would be the next step , and for my future DF campaigns I will likely use one of the several popular reduced swing damage campaign switches. They solve more problems than just bringing Thieves’ combat capabilities up to par.