Thief Skills

Here are documented interpretations and explanations of the thief skills; some are full-on houserules, whereas some are simply explanations of the way the rules are adjudicated. Apart from the houserules listed here (such as the detection rules for picking pockets), this page exists mostly as a "cheat sheet" to clear up the common misconceptions about the way thief skills work.

Much of the Complete Book of Thieves is allowed. The following NWPs are permitted: Alertness, Begging, Boating, Fast-Talking, Fortune-Telling, Intimidation, Locksmithing, Looting, Observation, Trailing, and Voice Mimicry. Except in rare circumstances determined by the DM, these NWPs are only granted to thieves and assassins. Many of the specialised equipment is found in the books is found amongst professional thieves or guilds, as well. Specifically, the Arm Sling and Mini-Blade (pickpocketing); Acid, Chisels, Magnifying Lens, and the Oil and Funnel (lockpicking); Weaponblack and Charcoal (hiding); Special Function Arrows and the Spike-and-Line (climbing); and miscellaneous tools such as the Glass Cutter, Housebreaker's Harness, Keymaker's Set and Wax Pads, Limewood Strips, and Tar Paper. Finally, all of the Evasions listed in the book exist to various degrees of availability.

A popular thief weapon that is not listed is the blackjack. The blackjack has a value of 6 gold pieces, and is identical in every way to a club with two key difference. Half of the damage dealt by a blackjack is always nonlethal damage (with no penalty to hit), and it is possible to get a sneak attack with a blackjack.

A roll of a 95-00 on any thief skill is a failure, regardless of the thief's skill rating.


Backstabbing is the only way a thief can match the damage-dealing capabilities of a fighter. In order to backstab, the thief must be behind their intended victim, and attack with a bladed weapon that can be held in one hand. In order to backstab, the enemy must be unaware of your presence and your impending attack. They do not have to be completely unaware of any danger, but they must not know that you are behind them and are about to stab them. When backstabbing, the enemy's bonuses to AC due to dexterity and shield are negated, as with all rear attacks. The thief also gets a +4 bonus to-hit rather than the normal +2 bonus to-hit for a rear attack. If they land a blow, they multiply their damage by their backstab multiplier.

Backstabbing can be done with any bladed weapon that can be wielded in one hand. The size of the weapon affects how stealthy the backstabbing can be: a longsword (or similarly sized weapon) will definitely reveal the thief to anyone nearby if it is used to backstab - it is hard to quietly run someone through. A short blade will require an additional Move Silently check from the thief to kill with covertly. Daggers and knives are the best for stealthy killing, and require no additional checks.

Pick Pockets

Passing the pick pockets roll indicates that you have successfully stolen the object, but failing does not necessarily mean that you have been caught. A failed roll entitles the victim to an intelligence check; if they pass, they detect your attempt. For every 2 levels you have above your victim, they receive a -1 penalty to this check.

For a non-thief picking pockets, an opposed dexterity vs. intelligence check is called for. Regardless of level, no penalty to the intelligence check is imposed, and the non-thief receives a -2 penalty to this check unless they have the Sleight-of-Hand NWP (or similar as adjudicated by the DM). Losing the contest means that the non-thief is detected every time.

Open Locks

Picking a lock takes 1d10 rounds, for which an open locks check is made. If passed, the lock is opened. If failed, a new attempt cannot be made. A roll of 95-00 breaks the picks being used. Improvised picks can impose a -5% to -60% penalty. A poor lock gives a +10% bonus to open locks, while a good lock imposes a -20% penalty. The best locks can impose as much as a 40% penalty to the check.

Find/Remove Traps

Searching for a trap on an object or area takes 1d10 rounds. The DM rolls the check so that the player is not aware of whether or not they passed or failed. Magical or invisible traps are checked at 1/2 the chance. Removing a trap requires another roll and another 1d10 rounds. If failed, the thief may not attempt to disarm that trap (successfully) until they attain another level. A roll of a 95-00 when removing a trap indicates that the trap was accidentally activated.

Move Silently

Move silently allows a thief to move with complete silence regardless of their gear, so long as they are wearing no armour, leather, or studded leather armour (or a variant thereof). Move silently is not required to move silently through the bushes in a combat, or to simply move around in a stealthy manner. Sneaking directly behind someone to backstab them or sneaking right past a guard, however, requires a move silently check. When moving silently, the thief moves at 1/3rd of their normal movement. Moving silently in plain sight is pointless; there is no thief skill associated with not being seen (hide in shadows is not used for this purpose - see below); whether you are in the line of sight of a creature determines whether you can remain undetected with move silently, and usually trying to sneak within someone's line of sight is completely futile. For uncertain situations, it is up to the DM to decide whether you can sneak past someone. For example, if there is not much distance to cover, the DM may allow a thief to move silently past a guard whose attention is temporarily distracted.

Hide in Shadows

Hide in shadows is not used in conjunction with Move Silently in order to sneak; whether or not you can be seen while moving silently is a binary thing related to line of sight. Nor is it to do things like hide behind a large box; anyone can hide behind something bigger than them. Hide in shadows is used to hide in shadows or some other kind of concealment - bushes, a curtain, or similar. Hiding in shadows cannot be done while moving, although small movements such as drawing a weapon may be done slowly. You cannot hide in shadows while you are actively being watched, althouh if a creature watching you is distracted (by battle or something else) you may find a hiding place and make a check to hide there. Hiding in shadows is not required in total darkness, for there is no shadow to hide in - it is simply unnecessary. Those who are hidden in the shadows are not invisible to infravision, but this makes little difference as you cannot hide in shadows in complete darkness - hiding in shadows usually necessitates there being enough light to cast shadows, and thus ruin infravision anyway.

The best way to think of it is this: do they have a reason to be looking in your direction? If so, you had better hide in shadows or they will see you. If the answer is no, then they do not see you. If they do not have a reason to be looking in your direction but are close enough to hear you moving, you need to roll for move silently.

Detect Noise

Detect noise is an active skill, not a passive one. It does not apply to normal sounds that anyone can hear, but with a successful check they can deduce the exact number of people behind a door, hear faint sounds that would normally be inaudible or even make out a conversation that would be too faint to otherwise understand. A thief needs silence in his immediate surroundings to detect noise.

Climb Walls

A thief's ability to climb walls is above and beyond that of a normal person. With a successful check, they can climb surface too smoth for a normal person to ascend, and can do so without climbing gear or equipment. The results of failing a check can vary; on a rough surface that a normal person would have a chance at climbing, he may be allowed a dexterity check or another climb walls check to catch himself, but on a smooth surface that a normal person would be incapable of scaling without special gear, he may well fall. Depending on the surface he is climbing, there are various modifiers to his Climb Walls check. Each of the modifiers given below can act to improve or worsen the chances of climbing a wall.

Circumstance Modifier
Rope and Wall +55%
Abundant Handholds (brush, tree, ledges) +40%
Sloped Inward +20%
Encumbrance -5%
Climber Wounded to 1/2 HP -10%
Slightly Slippery (wet or crumbling) -25%
Slippery (icy or slimy) -40%

Read Languages

Only a single read languages roll can be made for a particular document; if failed, the thief must wait until they attain another level of experience to try again. The amount of information they puzzle out is roughly equal to their percentage chance; with a 20% chance, they understand roughly 20% of the information.