08 November 2012

Thief retries

D&D Basic Rulebook (1981) p. B8

Open Locks may only be tried once per lock. The thief may not “try again” on a difficult lock until until he or she has gained another level of experience.

What if we generalize this to one retry per level per lock. So, if a second-level thief had tried to pick a lock when they were first-level, they’d get a second try now that they were second-level as per the rule. When faced with a locked they hadn’t tried before, however, they’d get two attempts.

The down side is that each attempt takes more time. I don’t recall the amount of time required being specified, so let’s go with the default “1 turn” (i.e. 10 minutes) for each attempt. If that seems excessive to you... Well, you don’t need me to tell you to use whatever you want. I will say that based on my admittedly amateur attempts, I’m not sure that is unrealistic.

This means that, given unlimited time, a second-level thief’s overall chance of opening a lock is (2 tries at 20% each) 36%. For a third-level thief it is (3 tries at 25% each) 57.8%.

This, of course, is a boost for thieves. Some, however, will say that thieves can use every boost they can get. Unfortunately, it is a boost that pays off much more for higher level thieves—who need the boost less—than for lower level thieves.

Given the low chances at low levels, I’m tempted to allow unlimited retries. The time trade-off remains. After each failure, the party must ask: Is it worth standing around for another 10 minutes to give the thief another try?

Well, “unlimited” is perhaps too much. A cumulative penalty for each try after the first seems reasonable.


1d30 said...

How about no more Thief skill increase? Just a flat 2 in 6 success chance for any Thief skill. But he can retry once per level.

Example: Thief tries to climb an icy cliff. Normally this surface would be too difficult for an adventurer, but this is a Thief so he can scale the wall with a 2 in 6 roll.

He's 4th level. He rolls 5, failing. He slips and catches himself. Tired and bruised, he finds a new handhold and continues upward, rolling 1 for a success.

Example 2: Indiana Jones (and the Holy Grail) is trying to get across a trapped floor with letter-steps that fall out from under your feet if you get the wrong one. He's a 7th level Thief, so he rolls d6 and gets a 4. Oops! Indy stepped on a wrong stone but catches himself before he falls. This goes on until he succeeds (figures out how to spell the name right) and gets across or finally rolls his 7 failures and falls to his grisly and permanent death. I think I'd call this one a Read Languages check actually because he's decoding the "treasure map" of the grail diary.

I would expand on this and say the Thief level is the maximum number of checks he can do in the turn. So if he wants to Move Silently while Climbing Walls, he draws from the same pool of chances in any one-turn period. Most of the time this doesn't matter because he can't do two things at once, except some combination involving Hide in Shadows, Move Silently, or Detect Noise. Read your game's rule to see if the Thief can HS while moving - generally not.

Matthew James Stanham said...

I allow unlimited retries, time is the only enemy. There is a great episode of Star Trek where Spock spends hours trying to pick the lock of his cell, and that is what I always have in mind!