I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man's. I will not reason and compare: my business is to create.

- William Blake

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Minimalist B/X II - % skills [and nostalgia, and a rant]

In part I, I tried Target 20. Today I'm thinking of thief skills.

This is a bit of a rant. Normally I'm positive about old school D&D, but today I want to address a part I don't like.

I love old school D&D. Moldvay's Basic is one the best RPGs ever, at least in a similar page count.  

Still, I find it hard to accept that we should use the original typos 40 games after the game was published.

Maybe it is OCD talking... or maybe Cook/Marsh wrote "36" to mess with our heads. Similarly to the Cleric.

Nostalgia is fine. But some of us like old school games because they are great games, despite the year they were published. Or at least that is what we say.

Sometimes, I feel using old school D&D as written is almost as full of meaningless crunch as modern D&D. And I am not even talking about AD&D initiative or the weapon versus armor table (which I've seem people suggest we should keep as written despite its arithmetical errors to be "true to the original") - I'm talking about being obsessed with 1% (or even 10%) minutiae that does nothing to make the game better. Or using tables full of numbers that were adopted to fit a limited space in print.

Things that we do not because they make sense, but only because "this is how it was originally". It is not even preserving Chesterton's fence, it is refusing to even wonder if the fence needs repairs in order to serve its original purpose.

Sometimes I think that elegant games are so rare because the page count would suffer, making the books cheaper and the (depressively small) margins even smaller.

Of course, there are other ways to put more pages in a book without adding content. Maybe play with layout a bit, use big fonts and a creative design that allows you to fill pages with twenty words each, or create a slightly different table for a slightly different class. Well, I'm not great at that, and I while I love some good layout and beautiful art, content is even more important to me - so if I will not use 50 pages for something I can write in 20.

Anyway, rant over. 

Target 20 is great for thief skills, especially if you add Dex. 

With that said, there is nothing wrong with liking percentage skills, even if they are divided in 5% increases that could be replaced by a d20 roll. 

Here is an alternative to existing thief tables:

Thieves start with 30% chance in all their skills (except climbing and pick pockets). They are competent form the beginning. Add 5% per level, to a maximum of 99%. 

Climbing: start at 85% chance, +1% per thief level.

Hear noise: maximum 85% chance, if you want to keep things similar to the original, although I see no reason to do this.

For picking pockets, start at 50%, with no cap (maximum 120%), but subtract 5% per victim level (e.g., a level 2 victim causes a -10% penalty).


  1. You have almost fully liberated yourself.
    The next phase is not comparing other games to D&D. ;)

    1. Hahahah I agree, and I'll admit that this is not easy to do... I've spent years escaping from D&D with GURPS, WoD, M&M, SW, SotDL and so on, but old school D&D is still my favorite, or at least in the top three. I'm sure there is some nostalgia involved!

  2. oh, brother, don't I know -- I'm still struggling with that second phase myself.
    Be strong! :D