Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Picking Pockets

Pockets, as we know them, did not exist until the 17th century. Before this, the things we call pockets were actually worn on the outside and were generally known as purses. This can be become extremely difficult to tell your players when there is a thief skill called "pick pockets." But don't worry! You can still be saved! Look at the online etymology dictionary and explain everything to your players in these terms:
pocket (n.) Look up pocket at
mid-14c., "bag, pouch, small sack," from Anglo-Fr. pokete (13c.), dim. of O.N.Fr. poque "bag," from Frank. *pokka "bag," from Gmc. *puk- (see poke (n.)). Meaning "small bag worn on the person, especially one sewn into a garment" is from early 15c. Mining sense is attested from 1850; military sense of "area held by troops surrounded by the enemy" is from 1918. The verb, with implications of dishonesty, is from 1630s. Pocket-knife is first recorded 1727; pocket-money is attested from 1630s. Pocket veto attested from 1842, Amer.Eng.

So there you have it; honor preserved, and historical accuracy (or historical verisimilitude if you want to be precise) achieved.

Now that we're on the subject, we can talk about thieves in AD&D. They've got something strange going on, some confluence of two different philosophies about playing smashed together. AD&D 2e was the the turning point, the crux that lies between player skill and character skill. It deals with a little of one and a little of the other. Go much further back and your games are all player skill. Go one iteration ahead and your games are all character skill. Only in 2e are we stuck in the balanced limbo where some of both is required.

What do I mean? Well, surely the skill to sneak around must be completely based on character stats; players can't roleplay out creeping around corners.* Nor can they pretend to filch something from your pocket to see just how well they do it. However, they can describe where they are looking for traps and what they're doing to remove them. This is where I have made some house rules to cover the disjointed gap between player and character skill. They run as follows:

Any time anyone is looking for a trap-element (or a secret door handle, or what-have-you) they must explicitly inform me of what they are doing. If I believe this would reveal an element of a trap or door, I describe it. So far, so normal for the OSR, right?

If they don't want to check a specific thing, then thieves (and thieves alone) can make a blanket statement "I want to check this region for traps." It takes time, of course, much more time than looking at a single nub of a statue or examining a specific tile. Then I roll their find/detect traps rating and if, at the end of that ten minutes (or however long, based on the size of the searched area) they have succeeded at their roll, I give them a little hint. Something sticks out at them: the lip of a tile, or what-have-you.

When the time comes to disarm the traps, if a player describes something specific to me (I cut the trip wire, I pry up the tile, etc.) I allow it to go forward as makes sense. If they simply say "I want to disarm the trap," then I frown and ask how. If their answer is vague, I roll find/remove traps again to see if their character thought of a way that they themselves weren't able to.

This is my hybrid solution for thievery, and actually allows players without thieves in their party to sometimes not blunder straight into traps.

*Well, they can, but it would be silly and not particularly helpful.

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