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Thieves’ Guild (1984)

I finally got a copy of Gamelords’ Thieves’ Guild box set (1984) and it is just as good as I hoped.

At its core, it is a hack of D&D. It even uses THAC0, which is actually a little further ahead of the curve (the concept started cropping up in D&D products around 1982, but only became a central mechanic with AD&D 2E in 1989). But imagine D&D where the only thing you can play is a thief. To do that, you’d have to have a think about the thief abilities, probably expanding them and adding a bunch more. You’d also have to downplay direct combat and rework the sneakier stuff like backstabs (why aren’t these fatal in D&D exactly?). Finally, the focus of the game would move naturally from dungeons to heists, and that would involve more social roleplaying before and after the action. And that’s exactly what Thieves’ Guild does.

As a player of thieves, this box set is a dream come true. I love it all. It only really works for a game where everyone is a thief (OK, maybe a fighter or two as well). When you do that, and everyone has different specialties, everything becomes an operation. You don’t just roll to pickpocket — you need people in the streets distracting the crowd, watching the guards, positioned to foil pursuits. You need an escape route and a fence. One simple die roll in D&D becomes a whole adventure in Thieves’ Guild.

There’s tons more. Guidelines for ransoming prisoners, rules for running the local justice system. The pages on fencing are invaluable and the overhaul of combat is genius, using one-hit kills (and knock-outs) to re-frame it as an exercise in stealth and deadliness. There’s also poisons and sleeping draughts to consider. The whole thing is fantastic, a complete re-balancing. I want to play!

Cool art, too. That David Martin painting on the front of the box is tops! (Also, worth noting that the character creation book uses races and such directly lifted from Tolkien, which strikes me as funny).

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