Forum changes: Editing of posts has been turned off until further notice.

Main Menu

Thugs and Thieves: A summary

Started by ethan_greer, April 08, 2003, 01:51:14 AM

Previous topic - Next topic


Hello all!  I got this idea for a game this afternoon.  I've been wanting a game that takes place in a fantasy world, but in which the characters do not have kewl powerz.  This thread presents what I've got typed out so far.

My questions are, is it worth fleshing out?  What are the weaknesses?  Strengths?  This is all rough draft material, so it's a bit, well, rough.  Thanks for reading...


Thugs and Thieves

This is a fantasy RPG where the characters play thugs and thieves.  Basically, these are men and women who make their living doing work that involves the use of force and/or guile.  Common jobs include:

Caravan guard
Personal bodyguard
"Acquiring" rare and interesting artifacts
Delivering messages (especially through hostile environs)
Brute squad
Event security

The characters are under economic duress - they're poor.  They live from job to job.  Assume the character has enough money to buy food, clothing, and modest amounts of equipment and gear (at least enough to stay employed).  It is assumed the character's vice eats up all other available funds.


Other vices are possible.

In order to have an object or commodity they wouldn't normally have, the character must purchase it.  In order to have enough money to purchase it, the character must roll on their Vice level.  Success means they have enough money to purchase the item, assuming it is available.  Failure means they spent too much on their vice to afford it.  They'll have to steal it or do without, until the next time they get paid, at which point they can try again.

When they get paid, characters state their intended purchases.  (This should be special items, not routine maintenance of current possessions.)  You get the first one for free.  You must roll for each additional, with a penalty that gets worse and worse as you go.  (regardless of whether or not you succeed or fail.)

Each character has the following abilities:
* Stealth - sneaking around, disguise, camouflage, picking pockets, burglary, etc.
* Combat - fighting with or without weapons, tactics, ambushing, raiding, etc.
* Beast Lore - animal handling, animal empathy, animal training, animal knowledge, etc.
* Social - etiquette, coercion, argument, interrogation, intimidation, etc.
* Craft - detect/remove/set traps, craft skills, lock-picking, etc.
* Athletics - acrobatics, running, jumping, climbing, dancing, tightrope walking, etc.
* Wits - notice things, discern clues, tracking, willpower, knowledge, memory, learning, etc.

Divide 50 points among the abilities.  When using an ability, roll 2d6.  If the result is less than or equal to the ability, you succeed.  If the result is greater than the ability, you fail.  The GM may decide that an action deserves bonuses or penalties.  These are applied to the level prior to the roll.  For opposed actions, the greater margin of success wins.  Snake eyes always succeeds, and boxcars always fails.

Characters also have a Vice.  Choose a vice from those listed above.  The Vice level is equal to the character's highest ability.

What do the characters do?  They take jobs as hired thugs and thieves, and when they're not on duty, they spend their time and money partying their asses off.

Spooky Fanboy

Have you ever read The Dying Earth RPG? There's a wealth of information and ideas to stripmine and reprocess for this game.
Proudly having no idea what he's doing since 1970!


I've skimmed the free PDF just now.  What made it leap to your mind?


Doh!  I just noticed - Vice level is supposed to be equal to lowest ability, not highest.  That makes a bit of a difference...

Spooky Fanboy

In the Dying Earth millieu everyone is just as you described them, with the exception being that they are susceptible to allof the vices.

Also, it has a topsy-turvy die mechanic system that just makes things unpredictable without being entirely slapstick. Not a bad idea, but maybe not one for a more serious game that you might be going for.
Proudly having no idea what he's doing since 1970!


The old game Thieves World my provide some inspiration if you can find it.  I might even have it somewhere.


I've now researched and read Dying Earth more thoroughly.  Perhaps I should save myself some trouble and just play that... :)

However, my questions stand:

Worth fleshing out?

Ron Edwards


I like it a lot! One thing that I'd suggest, if distinguishing it from The Dying Earth is a priority, is to focus on the grubby and sympathetic aspect of the characters' lives rather than the whimsical and cynical aspects.

It's not about killing dragons, or even about stealing a tiara, nor is it about coping with the whacky local customs ... it's about whether you can help your friend make his weregild payment, or about whether you have to kill the oxen for food during a caravan-slog gone bad.

So maybe not even "Thugs and Thieves," so much as "Joe Guy" in the fantasy world. It might sound boring, but about ten years ago, John Ostrander and Kim Yale wrote two excellent comics series about the normal people of Gotham City. Batman was in the comic, and he had an impact (usually indirect) on these people's lives, but it was their story, and their decisions, that mattered.

Just a personal take on your first post; ignore it it doesn't fit.



Whimsical and Cynical?  Whimsy doesn't have much place in what I'm envisioning for this.  Cynical, definitely, but that's not the only thing I want.  So, I guess it would seem that making a distinction from DE is in fact a priority.  To that end, I'll talk more about my goals for Thugs & Thieves.

I am in fact picturing Joe Guy to an extent, but it's a bit more focused than that.  Take the concept of normal person and marry it to the characters presented in the film Conan the Barbarian.  If possible, think of only the film, not the literature (as I've read none of it).

Basically, Conan and company in the movie are thugs and theives.  That's the sort of thing I want the characters doing in the game.  They take jobs, they steal stuff, they make enemies and allies, and it's all basically for personal gain.  (Except for Conan, who has that personal vendetta thing going on.  Cut out that part and you've got it just about right.)

To replace the personal vendetta as motivation, I want an in-game financial need that drives the characters to do more things, kinda like in Shadowrun.  Hence the constant lack of money due to the vice.  I also want the characters to have a weakness.  I don't want them to be insufferable to the point of whimsy like in DE, however.  So, at character creation, you pick a vice for your character.  This is the thing they do that sucks up all their money and forces them to go earn more.  In my opinion, the vice as a motivator to adventure could make for excellent narrative synergy with the right game design.

However, I also want the characters to be likeable, and to have goals outside of getting to the bottom of the next bottle (say), so I want them to be able to overcome their vices for important things.  This could be a new sword, a piece of jewelry or some token of esteem to a loved one, or perhaps that payment for a friend as Ron suggests.

So it's cynicism in healthy measure, with a strong dose of adventure and a pinch of personal transcendence mixed in.  Not sure at this point where the grubbiness and inter-character sympathy will fit in, but they will probably have a place as well.

Or something like that.  All this bears some more personal exploration, I think.  I've decided to continue with the project.  Thanks all for interest/encouragement.

As to the skeleton of a system I've outlined, any reactions?  Too simple?  Too boring?  Anything other than DE that I might be able to mine for mechanics ideas?  Do I need more focused abilities?  Do the characters need to progress, or should the abilities remain static?  Any and all thoughts and reactions are welcome.

Walt Freitag

Hi Ethan,

I think any system focusing on "thugs and thieves" (as you've defined them) has to explicitly address the issue of the relationships between the player-characters. Do you expect players-characters to form a party, act interdependently within an intimate relationship map (a la Sorcerer), or enact minimally intersecting parallel storylines (a la TRoS)? If player-characters act as a group, do you expect brothers-in-arms cameraderie (which would make Glen Cook's Black Company novels a close model for your game), perpetual intra-player distrust and back-stabbing, or somewhere in between? You could support all these possible styles of play, but there should be some way to get players and GMs on the same page going in.

More specifically, take a look at where the rewards meet the road, so to speak. Do you intend situations to usually be in the nature of "everyone gets paid or no one gets paid," or "some get paid while others lose out"? This could make a huge difference in how players approach the game.

I like the reward mechanism of "getting paid" and obtaining special items. Ultimately what's being rewarded is mission success, though, so you might run into problems with players stretching the rather lite and open system to maximize the resources likely to contribute to that success in the future. If there's little or no access to magic then this might not be a real problem. (Sure, you can buy the best available armor when you get paid, but in future jobs you have to deal with its drawbacks -- noise, weight, conspicuousness, etc. -- to get its advantages.) I also see potential for adversarial player-vs.-GM relationships to develop, since the players are rewarded for success and only the GM is invested in adding difficulties and complications. There's nothing inherently wrong with such a relationship, but without heavier rules to govern the process, there could be friction.

I think what you have is a really good start. It's a potentially very interesting milieu that IMHO is currently underserved in RPGs, possibly due to past difficulties in coherently addressing creative agenda issues like those above.

- Walt
Wandering in the diasporosphere

Tar Markvar

I think that my biggest problem is with the Vice mechanic as it's written. Having the Vice be better the higher it is seems a bit odd to me.

Thuggo has a Vice of, say, Drugs 4. He has to roll under a 4 on 2d6 to avoid spending all his money on drugs. If his Vice somehow gets worse (maybe a result of a botched Vice roll, or maybe through RP), mechanically it would drop the score, perhaps to 2. So now Thuggo has to roll under a 2 to free up some cash, which makes a lot of sense. But on the character sheet, his Vice just lowered from 4 to 2, which just seems counterintuitive.

It just seems to me that the Vice should be worse the higher the number. It's a minor nit, but for some reason it bothered me. :)

As for the rest of it, I wish I'd thought of it. I like the idea a lot of having characters who are drawn into adventure for the sake of ekeing out a living. I like that a lot.

For buying things, do you want it to be a post-story metagame thing (Okay, you're back from the heist, now everyone roll to see what you can buy over the next couple days)? I think I like it from one perspective, but I could also see an idea of handing out XPs in the form of the actual cash value of the job they just finished. That way each character can spend their XPs as monetary units to buy what they need. That would handle advancement (set costs for better items, training, bribes for reputation advancement and contacts, etc.) and it would be in-character for the setting, I would think.

So, when Thuggo trades in that jewel (part of his share of the take), the player gets the jewel's worth in XPs, which he can spend like money to buy better items, training, etc.

It might inspire players to seek out bigger scores and take more risks for larger monetary values so they can advance more, assuming they overcome the risks. Your players could tell you, "We want a BIG score," and you could play the role of "agent" as you try to come up with jobs that would appropriately challenge them.

Brain vomit. Does it help any?



This sounds so much like Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser. They steal stuff, they piss away the earnings on pale, shaved nymphets (in the Mouser's case), and have to steal more stuff. Or their inscrutable wizard patrons force them to do something. Or the gods of Lankhmar mess with them.

As for system: too simple. Sim the hell out of this one, baby: granularity all the way! If you can find one on eBay, or steal one, the old RPG Thieves' Guild (not the lame Thieves' World) is a great example. Mind you, that affected how I feel a "thieves only" game should be done: with an array of different skills and specializations, maybe like a cascading skill tree.

In that way, it can become like a novice-level Shadowrun game, where our guys started off tossing the doss of a local ganger boss and stealing his weed and a big-screen TV he'd jacked from someone else.

Dave Panchyk
Mandrake Games


Guys, thanks for the enthusiasm and the great advice.  Here's a status report.

On my reading list:  Black Company books by Glen Cook, Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser books.

I'm in the process of fleshing out and revising; look for it in the next couple days (give or take; I'm really busy with packing and moving and work and what not).  I'll plan on posting the text as an HTML document and put links here.  In the meantime, keep those comments coming! :)

Walt, that's great stuff about party interactions.  I've got a section in the document devoted to it now.  I'll also add detail to clarify how the vices are going to play out (obviously necessary), which should address your other concerns.

Tar, I like the idea of integrating character improvement in with the vice/reward mechanics.  I'll have to ponder that.  I'll also kick around different ways of handling vice, because now that you mention it, the way it works kinda sticks in my craw as well. :)

Unfortunately, Dave, "simming the hell out of it" is just not gonna happen.  :)  While I do tend toward Sim goals in my designs, I am definitely in the rules-lite camp.  Thanks for the Fafhrd suggestion, though.  I'd heard good things about that in the past; now I have an excuse to check it out.

EDIT:  That isn't to say I'm going with the system as written above.  It will get more complex, but I'm not going to crunch the hell out of it.

Thomas Tamblyn

Quote from: ethanUnfortunately, Dave, "simming the hell out of it" is just not gonna happen. :) While I do tend toward Sim goals in my designs, I am definitely in the rules-lite camp
Not to be a smartass but what does rules-heavy have to do with simming the hell out of it?

And on a more constructive note, I second the lankhmar stories and here are amazon links to the best Fafhrd and grey mouser compilations out there.  100% complete in two volumes (but uk printing only it seems - the fantasy masterworks series is fantastic, a great source for moorcock, vance, zelazney and howard for anyone interested)

Tar Markvar

I like the idea that the character's Vice might take away from the "score" of XPs the character gets from the job (if you go with the system I blabbed earlier). It would encourage players to try to remove the Vice. If you do that, though, make sure that removing Vice has some more rules support than just RPing. Some characters may just decide one day to give up the bottle, so to speak, in favor of keeping more of their score to put toward new equipment and training.

Still, it seems like the frustration between buying what you want (special items, advancement stuff, etc.) and buying what you NEEEEEED (Vice) is a major theme for the game. What if the character doesn't have what he needs to buy in order to satisfy the Vice in the first place? Do you have a system for covering that? What if the thief gets tossed in prison and comes out without most of his worldly possessions? It then becomes a tale of him "working" just to get his needs met. What happens to a Thug/Thief when he can't get his Vice?

I really like the survival aspects of this, especially the problem presented when a vice becomes as important as food and shelter. Faced with the choice between one's vice and one's food and shelter, a disturbing number of people choose the vice.

Awesome, powerful idea, Ethan.