Hide in shadows, move silently, find traps, open locks - if you thought that was all a thief was good for, think again. The masters of skulking and skullduggery are a force to be reckoned with. Is anyone or anything safe from a person who might be anywhere, anytime?
Learn the thief's most closely guarded secrets in this devious accessory for the AD&D game.
PHBR2: The Complete Thief's Handbook (1989) follows in the tradition of the previously published Complete Fighter's Handbook: These early supplements for 2nd edition AD&D provide a desperately needed distinction for low-option character classes, introducing kits to help make mechanically similar characters much more distinct in flavor and play style. While the series runs into balance issues later in the run (The Complete Bard's Handbook and the Complete Book of Elves being notable examples), these early PHBRs are generally excellent: solid mechanics, little if any power bloat, and some interesting ideas.
Locking In Proficiencies. Before there were non-weapon proficiencies (first introduced in a similar form in the 1st edition Oriental Adventures but largely ignored otherwise), there were "secondary skills." What's a secondary skill? Usually it was your pre-adventuring background. If you had been a blacksmith, you could perform blacksmith-related tasks, with no other rules or rolls required. By default rules in 2nd edition, AD&D non-weapon proficiencies were optional. The PHBR series changed this.
Thief's Handbook contains 20 new proficiencies, from Alertness to Fast-Talking to Voice Mimicry. Some of these saw more play than others. You'd seldom need Boating in a dungeon, for instance, but Observation was pretty darn important. These new rules have the effect, intended or otherwise, of narrowing a hero's competency. Previously any AD&D hero could jump or lie or spot things. Once proficiencies were implemented, that task became more difficult for anyone who didn't have the proficiency. Seldom-needed proficiencies like Rope Use become incredibly important on those occasions when you need to climb down a pit or tie up a villain, for instance.
Proficiencies in this book are categorized by the kit to which they applied. If you want a proficiency but it isn't listed as available for your thief's kit, you can gain it by spending a second proficiency slot. It's worth arguing that although proficiencies have some flaws in their implementation (as they were highly ability-check based, a high strength made for a better blacksmith than a low strength and decades of experience), they pave the way for subsequent skill point systems that nowadays help define D&D.
Kit and Caboodle. Character kits help determine what sort of thief you're playing. There are 18 new kits introduced here, from Acrobat (echoing 1st edition AD&D's thief-acrobat class) to Scout to Thug. You can specialize in thieving, ambushing, investigating, or (if you were a swashbuckler) swinging on ropes and talking in an outrageous French accent. This book also re-introduces the Assassin, a class that had been removed from 2nd edition AD&D to improve its image; while the kit offers no chance to instantly kill a foe, it does grant specialization in the use of poisons.
Some 2nd edition kits are notorious for balancing mechanical benefits with roleplaying penalties, an approach that was not always successful, but there are very few problems in the kits within this particular book: Game balance is kept on a fairly even keel, with no egregious offenders.
Guilds, Tools and Rules. Subsequent chapters provide rules and descriptions for thief aspects that don't usually get much attention. Here, 36 pages are given over to the thieves' guild, detailing the benefits of joining and the guild's place in the campaign world. Another 17 pages cover tools - not just tools that are useful for opening locks, but also for improving any of the classic thief's skills, such as grappling hooks for climbing walls and camouflaged clothing for hiding. "The Joy of Sticks" even goes into detail on blade poles, climbing poles, hooked poles, and mirror poles to look over walls. The chapter ends with a handful of thief-related magic items.
Campaign Building. Guidelines give the DM advice on running an all-thief campaign, as well as suggestions on how to thwart thieves in a D&D world. There is discussion of deceptions and cons, and rules for building better locks and using poison in the game. Overall, the latter half of the book gives a solid grounding in the thief's place within the world, allowing a DM to model classic stories of thieves' guilds in their game.
A Steal. This book is a must-have for anyone playing 2nd edition AD&D or who wants to see the origin of many of the thief-related rules within modern D&D. It's solidly written, well-balanced, and consistently useful.
About the Creators. John Nephew is the president of Atlas Games; he got his start in the gaming industry by writing articles for Dragon Magazine while he was still in high school. His writing paid his way through college, and he started Atlas Games in 1990 while he was still pursuing his BA.
Carl Sargent is a British author and game designer who started playing Dungeons & Dragons in 1978. He worked primarily on Greyhawk while at TSR.
Douglas Niles is a novelist and designer who was one of the creators of the Dragonlance world for TSR, and also the author of the first three Forgotten Realms novels. He also wrote the Top Secret S/I espionage role-playing game.
About the Product Historian
History and commentary of this product was written by Kevin Kulp, game designer and admin of the independent D&D fansite ENWorld. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to firstname.lastname@example.org.