Thursday, June 30, 2011

Thieves' Guild, by Gamelords

As delightfully baroque as an early 80's Gamescience AD&D character sheet, Gamelords' Thieves' Guild products were one of the few series of third party products that accurately captured the tone of early AD&D: dark, mysterious, dangerous, and a little dirty. I always tried to grab their stuff whenever I spotted it - usually cheaply, as most gamestore owners didn't seem to really understand what it was, and would drop it into the "dollar box" with all the cheap traveller knock-offs and weird furry animal rpgs.

The rules, of course, were very similar to OD&D/AD&D, which makes these products very easily compatible with those systems. A glimpse at it, crossposted on the OD&D forums:

Thieves Guild occupies a space between being an AD&D hack and being its own game; it is obvious that the creators built it by expanding on the core AD&D framework, and there are innumerable artifacts of this heritage (e.g. the ability of thieves to use scrolls). The system occupies 33 pages in the initial TG installment, with the understanding that later products would fill out unexplored areas, which they did - if you buy an installment, it is going to be a grab bag of optional rules, modular encounters and small scenarios (usually around a common theme). For example, Installment 2 adds more weapon types (with adjusted damage ratings), combat rules, guidelines for hiring and maintaining hirelings, bandit and highwayman encounters, and The Tombs of Shale-Chuun scenario, which combines the mini-dungeons of Keep on the Borderlands with the traps of The Tomb of Horrors, and is a cool, flexible set of adventures. The approach to the rules is extremely modular, and it would be relatively easy to rebuild them to one's liking.

Ability scores include Strength, Dexterity (subdivided into Coordination and Reflexes), Stamina (also used to derive Magic Resistance), Intelligence (subdivided into Discretion and Talent) and Attractiveness (subdivided into Appearance and Magnetism). Abilities are rolled on 3d6.
Races are a mixture of tolkienesque and fairy tale: humans, elves, half-elves, dwarves, hobbits, kobolds, orcs, uruk hai, half-orcs, goblins, pixies and centaurs are all playable. Additionally, random social background, modified by race, is a part of the game, influencing starting wealth, as well as weapon and non-weapon skills.
Damage uses the contemporary 3rd party abbreviation HTK (Hits To Kill); however, HTK is not a function of class, but an average of Strength and Stamina further modified by a table based on the total of these two attributes (e.g. if the total is 10 or less, the character gains +1d4 HTK; if it is 10-19, it is +1d6 etc.). There are separate saving rolls, which are actually roll-under ability checks rolled with 2d12; they are also used for non-combat task resolution.
Combat: the game uses HAC0 (a precursor to AD&D's THAC0, which was listed in the DMG but left unexplained until later) to resolve hits; weapons have different HAC0 ratings, daggers being easier to use than maces or larger swords. Combat actions take place simultaneously, and there is no initiative, so a character who suffers a death blow may still strike back. There are critical hits and fumbles resolved with a relatively simple chart, and thieves are given additional combat maneouvres (backstabbing, coshing (KOs), poison use and striking from concealment. Armour works as in D&D, but the base value is 0 and goes up, so quilted cloth is AC 2, leather AC 4, chain AC 6, scale AC 8 and plate AC 10. Additionally, armour absorbs a small amount of damage (1-3).
Skills: there is a wide range of skills associated with social background; characters must spend double skill points to purchase skills above their social standing! The skills of Thieves Guild are much more socially oriented than D&D's, and include a loving attention to roguish pursuits (which are treated separately, so any social class can learn them without penalty).
Magic: a full magic system is absent from the initial installment, but subsequent modules add it gradually - in the scenarios of installment 1 and 2, there are example spell lists which work on a spell point basis, and are probably more mundane and less interesting than the exoticism AD&D occasionally went into.
Experience: experience is awarded for combat, the sale of stolen goods (very cool!), successful ability rolls and success during encounters (with success conditions set by the DM). Gaining levels results in the occasional extra hit dice (e.g. one is gained at 3rd, 5th, 7th, 10th and 12th level), hit probability (+2 per 4 levels), dodge bonus (to AC, +1 per 3 levels) and the increase of thief abilities. As a neat way to treat NPCs, Thieves Guild stat blocks classify them as Green (LVL 1-2), Intermediate (LVL 3-5), Veteran (LVL 6-7) and Elite (LVL 8+).
Further guidelines focus on fields thieves may find interesting - these are separate subsystems for disguise, fencing, traders, a treatise on guild membership and structure, a justice system (with a huuuuuge chart to determine outcomes; however, Judges Guild's similar guidelines are more colourful).

There are allusions in the books to parts of The Fantasy System that would be presumably released later (and might have been - I only own the first two installements) - classes such as Archers, Centurions, Healers, Mages, Priests, Priestly Mages, Illusionists, Assassins, Troubadours, Traders Hetearae etc. are mentioned but not detailed.

An NPC stat block for Thieves Guild may look like this:

Torban the Turbulent: VET HU FTR [Veteran Human Fighter]; ST 18, CO 16, RF 16, SM 17, MR 11; Weapon BDSWDe [broadsword wielded with expertise] HAC0 4, Damage 3d8, L BOWe -2/2/6 1d6, Spear 3/6 2d8; AC C/S [Clothes/Shield]; HTK 44; WRHOR [Warhorse].

In conclusion, it must be added that the scenarios and playing aids of Thieves Guild are done with obvious care and understanding, although they are not typical D&D fare - better suited to a game with more emphasis on social simulation and social encounters than improbable dungeon crawls. For example, the first installment has very detailed encounter modules with merchants, locales for cat-burglary (one set in the Street of Silk Veils, a red-light district; another in an area of magic and curio shops) and random encounters.

The production values of Thieves Guild are spartan; first printswere supposed to be three ring-bound, and were laid out on some primitive computer (most likely); reprints are in the shape of small booklets. However, they are also extremely dense with material and more material. Secondly, the artwork by Janet Trautvetter, if amateurish, is full of character and a human warmth that is missing from RPG art; her depiction of sensibly dressed fighting women is a particular plus.


  1. I always wanted to know more about this one. Sounds a little bit like the Palladium Fantasy RPG, system-wise. Thanks!

  2. So YOU are the other guy who bought this. I collected it as well starting with the TG boxed set and then, like you, grabbing stuff for a buck or two on the discount table when I could find it.

    We skipped 2e and went to Thieves Guild instead, always on the hunt for the promised fighter and magic rules which would have given a full RPG experience. As is we made up our own stuff. They also did the boxed city set HAVEN which is excellent and overlooked as well.

  3. I played this a bit, too. Fun game!

  4. My ebay hunt list grows larger and larger.

  5. Very interesting indeed. I hadn't heard of it. The fourth last image above of the ambush is exactly how I remember picturing D&D as we played it in my teens. Good post.

  6. I got this back in the day and used some of the rules in my Holmes/AD&D hybrid games. I recall using the extensive equipment price listings to supplement the (in my youthful view) scanty wares offered in Holmes. Thieves Guild 2 had a really cool variety of tombs to raid, nicely mapped. I agree with you on the Janet Trautvetter's art, but I always go for feel and personality over straight up competence and professionalism. Cheers, Al!

  7. In the "Thieves Do It in the Shadows" ad the word rogue is misspelled. This glaring oversight makes the company's entire inventory waste product.

  8. I played a lo of Thieves Guild back in the day. The experience of exploring Haven permanently turned me off to dungeon crawls, which I found rather dull by comparison. Who cares about a bunch of orcs in a cave when you can visit the House of Silk Veils, drink with the ruffians at the Prancing Pony and plan daring robberies and heists?

  9. I loved this, and bought it whenever I could. don't forget the stellar "Free City of Haven", a city supplement designed for the same ruleset and rife with opportunities to exercise those thieving skills. One problem of the series was the modularity - I didn't subscribe (I seem to remember that was possible), and I missed some of the supplements, which drove me crazy! Still, an awesome and relatively high-quality set of books.

  10. Cool post .

    Thats was a game that deserved a better fate than it had and I would very much have liked to see The Fantasy System they had planned come to fruition.

  11. There were a few of us playing this game or using it to add to our D&D games - the rules were great to add for AD&D thieves, and back when there weren't any cities to be had (except the City-State and the Overlord) there was...


    I love that city, more than the Judges Guild stuff. It always seemed like a "better" or less "over-the-top" setting than the Judges Guild stuff.

    It was great and I'm looking forward to running a new group of players through the adventures again in my new campaign.


  12. I like it a lot, especially for its vision. It is AD&D with a slightly different implied setting - more down-to-earth, but still adventurous. A lot of games reacting to A/D&D took so many steps towards realism and the simulation of mundane history that they ended up colourless and limiting. Thieves Guild is a decent compromise. You are not super-powerful, but you are still an adventurer doing adventurous things (actually, it gives adventures a role in society - you are all thieves, a real profession).

    Would I want to play it today? No. But it is one of those games I would have loved when I was 14, and it would have solved some of the problems we had with AD&D. Actually, Thieves Guild is the closest you can get to the tone of Hungarian fantasy gaming in the early 90s - worlds blending fantasy and mundanity with ease, an integrated world without AD&D's stricter human/demi-human/humanoid divisions, just the right amount of grit and just the right amount of lightness. It was, I believe, better generic fantasy than either Greyhawk or the Forgotten Realms, although it is not always easy to define why.

    And, again, I love Trautvetter's art. It has charm.

  13. Kent wrote:
    "The fourth last image above of the ambush is exactly how I remember picturing D&D as we played it in my teens."
    Yeah. The people in the art is how adventurers looked to my mind's eye. Also:
    Game art has become a lot more professional, but it does not do that anymore.

  14. Tadashi Ehara owns the rights to the Gamelords lines, and has several Thieves Guild titles available @ all are printings originally done by GL bitd.


  15. Thanks to Allan for the link! Who knew you could still score pristine stuff like this? I ordered a whole buncha stuff, some even that I may already have ... but just wanted to be sure about (I'm away from home and didn't want them to run out before I could check). Very cool!

  16. I have Thieves' Guild 4 and 5 new in orig poly bags, putting them up on Ebay right now.

  17. The Looking Glass Podcasts mention the Thieves Guild books as part of their research and inspiration when designing the first Thief game. Long live Garett! :)

    Tim Stellmach mentions it, he was the lead designer... All the podcasts are amazing if you're into the Looking Glass games.

    1. You are mixing it up with some other product. Kerry Lloyd (RIP) was the main creator of TG.

  18. Love Thieves Guild. It was developed near to where I lived so we considered it "ours". Back then we had no idea that other people had developed their own versions of D&D.

  19. I just expanded my set. I had TG 1-5 in the original 3-hole version and Haven from the 80s. Now I have the saddle-stitched TG 2-10 second editions as well plus Demon Pits of Caeldo and The Mines of Keridav. The only things I need to complete the collection would be the TG 1 saddle-stitched 2nd edition, Prince of Thieves '81, and Basic Character Creation. What I really want is for someone to find the Haven 3 manuscript, and they acquire the rights and run a KS to republish a 3rd edition of the whole shebang in a bigger font.



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