LotFP Specialist vs. B/X Thief

I'm a true believer in the d6 skill system LotFP uses. So much so that I wrote a whole thingy about it. So much so that I converted saving throws into d6 and house ruled they could be improved like skills. One of the things I like so much about it is that it does a good job of approximating d20 and d100 skills- not as granular, but when arguing over increments of 1-5%, there is not much meaningful difference.

For comparison, here are a few different ways that skills are arbitrated in traditional rpgs:
  • B/X "Sometimes Percentage, Sometimes d6" method. Thieves suck at almost everything they're supposed to be good at and, depending on the ruleset, only Thieves can even do that stuff.
  • 2E "Holy Shit, Look At All These Ridiculous Proficiencies With Different Methods Of Resolution" method. Literal volumes of skills- so many that everyone forgets they're optional.
  • 3E "Holy Shit, Look At All These Ridiculous Proficiencies With The Same Method Of Resolution" method. Simple d20 rolls with ability and skill modifiers, that unfortunately suffered from a lot of inflation- first level characters can have a +8 modifier, so only DC 15-20 checks are challenging, and it goes up from there.
  • The distant cousin Call of Cthulhu "Every Skill Is A Granular Percentile Roll Which Improves By Miniscule Amounts" method.
The Specialist is the skill class of LotFP, and it fills the role of both Thief and, well, Specialist. Thus, it would make sense to compare the two, and see why the Specialist is such a good design: why it makes Thieves and skill-based characters so easy to play and improve. So how does the Specialist stack up against the B/X Thief?

Let's take a look at the B/X Thieves' Abilities:
It should be noted before we compare that LotFP combines Hear Noise and Find Traps into Search, Move Silently and Hide In Shadows into Stealth, and Open Locks and Remove Traps into Tinker. Pick Pockets is Sleight of Hand, and Climb is Climb. So we have 6 skills in LotFP and 8 in B/X. I'll ignore Climb though, because in my opinion it should be either trivial/impossible or an equipment/problem-solving task, not a skill check task.

Each skill in LotFP starts at 1 in 6, so all characters have a 16.66% chance of doing any of those things. That makes a level 1 character of any class better than a B/X Thief at everything except Hear Noise, Pick Pockets and Move Silently. This is good, because if a trap, cliff, or hidden or locked door is an obstacle or chokepoint of an adventure, everybody has a chance of doing it- not a big one, but it's a bit better to keep the adventure from grinding to a halt.

Specialists get 4 skill points at level 1, and 2 every level thereafter- assuming they kept strictly to the Thief-type skills and assigning points evenly, they would have a 33% chance for all skills at level 2 (and 1 at 50%), which doesn't happen until 4th-6th level for a B/X Thief depending on the which skill we're talking about. The pattern continues for the Thief, going up 5% each level up until the upper levels where they slow down to 4% and finally 3%. Meanwhile, Specialists gain 2 points per level, 33% total allotted into either 1 or 2 skills. This is only slightly superior to the Thief (33% vs 30%), albeit not spread evenly.

The Specialist, however, allots their points as they choose. And were they to want to be a master Thief, investing all of their points each level as above, they would reach 6 in 6 in all the skills at level 14, coincidentally the level at which one tops out in B/X. Except they'd have a 96% chance of success, where the Thief's highest is 85, and their lowest 56. If a Specialist wanted to emulate this level, they would reach parity at level 8.

Effectively, the Specialist has streamlined the Thief- you can be perfect at level 14, whereas the Thief is merely "good". To be comparable, a level 8 Specialist can be equivalent to the 14th level Thief. But with the option of gaining other skills along the way if they want!
So anyway, why is this good? It speeds up the learning curve, opens up character customization, and lets players be good at stuff faster. It's no fun to fail at opening a lock and then have to wait a year and gain a level. But the B/X Thief isn't all bad. Check out this in-depth write-up about why it's good, actually.


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