Baranor’s Den #13: Thieves


After some time off, Baranor’s Den returns with a new installment. This one continues the recent run of columns examining the archetypal characters in fantasy role playing games. Recent columns have covered the mage and warrior (tank), and now Baranor’s eye turns to… the thief. Cunning outlaw? Stealthy murderer? Rogue clever enough to take what he wants without wasting energy on a direct assault? A variety of games have featured thieves, and while there’s never been an outright thief character in any of the Diablo games,several characters have used thief-like skills and talents – the rogue, the Assassin, and even the… Necromancer?

Click through to read the full column and see Baranor’s thoughts on this issue.

Baranor’s Den #13: Thieves

Aaah… the thief, that rogue-like romantic archetype of theft and stealth. That Robin Hood that everyone wants to be… The King of Thieves, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor.

Thieves are an illustrious corps of people… the traditional roleplayer rolls his Thief with a Chaotic Good alignment. Chaotic is the best he can get (not very interested in the laws), and Good because playing Evil is just not right to the “traditional” roleplayer. That type of thief is the type most people identify with… thieves who are clever fellows who outwit their slower criminal counterparts, or who steal from the unjustly rich, who have legally stolen from hard-working people with unfair deals and trades.

Unfortunately, real-life thieves are far from this archetype. In fact, history is full of unscrupulous hard asses who killed and looted for nothing more than their own pleasure and gain. The Discovery Channel has an interesting list of thieves online. Most of them are criminals in the true sense of the word. Nope, real life thieves are usually not very nice. Its not to say that there are no nice or polite thieves, as there sure are, and I have seen a few former crooks on television that were quite polite, despite the fact that their profession involved the non-consensual transfer of property from one person to another. Heck, I even saw a thief once complaining that the more modern thieves took pistols into houses, which he found to be distasteful (for our American readers: not every country in the world is filled with John Waynes who shoot everything that moves, and we’re not all free to defend our homes with gunpowder…) and outright stupid as it lead to much serious acts. He had a very simple policy: If he met the homeowner, he told him he’d leave, never return, and not take anything on the way out. That seemed to work pretty well in his day. Not anymore…

At any rate, the fictional thief (again, Robin Hood springs to mind) is a far more acceptable character. He usually is indeed witty, fast, charming and has daring and sometimes romantic adventures in which he steals not only the heart of a lady, but also the gold in her husbands or whomever’s chest he manages to encounter. Famous thieves are aplenty in literature… Olliver Twist, Althalus, Arsene Lupin. One of the most famous of all thieves, that master rogue, reaver, plunderer, muscle-bound lady-magnet and drinker of much ale, Conan the Barbarian! Yes, Conan is a prototype thief if there ever was one. He’s more of a thief than a warrior since most of his adventures revolve around him stealing something (the jewels of this or that God or ancient Ruin) or someone (usually a supple young lady who has, or will have the hots for him). That he usually leaves a trail of bodies a mile wide is incidental.

Thieves in Computer Games

In computer games, we have a boatload of different thieves… lets name one shall we… Garret, from the original Thief series. I played only Thief 1, I tried a few “perfect” heists, and boy it was fun waiting in the shadows for five minutes until the guards conjuncted in such a layout that I could sneak across all areas at once without being caught or needing to shoot one of them in the back. Garret, like so many of his modern-day fictional counterparts, employs his cunning wit and his technological gadgets to the best. Moss-filled arrows, water-arrows, rope-arrows, you name it, Garret has it.

Knights of the Old Republic offers a high-tec version of the thief with a stealth belt, hacking skills and sniping abilities, whilst Lord of the Rings Online offers that same thing but now in a more classical approach. That thief can sneak, toss dust in someone’s eye, confuse his opposition with riddles, and back stab. The classical AD&D thief can also sneak and snipe with the best of them, picking locks as he goes and disarming traps left and right.

On the other hand, the Diablo series does not really have a “thief” character. Whilst the bow-using Rogue from Diablo 1 has her name, and the lock-picking Assassin from Diablo II has her neat “no-keys-required” ability, neither qualify as a full-scale thief with the appropriate play style. An action-orientated game offers significantly less room for a thief-like character to operate in thief-modus.After all, what good is stealth when your friend is running around with his Barbarian Whilwinding through hordes upon hordes of monsters? The Assassin came as close as anyone can expect a thief in an action game though, with traps, martial arts and stealth-like skills (that nobody ever user… think “Cloak of Shadows”… it annoyed the heck out of other players but ok) and some people tried playing her like it. Surprisingly enough, the Necromancer was a pretty good pretender to the throne. With his classic curses Confuse, Attract and Dim Vision he operated much like a good scoundrel would. Stealthily creeping around, he distracted his enemies by tossing them their own bones (literally of course in the case of Skeletons), he caused infighting with the slightest motion of his Wand and even turned all against one with another flick of his stick.

As for a thief-character in Diablo III, I think we are not going to see something short of another assassin-like char. If your only option is to sneak around, you wont kill any critters. If you don’t kill any critters, you don’t get any XP. If you don’t get any XP, you won’t level (incidentally, this is also where the confusing, vision-dimming necromancer suffered… without killing, he remained pretty weak)… and as a side effect, no killing means no loot and we all love loot, especially if we are thieves

Best wishes for the new year, even though its mightily late,

Note from Baranor: Apologies for not continuing the story in this installment. I’ve been rather busy this past month, even too busy, and I didn’t have the inspiration to write something proper. Strange how trying to do less work can lead to more work… and then I got sick. The story will continue in the next installment, and there I’ll double up it up. If this explanation does not suit you, simply replace everything with “The story was stolen by a Master Thief…”


Baranor’s Den is a weekly column that explores all things RPG and fantasy, with a special focus on the Diablo series. Views expressed in this column are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Diii.net. Leave your comment after the column, or email Baranor directly.

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