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The thief character in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, 1st edition is just that; a thief. Pickpocket, cut-purse, cat burglar, sneaky little blighter....

I'm thinking of running a non-combat (or minimum combat) series of games. One of the ideas is to turn the thief into a con-man and run a 'con the greedy rich baron' scheme, or something along those lines.

First, is AD&D even the right system to be doing this in? And if it is, what kind of abilities, besides 'pick pockets', 'hide in shadows', 'move silently', etc., would you expect a 'con-man' to have?

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up vote 5 down vote accepted

AD&D is a terrible system for this kind of play. This isn't the appropriate question to get into what games would be better (I recommend a new, follow-up question).

As written, most versions of D&D are combat-oriented games. They're geared for high action, preferably in a dungeon or similar environment. I'm not saying you can't do other things--it's obvious that you can--but you're outside the comfort zone of the rules.

If you were going to play a con man in AD&D, I'd create a new class for it. It'd have none of the thief abilities you list. Con men are social warriors, not sneaks. I'd create a percentile chart (by level) for these con abilities:

  • Deceive -- create a lie and convincingly "sell" it
  • Placate -- calm down an emotional person
  • Distract -- divert attention away from some person, fact, or event
  • Disguise -- appear to be someone you are not (a special case of Deceive worth its own ability)

Note how "fuzzy" these abilities are compared to thieves' abilities like Climb Walls and Hide in Shadows! You're counting on your DM to really make this work for you.

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Those are great abilities! I think I'd change Placate to Defuse, then it could be 'the 4Ds of the con-man'. :) – Stewbob Nov 12 '10 at 21:08
"AD&D is a terrible system for this kind of play." I respectfully disagree, and greatly at that. There aren't any rules for social interaction because it's assumed that the players are going to play roles, and that the DM is the final arbiter of such rules as there are. If a roll of dice is required to resolve such an interaction, it is easy enough to pick some other resolution system from within the rules (percentile rolls, roll <= attribute, X-chances-in-n, etc.) and use it to adjudicate the situation -- and then resume play. – Dr Rotwang Nov 13 '10 at 3:39
I agree with @DrRotwang - AD&D was great for that kind of play; newer versions of D&D have rotted our brains so that we think we can't do something if there's not crunchy rules for it. "It's all about the tacmap" is a 4e/late 3.5e syndrome. – mxyzplk Nov 13 '10 at 3:48
AD&D can do it. Some other games are designed to do it. Can you do tactical combat in Baron Munchausen? Sure, you can. Is it designed for it? No. Just because you can use AD&D for a con game and that it works fine, does not mean that other systems are not better suited to such a game out-of-the-box. Excluded middle, I stab at thee! (exeunt) – SevenSidedDie Nov 13 '10 at 6:25
The original question says that he's considering running a series of non-combat, confidence game sessions. In other words, a serious departure from the things that AD&D is good at. That's very different than role-playing a drink at an inn. In any case, I think we've exhausted the "comment" function of SE. I'm happy to follow up with people in email, if you care: – Adam Dray Nov 14 '10 at 16:19

New classes, new rules and such are not, in my opinion,the answer to this conundrum, and rarely are they the best answer to anything.

Simple role-playing and DM adjudication based on common sense, however, are.

Let's say your would-be con man is intent on deceiving the local constabulary into believing that, yes, indeed, this is his very own diamond-studded donkey (or whatever). If the player is of a dramatic bent then you, as DM, can say, "Okay, act it out. Deceive him! What do you tell him?" If, on the other hand, the player isn't an actor-type, then simply have him or her explain the nature of the lie to whatever level of detail. If the character's Intelligence score seems high enough that the character might convincingly reason out the logic of the lie, and if his/her Charisma score seems high enough to "sell" however outrageous the lie, then the PC gets away with it. If not, then no.

Alternately, you can just judge the odds that the deceived will buy it and roll some dice.

AD&D is most certainly the right type of game in which to do this, because it never has the gall to tell you that you can't.

If you want to be a con man, start lying.

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AD&D tells you that you can't all the time. It has very rigid rules for combat, for example, or what spells do. It tells you that you can't run faster than a certain speed. Why not let the DM just decide combats, too? – Adam Dray Nov 13 '10 at 5:59
Why not? Because he's read the DMG and the parts about how to make up rules as they are needed. – Dr Rotwang Nov 13 '10 at 14:28
Having played an AD&D game involving conmen and roleplaying that went quite well, I totally agree with the good Doctor's post. – John Fiala Dec 10 '10 at 16:34
+1 for it can. We had a PC con the whole party for about six months in a lovely bit of role play as we adventured in urban and wilderness and underground settings of varying complexity. When he assassinated the NPC we were working with we didn't know who killed the NPC for about three sessions. (As usual, our cleric figured it out). Here we'd thought he was a thief. – KorvinStarmast Jul 24 '15 at 12:00

Rather than get into the other argument above: AD&D is awesome for a con-man type thief type game. The mechanic you'll want to look at closely is the one about getting XP for gold. Everything else is a matter of technique: the Dm will have to be sharp about creating situations and the player will have to be sharp about the things he or she is planning and pursuiing. And if you can manage to pull in other players- a little muscle (a fighter or another thief) and perhaps even an illusionist would be great additions.

I would not sweat any of the thief abilities. The classic confidence game is a matter of creative misdirection.

Here's your issue: There are two layers here: there's the In-Character layer where you and your crew are pulling jobs (and if this involves 'conning the greedy baron' then the DM is going to be playing the greedy baron).. and then there's the Out Of Character layer, where we are people playing a game.

If your DM does not get how to handle this, you are kinda doomed. Because he can always know out of character what you are going to do in character. You can not just offer the DM a scroll from the deposed prince of Furyondy saying "I have 800,000 gold in the bank and I need to get it out of the country, so I was wondering if you could assist me in moving this gold to a bank in the Grand Duchy.." if he's unwilling to play along. He has to (out of character) be willing to be conned (in character), perhaps leaving some things up to chance, or introducing complications on his own, without feeling like "ah, I have to retaliate against the player who is trying to con my NPC".

Weak DMs or players will never get this kind of game to fly, but skilled ones will do really well with it. Good luck!

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This page should also provide a lot of help for writing plots. Using AD&D. --> – Peter Seckler Dec 15 '10 at 19:07

In AD&D, they explicitly didn't have a skill system besides those limited thief percentages, so conning was a role-playing exercise. As thieves were not much good for combat, they became underhanded by necessity, and interaction checks were done using CHA ability checks. You can look to add in Diplomacy and Bluff skills from 3.0 but they don't add conning to the game, they just add complexity which may or may not be necessary. I played in many Basic, 1e, and 2e games where someone had a con man (or face man) with simply a high CHA and roleplaying. Now of course that CHA dependence did make bards an even better choice, though there were charlatan wizards (I seem to remember something in Dragon to that effect...).

Note how the PHB p.103, "Negotiation," describes it as a completely RP exercise and doesn't even mention stat checks.

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I wholeheartedly second what this guy says. – Dr Rotwang Nov 13 '10 at 3:58
Heck we had one 2e campaign where our entire party was "undercover", we were pretending to be a wandering circus but were actually mage assassins. If only we had known at the time that we couldn't lie to people without rules for it... Ah, foolish youth. – mxyzplk Nov 13 '10 at 4:00

All you really need is a player willing to roleplay and a DM willing to take the game wherever it may go! In a pinch, as a DM I might have a roll vs Charisma in certain cases. But the entire point of a RPG like AD&D is creative interactions just like this.

I would also take a look at the Complete Thief's Handbook for 2E AD&D. It contains some good ideas for new skills and professions, including non-traditional thieves like the con man.

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I don't know if you're set on using 1st Edition, but some of the skills for the Bard class in 3/3.5 would lend themselves much more effectively to this idea.

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Good suggestion. I'll read up on the Bard. I've ignored that class in the past because I thought it was too complicated, but for a con-man, I think complexity is perhaps essential (or maybe unavoidable). – Stewbob Nov 12 '10 at 21:10

You may want to look at 3e or 3.5. I'd start with a Bard, angle towards being an actor/storyteller, and then buy up thins like Diplomacy, Persuasion, and the like. Throw in a few feats that make people naturally like you and a high Charisma, and you should be good to go.

But since you asked specifically about AD&D, I don't think it's doable without MUCH tweaking of the core mechanics.


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AD&D 1e I'd say isn't the ideal system to do this. AD&D 2e using NWPs and the Complete Thief's Handbook would make it a lot easier, particularly with the Disguise NWP. AD&D 1e would handle it if you as the player can think up a great con, but AD&D 2e provides you with additional tools so the character can do it through mechanics even if you haven't fully thought everything out.

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