Thieves That Work

Thievery is certainly a PvP concept.  There can be provisions made for stealing from "monsters" and NPC’s, but then what’s the point of being a thief when you can just kill them?  The ability to steal items and coin from other players is what people have in mind when they think of the profession of "rogue," not some guy telling dirty jokes at the tavern and going along on a very occasional mission to pick a lock.  Many people like the idea of being a rogue of some sort, but to make the profession really viable, you need the ability to steal.  Because stealing is a hostile act that begs for retribution, you must allow PvP to allow people to even think they can be thieves.

Thievery from citizens of a governed region would certainly be considered criminal by the government.  Less criminal than murder, perhaps, but still deserving of some points on their record, and the risk of arrest.  Like murder, the amount added to the criminal point total can be influenced by factors like the value of the item stolen and the social status of the victim.  The number of criminal points accrued through thievery need to be considerably less than those earned for murder, as thievery is more quickly forgotten (reflected by a quicker drop in criminal points to the degree that the character is no longer actively hunted).  This needs to be compensated for by the idea that as soon as a crime is committed and a hue and cry is raised, there is a certain period of time where the aldermen will be running around actively looking for the offender within the area.  The thief can run from the area and escape, hide from the police, or be caught.  If he’s not caught within a certain timeframe, he can then go about his business, with maybe a small chance of being recognized by a bored alderman on patrol.

In addition, the number of criminal points a thief earns can be directly modified by whether or not he is a member in good standing of the local thieves’ guild, if there is one.  The thieves’ guild maintains safety for its members through a combination of intimidation and bribery of public officials.  It also extracts protection money from local merchants in exchange for freedom from harassment.  The influence of the thieves’ guild can protect its members from prosecution to a certain degree, as reflected by a reduction in criminal points earned by stealing (though it will not save him if he is caught in the act).  This is extremely valuable for the city thief.  However, thieves’ guilds tend to extract huge dues from its members, and the amount a thief "donates" to the guildmaster every week can influence the amount of legal protection he can expect to receive.  Guild thieves are also barred from robbing people and places who are paid up in their protection money, and doing so is grounds for expulsion and a severe beating at least.  Non-guild thieves, while technically "free" to rob anyone they like, accrue many many more criminal points and are subsequently more actively pursued by the police… not to mention the thieves’ guild, which dislikes outsiders horning in on their territory.

Assuming that the justice system of retribution against thieves is in place, how can thieves be given the powers and abilities they expect to have without ruining the fun of other players?  The first way is to make thief skill checks into contested rolls, opposed by a value possessed by the target character.  Picking a pocket is a good example.  Instead of a generic "pickpocket" check, the difficulty of the action is opposed by a skill, attribute, or combination, like "(Perception + Awareness + 50) / 3" or whatever.  The skills and attributes in question should be ones that would naturally be higher for more experienced characters, who would presumably be more inviting, richer targets.  Whether the attempt to steal is successful or not, there must be another check to see whether anyone noticed the attempt.  This is a complex calculation, as bystanders would also get a chance to detect the pickpocketing, but obviously it’s harder to steal from someone alone on the street than it is in a crowded subway train.  One possible formula involves calculating a chance to detect pickpocketing within a radius of 5 yards calculated in a contested roll as above, and divide this chance to detect for any passive observers (i.e. not the guy being robbed) by a factor based on the population density within that 5 yards, as there are more distractions.  This gets very kludgey and system bogging though, and there may be more elegant solutions.  The point here is to allow a chance of thievery to succeed, but make it very difficult in general.  Also, the chance of spotting an unsuccessful attempt at pickpocketing and recognizing it as such should be considerably lower than spotting a successful snag.  A moderately experienced thief may miss the right opportunity to bump his mark several times, but that doesn’t mean he gets the cops called on him every time he thinks about it.

House looting is another popular activity for MMORPG thieves.  If it is allowed, it is extremely powerful by virtue of the fact that the people who own the house (and its contents) are technically nonexistent most of the time.  For the sake of simplicity, you can simply outlaw house looting within the effective range of the town guard, the "city proper."  This is the area that is regularly patrolled by aldermen and/or soldiers, and housing and taxation should be high in exchange for the privelige of living in these areas.

As you move further from the center of government influence, the house thief has more chances to ply his trade as patrols and such become less frequent.  If NPC houses are lootable, this isn’t much of a problem, as the NPC can always be nearby with a pitchfork at least, and the average peasant doesn’t have much in the way of valuables anyway.  The player house, though, is far more vulnerable due to the fact that its owners don’t exist much of the time.  To compensate, the system can allow for stronger and better security systems on the house (pick-resistant locks, barred doors, etc.), hired guards, animals trained to attack invaders, hidden creches where valuables are kept, and maybe even traps for the unwary intruder, plus the chance that a patrolling ranger may happen to come by as the thief is climbing through the window.  These devices are effective deterrents to thieves, as the typical house thief is wearing light leather at best and might carry a stiletto, and should be intimidated by a reasonably strong guard with a poleaxe, but there may be a chance to circumvent these systems.

If a house is looted, the law will take interest.  An investigator may come out to the house if the player’s social importance (modified by possible bribes) is high enough, and snoop around.  Middle ages forensic science wasn’t especially advanced, however, and the property is probably lost, sold by the thief to his fence at low low prices.  However, even if there is no proof of wrongdoing, criminal points should still apply to the house looter to reflect the strength of rumor and suspicion… a black box of sorts to insure that the crminal never gets away completely free of consequence.

Note that house looting by force, i.e. charging in, killing the guards and the dogs, breaking down the door, and carrying everything away on horses, is far more noticeable, and subject to discovery, by investigating officials.  Criminal points accrued for this sort of thing are considerably higher than for a stealthy breakin, just as murder rates above pickpocketing.

Other functions of the rogue, including picking locks in enemy strongholds, finding traps in a dungeon, etc. etc., are not really part of the criminal profession, and are outside the scope of this section, as it deals with the integration of the thief as an antisocial factor.  These non-criminal functions and their import are almost completely dependent on producing enough content to make them viable.

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