Making Characters Weird: Thieves/Rogues

Nyrene Bessieres by BiPiCado
is licensed by CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

What's Included Below:

  • Playing a Thief/Rogue
  • A Table of "Weird" Character Traits for Thieves/Rogues
  • A D20 Table of "What's In the Pocket?" for the pick-pocket skill
  • Alternate Thief Skills for Old-School Games (primarily B/X or Old School Essentials, but applicable to BECMI, 1E, and OD&D)

This presents the third entry in my series on "making characters weird." In this largely system-neutral series, my goal is to present some alternative backgrounds or traits for characters that are odd, unexpected, and just plain weird

Unlike a 5E type background, these are not intended, for the most part, to present any kinds of mechanical changes to the class, but mainly to provide flavor, role-playing hooks and also present some world-building opportunities on which the referee and player can collaborate. 

In this particular entry, I do show an example of how to very easily and quickly convert any kind of mechanic from B/X to 3E, 4E, or 5E with very little trouble (for the "Talking Locks" weird trait in the table below). The goal is to make this material as broadly appealing and inclusive as possible across all editions.   


Why do I put "Thief/Rogue" instead of just "Rogue"? For you newer players who just recently discovered the game, when the game was created, there actually was no "Rogue" class: The game consisted of three classes only: Clerics, Magic-Users, and "Fighting Men." The so-called Rogue was added in the first supplement to the game, Greyhawk, but it was called a Thief. That name stayed until Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition, published about 15 years after the original game, when it was changed to Rogue (although Rogue was an "archetype" under which both the Thief and Bard classes existed).

Similar to things I ask my Cleric players to do (pick a day of the week they won't adventure, pick a food they won't eat, and pick some superstitions), I ask my Thief/Rogue players to think about these three things: 

  1. A vice. This can be something common for the criminal underworld, such as gambling, alcohol and other substances, or it could be something unusual like art or expensive clothing. Whatever it is, it's something that is likely to get you into trouble, and also causes you to spend your money unwisely and interact with some unsavory characters while doing so.
  2. A contact. This is someone you know who is privy to uncommon information, often of a less than legal nature, in your hometown or village. It could be someone as innocent as a tavern keeper, or it might be a local beggar who sees and hears much but is ignored by most. Conversely, it could also be a member of the constabulary who can be bribed for a price. The referee might assign you a contact or allow you to create one. 
  3. A vulnerability. This might be a dark secret, such a a family member you don't want exposed, or it could be something you've spent you life searching for, such as who your parents were. Whatever it is, it's something that you can't ignore and that you'll go out of your way to investigate and take risky steps to either uncover or to keep hidden (depending on the nature of the vulnerability). 





Weird Trait


Spider Climbing: When you climb sheer surfaces, you grow spider arms and small hairs all over your body, and you stick to the surface. It’s unsettling to watch.


Whispering Traps: You hear the trap(s) whispering to you. No one else can hear it.


Dimensional Locks: You realize (or belong to a cult that believes) that locks are a gateway to other worlds/portals, like inter-dimensional waystations. You always want to open as many locks as you can find, with the hope of unlocking the gateway to a new dimension.


Talking Locks: While you still need your tools, your talent is in talking to locks and convincing them to open themselves. Add your Charisma score’s NPC Reactions bonus x10 as a percentage (e.g., 13-17 = +10%, 18 = +20%) as a bonus to your Open Locks check. The downside is that you make a lot of noise while doing this, as you argue with the locks, increasing the chance of wandering monsters to 2-in-6.


3E Conversion: Add your CHA bonus to your Open Locks check. Double the chance of wandering monsters to 20% when opening locks.

4E Conversion: Add your CHA bonus to your Thievery: Open Locks check. The referee will create a consequence for the player taking longer and making more noise while opening a lock.

5E Conversion: Add your CHA bonus to your DEX check to open locks. Double the chance of wandering monsters when opening locks.


Floating Silently: While moving silently, you look as if you are floating on air, and your feet don’t seem to touch the ground. You don’t leave any tracks.


Shadowy Appearance: Your face is always in partial shadow, making identification very difficult but also portraying a vibe of untrustworthiness.


Shadowless. You leave no shadow. Your parents claim it was stolen by otherworldly creatures when you were a baby. You’ve traveled far and wide to find it.


Constant Noises: You are exceptionally good at hearing noises others can’t hear. You’ve been this way your whole life, but you hate it. You just want the noises to stop. Make them stop!


Extradimensional Pockets: Every time you pick a pocket, you feel as though your hand has entered another dimension and the item you’ve pilfered actually came from somewhere else as opposed to the pocket your hand was just in.


Youthful: You look like a young teenage child and don’t appear to have aged for years, but you are an adult. Nobody can explain why you look like this, but your appearance helps gain you access to areas you otherwise couldn’t get into because of your innocent, child-like appearance. At a level determined in secret by the referee, you will automatically physically age 2D6 + 10 years overnight, with no explanation. People might not recognize you.


Hunted by Cult: One or both of your parents hid you as a child by cutting your hair differently and making you dress as the opposite sex and told you to never reveal your true identity. They claimed it because an evil cult was searching for you. [Inspired by a Rogue character my wife plays in my long-running World of Samoth game].


Mysterious Book: As a child, you found a mysterious book hidden in your parents’ room and were strangely attracted to it. You stole it when you left home. Shortly after, your parents were murdered. You’ve noticed the cover of the book appears to be made of some kind of skin.


Bad Luck: You are considered an ill-omen and bearer of bad luck, not for yourself, but for others. It’s obvious and you can’t hide it, giving you a -1 Reaction Roll Penalty. You think people are just superstitious fools. Because people are wary about you, you get to act first on initiative during the first round of an encounter.


Grave Robber: You’re a former grave-robber until you saw something that turned your hair white from fear. You don’t like to talk about it, but you’re pretty sure it’s following you.


Family Debt: You made a deal with someone to pay off a family debt, and later learned the lender was not who you thought it was. You’re pretty sure it’s not any kind of creature you’ve ever seen or heard of. The loan, which you can’t currently repay, is due soon.


Disfigured: A plague when you were young left you disfigured. You hide your face behind a mask. You take a -2 penalty to CHA if the mask is removed but have a +2 bonus to saving throws versus disease.


Pet Raven: You travel with a pet raven that cannot attack in combat, can deliver messages for you. It always returns, but it doesn’t sleep. At night, it just stares at you while you sleep.


Possessed: You are possessed. But, by what? A deity? An eldritch force? The spirit of a long-deceased ancestor? You’re not sure. But, it manipulates you to do things you don’t want to do. Sometimes you talk to it. Others are convinced you use it as an excuse to break the law.


Eerie Painting: You were a noted art thief. Your greatest achievement was stealing a famous painting of a deceased duchess. You hung it in your room to admire. The next morning, the painting was still there, but the figure of the duchess was missing from the painting; only the background remained.


Unnatural Twin: You have seen someone dressed just like you, but always just slightly out of sight. Sometimes your twin noticed you and gives you a slight smile, then disappears from view. You grew up an only child.



There are plenty of great pick-pocket tables online or in books for what might be in a pocket. I assume that most people can think of things like coins, some random bits of string, or a small pocketknife. Those are all fine, and you definitely want to include those types of mundane items most of the time. If you're looking for something a bit different and out-of-the-ordinary, here are some ideas you can include to mix things up. I would actually take these and make a bigger D100 table, with 80 of the things being more mundane, and the other 20 being these (or ideas like them). That way, the weird stuff will stick out more if you roll it. 



Weird Pocket Contents


A note with the names of the PCs written on it. One of the names is crossed out.


A small portrait of one of the PCs in exacting detail. The name on the portrait doesn’t match the PC’s name.


A small windup musical toy. It plays a song someone sang to you when you were little. No one has ever heard the song before or knows its name.


Coins with unfamiliar minting and markings that no one can identify. Someone appears later and offers you more than you think they should be worth.


The shopping list for what you assume is a potion. Maybe it’s a deadly poison. Who knows?


A coin with the exact same markings on both sides (both heads). On one side, the head has been slashed with a blade.


A bloody rag, still wet, that stains your hands and clothes when you take it. The local constabulary arrive a short time later to place you into custody for murder.


A glowing green rock. As soon as you nick it, the person you stole it from runs away quickly. You begin to feel very sick. Your hand won’t let go of the rock.


A small prayer book with a ritual to summon an elder god.


An invitation, with your name on it, to meet with the head of the local Thieves’ Guild.


A warning to stop picking pockets in the city. One of your possessions (randomly determined by the referee) is now missing.


A small reliquary with the finger bone of a saint.


A seemingly normal fountain pen. When you use it to write something, whatever you write is transcribed into an unknown, unsettling, language. You can’t read it.


A polished metal slab with gems that glow on and off.


Directions to an illegal carnival run by demons.


A packet of medical powder and instructions from the apothecary to administer immediately.


A bottle labeled “Thunder and Lightning.”


A handful of loose gems. One of them falls and explodes upon impact, doing 1d6 damage to anyone in 5’ and making a loud noise.


What appears to be a half-imbibed potion.


An entire severed hand with a large, intricately carved key attached. The hand points each time to you come to a new street, corridor, alley, etc., as if giving you directions.



Here are some ideas for alternate skills you can use to swap out some of the standard thief skills in old-school versions of D&D. While this one was designed with Moldvay Basic D&D, it should work with just a few slight modifications for OD&D, 1E, and BECMI as well. 

Firstly, a fun idea I read about online (I apologize for not remember where I first saw this) is the idea of swapping the chance-of-success for "climbing sheer surfaces" with another existing skill. For example, if you want to make a thief who specialized in hiding in shadows, you could swap the percentage chance for climbing sheer surfaces (starting at 87%) with the chance of success for hiding in shadows (starting at 10%). From that point on, the thief will be much better at hiding, but much less successful at climbing. 

For these alternative thief skills:

  • Swap out an existing thief skill for one of the new skills indicated on the table below (these aren't additive, so you need to lose something in order to use them)
  • On the table below, "Progression" refers to which "Chance of Success" numbers to look at, by level, when using the alternative skills
    • For example, the alternative "Appraise" skill uses the same chance of success as the standard "Hear Noise" skill
  • The table below also indicates what happens with a success or a failure for each new skill, as well as any special notes for the referee

New Skill






Hear Noise

You correctly estimate the value of items such as antiques, art objects, jewelry, and other crafted items.

Your estimate is off by 50% to 150%, always to your detriment.

The referee may assign a penalty for rare or exotic items.


Find or Remove Treasure Traps

You find information on where to buy or sell specific goods or resources.

You are unable to find where to buy or sell the specific goods or resources you require.

In an unfamiliar area, the referee may impose a penalty to the roll. A failure may attract the attention of the local law enforcement.


Open Locks

One subject of HD equal to or less than the thief will believe whatever the thief says for 1d4 rounds plus 1 round per every three levels of the thief (+1 for 1st – 3rd levels, +2 for 4th – 6th, +3f or  7th – 9th, +4 for 10th – 12th levels, and +5 for 13th level or higher).

The subject believes the thief is lying (even if the thief was telling the truth) and immediately becomes Unfriendly (see Monster Reaction Rolls in Encounters, Core Rules).

Outlandish claims, or ones that would put the subject in danger, allow a save versus spells.


Hide in Shadows

Victims whom you poison suffer a -2 penalty to their saving throw.

Victims whom you poison gain a +2 bonus to their saving throw.

On a failure, the referee may require you to make a save vs. poison, representing your mishandling of the poison.


Find or Remove Treasure Traps

You can throw your voice, making a sound appear as if it comes from somewhere else.

The subject is not fooled.

Subjects with INT 13+ receive a save vs spells to disbelieve. An inanimate object incapable of speech may impose a penalty to the thief’s roll, as determined by the referee.

Voice Mimicry

Move Silently

You imitate another person’s voice.

You fail to imitate the voice.

Mimicry does not allow you to speak a language you do not know.


Let me know what you think of all these ideas for Thieves/Rogues in the comments below, and definitely send over any new ideas for you have for weird traits or unexpected items to find when picking someone's pockets. 

Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: Wizards & Gargoyles Hazy Coffee IPA, a collaboration beer between Stone Brewing & Modern Times Brewery
Listening: "Believe in Me" by Flamingosis, from the album "Bright Moments"


  1. I'm very much enjoying these Weirding Up posts. They are full of good ideas and they imply a fascinating campaign setting that sits in a nice place between stock fantasy and full on Kirbyesque gonzo.

    1. Thank you so much! Glad you're enjoying them, and you got the point exactly. I think over the years that "weird" has gone either too far where some things, while they are incredibly cool and fun to read, are less compatible with a traditional fantasy milieu, or else it goes too far into the "gross and icky" side of things. Given all that, I do struggle with the term "weird" and whether another term would be more suitable for what I'm trying to do here, but the idea is to introduce unexpected and strange elements that could exist in a standard "vanilla" fantasy game. That way, they stick out, which is what makes them "weird."


  2. Good stuff, as usual. Also, I'm liking the new look of your site. Peace.

    1. Thank you so much, both both compliments. I'm still working on the blog site design. I need to figure out how to make the tables look nicer, for starters, and I lost a lot of my old side nav-bars. It definitely looks "cleaner" though, I guess. Cheers!


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