I can’t even begin to think of the hours of my life that I have spent reading Dungeons and Dragons books. Thousands at least. And I don’t want any of them back. They’ve all been well spent as far as I’m concerned. Since I’ve been about ten years old they’ve been my default entertainment the way that others use television. I’ve owned and read well over a hundred different role playing books, but if I had to pick a favorite of all time it would be the 2nd Edition Complete Book of Thieves. To me, this book was the best. It had the perfect mixture of new statistical information, as well as really interesting ideas on running campaigns that used thieves, how to create thieves guilds that made sense, and cool new items. But more than anything it was really well written and the subject matter didn’t seem that far fetched and rammed down my throat. Perhaps I was gullible in my youth, but I felt like I really needed to have this book because it was so relevant. Now I feel that most of the books are written just to be a product that can be sold.
Until this book was published classes did not have a great range of options available to them. If you had a 5th level thief, he probably didn’t look that different from your buddies 5th level thief. But this book presented the ideas of kits, which were essentially ways that you could customize your thief to fit into a certain type of character. (Disclaimer: All of the Complete books had these and I don’t know what order they came out in, so I can’t say for sure that the concept was introduced in this book. But it was to me.) Now maybe your thief is more an acrobatic Swashbuckler with the skills to match, while your friend has rolled up a sneaky Cat Burglar for himself. I loved it. I think I probably rolled up characters for everyone of the two dozen or so kits in the book. Of course, barely any of them ever saw the light of day, but such is the plight of a longtime DM. This was definitely the precursor to the advanced skill system and prestige classes of 3.0/3.5.
I couldn’t wait to find ways to get new items like the housebreaker harness, face black, and listening cones into my campaigns. Sure it may have been weird that everyone in town walked around with a sword hidden inside of a cane, but it was cool to me. I still remember some of the NPC’s presented in the book, and it’s been years since I have read it. And the art was excellent. I’m pretty sure it contained that awesome painting of the thief luring someone into an alley with some jewelry, while a knife wielding gnoll lurked in the shadows.
The writing in the book was engaging and really the emphasis of the subject, the numbers and rules all followed suit after the text established the tone. Maybe that doesn’t make a ton of sense, but it’s what really carried the book. For example, the writers came up with the idea of the Thug, a kit who was more focused on the brutal, physical aspect of being a thief. They thought of what they wanted him to be and then wrote up some rules around that. I feel like the inverse is probably true now. A designer has an idea for a power and then tries to find a way to incorporate it into the game. How else could the Green Star Adept possibly come about? In the end the game benefited by having a type of character that could exist in a game world. D&D is first and foremost a role playing game, not a roll playing game and this book nailed that concept.