The Lowly Thief-Acrobat

Last updated: 181129
The thief-acrobat is a mess. Most abilities are worse than an average high school athlete. In a world that mages can cast world-altering spells, even the best thief-acrobat can’t match a world record–ever. In a class where falling is key, they take more (relative) damage from a fall than a fighter of the same experience. The thief-acrobat should be better at thief-acrobat things than other classes. At the same time, the class should be distinct from thief and monk. Time to fix all that, while maintaining the spirit of the thief-acrobat. I started from the Dragon Errata articles, and moved on from there!

Any single-classed thief character with a minimum strength of 15 and a minimum dexterity of 16 may forego normal thievery and become a “split-class” specialist, a Thief-Acrobat.

Upon gaining sufficient experience points to achieve 6th level as a thief, the character desiring to specialize as a thief-acrobat must seek out a thief-acrobat to train him or her of at least 10th level. It will require 6 full weeks of training to learn the basic skills needed to begin active practice of the social profession of thief-acrobat. Except as noted, the specialization procedure is otherwise the same as regular thief training.

A thief-acrobat may be of any race. Thief-acrobats with strength and dexterity scores of 16 or better add a 10% bonus to earned experience. Thief-acrobats gain six-sided hit dice at 11th and 12th levels, and 2 hit points per level after 12th (UA, Character Classes Table 1).

Weapons: As thief, plus lasso, staff, blow gun (DF).

The primary functions of a thief-acrobat are: tightrope walking, pole vaulting, jumping, and tumbling. In addition to these functions, the thief-acrobat retains the abilities to improve: move silently, hide in shadows, hear noise, climb walls, and read languages. This program of gymnastics precludes any further progress in the following skills: pick pockets, find/remove/set traps, open locks, and backstab. Ended skills max at 6th level (dexterity 16) to 8th level (dexterity 18). A thief-acrobat also gains the ability to decipher magical writings and utilize scrolls at 10th level, just as regular thieves do.

Backstab is more villainous than carnival, and more similar to the other lost abilities.

The thief-acrobat is only lightly encumbered when carrying up to 450 gp (increasing 10 gp per level, and modified for Strength). A thief-acrobat can only function when lightly encumbered. The exception is tightrope walking, where the limit is twice that of lightly encumbered.

Tightrope walking assumes that the character will use this means to cross from place to place. The skill allows ascent up a rope or beam up to a 45-degree angle or descent at a slightly steeper angle, all while upright and with hands free (in general). Movement is 60’ per round. If the distance is greater than 60’, then additional checks must be made for each additional 60′. A 6th level thief-acrobat has a 75% chance of success, improving 5% per level. Moderate winds decrease the chance of success by 10%, strong winds by 20%. In strong, gusty wind conditions there is always a 5% chance of failure. In non-windy conditions, a balance pole increases the chance of success by 10%. Failure means that the thief-acrobat falls, taking damage accordingly. Those characters who are not thief-acrobats can walk a tightrope at a base 20% chance, and move no faster than 30’ per round.

The world record for pole vaulting is 20′, in a world without magic, monks falling any distance, and in general heroes of old. Yet a 23rd level thief-acrobat can’t even tie that record? Average high school competitors can pole vault 12′. In a world when the thief can climb most obstacles, pole vaulting is of even less utility.

Pole vaulting includes any jumping which employs a leverage device to assist the individual in gaining height from momentum; e.g., a teeter board or springboard might serve as well or better than a pole in some cases. A successful pole vault requires at least a 30’ running start and a pole at least two-thirds the length of the distance to be vaulted. A 6th level thief-acrobat can pole vault 12′, increasing 2′ per level. The pole is dropped when the vault occurs. The vaulter can land on his or her feet atop a surface of 1‘ less height than the maximum height of the pole vault if so desired, assuming such a surface exists. Otherwise, the vaulter lands, tumble rolls, and is on his or her feet in 2 segments[1]. The thief-acrobat cannot pole vault when engaged in melee. Non-thief-acrobats cannot pole vault.

So long as the thief-acrobat finds (or is able to place) a hanging object such as a rope, vine, or chandelier to use as an assist for at least half the distance to be covered, he or she may use the rope to swing up to a distance of up to twice the character’s maximum pole-vaulting height and land on his or her feet. (DF)

Jumping includes all sorts of unassisted leaps—high jumping and broad jumps (both from a standing and a running start).

All jumps assume the thief-acrobat will land on his or her feet. If the thief-acrobat wishes to leap in an extended position, 2′ of additional distance can be gained, but the character will land prone and take 4 full segments[1] to get back on their feet. A 3′ extension can be attempted, with a 25% chance of failure and a 6-segment[1] period of recovery; a 4′ extension has a 50% chance of failure and an 8-segment[1] recovery; an extension of 5′ has a 75% chance of failure and a 10-segment[1] recovery period.

The high jump numbers aren’t horrible, but are rarely useful. But increasing by ¼” at a time?

High jumping requires at least a 20’ running start. At 6th level the thief-acrobat can high jump 4′, increasing 1′ per level. The high jumper clears the obstacle in a near-horizontal position but lands on his or her feet. If some elevated step, or a series of such steps, enables the character to maintain rapid motion, he or she can then high jump from such an elevated step just as if doing so normally. Alternately, the jumper can opt to land atop some higher surface. This surface must be 2’ under the maximum height for normal high jumping. In either case, the thief-acrobat lands on his or her feet in 2 segments[1]. Non-thief-acrobats can high jump d4′.

For an average trained high school athlete a good broad jump is 8′. A good running long jump is 16′. The barbarian jumps 10’/16-21/4.5-6’ starting at level 1. And in a world measured by 5′ and 10′ increments, shorter distances aren’t that useful.

Broad jumping requires 2 segments[1] to accomplish. A 6th level thief-acrobat can standing broad jump 8’+d4′ (increasing 1′ per level), and running broad jump 16′ + d4′, increasing 2’ per level. In standing jumps, the thief-acrobat can leap forward up to the maximum distance, or backward up to half the maximum distance, in order to attack or avoid being in attack range, if this is deemed possible by the DM. The thief-acrobat can therefore standing jump and backstab if their opponent is unaware of their presence. A running broad jump requires a run of at least 20′. A thief-acrobat executing a broad jump receives no AC Dexterity bonus.

Tumbling assumes all sorts of gymnastic skills—tumbles, rolls, jumps, handstands, and so on. These routines are then used in attack, defensive evasion, and in jumping/falling. Tumbling maneuvers have the following benefits:

The attack bonus needs to be enough to offset the fighter’s THAC0, if the intent is a TA being better than a fighter. The fighter’s THAC0 is ~5 better.

Attack improves the character’s Non-Weapon Score (NWS) in hand-to-hand combat involving Pummel, Overrun, or Escape. The 6th level thief has a 25% (+5) bonus, increasing 5% per level, to a maximum bonus of 50%.

Evasion enables the thief-acrobat to opt to avoid attacks directed at him or her—just as magic resistance would work—if the thief-acrobat wins initiative, with respect to both magical attack forms directed at the individual (or within a few square feet, from which the thief-acrobat could easily remove himself or herself), and from melee combat. The 6th level thief has a 10% chance of evasion, increasing 5% per level. In any event, the chance for success cannot exceed a base of 60%, before adjusting for dexterity and/or race. Evasion requires 2 segments[1], after which another action can be attempted.

Falling damage should be significantly reduced for a thief-acrobat. The monk has all the thief abilities of the thief-acrobat plus Open Locks and Find/Remove Traps, and still takes less damage from falling than the thief-acrobat. At 6th level the monk can also speak with animals, mask his mind, is immune to dead, and can feign death. They save for half or none, and can knock missiles out of the air, both skills more appropriate to the thief-acrobat. Before the fighter’s extra Constitution bonus, a thief has only 63-75% of a fighter’s hit points. A fall that does 16 damage to a thief-acrobat does only 12 relative damage to a fighter. To make the thief-acrobat take the same relative damage as a fighter at a starting point he has to take 66% of the damage; 33% to correspond to 50% of the damage a fighter would take. 50% equals the same result as calculating a fall as 10’ less. I prefer to keep the thief-acrobat distinct from monk, and instead improve and simplify the current thief-acrobat ability.

Falling damage for the thief-acrobat is calculated at only d6 for each 10′ of damage, to a maximum of 10d6. At 6th level, a thief-acrobat can fall 10′ and take no damage; any fall is calculated as if the thief-acrobat fell 10′ less. This ability improves 10′ per level (e.g. an 8th level thief-acrobat could fall 30′ and take no damage; a 50′ fall would inflict 2d6 damage).

Climbing conforms to the thief ability. Rappelling adds 50% to climb walls if against a surface (30% if free falling).

Lassos are weird. They’re a weapon using THAC0, but if throwing a rope over a stalagmite, there’s a 20% chance of success?A difference in proficiency?

There’s a base 20% chance of success for a character to throw a rope over a projection (like a stalagmite) if not proficient. If proficient, the thief-acrobat can throw a lasso 1”/2”/3” at 6th level, increasing 5’ per level (max 60’), with a +4 bonus to hit, treating the stalagmite as AC0. d6 rounds to recoil.

A thief-acrobat can throw a grappling hook upward a distance equal to ⅓ their Strength score (×2 horizontally). A 6th level thief-acrobat succeeds on a base 45% (a +20% bonus), plus 5% per level.

In all other respects, the thief-acrobat is treated as a thief. This includes the gaining of followers, Thieves’ Cant, and guild membership.

Pole Vault (30′ run) High jump (20’ run)2 Standing Broad2 Running Broad (20’ run)2 Evade (%) NWS (%)
(always extended)
20 d4 4 + d4 8 + d4
Non-T-A Level 7-9 +1’ +1’ +1’
Base (level 6) 75 12’ 4’ 8 + d4 16 + d4 10 20
T-A per level > 6


+% +2’ +1’ +1’ +2’ +5
max (60)
(max 50%)
Halfling/Gnome/Dwarf -2’ -1’ -2’ -4’/-4’/-3’ +10/5/5 +5/10/10
Half-Elf/Elf/Half-Orc -/-1’/- +0/5/0 +5/0/0
Dex (16/17/18) +5/10/15 +2/3/5 +1/2/31
Extended (TA only)* +2’/3’/4’/5’
No armor +5 +1’ +1’ +1’ +1’ +4% +2
Heavy/Very Heavy No No -1’/No -1/No -1’ No No

*Only the thief-acrobat can jump backwards or leap farther in an Extended position.

1Already included in the NWS score
2Those Encumbered cannot jump at all.

End Notes

[1]Assuming a 20-segment round


Unearthed Arcana. The Thief-acrobat.
Dragon Magazine Issue 69. A “split class” for nimble characters: The Thief-acrobat.
Dragon Magazine Issue 103. Arcana update, Part 1. Repairs, reasons, and even more new rules.



Author: Rick

A DM for *mumble* years, I've been playing AD&D since junior high. I've currently got two separate campaigns running, both in Mystara. I've been told when they handed out hobbies, I stood in the short lines. I actively cycle tour, kayak, play board games, read, develop home automation software, volunteer with the American Red Cross, and work on a never-ending stream of home repairs. In my wake I've left paintball, medieval full-contact combat (SCA), computer gaming, Heroclix, tablet weaving, and kite construction.

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