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2/17/2015 10:58 am  #1


Backstabbing

So, how do you handle backstabbing? Strange as it sounds, until last night's game, I'd never had a player attempt one in ~40 sessions of play. The PM says the attacker must be positioned behind an unaware target. What are the relevant considerations as you see them? Can it happen during melee? If so, a few examples might be helpful. I realize there's wide latitude here for referee discretion according to the situation, so I'm looking more for practical guidelines than for something definitive, if that makes sense.


Blackadder23: Insanely long villain soliloquy, then "Your action?"
BORGO'S PLAYER: I shoot him in the face
 

2/17/2015 11:55 am  #2


Re: Backstabbing

My opinion is that the original intent of backstabbing (as envisioned by Gary) was that it was not primarily a combat function.  In other words, it was mainly meant to simulate things like sneaking up on an unsuspecting guard and cutting his throat.  So I set a pretty high bar for backstabbing during combat; the thief has to do a lot more than just get behind the opponent.  A thief successfully making a move silently roll and getting behind a column before attacking, or suddenly emerging from below or above somehow (maybe through a trap door), would be some examples of cases where I would permit a backstab during melee.  Invisibility would be another case.  Basically, the thief has to be hidden somehow immediately prior to the attack.

Normally, though, opponents will be on guard during melee and the thief will only receive the usual bonus for attacking from behind.


"The fear of death, its risk each time, is one of the most stimulating parts of the game. It therefore behooves the referee to include as many mystifying and dangerous areas as is consistent with a reasonable chance for survival." - J. Eric Holmes
 

2/17/2015 12:03 pm  #3


Re: Backstabbing

During combat.
I run it as once the combat has started, the backstabber must be hidden and not seen by the enemies, but they have rolled initiative. When it's their turn they can make a move silently roll (possibly modified in their favor by the sound of combat) and if successful, their first attack is a backstab against a foe that has its back turned. If the enemies are facing the direction the backstabber is coming from its a no go on the back stab, seems reasonable. That's it, no more backstabs in combat. When a combat happens people's heads start moving and taking note of potential threats. Player's always want to try and backstab again once in combat and I give a firm no. Some people may even find just one backstab in combat one too many.

Out of combat. 
I let the backstabber make a move silently roll and if successful they may attack with a backstab, as long as they are behind them. The only considerations I see are other enemies watching in the area that might call out to the potential target. Moving silently and being seen are two different things. Now if the target is occupied talking to someone I let the move silent roll stand by itself as his or her friend is also possibly not paying attention to someone sneaking up behind.

 

2/17/2015 12:22 pm  #4


Re: Backstabbing

In combat, I let a surprise roll determine whether the opponent is "unaware," meaning a thief can always give it a shot and the chance for surprise will be based on how good the thief's plan for getting there is. If the plan is walking into the middle of a melee, then it's probably a 0 in 6 chance while invisibility would make for a 4 in 6 chance. For successfully moving silently from a position that is basically concealed or out of view, probably 2 in 6.

Out of combat, I handle it pretty much the same but am more lenient with the surprise chances if things can be set up at leisure.

 

2/17/2015 3:44 pm  #5


Re: Backstabbing

I run it almost idential to how Handy does it.


Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea - A Role-Playing Game of Swords, Sorcery, and Weird Fantasy
 

2/17/2015 3:54 pm  #6


Re: Backstabbing

So Handy and Ghul, you guys would first roll an 'awareness check' (for lack of better phrasing) to see whether the thief went unnoticed by the opponents, then provided the dice indicated so, the thief may then sneak up (move silently or hide) on the opponent and backstab? Would you allow multiple uses per combat, or limit it to 'once backstabbed, no longer backstabbable that combat'?

 

2/17/2015 4:59 pm  #7


Re: Backstabbing

These responses are great - thanks! So, how would each of you handle this basic, but not uncommon situation:

- party of four (or more) enters a dimly lit room, spying several humanoids roughly 30-50 ft away
- humanoids spot the group as well
- no one is surprised
- party thief (already in the back) says he wants to break away, fade out of the torchlight and skirt the perimeter (moving quietly) to position himself for a backstab


Blackadder23: Insanely long villain soliloquy, then "Your action?"
BORGO'S PLAYER: I shoot him in the face
     Thread Starter
 

2/17/2015 4:59 pm  #8


Re: Backstabbing

I'm not sure I follow completely, R_B. The thief character would tell me whatever s/he wants to go to get in a backstabby position. Possibly various rolls would be made (move silently, primarily). When the thief actually attacks (i.e., at some point the thief is in whatever position s/he wants and declares the intent to try for a backstab), I check for surprise in the normal d6 fashion. If surprise is not attained, the best the thief can hope for is attacking from the rear. Depending on circumstances and whether the target had run out of opponents, it might even end up being a regular old attack. But I don't use any active perception check. Just check to see if the thief has surprise once the attack is underway.

I guess I'd allow multiple attempts at backstabbing if it made sense in the circumstances. Maybe the thief re-invisiblizes or there's a darkness effect that leaves the thief in position to try it again. It all depends on what happens in the fight.

 

2/17/2015 8:15 pm  #9


Re: Backstabbing

Chainsaw wrote:

These responses are great - thanks! So, how would each of you handle this basic, but not uncommon situation:

- party of four (or more) enters a dimly lit room, spying several humanoids roughly 30-50 ft away
- humanoids spot the group as well
- no one is surprised
- party thief (already in the back) says he wants to break away, fade out of the torchlight and skirt the perimeter (moving quietly) to position himself for a backstab

 
In your example I would say no go on the backstab. Unless maybe it was a very dimly lit room, maybe very cloudy with smoke. In my opinion, once the two parties see each other everybody is accounted for and nobody will just forget about the thief. The thief would have to somehow completely extract himself from the combat- such as exiting the room, looping back around, and coming upon the humanoids from the rear silently.


Tweaking your example a little; I would certainly allow a backstab if the party was already in the room, heard the humanoids coming, the thief pressed himself against the wall beside the door hiding in shadows, and the humanoids burst through passing by the thief on their way to the party. But once the thief attacked that would be it, he would now be accounted for.


Not sure where all that puts me on the pushover/hardass referee scale.

 

2/17/2015 8:40 pm  #10


Re: Backstabbing

I'm with capitalbill - once someone is seen there's no hiding for a backstab.   I would probably make an exception if it were a very short thief behind a large group or if the the thief was part of large mob.

 

2/17/2015 8:48 pm  #11


Re: Backstabbing

lige wrote:

I'm with capitalbill - once someone is seen there's no hiding for a backstab.   I would probably make an exception if it were a very short thief behind a large group or if the the thief was part of large mob.

I could either way; meaning, I would make a judgment call on the relative intelligence of the humanoids in question. After three rounds of heated combat, if they're dumb, they may well forget there was another enemy. This wouldn't apply to, say, snake-men.
 


Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea - A Role-Playing Game of Swords, Sorcery, and Weird Fantasy
 

2/17/2015 8:55 pm  #12


Re: Backstabbing

Rastus_Burne wrote:

So Handy and Ghul, you guys would first roll an 'awareness check' (for lack of better phrasing) to see whether the thief went unnoticed by the opponents, then provided the dice indicated so, the thief may then sneak up (move silently or hide) on the opponent and backstab? Would you allow multiple uses per combat, or limit it to 'once backstabbed, no longer backstabbable that combat'?

No, I wouldn't do any kind of 3E "perception" roll, personally. If the PCs are in broad daylight, the hide/move silent/backstab option is 99% not going to happen in my game. If it is dark/shadowy/smoky and there is lots of cover, and the thief declares he's hiding at the first sight of the enemy, and the hide check is successful, I still might give intelligent foes a 2-in-6 chance to have seen the thief before he disappeared. I'm then going to make him waste a good two, three, or even four rounds (depending on distance; remember, move silent is at 1/2 MV) to sneak up and attempt a backstab. Once the attempt is made, success or failure, it can't be done again.

It's all very situational for me.
 


Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea - A Role-Playing Game of Swords, Sorcery, and Weird Fantasy
 

2/17/2015 9:19 pm  #13


Re: Backstabbing

Ghul wrote:

lige wrote:

I'm with capitalbill - once someone is seen there's no hiding for a backstab.   I would probably make an exception if it were a very short thief behind a large group or if the the thief was part of large mob.

I could either way; meaning, I would make a judgment call on the relative intelligence of the humanoids in question. After three rounds of heated combat, if they're dumb, they may well forget there was another enemy. This wouldn't apply to, say, snake-men.
 

I probably incline a little more toward capitalbill's side here, but like Ghul says, if the situation allows for it, I allow a chance. But if the humanoids were not initially surprised, I think it would be pretty tricky for a thief to somehow maneuver into a new surprise situation without some kind of extraordinary means: invisibility, darkness, circling around to another hall, that kind of thing. Backstabbery isn't magic. It requires a pretty specific set of circumstances. Otherwise, how could we have honest commerce? Won't somebody think of the children?

 

2/18/2015 1:30 am  #14


Re: Backstabbing

I wasn't meaning a '3e' kind of roll. When Handy was referring to a surprise roll, I thought he meant it as a check to see whether the opponent detected the thief. Now that both of you have extrapolated I see what you're meaning though. It sounds like a fair way to rule things, although then again, I wouldn't want to make it too difficult for the thief to backstab lest the efficacy of the ability become too dimished to bother using.

 

2/18/2015 4:24 pm  #15


Re: Backstabbing

IMO the thief should not be attempting to backstab in every combat, or even in many combats.  That's a quick way for the thief to get himself killed.  Old school thieves are not ninjas; they are, to my mind, a "non-combatant" class (like magic-users, but unlike fighters and clerics who have the armor and hit points to be "combatant" classes).  Thieves should be looking for a way to get as much loot as possible through stealth and guile - not spoiling for any kind of fight.  Maybe they can hold the treasure bags while their tougher comrades do the actual fighting... http://cdn.boardhost.com/emoticons/wink.png


"The fear of death, its risk each time, is one of the most stimulating parts of the game. It therefore behooves the referee to include as many mystifying and dangerous areas as is consistent with a reasonable chance for survival." - J. Eric Holmes
 

2/18/2015 4:49 pm  #16


Re: Backstabbing

Now we're getting into the philosophy of the thief (which I always find interesting). I think a lot depends on the campaign and numbers. If you have four players, all of whom refuse or prefer not to hire/run henchmen/man-at-arms then you have a bit of a quandry. Either the DM needs to assume responsibility for running them (which I personally do not enjoy doing), or forget that style of gameplay. If one of the four is a thief it raises the question of what the thief's function should be within this particular campaign. If you have four players each running two characters plus hiring half a dozen helpers clearly the thief can lean towards the 'non-combatant' class, but if it's only the four players with a character each I would suggest the thief's backstab ability should be a much more common ability within a combat context.

Just my 2 coppers http://cdn.boardhost.com/emoticons/happy.png


 

 

2/18/2015 6:34 pm  #17


Re: Backstabbing

Blackadder23 wrote:

IMO the thief should not be attempting to backstab in every combat, or even in many combats.  That's a quick way for the thief to get himself killed.  Old school thieves are not ninjas; they are, to my mind, a "non-combatant" class (like magic-users, but unlike fighters and clerics who have the armor and hit points to be "combatant" classes).  Thieves should be looking for a way to get as much loot as possible through stealth and guile - not spoiling for any kind of fight.  Maybe they can hold the treasure bags while their tougher comrades do the actual fighting... http://cdn.boardhost.com/emoticons/wink.png

Yeah, agreed. Thieves end up fighting, but usually because they are needed badly not because they *should* be there. And backstabbing is definitely not something that is going to be doable in a lot of combats. It's the broccoli rabe on the pizza of combat.

Rastus_Burne wrote:

Now we're getting into the philosophy of the thief (which I always find interesting). I think a lot depends on the campaign and numbers. If you have four players, all of whom refuse or prefer not to hire/run henchmen/man-at-arms then you have a bit of a quandry. Either the DM needs to assume responsibility for running them (which I personally do not enjoy doing), or forget that style of gameplay. If one of the four is a thief it raises the question of what the thief's function should be within this particular campaign. If you have four players each running two characters plus hiring half a dozen helpers clearly the thief can lean towards the 'non-combatant' class, but if it's only the four players with a character each I would suggest the thief's backstab ability should be a much more common ability within a combat context.

I guess . . . but I think this gets more at what game you want to play. The AD&D rules from which AS&SH derives are pretty clear on the context that allows backstabbery, and it's just not that common. But there's also no reason you can't have a party without a thief. My players do it all the time when the thief, uh, takes early retirement. The older games are flexible enough that smart players can get by with a party of all spell casters or all thieves or all fighters or whatever. It just changes how the party tackles the situation.

Check out Lamia's Heart for a take on a party that's all 0-level proto-thieves!

 

2/18/2015 6:40 pm  #18


Re: Backstabbing

Rastus_Burne wrote:

If one of the four is a thief it raises the question of what the thief's function should be within this particular campaign. If you have four players each running two characters plus hiring half a dozen helpers clearly the thief can lean towards the 'non-combatant' class, but if it's only the four players with a character each I would suggest the thief's backstab ability should be a much more common ability within a combat context.

There's more to the game than combat, right? http://cdn.boardhost.com/emoticons/wink.png

Players who don't make use of available resources like hirelings aren't playing smart IMO.  Rather than make the thief a combat machine to compensate for their recklessness, I would let them learn a hard lesson about what "old school" really means. http://cdn.boardhost.com/emoticons/devious.png


"The fear of death, its risk each time, is one of the most stimulating parts of the game. It therefore behooves the referee to include as many mystifying and dangerous areas as is consistent with a reasonable chance for survival." - J. Eric Holmes
 

2/18/2015 6:43 pm  #19


Re: Backstabbing

Yeah sure, it is about the game you want to play. The thief gets fairly quick level progression compared with other classes, which is a great perk, plus their abilities are very useful in a dungeon/urban context. I really enjoy the thief personally. I've played cleric-less games, and do not mind breaking outside the realm of archetypical parties, but I do think the game has to work for the players too. I would rather hand out a few extra backstabs every now and then, than have a party constantly dying. But you're right: it is an ability that is best handled sparingly. 

 

2/18/2015 6:50 pm  #20


Re: Backstabbing

We must have posted at the same time Blackadder!

Blackadder23 wrote:

Players who don't make use of available resources like hirelings aren't playing smart IMO.  Rather than make the thief a combat machine to compensate for their recklessness, I would let them learn a hard lesson about what "old school" really means. http://cdn.boardhost.com/emoticons/devious.png

I'm totally on board with this, and I run a pretty challenging game. I guess my comments come from my own experiences where we haven't typically featured hirelings much in our games. This is partly because players prefer concentrating on their single character, and partly because we got into gaming mainly with 3e; a completely different mindset. It's not so much that the players 'aren't playing smart' it's how we're used to playing. In the interest of running a game with more old school flavour I do intend to encourage hirelings and henchmen to a greater extent, but if the bait is not taken, I want it to still be an enjoyable experience for the players. http://cdn.boardhost.com/emoticons/happy.png

 

 

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