Thieves’ Tools and Fast Hands

Fast Hands

Starting at 3rd level, you can use the bonus action granted by your Cunning Action to make a Dexterity (Sleight of Hand) check, use your thieves’ tools to disarm a trap or open a lock, or take the Use an Object action.

This main feature of the rogue class’ Thief specialization is frankly ridiculous. I’ve seen some good lockpickers open locks incredibly fast. Yes, it is possible to open a lock in one second. If it’s a modern lock with standardized parts and fixed tolerances, that has a certain design flaw, you already identified the lock as having that design flaw, and you are in position to start, with your tool in hand. Then it might work in a second on first try. Might also take a couple of tries. But in the middle of a chase or a fight? When you first have to get out your tools from your pack and take a moment to examine the lock that is custom made, one in a kind, prone to rusting and getting dirt in? Yeah, no. Not gonna happen.

However, Fast Hands is the main ability of the Thief, and simply scrapping half of its effects seems overly drastic. I think the idea to make a Slight of Hand skill check or the Use an Object action without stopping in what you’re currently doing is actually really cool. But not that lockpicking and trap disarming thing. That is just silly.

Here is my proposed fix for the campaign I am currently planning:

By default, using Thieves’ Tools to pick a lock or disarm a trap takes 1 minute. (Or one exploration turn, if you’re using the old B/X 10-minute turns to track time in dungeons, as I plan to.) The Fast Hand ability allows a thief to attempt the skill check as a regular action in one round, but that check is made at a disadvantage.

This should result in events that are much more sane. But it also makes this aspect of Fast Hand continue to be very useful and a big boost to thieves over other characters who are proficient with Thieves’ Tools. It makes retreating from a fight through a locked door, or getting a door open before an approaching patrol comes around the corner an option that the party otherwise would not have. (Other than just trying to smash the door.) And it also means that it can be preferable for the thief to make the attempt properly and not rushed if there are consequences for failure.

2 thoughts on “Thieves’ Tools and Fast Hands”

  1. Fast lockpicking, fast climbing, stealth in combat and such are a perennial problem with the thief class.

    I generally think a little leeway is appropriate because environment manipulation is the key thief concept. It’s not normal lockpicking, it’s miraculous lockpicking. The cool thing is that in designing dungeons, once you’ve considered this stuff you can incorporate different lock or wall difficulties into obstacles. E.G. it will matter if the party has to hold off hundreds of zombies for 2 Rounds, 5 Rounds or 20 Rounds before the can unlock a gate to escape.

    I also generally (though if I remember 5E success chances are much higher) let thieve’s pick simpke locks and climb natural surfaces with no roll, assuming they have time (usually a Turn) – if nothing else it saves game time.

    Mainly though it’s neat to see someone thinking about this (the disadvantage makes sense) in the contexts of reforming 5E for crawls — curious to see how it goes for you. I tried and ran headfirst into tightly tuned session long combat, but it sounds like you get 5E better then me.

    1. When to make a roll or not with these actions is a whole different story altogether. Making a skill check every time a character wants to climb something, or making repeated rolls to open a lock until the die lands high enough are certainly not the way to do it.
      In situations where a character can make the roll to open a lock if just rolling long enough, and it makes no difference whatsoever how long it takes, making the player roll in the first place is a waste of time. 3rd editions Take 20 mechanic still makes just as much sense in 5th edition.
      I think Angry GM advocated the idea that I quite like, that when a thief tries to open a lock silently without alerting creatures that could be on the other side, you make one roll. If the roll succeeds, the party can rush through and surprise whatever is on the other side. If the roll fails, the attempt can be detected from the other side. The thief then can just keep trying until the thing opens and no more roll is necessary, because now it makes no more difference how long it takes.
      Otherwise, I like the approach of “assume competence”. Unless a roll will make a big difference and the character has a really bad bonus on the roll, there’s no point to roll for DC 5. If the character is an expert in the task at hand, then even DC 10 can be ignored in a routine situation. However, when there is great dramatic tension about an action that would have disastrous and long reaching consequences if the attempt fails, then even just a 5% chance of failure can be worth making a roll.
      As a rule of thumb, I would say make a roll if a failure would have interesting consequences, but don’t bother if it makes no real difference either way.

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