Back Stabbing Restrictions?

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shesheyan
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Back Stabbing Restrictions?

Post by shesheyan »

This came up yesterday in another discussion. Do you impose restrictions to the thieve's back stabbing class ability? Do you limit it to humanoids and races only? Do you allow backstab attacks against a dragon or a giant? By RAW I didn't find any restrictions. I might have missed a paragraph.

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Re: Back Stabbing Restrictions?

Post by Havard »

shesheyan wrote:
Mon Jul 27, 2020 4:14 pm
This came up yesterday in another discussion. Do you impose restrictions to the thieve's back stabbing class ability? Do you limit it to humanoids and races only? Do you allow backstab attacks against a dragon or a giant? By RAW I didn't find any restrictions. I might have missed a paragraph.
RAW there are no restrictions on the type of creature you can backstab. The main restriction is that you have to be completely unseen and unheard by the target.

In many groups I've seen, DM's have been rather restictive about when the backstab ability could be used, requiring the attack to be an actual attack hitting the targets back. So creatures like Dragons and Giants might be difficult to hit unless you can hit their back. Unsually, a backstab ability will only be possible at the beginning of combat unless the Thief is able to remain hidden somehow as combat begins. Even then, it will only be one attack during that combat that gains this benefit.

IMHO, there is no real reason to be so restrictive with this ability. Thieves are seen as underpowered anyway, so this is something players of Thief characters should get the opportunity to do every so often.

Thieves were never very popular in my groups, but I don't think it was so much a balancing issue, but rather that the players (especially when we were young) wanted to play heroic characters and a Thief didnt sound that heroic. Also, most players enjoy a character who is effective in combat, so Thieves tended to loose out there too. Even more so, if the Backstab ability was restricted as mentioned above. Weapon Mastery does make Thieves much more fun to play in combat though. A combination of weapon mastery and backstab can be truly deadly.


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Re: Back Stabbing Restrictions?

Post by shesheyan »

Havard wrote:
Mon Jul 27, 2020 10:34 pm
shesheyan wrote:
Mon Jul 27, 2020 4:14 pm
This came up yesterday in another discussion. Do you impose restrictions to the thieve's back stabbing class ability? Do you limit it to humanoids and races only? Do you allow backstab attacks against a dragon or a giant? By RAW I didn't find any restrictions. I might have missed a paragraph.
RAW there are no restrictions on the type of creature you can backstab. The main restriction is that you have to be completely unseen and unheard by the target.

In many groups I've seen, DM's have been rather restictive about when the backstab ability could be used, requiring the attack to be an actual attack hitting the targets back. So creatures like Dragons and Giants might be difficult to hit unless you can hit their back. Unsually, a backstab ability will only be possible at the beginning of combat unless the Thief is able to remain hidden somehow as combat begins. Even then, it will only be one attack during that combat that gains this benefit.

IMHO, there is no real reason to be so restrictive with this ability. Thieves are seen as underpowered anyway, so this is something players of Thief characters should get the opportunity to do every so often.

Thieves were never very popular in my groups, but I don't think it was so much a balancing issue, but rather that the players (especially when we were young) wanted to play heroic characters and a Thief didnt sound that heroic. Also, most players enjoy a character who is effective in combat, so Thieves tended to loose out there too. Even more so, if the Backstab ability was restricted as mentioned above. Weapon Mastery does make Thieves much more fun to play in combat though. A combination of weapon mastery and backstab can be truly deadly.


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That is also my point of view. No reason to restrict.

We never had a problem finding a player who wanted to be a thief in my group. I gave then good (and fun) magic items to use!

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Re: Back Stabbing Restrictions?

Post by Parzival »

We always let ‘em backstab anything they were behind, regardless of critter or size. (Why not? Merry gets a “backstab” on the Witchking, just hitting the knee joint! :D “I’m no ‘man’ either, sucker,” he could have said. :lol: )

As for the preferences, my how things have changed. In the last five years running my intro program at the library, I’ve always had at least one or two young players who want to play a Thief (or “Rogue”). And then they do the very thief-y things tradition seems to demand— trying to snag treasures out of the view of the party, going off on unexpected, foolish side treks, even picking other PCs’ pockets— there are times when that class is more trouble for a DM than it’s worth! :D And *that* hasn’t changed. :roll: :cool:
DM’s Rule: The best answer is the one that’s the most fun, or horrifies your players. Which is the same thing. :cool:

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Re: Back Stabbing Restrictions?

Post by agathokles »

BECMI and RC do not set any specific limitation, except that the enemy must not be aware of the attack.
AD&D 2e, however, explicitly disallows backstabbing on non-humanoids, and the attack must be to the back, not a leg.
IMC, Backstab happens quite rarely, so I tend to be generous with it and go more with the BECMI interpretation, although probably trying to backstab a gelatinous cube is still not going to work...

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Re: Back Stabbing Restrictions?

Post by zontoxira »

On the contrary, I find backstab rules quite restrictive. In order for a thief to successfully backstab an enemy, they might be forced to make a move silently roll, a hide in shadows roll, face the enemy's back, and surprise them (at least that's how my group used to interpret backstab mechanics). B/X states that a backstab can occur "when striking unnoticed from behind" (B10).

My take is a thief can backstab anyone as long as the target is "unaware or unsuspecting".
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Re: Back Stabbing Restrictions?

Post by Havard »

5E players will probably be used to the backstab ability working more or less for every attack action. However, BX/BECMI needs to be at least a bit more restricitive than that since double damage can make this a very poweful attack, especially if combined with Weapon Mastery.

But overall, I agree that DM's should not go out of their way to make it difficult for players to make use of this ability.


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Re: Back Stabbing Restrictions?

Post by Morfie »

Can't backstab things that can see behind them, like Beholders.

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Re: Back Stabbing Restrictions?

Post by Tom Bulls Eye »

The Basic Players Guide has this (page 44):

Backstabbing: If a thief can sneak up on a victim, completely unnoticed, the thief may Backstab. If the intended victim sees, hears, or is otherwise warned of the thief's approach, a Backstab may not be taken, but the thief may still attack normally.

When Backstabbing, the thief gains a bonus of +4 on the Hit Roll, and if the target is hit, the damage done is twice normal.

So, to gain the bonus to the hit roll, at least two checks have to be successfully passed, hide in shadows (unseen) and move silently (unheard), and the victim still gets the protection of the hit roll. After all, a concealed chain mail beneath the intended victims outer garments and magical protection is not removed by the backstabbing.

So all in all, it's not an unbalanced feat. A 1st level thief has only 2% chance of successfully positioning himself for backstabbing a victim before the hit roll. And even a 25th level thief is only successful in getting into position in just below 70% of all attempts.

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Re: Back Stabbing Restrictions?

Post by CommanderCrud »

I'd typically only require one roll, but it becomes much harder to pull off again in the same combat.

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Re: Back Stabbing Restrictions?

Post by Tom Bulls Eye »

CommanderCrud wrote:
Thu Jul 30, 2020 1:34 pm
I'd typically only require one roll, but it becomes much harder to pull off again in the same combat.
If it should only require one roll, then what do you roll against?

The BECMI-rules say "completely unnoticed", so it has to be unnoticed by any sense available to the intended victim in my opinion, i.e. hearing, seeing, smelling or feeling (I think you're unlikely to surprise anyone if you trample towards the victim like an elephant).

And pulling two or more back-stab attacks off in the same combat seems (at least to me) not possible. A normal person would be on his/her guard from further back-stab attacks after a first attack from behind, making the back-stab even more difficult after a first attempt.

Nevertheless, the Example in the Basic rules has hide in shadows (HS) plus DM-discretion during battle and combination of hide in shadows (HS) and move silently (MS) when not in combat. Personally, I think that the DM should always use his/her discretion, but players should have at least a shred of objectivity in the play, hence I prefer a unified approach where both combat and non-combat situations are resolved using HS+MS rolls must be positive.
Last edited by Tom Bulls Eye on Thu Jul 30, 2020 3:04 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Back Stabbing Restrictions?

Post by CommanderCrud »

Totally situational. If it's dark, I wouldn't bother with hide in shadows. If it's loud, I wouldn't bother with move silently. Etc. Since after that a person would be on guard, I would require both rolls after that since the victim would be trying to find them afterwards. Often I'll just rule it impossible because there are multiple enemies in range and they'd simply warn each other, or they're in a well lit largely empty room where hiding would just be not possible. But I don't think it's such an incredible bonus that a thief shouldn't be able to pull it off once per combat most of the time.

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Re: Back Stabbing Restrictions?

Post by Tom Bulls Eye »

CommanderCrud wrote:
Thu Jul 30, 2020 2:59 pm
Totally situational. If it's dark, I wouldn't bother with hide in shadows. If it's loud, I wouldn't bother with move silently. Etc. Since after that a person would be on guard, I would require both rolls after that since the victim would be trying to find them afterwards. Often I'll just rule it impossible because there are multiple enemies in range and they'd simply warn each other, or they're in a well lit largely empty room where hiding would just be not possible. But I don't think it's such an incredible bonus that a thief shouldn't be able to pull it off once per combat most of the time.
I find it perfectly fine to provide bonuses to the rolls as above (DM-discretion ;) ), it just sets one of the two parameters to 100%, but it appears that you're still (in effect) making a check against HS+MS as per B-player page 44.

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Re: Back Stabbing Restrictions?

Post by CommanderCrud »

That rule is quite vague. I think your interpretation of always requiring those two checks was not what was stated or intended, and makes the thief a far worse class than designed.

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Re: Back Stabbing Restrictions?

Post by Tom Bulls Eye »

CommanderCrud wrote:
Thu Jul 30, 2020 3:18 pm
That rule is quite vague. I think your interpretation of always requiring those two checks was not what was stated or intended, and makes the thief a far worse class than designed.
Improving the chances of successfully making a back-stab leans towards creating an Assassins class rather than a thief. I have no problems with that.

My comments above were only directed at the rules per se that have completely unnoticed as mandatory requirement for the thief to get into position, and use HS and MS as checks for completely unnoticed in combination with DM-discretion.

As to whether the thief class in BECMI is a good class depends on your campaign. The thief in BECMI combat is a light infantry fighter, which is not very good for battlefields or for dungeon crawling, but for city adventures, running around in full plate does tend to attract attention.

Personally, my alias on the Piazza comes from my favorite PC ever, who was a Robin Hood type thief and master marksman with a bow and throwing knives (Dex 18). In combat he was bodyguard for his weaker brother, a wizard, the two of them having escaped the slums of Specularum in search of a better life as adventurers, eventually ending up with liberating Norworld from the clutches and struggles of the two Empires.

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Re: Back Stabbing Restrictions?

Post by Havard »

In most cases I would require one Thief ability roll only.

If movement is the main thing, then I would use MS. If the main idea is to hide behind a pillar untill an enemy moves nearby and maybe take one step to reach him, then HiS would apply.

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Re: Back Stabbing Restrictions?

Post by Irondrake »

Below is how I have embellished the backstab ability for my BECMI D&D campaign:


Backstab
If a thief can sneak up on a victim, completely unnoticed, the thief may backstab – if he is using a one-handed melee weapon, he may strike at particularly vulnerable points of his target’s body.

When backstabbing, the thief gains a bonus of +4 on the attack roll; if the target is hit, the damage done is twice normal (roll the damage for the weapon, multiply the result by two, and then add any pertinent modifiers). Backstabbing only applies against living creatures that have a discernible anatomy. Undead, constructs, oozes, plants, and incorporeal creatures are not vulnerable to this attack.

If the intended victim sees, hears, or is warned of the thief’s approach, the thief’s attack is not a backstab; it is an ordinary attack, doing the damage appropriate for the weapon used.

When no battle is in progress, a backstab attempt may require a Move Silently ability check.


Mostly the same from what was printed in the Basic Rules, but with an addition about the foes who are vulnerable to such attacks.

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Re: Back Stabbing Restrictions?

Post by ricks03 »

Tom Bulls Eye wrote:
Thu Jul 30, 2020 2:50 pm
Nevertheless, the Example in the Basic rules has hide in shadows (HS) plus DM-discretion during battle and combination of hide in shadows (HS) and move silently (MS) when not in combat. Personally, I think that the DM should always use his/her discretion, but players should have at least a shred of objectivity in the play, hence I prefer a unified approach where both combat and non-combat situations are resolved using HS+MS rolls must be positive.
The text on p. 44 has the thief HiS for preparation prior to a backstab in combat.
"When no battle is in progress, a Backstab attempt may require a "Move Silently" check. Your DM will make all the necessary rolls."
There's no explicit requirement there for a HiS as well. Indeed the definition for HiS says they can't HiS and attack:
Movement is possible while hiding, but not attacking.
explicitly stating that a HiS isn't a requirement when moving to attack.

The example is the ogre not having noticed the thief earlier (thus being unobserved upon direct view), and no need to roll MS because any noise is obscured by combat.

Forcing both MS & HiS mostly nerfs Backstab.

But let's do some math for a 3rd level thief having to make all the rolls. MS: 30% success. HiS: 20% success. To Hit roll (with the +4 backstab bonus): 11

Change of success: .2 * .3 * .5 = 3%. For the ability to double damage once. Change of a successful attack if they don't bother to backstab: 25%. Chance of hitting twice across two rounds in normal combat: 6%. Requiring all three rolls takes away a player's joy of getting to backstab, where backstab isn't all that special anyway.

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Re: Back Stabbing Restrictions?

Post by Parzival »

Solution: make the victim roll to notice the Thief in a combat situation. A Save vs. Spells seems to fit, as it involves the Wisdom stat. Modify by the following:

If the intended victim is not engaged in combat and is aware of the Thief and can see or hear the thief, no roll is made— the Thief cannot use the backstab ability.
If the victim is engaged in combat with one or more opponents (not counting the Thief), the Saving Throw is rolled; success means the Thief’s backstab attempt is noticed; the Thief may strike, but can only cause the normal damage. Failure allows the Thief to backstab the victim.
For each additional opponent engaged with the intended victim, penalize the Saving throw by 1 (so no penalty for one opponent, -1 for two, -2 for three, etc.).
If the Thief is invisible, the Save is at a -6 penalty.
If the victim otherwise cannot see or detect the Thief (DM’s discretion OR Hide in Shadows/Move Silently), the Save is at a -4 penalty.
If the Thief has attempted a backstab strike against the victim in a previous round, whether successful or not, the save is at +1 for each attempt made in the same combat encounter.

Of course, if the location of the Thief is known to the victim (or easily guessed at), then no save is needed and the Thief can’t backstab.
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Re: Back Stabbing Restrictions?

Post by Havard »

Parzival wrote:
Thu Jul 30, 2020 8:05 pm
Solution: make the victim roll to notice the Thief in a combat situation. A Save vs. Spells seems to fit, as it involves the Wisdom stat.
That works. Roll for surprise is another option.

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