It's kind of weird that "thief" is one of the major AD&D classes. It's something I've always glossed over. Like, I've just taken it for granted that "clever, sneaky guy with a variety of useful skills and an endless reservoir of dirty tricks" is a classic fantasy adventure archetype, and I figured that if you're basing a class around it, you have to call it something, so I never really questioned why AD&D should feature "thieves" so prominently.
But holy shit, guys, AD&D thieves are supposed to be thieves.
Long-time readers of the blog are undoubtedly shaking their heads and saying something catty like "there's those famous John Frazer powers of observation at work again," but honestly I don't think I'm the asshole here (also, screw you, people I just made up!) Your character class isn't really your job, right? You may have "thief" written down on your sheet, but that's not what you do for a living. Your job is "fantasy adventurer." You don't make money by robbing rich merchants and mugging people in dark alleys, but instead by exploring ancient ruins, slaying fearsome monsters, and confronting strange magics.
So it would be weird if you took a group of people who only practice lock picking when they encounter a dread portal or oddly over-sized treasure chest and treated them like they were career criminals - mob safecrackers who only do that dragon-fighting shit as a hobby. Right?
Anyway, a couple of mediocre kits aside (Q: what do Adventurers, Investigators, and Spies have in common? A: "no special abilities or hindrances") this book is all about playing urban criminals in heist- and intrigue- focused games. It has a niche, then. In the right circumstances, it could be very useful. But it also puts that terrible line from D&D Basic into context. It would be in-character for PC thieves to steal from their party because stealing stuff is just what they do. It's not just a name for a class.
Despite the shocking narrowness of its subject matter, I thought The Complete Thief's Handbook was a very solid entry in the series. It has much fewer race/gender gaffes than The Complete Fighter's Handbook. One example of referring to people as "savages" and a hilarious section that gives stealth advice that basically amounts to "wear blackface." Forgivable, because it really was just night camouflage with no ulterior implications, but also kind of shitty in that the book is openly assuming all of your characters are going to be white.
Still, it's progress of a sorts, and I'm confident that by the time I get to the end of this series, I may even encounter a book with nothing embarrassing in it at all.
UKSS Contribution: The book devotes quite a lot of territory to various kinds of thieves' guilds, so I'm probably going to go with some form of organized crime, but I think I can narrow it down at least a little bit. I liked the suggestion of a criminal circus, even if the book did go a bit over-the-top in dragging it as a hoary old cliche ("Players with any degree of gaming experience will have learned to keep well away from circuses.")
I also really liked the suggestion that the head of the thieves guild could be some sort of supernatural creature. So maybe a sinister carnival that's secretly run by a demon?
Or should I save that for when I get around to reading the Carnivale rpg?