Thieves' Tools: How Your Next D&D Character Can Use Them
Updated: Dec 20, 2018
What are Thieves' Tools?
Thieves' tools are a set of tools (inexplicably listed under musical instruments) that a character can gain proficiency in. A set of thieves' tools typically include a “small file, a set of lock picks, a small mirror mounted on a metal handle, a set of narrow-bladed scissors, and a pair of pliers.”
While the tools are typically used to pick locks, the Player’s Handbook is not specific as to what the function of each tool is. We encourage you to work with your Dungeon Master (we call them Quest Masters) to determine what each instrument could be used for.
Though each item should be primarily used to pick locks, different elements may have alternate uses. For instance, thieves' tools may also be useful for disarming traps and other fine motor skill checks. Scissors could be used in a pinch to quickly tailor clothes or cut a clothesline. Pliers could be used to take a door off its hinges.
Working with your Quest Master (QM) to establish versatility with your thieves' tools opens up more vast possibilities for role-playing and mechanical opportunities in-game.
How to Use Thieves' Tools?
Thieves' tools can create valuable mechanical and role-playing benefits, capable of use in all three pillars of play.
Thieves' tools allow you to safely disarm or bypass traps when exploring new areas. Carefully disabling an exploding trap inside a box may let you to safely open the box, unearthing a note in a glass vial which would have been otherwise destroyed in the blast. Disarming a fire trap inside of a library may allow you to read through valuable tomes, and discover magical scrolls, which would have otherwise perished. Using scissors to carefully snip the string of a crossbow trap would allow the trap to safely go off without hitting any of the party members.
Thieves' tool proficiency may also allow you to detect subtle marks, such as trails left behind by other thieves' or the signs of an acid trap rigged to the pipes. This can help flesh out the surrounding area, detecting threats before the average adventurer sees them. Knowing the signs of other thieves can also help identify spies in the party’s midst, providing valuable information to allow characters to intercept a threat before it becomes a crisis. For instance, characters may recognize the careful disarming of traps or picking of locks as signs that a spy in nearby.
Thieves' tools can be used to free captives that are under threat during combat. Quickly picking the locks of chained prisoners allows them to flee the area, preventing innocent civilians from dying in Area of Effect (AOE) attacks perpetrated by the enemy or the party. If the civilians are combat trained, they could also assist in combat after being freed. When encountering an insurmountable force, a character with thieves' tools can quickly free captives while the rest of the party provides a distraction, such that everyone can escape once the prisoners have been freed. Without this option, the party may easily die at the enemies’ hands without releasing anyone.
Thieves' tools can also be used to diffuse intricate traps and weapons in combat. For instance, when fighting an enemy while a ticking time bomb counts down in the corner, one character can use thieves' tools to disarm the bomb while the other characters race to finish combat before the bomb explodes.
In addition to diffusing enemy traps, thieves' tools may also be used to create your own traps. Perhaps you could build a crossbow trap rigged to the opening of a door, an alchemy fire trap rigged to a pre-existing pressure plate, or a tripwire adjacent to a concealed pit trap. Tinker's tools may be required to make more elaborate traps, but basic traps like these could potentially be created with thieves' tools if your Quest Master allows it.
With the ability to create your own traps, you can make the environment work in your favor. A dungeon constructed to kill your party suddenly becomes a machine that whittles down the health of your enemies, allowing your party to strike when they are at their weakest.
Thieves' tools offer a wide array of role-playing options. Lock-picking is a useful party trick that can be used to impress NPCs or bond with aspiring thieves'. Urchins especially enjoy learning the ins and outs of thievery; offering tips and tricks may help develop a beneficial relationship, as urchins are known for knowing pretty much everything that's going on in the city. Many thieves' guilds also require proof of skill for entrance into the organization or secret base. Because thieve guilds represent the underbelly of a city, they offer valuable connections into all areas, including the merchants, nobles, and everyday citizens. Thieve guilds can protect their members as well as secret information, in addition to being quest givers. Becoming adept with thieves' tools helps you develop these valuable connections.
When you have thieves' tools, all of your burglarizing dreams can be achieved. Whether it’s stealing a goblet from a dragon’s hoard, defusing a time bomb, or unlocking the delicate mechanism to a secret bookcase, this versatile kit has a use in every adventurer’s backpack.