I have to say that one of the things I liked about 2E was the rules for Thieves that allowed them to allocate points for thier abilities. That is an great example of giving players a quite reasonable ability to focus more on some abilities and less on others, as they choose, and as fits their conception of the character.
But “Read Languages”? That never made sense to me at all. It always seemed to be the odd ability out. I was reading on some OSR blog someplace that they just gave that ability to Magic-Users and the utter reasonable logic of that is something that I wish I had thought of. I’ll probably do that in my upcoming campaign.
I was always of mixed minds regarding the Thief-Acrobat, on the one hand it was very, very cool. On the other hand, it never made any sense to me or anyone else I played with that it was something you “converted to” (remember this is pre-Prestige classes!). This made even less sense when you looked at the progression table of the special abilities and saw that they had basically the same number of levels as the abilities of the basic Thief class. I, and expect others, always sort of suspected that it was *supposed* to be it’s own character class but nobody could (for some reason) figure out how to make the mix of basic Thief abilities work with the Thief-Acrobat abilities in an organic fashion. It strikes me that the point-allocation system is the way to make that work, if I can figure out a “points = X” for the non-percentage based abilities like Pole-Vaulting, etc.
I also always regret that the Montebank class never saw light – sort of. I think in some ways that is what the 2E Bard was. Which is really too bad, because it was the nerfing of the Bard that really turned me off of 2E (that plus the Drizzting of the Ranger, and the switch from Demon and Devil to Fiends and whatnot). I know I had my own version of the Mountebank that I worked up years ago, but I have no idea if I still have it squirreled away. I may have to re-create it. It was sort of a combination of Thief and Alchemist or Hedge Wizard, and while I still like those essential elements I think I’d simplify it a bit now from what I can recall I had done. It was too fiddly with more spells and less abilities, and now I’d do it with more abilities and less or no spells – probably just cantrips actually.
We really did see Backstab in a very different light. Again, we used “real world knowledge” to extrapolate how this ability worked. And we decided that Backstab worked because Thieves used their knowledge of anatomy to strike to vital areas along with nasty little tricks like twisting blades, etc. that no honorable warrior would use. As a result, what was important was two things: Surprise (rather than a “rear attack”, in order to get past the instinctive defences that anyone uses to protect their vitals, and a knowledge of the anatomy of the creature in question. So while everyone started out with the basic knowledge of the common demihuman and humanoid races, anything else required vivisection and study. So it both broadened out the Thief’s ability (only needing a surprise attack with any weapon, melee or missile) but at the same time limiting it (nobody was Backstabbing dragons or Mind Flayers without doing it the hard way the first time). This lead to a couple of great mini-adventures when we’d stumble across something in the middle-of-nowhere and kill it, then all the thieves would insist on sticking around for a couple of days to study it before it rotted – and then the party was a target sitting on top of a rotting body, at a battle site, and all the locals would start coming around to see what was up. I can’t for the life of me remember if we let Thieves Backstab undead. I can’t remember that we couldn’t, but logic sort of suggests that that would be one of the “benefits” of being undead (not having any vital organs obviously). As I stretch my mind back I think it was allowed, just on the idea that corporeal undead could be Backstabbed because the physical form could be damaged badly in some way as to make them less effective or otherwise just disrupted badly.
But in general? Thieves were cool and always a popular class – I don’t see that changing.