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Why Are Thieves Considered Weak?

For the longest time I bought into the hype that single class thieves are weak and that you shouldn't play them. The most common reason cited is their poor thac0 and APR, which makes them useless in a fight.

Then I actually decided to play them and... hoo boy I was wrong.

Thieves are really, really good. A bounty hunter all but trivialized the entirety of BG1 and SoD. Even in BG2 his traps all but dominate. At first with strong damage, later (ignoring the awkward Otiluke phase) with tactile planning that allowed me to plant even MOAAAR traps while the enemies respawned in small pairs. Then I got access to spike traps... GG, but it was over. Maze and Spike traps synchronize really well together.

This little guy could take out liches in a stage of the game where I struggled with other power builds (mostly due to lack of good equipment) to do the same. Many of the difficult battles became a joke, the only limit was the amount of times I rested to regain my traps, which became less and less necessary as I got more traps. I don't think I've ever had as easy a playthrough as I've had with this Halfling Bounty Hunter.

So... what am I missing here? Why are so many guides and tier lists out there labelling thieves as the weakest of the bunch when I can easily outdamage others with my burst damage?

Comments

  • WoebegoneWoebegone Member Posts: 15
    First, most of the vitriol against single class thieves are directed toward unkitted thieves...at least what I've read on the forums here. For myself, concept and role-playing trump character power for the most part. I enjoyed my trilogy run with a Bounty Hunter, and you're generally correct that they can trivialize many fights. They also require quite a bit of micro-management, which turns off some players. But my fighter/thief multi-class runs also trivialized Baldur's Gate because ranged combat is ridiculously powerful.

    This continues through most of Baldur's Gate 2, but by then a Fighter/Thief can duel wield and be a top tier damage dealer, all with minimal micro-management. A fighter/Thief also has plenty of skill points to go around by the time Spike Traps are available, which further increases their power.

    I don't think you're really missing anything. If you're building a team based on role-playing and are comfortable micro-managing, then pure class thieves are valuable, even powerful, members of the team. If you're playing a more power gamey way, then a Fighter/Thief or Fighter(kit)-->Thief are superior by almost every measure.

    One last thing. None of the above isn't to say that a playthrough using increased difficulty Mods precludes the use of a pure thief. A good gamer can accomplish almost everything in the Baldur's Gate trilogy with almost any team composition of character classes (or even solo!). So, glad you enjoyed your Bounty Hunter and ignore the haters.
  • jsavingjsaving Member Posts: 1,078
    edited December 2021
    Conwan wrote: »
    So... what am I missing here? Why are so many guides and tier lists out there labelling thieves as the weakest of the bunch when I can easily outdamage others with my burst damage?
    Nearly all guides identify mage/thief, fighter/thief, and fighter/mage/thief as some of the strongest characters in the game. So you probably need to better describe what you mean by your question. Everyone understands thieves put out a lot of burst/trap damage, they just think multi/dual thieves do all of that plus more. Do you disagree, or are you simply intending to point out singleclass thieves aren't "too weak to finish the game"?
    Post edited by jsaving on
  • PokotaPokota Member Posts: 857
    edited December 2021
    Most trueclass kits are considered weak compared to kits (I believe only the Beastmaster is considered weaker than its parent class), and it's generally accepted that if you're playing trueclass it's because you plan to dual class. HLAs notwithstanding (because there are some doozies in the Rogue pool) Thieves reach their developmental apex much sooner than other classes and most players don't want to muddle through late SoA just to get trueclass thieves their rogue HLAs.

    That and most thief play strategies center around backstab, which drops significantly in usefulness due to backstab immunities... at about when Thieves reach their developmental apex. (I happen to be a fan of traps myself so I get where you're coming from, at least - I usually have BG1 Imoen split her points between find traps and set traps - but without the Bounty Hunter's special traps they're less than useful against anything that requires +1 or better to hit, plus backstabbery is a more active style of play anyway so it keeps the player more engaged)

    Which in my case the reason to play trueclass being because I plan to dual is usually true, but that's because I can't not play a fighter/cleric of some sort, I don't like playing as a paladin, and playing as a multi in BG1 slows your progression more than you'd expect (a solo triple is basically a three person party with only one aura between them, which... not for me, thank you)
  • DonaldDonald Member Posts: 11
    They're a specialty class whose combat strategies are quite a bit different than a typical warrior, which is what most players will compare combat strength to. Fighters are so much better at fighting than thieves that it honestly makes thieves look really, really bad without taking their unique strengths into consideration.

    The other situation that can happen is that our power-gaming min-maxer mentalities will compare dual-class/multi-class behemoths to single class thieves in the context of party-building and come to the conclusion that thievery is not worth one full character slot in the party because they could have a full-fledged fighter or caster if they just dipped into another class. The power-game approach tends to weed out low APR builds because of how strong APR is. It can also completely disregard utility that you can't exactly quantify on paper, if you understand what I mean.

    I personally love thieves. They have always been my favorite class. When I was a boy I romanticized the idea of a solo thief run quite heavily and still to this day think the thief play-style is the most important and most fun. Thieves are so strong in the city; they have an answer for everything and can hard-carry you through Athkatla right when you get out of the sewer. Their scouting potential enables your whole party to benefit from better strategies and tactics too. If you're using your thief properly, then your party will always be safe. As far as the kits go, I think Bounty Hunter is hands-down the best. Especially when you get into higher difficulties. Those maze traps are so freaking strong it's absurd. Assassin is just badass and awesome. Their poison is super strong, you can use it to kill almost anything. Shadowdancers are super cool too, but are obviously going to be highly mechanically intensive. Swashies are great for a newbie, I used to run a swashie when I was a boy because I didn't understand the backstab mechanics very well and they're almost as good as a fighter at some point. Anyway, yeah, I love thieves.
  • MrBaquanMrBaquan Member Posts: 42
    Multi/dual classing just makes thieves soooo much better. Assassination becomes insane when you can have 10 APR and good thac0. Max damage backstabs, yes please.
  • ConwanConwan Member Posts: 39
    Donald wrote: »
    They're a specialty class whose combat strategies are quite a bit different than a typical warrior, which is what most players will compare combat strength to. Fighters are so much better at fighting than thieves that it honestly makes thieves look really, really bad without taking their unique strengths into consideration.

    The other situation that can happen is that our power-gaming min-maxer mentalities will compare dual-class/multi-class behemoths to single class thieves in the context of party-building and come to the conclusion that thievery is not worth one full character slot in the party because they could have a full-fledged fighter or caster if they just dipped into another class. The power-game approach tends to weed out low APR builds because of how strong APR is. It can also completely disregard utility that you can't exactly quantify on paper, if you understand what I mean.

    I personally love thieves. They have always been my favorite class. When I was a boy I romanticized the idea of a solo thief run quite heavily and still to this day think the thief play-style is the most important and most fun. Thieves are so strong in the city; they have an answer for everything and can hard-carry you through Athkatla right when you get out of the sewer. Their scouting potential enables your whole party to benefit from better strategies and tactics too. If you're using your thief properly, then your party will always be safe. As far as the kits go, I think Bounty Hunter is hands-down the best. Especially when you get into higher difficulties. Those maze traps are so freaking strong it's absurd. Assassin is just badass and awesome. Their poison is super strong, you can use it to kill almost anything. Shadowdancers are super cool too, but are obviously going to be highly mechanically intensive. Swashies are great for a newbie, I used to run a swashie when I was a boy because I didn't understand the backstab mechanics very well and they're almost as good as a fighter at some point. Anyway, yeah, I love thieves.

    Ironically, and controversially, I find the swashbuckler to be the weakest of all kits for the same reason you enjoyed it. Even weaker than an unkitted thief. In theory it sounds good, but in practice you're taking away half of its damage (the part that @Pokota says is the most engaging) for something that does not put it on par with fighter or fighter/thief and only reaches its peak at max level with all kinds of cheesy gear that I personally prefer to spread around my team. You get more damage, but no APR, which really hurts it since I prefer to give a speed weapon to someone like Korgan, Mazzy or Jaheira.

    That being said, I'd place fighter and thief on the same level. They just function completely differently and that may affect people's views. It also doesn't help that most people build their thief as a utility bot first and damage dealer second. I find a good backstab (5 attacks in one) just as effective as five attacks. It's why assassination (when it works) works best with a F/T. But I for the life of me can't play a multiclass. Probably because I play more as one class and underutilize the second one.
  • jmerryjmerry Member Posts: 2,806
    For my thoughts here, I'll refer back to my idea of combat roles. There are three fundamental combat roles a weapon-based character can take:
    - Tank. You get up there in the enemy's face and draw their attention, swinging your melee weapon. Obviously, you need defense to absorb the counterattacks - heavy armor, damage resistance, absolute defenses. Thieves are bad at this; only a high-level (UAI) swashbuckler can really pull it off.
    - Archer. You attack with a ranged weapon at a distance, and just try to put out as much damage as possible. And if they come for you, either withdraw or switch to melee. Defense is not a high priority, because the enemy is attacking the tank instead. Thieves with bows are tolerable here because of the natural 2 APR, but still not a match for a specialized warrior.
    - Skirmisher. This one's tricky - you fight in melee, but you don't have the defenses to stay there. Instead, you need to slip in and out, hitting hard and retreating before the counterattack can land. Thieves - all kinds of thieves - are naturally suited to this role.

    So, what does it take to play a skirmisher well?
    First, a lot of attention. Repeatedly striking and retreating is a lot of extra actions, and you can't rely on the in-game AI for it. You need to micromanage that character, and likely neglect other members of the party.
    Second, a way to hit hard enough for it to be worthwhile. A thief's backstab is the gold standard here.
    Third, a way to surprise the enemy. Obviously, thief skirmishers will use stealth to sneak up on their foes.
    Fourth, quick movement. You need to be able to retreat. Skirmishers are typically the first priority for any boots of speed you acquire.
    Fifth, quick attacks. That weapon speed number actually matters, because getting it low means a better chance of you getting the first attack in. Fortunately, all of the melee weapons that single-class thieves can use are on the fast side, and high enchantment levels improve their speed further.

    With swashbucklers, it's easy to make the mistake of thinking the AC bonus and lack of backstab means you should be a tank. No. You still can't wear a helmet, and it takes a lot of levels or epic gear before that AC bonus catches up with heavy armor. So then, you're still a skirmisher. You can't afford to ignore stealth - you still need to sneak up on enemies so they don't target you.
    At epic levels, the situation changes. With UAI (heavy armor, helmets) for tanking and Whirlwind Attack for burst damage, swashbucklers get a lot better.

    On multi-class fighter/thieves - one way to emphasize the class combination's potential is to build for role flexibility. Open with a backstab and stay in there to fight in melee. Fight in heavy armor but take it off when you need to disarm a trap. I got a lot out of these tricks with the protagonist of my no-spellcasting run.
    Dual-class fighter-thieves have another option: they can build for super-powerful backstabs. After all, specialization bonuses get multiplied in a stab. I've done this with kensai-thieves; that can one-shot fire giants in the late game.
  • ConwanConwan Member Posts: 39
    jmerry wrote: »
    For my thoughts here, I'll refer back to my idea of combat roles. There are three fundamental combat roles a weapon-based character can take:
    - Tank. You get up there in the enemy's face and draw their attention, swinging your melee weapon. Obviously, you need defense to absorb the counterattacks - heavy armor, damage resistance, absolute defenses. Thieves are bad at this; only a high-level (UAI) swashbuckler can really pull it off.
    - Archer. You attack with a ranged weapon at a distance, and just try to put out as much damage as possible. And if they come for you, either withdraw or switch to melee. Defense is not a high priority, because the enemy is attacking the tank instead. Thieves with bows are tolerable here because of the natural 2 APR, but still not a match for a specialized warrior.
    - Skirmisher. This one's tricky - you fight in melee, but you don't have the defenses to stay there. Instead, you need to slip in and out, hitting hard and retreating before the counterattack can land. Thieves - all kinds of thieves - are naturally suited to this role.

    So, what does it take to play a skirmisher well?
    First, a lot of attention. Repeatedly striking and retreating is a lot of extra actions, and you can't rely on the in-game AI for it. You need to micromanage that character, and likely neglect other members of the party.
    Second, a way to hit hard enough for it to be worthwhile. A thief's backstab is the gold standard here.
    Third, a way to surprise the enemy. Obviously, thief skirmishers will use stealth to sneak up on their foes.
    Fourth, quick movement. You need to be able to retreat. Skirmishers are typically the first priority for any boots of speed you acquire.
    Fifth, quick attacks. That weapon speed number actually matters, because getting it low means a better chance of you getting the first attack in. Fortunately, all of the melee weapons that single-class thieves can use are on the fast side, and high enchantment levels improve their speed further.

    With swashbucklers, it's easy to make the mistake of thinking the AC bonus and lack of backstab means you should be a tank. No. You still can't wear a helmet, and it takes a lot of levels or epic gear before that AC bonus catches up with heavy armor. So then, you're still a skirmisher. You can't afford to ignore stealth - you still need to sneak up on enemies so they don't target you.
    At epic levels, the situation changes. With UAI (heavy armor, helmets) for tanking and Whirlwind Attack for burst damage, swashbucklers get a lot better.

    On multi-class fighter/thieves - one way to emphasize the class combination's potential is to build for role flexibility. Open with a backstab and stay in there to fight in melee. Fight in heavy armor but take it off when you need to disarm a trap. I got a lot out of these tricks with the protagonist of my no-spellcasting run.
    Dual-class fighter-thieves have another option: they can build for super-powerful backstabs. After all, specialization bonuses get multiplied in a stab. I've done this with kensai-thieves; that can one-shot fire giants in the late game.

    - Honestly, nothing tanks better than a bard, regardless of kit. Cast a lot of defensive spells that last longer or give more of it due to caster level (Stoneskin), walk in front of your enemies and start singing because those bonuses are better than missing your two-handed or katana. Using gear like Carsomyr only makes you more defensive in nature. Nothing a thief can do even compares to it, even with scrolls. And I did use scrolls.
    - As for archer vs skirmisher: I'd say the archer thief is the lazy way to play. Invest in utility skills, have them shoot bows or throw daggers or the like. It's the skirmishing that I really enjoy and I think it's where the thief gets its greatest strength from.

    I mostly agree with the rest. Swashbuckler only becomes good after level UAI. The lack of helmet is honestly worse than the lower AC. Crits are brutal and I've found that a thief can lose damage very quickly from just a few hits. I just don't get how people can think it's better than a F/T when even that class has to watch out with higher HP and a helmet.
  • WoebegoneWoebegone Member Posts: 15
    edited December 2021
    Conwan wrote: »

    - Honestly, nothing tanks better than a bard, regardless of kit. Cast a lot of defensive spells that last longer or give more of it due to caster level (Stoneskin), walk in front of your enemies and start singing because those bonuses are better than missing your two-handed or katana. Using gear like Carsomyr only makes you more defensive in nature. Nothing a thief can do even compares to it, even with scrolls. And I did use scrolls.
    - As for archer vs skirmisher: I'd say the archer thief is the lazy way to play. Invest in utility skills, have them shoot bows or throw daggers or the like. It's the skirmishing that I really enjoy and I think it's where the thief gets its greatest strength from.

    I mostly agree with the rest. Swashbuckler only becomes good after level UAI. The lack of helmet is honestly worse than the lower AC. Crits are brutal and I've found that a thief can lose damage very quickly from just a few hits. I just don't get how people can think it's better than a F/T when even that class has to watch out with higher HP and a helmet.

    -There are many characters who can be terrific tanks. The best I can recall playing was a Fighter/Mage/Cleric, but that may be
    subjective.

    -I'll requote jmerry's initial line in their response: " There are three fundamental combat roles a weapon-based character can take:"
    A pure thief, including a Swashbuckler (until UAI) are best used as skirmishers. Jmerry explicitly (and eloquently IMHO) express
    this.

    -I haven't seen anyone say a Swashbuckler is better than a F/T. However, high level Swashbucklers can become one of the few
    characters who can AC tank at least semi-successfully late game.

    -Speaking of Fighter/Thief, the reason I love them is their versatility. They can be tanks, archers, or skirmishers at need.

  • jsavingjsaving Member Posts: 1,078
    Conwan wrote: »
    - Honestly, nothing tanks better than a bard, regardless of kit.
    Anyone who can cast mage buffs will be a great tank, no disagreement there. But what leads you to believe bards are better tanks than FMs, FMTs, or FMCs?
  • ConwanConwan Member Posts: 39
    edited December 2021
    jsaving wrote: »
    Conwan wrote: »
    - Honestly, nothing tanks better than a bard, regardless of kit.
    Anyone who can cast mage buffs will be a great tank, no disagreement there. But what leads you to believe bards are better tanks than FMs, FMTs, or FMCs?

    Higher casting level means protective spells either last longer or you get more of it in comparison to other mages. Stoneskin especially is a powerful defensive spell for a bard for this reason. Not to mention every bard song will bestow some extra buff (or debuff) to the team, which mage classes don't have access to.

    That being said, a bard is a very passive, defensive tank. Any other mage class will do more damage aside from the occasional Skull Trap.

    Post edited by Conwan on
  • KhyronKhyron Member Posts: 572
    This is assuming you're playing solo though.. a FM would have access to improved bard song in a party. Who then would be better?
  • ConwanConwan Member Posts: 39
    Khyron wrote: »
    This is assuming you're playing solo though.. a FM would have access to improved bard song in a party. Who then would be better?

    For tanking? I'd still go with the bard. An FM is a powerful god of destruction who's supposed to hakai his way to victory. A bard is about empowering said FM to do that while he takes all the aggro.
  • KhyronKhyron Member Posts: 572
    Not sure how relevant this caster level really is either.. early SoA, sure. But it doesn't take too long for an FM to get his caster level up to 14-15 and that's 75% of the way to 20, which is the caster level cap regardless of class.

    Bring on fighter HLA like hardiness etc later on, and you don't even need your spells most of the time and can save them and avoid resting so much.

    Bards are strong, but I don't quite see them doing better than an FM at anything that matters.
  • HalfOrcBeastmasterHalfOrcBeastmaster Member Posts: 301
    Khyron wrote: »
    Bards are strong, but I don't quite see them doing better than an FM at anything that matters.

    Picking Pockets.
  • ConwanConwan Member Posts: 39
    Khyron wrote: »
    Not sure how relevant this caster level really is either.. early SoA, sure. But it doesn't take too long for an FM to get his caster level up to 14-15 and that's 75% of the way to 20, which is the caster level cap regardless of class.

    Bring on fighter HLA like hardiness etc later on, and you don't even need your spells most of the time and can save them and avoid resting so much.

    Bards are strong, but I don't quite see them doing better than an FM at anything that matters.

    Some spells don't have a caster level cap. Stoneskin and Skull trap are two examples and this is why they're far better in the hands of a bard that reaches lvl 40 than a F/M than can only reach lvl 20-31 mage level.

    Don't get me wrong, the F/M is loads better than a bard in almost every conceivable way. Damage, versatility, combat, most spells, the amount of spells, access to higher level spells, etc. It's just that the bard has this one thing going for it and this one thing does make it a better tank imo.
  • WoebegoneWoebegone Member Posts: 15
    edited December 2021
    The discussion about the best tank is usually quite diverse. We should always take into consideration the following conditions:

    1) are we talking about BG1 or BG2?
    2) are we using any AI enhancing mods, like the SCS, or is it a game without mods?

    Because answering these questions influences the overall resume greatly.

    For example, while AC is the king in BG1, it becomes to be not the only defining factor in SoA and especially in ToB. For BG1, you can start as a halfling fighter (for saving throws and 19 DEX), equip the best armour (full plate), add the best ring and/or cloak, take a large shield, and you're good to go against nearly everything the game throws at you. Or you can start as a dwarven defender, and use their special ability for 50% damage resistance, as well as unbelievable HPs due to d12 rolls and 19 CON. Or, as suggested in this thread, use Defensive Stance on your bard, coupled with Mirror Image and/or Blur.

    For BG2, however, equipping the best armour is not enough. Enemies start hitting hard and getting high THAC0. And you start thinking either about completely mitigating their damage by becoming immune to it or about resisting to the damage. Also, BG2 starts to throw more mages at you, so you have to think about protection from magic more than you did in BG1. So you can't imagine tanking without stoneskins and mirror images, Protection from Magical Weapons, or equipping Defender of Eastheaven and combining it with Armour of Faith (which after the 10th level offer a solid boost in resisting damage), and maybe even Ironskins if you're a druid. Also, you need protection from magic, so Minor Globe of Invulnerability, Spell Immunity, Spell Deflection, Protection from Magical Energy etc etc start playing major role. Again, as suggested in this thread, a bard can combine protections both from physical and magical damage.

    With the SCS mod, you need even more magical protection in BG2, and you also need it in BG1.

    This is why I find following characters to be good tanks across the whole game, from Candlekeep to ToB (in no particular order, each of them has their own pros and cons):

    - dwarven defender;
    - dwarf fighter/cleric multiclass;
    - fighter/druid;
    - fighter/mage;
    - blade;
    - FMC.

    Maybe there're even more choices. But it would be hard for me to define the best tank of them all.

    From a previous 'best tank' thread.
  • jmerryjmerry Member Posts: 2,806
    Conwan wrote: »
    Some spells don't have a caster level cap. Stoneskin and Skull trap are two examples and this is why they're far better in the hands of a bard that reaches lvl 40 than a F/M than can only reach lvl 20-31 mage level.
    ... Stoneskin and Skull Trap cap at level 20, like almost everything. Skull Trap is notable for going beyond the level 10 cap that the same-level Fireball and Lightning Bolt spells have, but that doesn't mean it goes past 20. A complete list of spells usable by players in the unmodded game which continue to improve beyond caster level 20, for anything other than dispel check concerns:
    - Children of the Night (Hexxat ability)
    - Chaos of Battle (Priest of Tempus ability)
    - Absorb Health (Blackguard ability)
    - Lay On Hands (Paladin ability)
    - Flaming Fists (Sun Soul Monk ability)
    - Set Snare (Thief ability, caps at 21)
    - Set Special Snare (Bounty Hunter ability, caps at 21)
    - Hardiness (Warrior high-level ability)
    - Symbol: Fear (Priest spell)
    - Shaman dancing
    - Melf's Acid Arrow (Mage spell, caps at 21)
    - Hardiness (Wish option)

    Also, this was a thread about thieves. How exactly did it get this far off the original topic?
  • ConwanConwan Member Posts: 39
    jmerry wrote: »
    Conwan wrote: »
    Some spells don't have a caster level cap. Stoneskin and Skull trap are two examples and this is why they're far better in the hands of a bard that reaches lvl 40 than a F/M than can only reach lvl 20-31 mage level.
    ... Stoneskin and Skull Trap cap at level 20, like almost everything. Skull Trap is notable for going beyond the level 10 cap that the same-level Fireball and Lightning Bolt spells have, but that doesn't mean it goes past 20. A complete list of spells usable by players in the unmodded game which continue to improve beyond caster level 20, for anything other than dispel check concerns:
    - Children of the Night (Hexxat ability)
    - Chaos of Battle (Priest of Tempus ability)
    - Absorb Health (Blackguard ability)
    - Lay On Hands (Paladin ability)
    - Flaming Fists (Sun Soul Monk ability)
    - Set Snare (Thief ability, caps at 21)
    - Set Special Snare (Bounty Hunter ability, caps at 21)
    - Hardiness (Warrior high-level ability)
    - Symbol: Fear (Priest spell)
    - Shaman dancing
    - Melf's Acid Arrow (Mage spell, caps at 21)
    - Hardiness (Wish option)

    Also, this was a thread about thieves. How exactly did it get this far off the original topic?

    Huh. I was wrong. Skull trap is just better than a fireball. No wonder those numbers were a lot higher. Same for Stoneskin.

    And fair enough. You just haaaaad to start talking about the three roles of combat, eh? :p
  • ithildurnewithildurnew Member Posts: 265
    edited January 22
    Thieves are not weak. They are very, very strong at what they can do (given a player who knows what he's doing), and that's what matters.

    This whole 'everyone needs to be just as good as their next door neighbor at everything or else it's horrible and unfair' mentality that's so pervasive these days - boring, utter nonsense.

    Have some balls, creativity, learn to play a class or character that isn't a Mary Sue mouseclick everything to victory in 3 rounds. May as well run a party consisting of 5 Berzerker/mage clones and a ftr/mage/thief named John, Jon, Jonn, John2, Johnny, and Johnson.
  • DanacmDanacm Member Posts: 936
    Basically thief is a non-combat class, but not well implemented in a video game. When thief is created in dnd, the older systems you gain xp for accumulating gold and treasure, and only the 10% of you xp comes from killing monsters. So it was wise to not fight but loot the golds to advance.
  • Viconia_sViconia_s Member Posts: 15
    The thief is a really good class and a must. Don't go for a F/T unless you are playing elf, but at this point it is better a F/M/T. With traps and stabbing you can kill almost everything.
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