The Waterdeep Job

Looks like it’s heist heist week here at Mike’s D&D blog. On Monday I posted about how in heist movies, there is usually an expert team assembled each with his or her own unique characteristics that contribute to the success of the heist. Now that you’ve got your team assembled, let’s look at how to plan a heist in-game.

The gnome DNAPhil at Gnome Stew posted a great essay on how a DM might plan a heist adventure. He breaks down the elements of a heist, with the focus of the article on the planning portion. The planning is the best part, with a cool soundtrack and montage of everybody walking into their various situations and overcoming the planned obstacles. One of the commenters to pointed to where Robin Laws maked a good point that cool thing in a heist movie is the plan unveiled to the audience where the “A” plan gets foiled by the bad guys, but in doing so they actually fall right into the party’s “B” plan. In order to make that scenario work in a RPG the “A” plan is the MacGuffin, planned out of game and the party’s in-game response is the playing out of the simulated “B” plan.

For the sake of argument, let’s say the The Plan going forward is either the “A” plan or the “B” plan where the DM described where the A plan was foiled. In either case, when you and your party mates make a plan you’ll have to be flexible because the DM is going to try to throw wrenches into the gears.

Start by making sure you know what The Object is and what’s guarding it. I’ll assume you’ve scouted out the area, bribed some NPCs for the building plans, and rolled some good Gather Information checks to find out the guards’ schedules. If not, get on it, and I’ll meet you back here when that’s all done…. Now that you have inventory of what’s ahead, map out a route from your base to where the object is stored and note along the way all the obstacles to be overcome.

Next you should make a list of all the things you have to get around those obstacles. You’ll want to list important skills, feats, rituals, items, and of course the NPCs and connections you might have. It’s best to be somewhat general in order to be flexible and tied to a specific thing. For example, instead of “Arthalas’ 23 skill in Stealth” you should list “a sneaky PC.” It may not seem like a big difference but the less concrete you can make it in your minds the better you can adapt the plan. So in this example, if Arthalas gets caught by the law you can send in Birlana, even though her sneak is only a 16 (hey, that’s the penalty for failing a skill check) On the list also make note if the item is expendable, such as a potion, a daily power, or an ally that owes you only one big favor.

With a list of advantages in hand go through the obstacles in chronological order, picking out your best bet for overcoming that obstacle. For each obstacle come up with a primary method and a backup plan. Ideally one of these should not depend on anything that could have been used up previously. This should give the DM ideas for foiling your plans and the confidence to know you’ll still reach the goal after some suspenseful encoutners. Repeat for each obstacle until you get to The Object and back out to the base. Pretty simple, right?

Here’s a list of potential obstacles in a fantasy setting and some ideas for overcoming them. This is by no means exhaustive either in types of obstacles or means around them, but instead just a little brainstorm to get you started.

  1. Guards at the Gate. Wait until the fewest guards are expected to be present.
    • You can create a diversion to distract the guards or pull them away. Use Illusion spells like Ghost Sound [DDI] or a Bluff check to distract them. If the party has burly friends, creating a riot out on the street usually works, or if you have a sneaky ally he can steal the guard’s hat and then they will chase him around the corner.
    • Or you can scare them off. Nothing sends underpaid grunts running like the fear of death. A good Intimidate check could go a long a way, and it helps if you have a wheelbarrow and a holocaust cloak.
  2. Traps Of course the best way around traps is a thief who can disable them. Also think about ways around traps such as ladders, ropes, and teleportation. Just remember that if your way out is the same as the way in, you’ll want to make sure you disarm the trap completely, or that you can avoid it when fleeing out. You can also try to convince the DM to let you use Dispel Magic [DDI] to overcome magical traps (some traps specifically list this is a possibility).
  3. Locked Doors/Gates If an item is worth protecting, it’s probably put in some kind of vault.
    • Try to get the key ahead of time. If the current owner is a narcissistic bastard, he probably keeps the key on him at all times, especially when he goes on dates. Send someone to lift it off him while flirting.
    • If you can’t get the key be prepared to either pick the lock or use some sort of magic such as teleportation, shadow walk, or mage hand to get it. Going quietly is always preferred, but if none of those options are available, bring a portable battering ram [DDI] or pry bar to force open a door. Be prepared to deal with alerted guards.
  4. Decoys You’ll want to make sure you have some way of verifying that you got the real thing. You don’t want to get back to camp and discover you’ve only stolen some polished glass instead of a real Dragon Orb. Going back a second time will only be harder.
  5. Boss Guards Try to find out what kind of monsters will be lurking and if you can pick up anything to defend yourself against its attacks. Or better yet, find out if it has any weaknesses, like vulnerability to sleep spells or will chase a steak flung out a window. A battle not fought is a battle survived. (Argue with your DM to get the xp if you overcome a monster non-violently).
  6. Going sneaky They don’t call these plots capers for nothing. If your character is not the sneaky type, get some bonuses that will prevent you from attracting attention like boots or capes to boost dex or stealth or speed. If the whole thing is supposed to go down in one session, consider downgrading to light armor (don’t forgo your defenses for a month of dungeon grind, however).

For more inspiration, watch one of the 212 Heist Films listed on Wikipedia. Happy hunting!


3 thoughts on “The Waterdeep Job

  1. Pingback: On sneaking « Mike's D&D Blog

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