Sunday, May 17, 2020

Getting The Gang together for a Heist

You know what adventure model works best for virtually any version of Dungeons & Dragons? 

The Heist.

The more old school your rules, the more the game supports heists too. 

If you are playing the original game, Basic/Expert, and AD&D prior to 2nd edition experience points meant getting gold pieces. Fighting monsters is a 2nd rate means to gain EXP (after the original greyhawk supplement) if playing by the rules the game is best played as a heist game. PC's don't have enough HP to really make combat a good option unless the players are darned careful in deciding when, where, and who to fight.

The very idea of character classes supports the heist as ideal play. Watch a heist movie and there's a team of assembled specialists ... those are characters with different classes.  Even with just 3 or 4 classes there's enough differentiation to support a heist setup. Everyone has a role and everyone gets a chance to shine and best of all...you can split the party and focus on briefly on one or two characters working towards advancing the heist for the whole party.

When adventures are heists and not saving thr world from unending evil it actually adds the chance for depth in play. There's less reason for characters to be murder-hobos. They are encouraged to bribe and trick NPCs into helping out on the heist not just killing everything and everyone while the experience points pop out. This allows for a much wider cast of foils and foes which may be against a successful heist but aren't threatening the lives of everyone in the campaign world.

I'm jumping about here but check out the spells from the 2nd Basic set and how they add to heist play.

First Level MU spells
1.  Charm Person- compromise a guard or foil.
2.  Detect Magic- not just for identifying scrolls and magic items, also good for spottign magical traps and alarms (which should be part of some heists).
3. Floating Disc- got to move that loot afterall
4. Hold Portal- getting in and getting out are key features of a heist and those pesky doors are certainly an issue.
5. Light- when it's dark you have to see
6. Magic Missile-  this is a lousy heist spell unless there's some key guardian that must be taken out with magic and is easy to beat that the MU knows about.
7. Protection from Evil- not as big a deal in heist play.
8. Read Languages- research montage
9. Read Magic- to use a high level spell slipped to the PCs by a patron or contact at the wizards guild
10. Shield-  not so useful in heist play unless you want to have someone distract guards and draw a few arrows while the loot goes the other direction.
11. Sleep- Defeat a bunch of guards youhave no actual motivation to kill, they aren't likely to be going on a rampage and slaughtering a village after this and they are probably hired men-at-arms or draftees that have no strong need for revenge.
12. Ventriloquism- the opportunities this spell gives for a heist game give it much more utility than it has in default dungeoncrawling or world saving.

Senconf Level MU Spells
1. Continual Light-  a useful tool and a foil the PCs may have to defeat to sneak away with the loot.
2. Detect Evil- not a real biggie in heist play unless it can be used to detect people who are goign to con you.
3. Detect Invisible- pretty darned useful in a competitive heist or the mark uses invisibility.
4. ESP- very useful for planning, scouting, and look outs.
5. Invisibility- Much more useful to grab loot and scoot than it is to enable a sneak attack, also obviously useful for scouting ahead.
6. Knock- get that door open!
7. Levitate- get in that window or over that wall.
8. Locate Object- surely useful if the goal of a heist is a specific McGuffin.
9. Mirror Image- distraction is the a major part of the art of heist.
10. Phantasmal Forces- as above but even more so.
11. Web- another spell for neutralizing a number of foes without killing them.
12. Wizard Lock- a foil and a useful tool for covering up a theft.

Not a perfect summary but in those 24 spells there are 19 with direct and obvious utility in a heist.


The heist is a much more survivable adventure model for low level play than typical smash and grab dungeoncrawling. The game rules have always supported that style of play really. Just look at the reaction table, it's a little wonky in a dungeon bash but of great utility in a heist adventure. Played RAW a heist adventure works great with the reaction table. If the whole world isn't in the balance and not every NPC is an evil monster it makes sense fights will be rare and NPCs may help out the PCs on a whim.

Another cool thing from the DM point of view is the heist doesn't have to be a level-specific to allow PC to survive. You want a dragon in the heist go for it...defeating the dragon is not the goal. A troll guard on the front door..go for it, the party pulling a heist shouldn't be fighting their way through the front door. It's actually possible to have a campaign with a bit more verisimilitude by not having everything level specific.

The adventure can be quicker too. Want a quick adventure for a session or two? Have a heist where the Players have a map of the place, at least of the areas you want to feature. There's less bumbling around and fights with random monsters to deal with, motivations are clear and the whole campaign isn't over of the heist fails. A failed heist sets up a rescue from a dank cell or before execution.

The heist opens up a wider range of opponents and place for Dungeons and Dragons campaigns where the goal is loot and world-building instead of world saving or murder hobo hijinks.









2 comments:

  1. Putting together a heist game was very hard for me to do. There aren't any good "classic" TSR modules that demonstrate a heist in a way that makes for a good one-shot. What I ended up doing was buying a copy of Skerples' "Kidnap the Archpriest" which has an awesome framework for doing a heist. I ran the game for the Virtual GaryCon and it went great! I'm hopefully running it again in the future.

    The interesting thing is that if those spells exist in a campaign, so to do counter-spells, protective items and areas, especially in an area protecting itself and a desired item...

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