Take the 2-minute tour ×
Role-playing Games Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for gamemasters and players of tabletop, paper-and-pencil role-playing games. It's 100% free, no registration required.

When they're not adventuring, the PCs in my campaign own a magic item shop in a very large city. They have a staff, inventory, marketing, and in general it operates like you'd expect an item shop to operate (except a lot of their inventory is originally dungeon loot). This city has a criminal element. That means that theft is a risk. At low level their inventory was mostly mundane equipment and the occasional minor magic item, so security was limited to a guard and an alarm spell activated when the shop closes for the night, to alert the two PCs that were sleeping on the top floor.

They've outgrown that now, as they're level 8 and the quality of their loot (and inventory) has increased considerably. A low level fighter type is not an adequate guard against high level magic thieves, and with tens of thousands of gp of items in the shop, it's a tempting target. (Also the PCs themselves aren't always there and can now afford apartments, so they don't sleep there even when they're in town.)

I'm trying to figure out how a building like this would be defended in a D&D city. I'm interested specifically in night time when the shop is closed, as during the day it's in an area that's well patrolled by the city guard and heavily trafficked, so a full on raid is highly unlikely. Shoplifting can occur, but the staff are fairly keen-eyed so it's rare.

Some specific requirements:

  1. The building already exists, and is not designed to be fortified. It's a good building with two floors (and a basement) and is masonry walls & wood construction inside. The city government is not going to let them demolish it and put up a fortress, and for story reasons they have to stay in that location. (The main floor is their show-room, the top floor is private, and the basement is used to hold inventory and some other things behind a hidden secret door.)
  2. The building has to be inviting when the shop is open. The PCs income entirely depends on this, as their loot is sold in this store. That means it can't have disintegration traps that go off when someone's kid wanders into the basement. :) In general, magical defenses must be able to be deactivated during business hours.
  3. As the shop sells magic items, people want to be able to inspect the merchandise. That means the building can't be covered in an antimagic field while the shop is open.

Suggestions that use D&D 3.5 source material would be ideal. That said, I'm trying to do something a bit unusual here and I'm open to ideas or custom items/effects that bend the rules to make things workable.

edit - Specifically, the PCs are concerned about theft. Primarily of the "sneak in at night and rob the place blind" variety, as during the day the store is occupied and the city guard have frequent patrols in the area (trying to barge in and take stuff by force would not end well for the attackers unless they're incredibly powerful). Stopping shoplifting beyond that in a way that doesn't cause the customer problems is another issue, and they're not overly concerned about it (plus it's hard to shoplift full plate without being noticed).

The criminal element in the city ranges from petty thieves & con artists to a full blown organized crime operation. That operation has access to spellcasters. It would tax their resources to do something like teleport people into the building directly at night, but it's not beyond their means.

share|improve this question
9  
This sounds like a very interesting campaign. 10/10 for quality! –  Kegg Sep 2 '13 at 22:40
5  
Just to let you know there's also the "I can have divination spells cast and know who stole my things in no time. Please don't be suicide." technique. Possibly combine that with the physical ideas you get from the answers. –  Zachiel Sep 3 '13 at 17:11

6 Answers 6

up vote 30 down vote accepted

Security is always a function of risk mitigation. Specifically, it must cost less to secure the goods than the total value of the goods, and make accessing the goods a cost higher than the total value of the goods. What compounds this problem is that you're talking about doing this in a game that is designed to let "good guys" penetrate the defenses of "bad guys" and take their stuff. There is a severe asymmetric power relationship in terms of the options presented to defender and attacker, and fixing that relationship will make adventuring not particularly fun.

The majority of this answer will be a discussion of what it will take to fundamentally secure a location. I conclude with the minimum viable product for "hauling swag around and showing it to people." which is, effectively, a wise-guy with portable holes protected by a party.

How to secure a location

I'm going to ignore the "not allowed to demolish" requirement because most of the external infrastructure can be substituted in situ for the extant building. Assuming that their access control is lousy enough to have people wandering into forbidden areas, they deserve what they get. While the "whole hog" is likely impossible for them to accomplish, this answer should give a minimum reference for adequate security and the running of a cost-benefit analysis to see if the idea needs plot-armor to survive.

Now, in modern times, because people have risk mitigation strategies like insurance, and an adequate police force, The idea of not having a fortress is absolutely laughable, and should cause the advenuters to, indeed, laugh, pick up their stuff, and move to a less insane place.

At the end of the day, no automated defenses will be sufficient. The role of the lock rating (in modern security) is a perfect illustration of this. Locks are rated by tool and minutes. Specifically, how long, in minutes, will it take a given type of tool to bypass the lock? It then becomes very simple. Time patrols of "guys with guns" (the technical term) such that it is (theoretically) impossible to beat all the security measures before said "guy with gun" finds you.

Controlling the means of entry

The first thing is controlling means of entry. Given that the opposition has access to casters who can cast teleport, (sor/wis 5), That means that access to 6th or 7th level scrolls is not out of the question. Therefore not only are the players trying to defend against scry and die but... the scrying part can be accomplished by walking in.

Unfortunately, with all the teleport protection in the world, walls of force are depressingly necessary because of Passwall, Gaseous Form and Ethereal Jaunt. (Scrolls are incredibly cheap, relative to their spell counterparts. And we have to assume the budget for these crimes is at least 25% of the market value of the objects.

The minimum necessary infrastructure to assert "security" should be outer walls of force, then a prismatic wall, then another wall of force (with nice plastering and architecture glued to the outside, because there is such a thing as taste). The interior must absolutely be covered in an anti-magic field. (Treat this place like a diamond and enhanced uranium supermarket located in south-central Los Angeles that has daily specials on tritrium.) Thus, there are 4 "public" regions of the "store" with two critical private regions. The shop should be "open" 24 hours a day. First, because you never know when adventurers will need things, and second, it should always be operating on the same security footing.

The demilitarized pleasure garden and outdoor sales boutique

Public region 1: Outside the front steps. This should be a completely disposable bazaar where el-cheapo goods are hawked. You don't want to pass just anyone into your inner sanctum, and you need a demilitarized zone. (I recommend paying for a lovely garden with fountains). Put up as many detection wards as you can in public region 1, Be prepared to completely lose this zone to smash & grabs. (Remember passing adventurers need to see this place as a dungeon that's more profitable to pay for than to pillage. If you have less protections than the average dunegon with the stuff, than be prepared for "dungeon arbitrage" to occur as adventurers try to loot you instead of the dungeons.)

Still, it's a good way of unloading the "cheap stuff", generating goodwill, and establishing a defensive perimeter that isn't completely profitless. Also here is an important step of coming to an arrangement with the thieves' guild. This is effectively Morporkian Insurance, but do whatever it takes to have the guild agree to self-regulate when it comes to your shop. This will almost certainly cost money. Make sure it costs less than what you would otherwise lose from a successful burglary. (This whole setup., by the way, is why the whole idea of magical emporiums that aren't dungeons is rather silly.)

Zone 2: The mantrap tunnel and lounge

Zone 2 is your buffer zone. It contains the multiple walls of force and prismatic walls in an AMF and whatever alarms you can devise. Since Walls of Force are "one 10foot square per level" It should be quite possible to shape (and then plaster) these appropriately such that you have a tunnel leading in.

This tunnel (covered in the anti-magic fields. plural.) should be the only way into the "shop", and must be securable at both ends. It must be a mantrap, and at least one of the authentication factors must be a token (marked with wizard's mark, changed daily) handed to the entrant from outside, and the other should be a one-time use challenge phrase established with the creation of the token, manipulated by a secret known only to the token giver and never divulged. (of course keeping that secret secret is a challenge left to the players.)

Still, this allows for positive vetting to occur before people enter the tunnel and the doors (if made well) should be proof against most mundane manipulation without magic.

If possible, dress up the security vetting as a public service. Maybe serve coffee or something.

Don't forget, all this security should be a profit source. Don't be afraid to lease vaults and secure meeting rooms for an exorbitant monthly fee. This location should be proof against most scrying, and, when combined with positive identity vetting, is a service that many people should be willing to pay for, especially on guarenteed neutral ground.

Zone 3, Bar, bistro, and "look, but don't touch" gallery.

Public region 3 is the shop's main floor and should be the gallery of magic items (isolated from the purchasers by walls of force.). A purchaser may, of course, request to be taken down to the firing range (region 4) to examine the item. Again, make this place a profit center by providing a security-enhanced bar and bistro to make money off of the floor space by letting people use it as neutral ground.

The firing range

The firing range, unfortunately, cannot be covered by an anti-magic field, but should be part of the walls of force barrier-complex, separated by both a mantrap and a specific, isolated, system for passing items to prospective clients. Making sure that dupes aren't substituted is, as always, left as an exercise to the players, but having arcane marks on all items is a good first step, as an arcane mark (both visible and invisible) is theoretically impossible to forge (See: harry potter and the natural 20). Personally, the best way to do this is to provide the item (in exchange for a deposit plus one hundred gold). Then to offer the customer a coffee, a meal, and a lovely chat (don't forget to upsell consulting services) while identify is cast on the item before it's returned. I recommend making an item of identify, as this is something you'll be casting all the bloody time.

Your (extraplanar) Vault.

The fourth location is your "vault." Start by making an extraplanar space with genesis (power crystals are amazingly affordable when one considers the cost of losing all these valuables.). Items that you don't want to lose to disjunction, items being stored securely (did you know that goldsmiths often functioned as banks because of the quality of their vaults?) and personal quarters should be there. Most games require knowledge of the "key" (nominally a specific frequency or somesuch) to access specific extra-planar dimensions. If your game doesn't, go loot the plane of earth's infinite gem supply until it does.

Passive security provides enough time for the "guys with guns" to arrive. Without active defenses, all the passive defenses in the world are pointless.

At the end of the day, hire enough "guards" (however one operationalizes that term) such that you have an adequate response force for each zone. Your budget for each zone should be the replacement cost (less your profit margin) of the items in the zone.

How to secure goods "on a budget."

Unfortunately, 11th level (either of yourself or opponents) is where dedicated powerhouses who want to do a single thing "well" really start to shine.

Assuming that you cannot protect a location, protect people instead. Start by getting a number of portable holes and securing them on the person most resistant to pickpocketing (maximize their spot check). Make them resistant to potions of glibness as well (left for another question.) They are your vault, as you'll store everything but bags of holding in these portable holes. You won't have a "home base" that can be attacked when you're not there.

This won't protect you from scry and die, but it'll at least make your death personal.

In terms of showing off the items, make books. Each book should be a catalogue and gallery, and have a well secured "vault and firing range" where you can hand a specific item to someone without giving them access to the portable hole.

You are not making a "toy store" so don't pretend you are one.

How to secure against "high level magic thieves" as a Level 8 party

Step 1. Pour yourself a lovely drink. I'm going to detail my assumptions.

Assuming that we're doing location based security, the first thing to do is to establish loss-thresholds. The party should have a net value (assuming wealth by level is appropriate) of around 27,000*5=135k (assuming a 5 person party.)

As this is a plot-based location, in many ways, I will assume that it has a net value of 20% of their worth, separate from their net worth. (Value therefore of 27k) I will assume that it has items of value to take them to level 9, of approximately 45k sale value. I will assume that you've completely obliterated the "traditional economics" of D&D (long may they burn) and are allowing the players to sell goods at their "full" price.

I will assume the thieves' guild is rational, can do cost-benefit analyses, and doesn't have access to the wish economy. I will also assume that they scale with the PC's level, functionally being able to dedicate 2 attempts of a well stated 5-man team to attack the store, if it is profitable.

I will assume (mmm, so very many assumptions) that thieves take a discount when fencing goods (And that there are no suitable goods for thieves to steal that are of immediate value) of 75%. I will also assume that thieves are not willing to spend more than 25% of the gross, because they don't understand economies of scale and because plot.

Therefore:

Defense budget for the store: 27,000 gp, access to an "in-party" wizard that can make custom magic items for cash.

Maximum attack budget for the thieves: 8437.5 gp (utoh...)

The party of high-magic thieves (mainly because I've been watching leverage) consists of a Mastermind, hitter, "hacker" (wizard), thief, and grifter. Mastermind is , called "Nate." Illumian Archivist 1/Wizard 1/Theurge 3/Dweomerkeeper 2 Grifter "Sophie" Changeling Beguiler/7 Shadow Adept/1, Hitter, "Eliot" (Given that this is a retrieval specialist) Wizard/1 Binder/1 Anima Mage/6. Thief "Parker" factotum/8, Hacker Gnome Illusionist 5 /shadowcrafter 2/shadowcraft mage 1 (she'll be better in 2 levels).

Roughly speaking, they have 3 avenues of attack: The Con, the Lift, and the Hit.

Confidence games in 3.5 are ... boring. Sophie decides to go for a maximum risk bluff, basically that she's someone who can treble their money in a month because she'll be using this to fund a group of adventurers to assassinate red dragons. We'll be... charitable and provide a +20 bonus on the sense motive check. She'll cast glibness on herself for a +30 untyped bonus, they'll hire a psion to cast conceal thoughts for +10 circumstance. We'll say +5 from various and sundry bonuses and magic items. (probably low), so +45+12+4 = +61 versus sense motive of ... +20.

The PC invests the shop, pausing only to let sophie bluff the rest of the group.

I honestly have no idea how to buff sense motive by +51 with less than 20k of resources. (Probably a good question for the site.) Let's ... assume that... sophie is having a bad hair day and just won't run a con because the entire subsystem is boring.

We'll ignore the hit, as that's combat and... well within the rules of normal combat.

This leaves the lift.

Pay someone to cast ethereal jaunt (doesn't trigger alarm), gives huge bonuses to hiding. Use ghost touch gauntlets to lift physical items into a pouch of holding (if necessary, coated in ghost touch oil). Leave when you have all the best loot. Shrink item as necessary.

Thus, the building has to be proof against trivial entry. It must have seamless metal walls (at the very least) to block passwall. (A few castings of wall of iron settles that nicely.) Zone of Respite (Spell compendium) protects against all of these things, Sor/wis 5, ... for minutes. Zone of Revelation is also a useful counter against invisibility. I would ask my players to agree on a house rule allowing these to be made permanent (with the understanding that enemies will use these techniques). I'd still keep everything in a secret chest and keep the chest token on the PCs, but it's a worthwhile protection method.

Combine the two, with a good authentication scheme to allow access inside and a catalogue of offerings (pricey magic items by appointment only, the item price needs to be posted to a third party as escrow),

While it's not amazing, it'll be proof against most boring instant-win attacks at level 8 (that don't use skills) and a reason to structure adventures around the thieves' guild. (We'll set aside the use of dispel magic to just ignore all of these protections. And we'll set aside the use of a hand drill to get through the walls.)

share|improve this answer
6  
You make a lot of good points here, but I feel like you're sort of going overboard with a lot of it. Your "minimum necessary infrastructure" costs about 24000 gp for each 10-foot square section of wall. You also talk about covering large sections of area constantly with Anti-magic Fields, which is even more costly given that there is no way to make permanent Anti-magic Fields (in the RAW, at least). All of the specific defenses in this answer seems like "given infinite funds" things, and not "practical solution" things. –  DuckTapeAl Sep 3 '13 at 7:01
    
As DuckTapeal said, this is simply too pricey to be practical. That said, your first paragraph is worth a +1 all on its own. –  GMJoe Sep 3 '13 at 7:56
3  
The answer to "On a budget" is "Don't." I have a 12th level wizard who I feel comfortably certain could take down Brian's defenses in ~7 days worth of research and effort (Which is entirely enough for the Guys with Guns to show up, so he can't get in) and that's only him, without bringing his friends. –  medivh Sep 3 '13 at 8:23
1  
Wow. Epic answer. Not that a I play D&D so didn't understand the details but still a very interesting answer just in terms of thought processes. I especially like the observation that D&D is set up to have people break into secure/dangerous places and the concept of "dungeon arbitrage". –  Chris Sep 3 '13 at 15:20
2  
@Tridus: Very true, but the SBG is 3.0 content. If you have access to the Stronghold Builders Guide, that might change things a bit. –  DuckTapeAl Sep 4 '13 at 0:57

If the primary concern is break-ins from a thieves' guild competent enough to overcome any traps that will be placed, that thieves' guild is competent enough to bypass any creatures employed to keep the place secure. Further, that implies competence enough to subvert the wills of any of the shop's employees, to use scrying spells to gain knowledge of the destination, and to use teleport spells to enter and exit.

So the shop's a sieve, and there's pretty much nothing that can be done about that. This is an actual shop, not a fortress (for which there are different rules), so it's not the shop that needs protecting. It's the inventory.

Depending on the degree of deception you want to undertake, the easiest deterrent's usually the best: cast Nystul's magic aura [illus] (PH 257-8) on a rock, setting the rock's aura at overwhelming. Put in in a glass box to prevent handling. Put box of rock on a podium in the store's center. Hang a sign on the podium reading, "Vecna's Stone of Thief-death: Those who steal from this establishment contract an incurable wasting disease and die in 3 days of old age."

That means your thieves will only be A) immune to disease or B) immortal. That should, at least, narrow it down if anything goes missing.

I find the spell dragoneye rune [div] (Dragon Magic 66) absurdly powerful, but it's a permanent Sor/Wiz2 spell that slaps your mark on something and thrice per day as a swift action you know sort of where it is. There's no material component and no limit to the number of things a lone caster can put it on. Use the dragoneye rune spell on everything in the shop. In the morning before the shop opens have unseen servants take inventory. Find missing things using the rune. Find thieves. Make examples.

To go second party real quick, the Sor/Wis5 spell globular hoard [trans] (Dragons of Krynn 151) turns a pile of stuff into a solid mass of stuff, so taking one thing means taking everything, and if one of those things is, like, a barrel of anvils or something, nobody has the teleport or carrying capacity to make it move. However, the spell's author forgot to make it dismissable.

Now, if the thieves are really smart, they steal only permanent magic items, unload the biggest dispel magic on those items they can, and keep doing that until but one aura remains. However, if they've those kinds of resources, no amount of loss prevention will prevent loss.

So go sideways.

The stuff on the shelves are distractions. Get an enveloping pit (Magic Item Compendium 159). Cover that in magical traps. Keep the really valuable stuff in there. The really good stuff requires the potential buyer to climb down a super deep pit to look at the stuff. By appointment only. At the end of the day, fold it up and keep that safe. It's easier to keep track of one thing than dozens.

And, although the space inside an enveloping pit isn't scrying-proof, it is teleport-proof, solving scry-and-die's latter issue without the hazards of lead paint to solve the former.

I also suggest becoming mayor. I mean, really, once the town's magic shop's secure, the thieves' guild will be pissed anyway, and you might as well be in charge if the town's thieves want your spleen. That way zoning issues, eminent domain, and other bureaucratic hassles are nullified, and you've a city watch to do your bidding.

share|improve this answer

A short answer, but the player's might consider contracting with the top level crime syndicate itself. Instead of investing tens of thousands of gp around defenses that may or may not work while they are away, they could, in effect, pay a smaller 'protection tax' over time direct to the organization they are worried about. Word (should) also get out to lower level guilds or miscellaneous rogues that their place is under protection and it will be (mostly) left alone, at least from the real heavy-hitters. Cost of doing business...

For extremely valuable items, if the party is away for awhile, Leomund's Secret Chest might be ideal if they have access to the spell. Spells like Glyphs of Warding, Fire Traps, Sepia Snake Sigil, maybe even Mordenkainen's Faithful Hound could also be useful.

I don't think you are going to be able to stop a determined attacker with anything short of a hired army while you are away, so the important things will be to

  1. Try to negotiate to prevent a determined attack from happening
  2. Make sure if it does, the best items are unavailable
  3. Buffer with some guards and other magic wards to dissuade anyone less determined.*

*Since you don't want anything harmful going off on 'some kid who has wandered into the basement', you probably want these kinds of devices to be of a non-lethal variety or behind a locked door or guard that would block a wanderer.

share|improve this answer
    
A definite +1 for suggesting using roleplaying / politics to defuse a possible situation instead of just gold. There are actually a lot of ways to influence a thieves guild (or any other organization for that matter) in a game. –  Louis Huppenbauer Dec 12 '13 at 21:21

I do know of some spells that could help you. In Cityscape there is a Detect Weaponry spell that works like other detect spells (detect evil, etc.) but detects even mundane weapons, so no one can sneak in with a hidden dagger. There is also a Zone of Peace spell that prevents anyone in it from drawing weapons. These can be used during the day to keep armed robbers at bay.

From Races of Destiny there is a 3rd level Wizard spell called Phantom Guardians that might be useful. It creates a group of minor images that look like guards of your choosing (make them look like city guards or some hired muscle) and can be given basic orders like "patrol the area" or "stand guard by the front door".

As for keeping the place locked tight, a Hold Portal spell with the Persistent Spell metamagic feat from Complete Arcane could keep windows and doors closed, but would take a large number of 7th level spell slots. Otherwise your best bet would be the Arcane Lock spell. But of course these methods are easily bypassed by a rogue with a wand of knock or wand of dispel magic, and any good thief rogue would have one or both and the UMD check to use them without fail.

My final suggestion should the above methods fail is building some constructs to guard the interior at night. However since the party is only level 8 most constructs would be out of their reach, at least ones that are good combatants. I would point out the Effigy Creature from Complete Arcane, and the Iron Defender and other Homunculus creatures from Eberron Campaign Setting.

share|improve this answer
3  
One wonders if it would be possible to design a custom "zone of NO STEALING" spell. –  GMJoe Sep 3 '13 at 4:56
2  
@GMJoe Probably, based on Zone of Truth or such. Course, then you just need thieves who can make a will save. Would be pretty good against shoplifters I think. –  Tridus Sep 3 '13 at 12:21

Observer constructs are your friends. Take small pieces of bric-a-brac and turn them into tiny golems and other creatures that might not even qualify for golem status. You will keep these at various locations in your store.

In the showroom, your constructs caper about and do silly stunts for the clients. This helps put the clients at ease, which keeps the place inviting, but it also lets them interact with people up-close to get better descriptions, because the real job is to describe intruders. Clowns, caricatures, and anthropomorphic animals make good shapes for this kind of construct.

In the backroom, your constructs hide as best they can while still observing unauthorized intruders. Mice and bats are good shapes for these. They'll have to observe from a distance, so their descriptions won't be as good, but they're the ones most likely to make it through an encounter with thieves.

In the basement/vault, your constructs stay very still: you WANT burglars to steal them. Then, when the coast is clear (as best as a golem can determine), they can escape and report back to you. Fine statuettes and works of art -things that people expect to be enchanted- are good shapes here. You might even want to consider fake figurines of wondrous power.

There really aren't any rules for creating constructs of this type, because the rules generally assume that when you create constructs, you want them to fight. What I'm talking about will be much smaller and more fragile -most probably shouldn't survive being stepped on- and so they should probably be cheaper to make.

share|improve this answer
    
I'm not sure mechanically how I'd handle this in game, but +1 for a conceptually neat answer. –  Tridus Sep 17 '13 at 23:04
    
I had considered a dungeon that used small little stone 'eyes' (basically a security camera set in the wall that looked like a beholder eye and tracked motion) Cams on Lower levels would start 'painting' characters with laser dots ;) –  TysoThePirate Sep 18 '13 at 14:58

Here's what the players decided to do.

They had a ring made with Rope Trick 2/day (at CL 9, so 9 hour duration on each one). At the end of the day, one of the staff uses that item and they move the most valuable items into it, then pull the rope up. The staffer stays in there overnight.

Oddly enough Rope Trick lets you have eight creatures of any sizes in it, but doesn't mention anything about space. So we need to use a bit of creative ruling and fill in the blanks for it, but they're only storing a relatively small number of high value items up there so it works alright.

Obviously this isn't perfect security at all, but they're happy enough with it for the cost. Thus far, no robberies have occurred. :)

share|improve this answer

protected by Brian Ballsun-Stanton Mar 26 at 10:47

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality answers, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site.

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.