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Table Warning

Kat and KH, if you're reading look away; this has major spoilers for our game.

Backstory

I'm currently DMing a homebrew 5e campaign. My players are unraveling the Mystery of the Missing Cargo, which is basically a convoluted, fleshed out game of Knight Knave Normal. There are three ships in the harbor, cargo is going missing and they're all varying levels of eager to help the PCs figure out what's going on.

As a red herring, the knaves are making it out that mermaids are stealing the cargo by seeding dropped scales, "mermaid sightings" and more. The knaves will eventually turn out to be stealing cargo for the local thieves guild and pointing fingers elsewhere to keep the heat off their backs, but I'd like to disguise that fact for a while longer.

My players are currently having a great time following the mermaid trail, and are planning on camping out on one of the ships (the knights, as it turns out) to see if they can spot anything.

My idea was for the knaves to have a high level spell caster aboard (it's already been established that they have some pretty high level crew) who is helping maintain the illusion. I'd like some kind of effect that will serenely blank out the night's activities, without alerting the PCs that magic has been preformed upon them. There are actual mermaids (there's a whole sub plot involving them that the PCs are just starting to crack into) and they've already had a run in with Charm, which I've slightly modified to act as a "siren song" effect.

What I Need

My players are both level 4's, and one's a half-elf who has

advantage on saving throws against being Charmed, and magic can’t put you to sleep.

Neither specializes in magic beyond basic cantrips. (One's a ranger/cleric, the other has chosen to go full tank and knows no magic).

I need some way for them to be "distracted" while on watch, allowing the knaves to slip aboard and make off with cargo. Ideally, this would be subtle and not alert the PCs that anything was out of the ordinary. It's also acceptable to have your solution point fingers at the mermaids being the culprits.

Requiring a save is fine as long as it's highly unlikely they'll make it; a little bit of danger keeps it fun ;)

I'm open to existing spells, methods of disguise, illusions... anything that won't alert the PCs. Bonus points if you can show me a loophole/problem that the PCs could pick up on if they were looking for it. I'll accept answers straight from the book, or tested homebrew.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This is an interesting question and scenario, we'd love to help you out but as it is, the question is just too broad for the site's format. Why don't you hop on over to Role-playing Games Chat, and ask there. Or, you could try a forum \$\endgroup\$ – daze413 Jun 21 '17 at 4:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ @daze413 If I already got the answer I was looking for, is it okay to just accept it? Timi gave me exactly the rundown I was looking for and I'd like to thank them via rep. \$\endgroup\$ – Alex Jun 21 '17 at 12:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ Spoilers added to assist in keeping player eyes from this nefarious plot by the DM. 8^D \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jun 21 '17 at 16:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ @daze413: Closure/holding doesn't affect acceptance or other answer voting at all. \$\endgroup\$ – user17995 Jun 21 '17 at 17:21
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The spell Telekinesis could be of help here. The caster could stand quite far away and move the cargo from right behind them. Obviously, there is the chance that someone is facing the wrong way and can catch the wizard in the act.

Another way could be to use Dimension Door. It is a teleportation spell that can move the caster to the cargo, take the cargo, and take him back. This also does fail if a PC is facing the wrong way. To solve this, the caster could use Alter Self to appear as a mermaid, but would have to find some way of explaining how a mermaid is walking on land.

If the caster is really high level, they could use the Wish spell to instantly move the cargo from there to somewhere else. There is no flaw in this, but the caster may not be able to cast wish again afterwards for the 33% spell forget rule.

Rope Trick is also a possibility. It creates an invisible extradimensional space that lasts an hour. A knave could walk into the place (possibly under invisibility or alter self or a standard disguise kit), kick a box into the dimension and leave, and then come back when its all clear to retrieve this.

The next thing to consider is your basic illusion. There are many types, but Major Illusion is pretty nice. It can create the moving image of a mermaid that runs away with a box. Your PCs will most likely chase the illusion (not bothering to investigate it because why would you?) and then the knaves can go in and nick the real cargo.

Invisibility is another option, although it must be cast again when they are carrying everything in order to sneak out with it all again. The caster must also make a hide check with Stealth, to try and beat your PCs passive perception in order to not be heard. As you are the DM, fudge this roll and of course the caster beats their Passive Perception.

You have already mentioned the sleep spell, so the very last thing I can think of is the Time Stop spell. This 9th level spell allows a caster to move freely, outside of time, for 4 rounds. During this time, she could easily run in and grab a few boxes before getting out. If it comes to it, she could also cast invisibility if she is taking too long getting out.

Sorry, I haven't included any page references for the spells as there are too many to reference, but they are all capitalised properly and italicised so it shouldn't be too hard looking into any ideas you like the sound of.

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A Fog Cloud, cast at a slightly higher level, would probably provide enough concealment in order to haul off the cargo.

If that's not enough, having someone cast Thaumaturgy to provide further distraction, audible (perhaps the sound of someone falling overboard nearby) or visual (a sudden flash of light in the opposite direction) would provide a plausible occurrence and likely enough to distract the players.

Being in a harbor, waiting for a natural event to occur, such as a storm with heavy rain and lightning, or even a lunar eclipse, might also work. Many harbors naturally fill with fog, especially if they're in a sheltered location with little to no winds.

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Just make them invisible with the Invisibility spell. The cargo they steal will become invisible as well:

Anything the target is wearing or carrying is invisible as long as it is on the target's person.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This only works with what is being worn or carried when the spell is cast. If any item is picked up, it remains visible, and this includes items that were invisible, dropped, and then picked up again. \$\endgroup\$ – Timi Jun 21 '17 at 0:56

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