For our next session I'm considering making robbing an artifact from a noble the central event of the quest. However, I'm not quite sure how to go about this as I've never actually played or seen a question that focused on a heist. Here's some of the problems I plan to throw at them:

  • How to remain undetected. Disguise, invisibility potion, magical deception, etc.
  • Finding and taking the item in question.
  • Dealing with guards and traps as swiftly and silently as possible.
  • Making their escape should there be some sort of alarm that blows their cover.

My group doesn't mind combat, but what they really enjoy are interesting decisions and roleplaying. I'll probably present them with a few potential ways to conceal themselves, as well as a challenge to learn as much as they can about what they'll have to deal with BEFORE they actually enter the mansion. As for complications I figure I'll throw in some guards and maybe a trap or two. I'm not sure exactly how to run the grand escape, but I'll probably frame it as a combat encounter where their goal is to get past the enemy instead of defeating them.

Does anyone else whose run robbery scenarios have any suggestions? Are there any good examples online? How can I add some good twists to keep the player's interested and on their toes?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Didn't you want to write "take possession of" instead of "robbing"? \$\endgroup\$
    – Stephen
    Nov 6, 2011 at 18:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ What system are you planning to utilize? \$\endgroup\$
    – Chuck Dee
    Nov 6, 2011 at 19:53
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @wraith808 our imagination is the system. The only numbers on their character sheets are their speed and health, and we've never rolled a single die yet. I'm primarily looking for ideas in terms of what challenges they should face, not what numbers we should be using. :D \$\endgroup\$ Nov 7, 2011 at 0:49

5 Answers 5


A good and effective robbery that isn't a typical adventurer's smash and grab has a number of components:

  • Recon
  • Infilitration
  • Securing the Objective
  • Exfiltration

These are all interesting and present exciting role-playing opportunities. Player may choose to preemptively plan or to assert that they have planned off-camera and make it up as they go along. The making it up as they go along must presume a plan off-camera, to explain the sudden appearance of resources that would have otherwise been available if they had planned it. This is, in many ways, recommended because so many players are so horrible at planning. Most players plans' presume that everything will go right and are entirely too "step 1, step 2, step 3" (to quote Pournelle). That kind of brittle plan will not function well in a robbery.

Instead, a resilient plan articulating objectives and resources and opposition will be far more effective in securing the objective. This sort of plan can be worked out after-the-fact, and supports a "I planned for this!" style of scenario (within limits). In a 4e sense, it may be worth running a skill challenge to plan which will give items and/or resources (from a diminishing supply) to rolls within the sneak. I would suggest against running a robbery as a skill challenge for the same reasons I would recommend against running an adventure as a skill challenge: the scope is wrong.

Recon is a matter of bluff, subterfuge, and misdirection. It is critical that the players learn that they cannot simply hit the place with "a bigger hammer" (Ringo) and have to use a sneak to accomplish their goals. The recon must also identify or allow the players to identify weak points. Instead of presenting players with a single route in and out, describe what the players learn about the various security systems in place (sentients count as a security system). While designing this, make sure to include some places where the defenses are weak and strong. Try to put yourself in the mindset of the designer and articulate what threats the system is set up to defend against. If it's strong against stealth approaches, it's probably weaker against a bluff approach. If the system is strong in all areas, be prepared for your players to give up.

Infiltration is a matter of successfully identifying weak points from recon and then systematically compromising them. Make sure that one failed roll will not effectively TPK the party, perhaps by having the alarm sounded via Big Red Buttons on the walls, and otherwise mostly isolating encounters and patrols. (Of course, if the players are stupid enough to leave bodies lying around then the "guys with guns" are called and it's game over.)

Securing the objective can be as easy or complex as you want it to be. Remember that no security system is perfect, and all locks are rated for time. If you want it to be more combatty, have the functional equivalent of a drill that needs to be defended from waves of patrols. If the point of the exercise is the infiltration and exfiltration, make the securing of the objective that much easier.

Exfiltration is, in many ways, the hardest part. A security system looks very different pointed the other direction, and at least some components of the system will be on alert due to flubbed rolls earlier. Good players will have alternate routes out of the security systems (teleporting is cheating, but can be an fun cheat so long as it takes effort to suborn the teleport-denial components) and this is also a fun time to have multiple countdowns going. The artifact could be a load bearing boss (warning, TVTropes), along with the various alarms being triggered and/or reset based on the various security breaches. Having everyone scrambling to escape and or get the artifact for themselves is a fascinating and tension-provoking exit, as is the "silent exfiltration" in the case of replacing the artifact with a good enough imitation and making sure that enough security systems remain quiet for the switch to not be noticed.

For systems to get inspiration from, take a look at:

  • Leverage (It's about doing interesting robberies. It has plenty of stuff to steal for your game, especially the post-hoc plan feeling)
  • Mouseguard: It presents ways to deal with and create complications. For a stealth game, the complications are the interesting component.

I ran a thieves guild campaign several years ago. The players spent a lot of time planning their heists. Like, more time planning the heists than running the heists. Eventually, I stopped prepping in advance. I let them speculate about the obstacles they'd face and I wrote down the good ones. I also wrote down the ones they thought they solved but whose solution I thought was inadequate. Then when it came time to play the heist, I threw those obstacles back at the players. It worked marvelously.


Innocent bystanders

I would include innocent bystanders in the escape. People have a habit of freezing to the spot, getting in the way or doing silly things under pressure.

Have the artefact go on tour

If you wanted to make the robbery a little different, you could have the artefact leave the security of its home. For example, a magical religious item would be used in a temple. By moving the object, the players will be forced to think on their feet rather than plan in detail because with movement comes uncertainty.

Have traps on the box

You can always add traps to a box if you're going to move it around.

Have someone else steal it at the same time (or first)

The players arrive, it's gone! Or the players arrive and there is another group of adveturers there to steal it too. A bit Monty Python's Life of Brian but could be fun nonetheless.

The artefact is a myth

The artefact doesn't actually exist but the only person who knows this is the noble. When the players go to steal it, the realise that all the protection is for an empty box. This makes the artefact an idea, which might put them into a bargaining position with the noble.

What happens to the artefact after?

Can the PCs sell it or is it too obvious/valuable? Does the noble have any enemies that might want it as a trophy?


John Wick's espionage game, Wilderness of Mirrors has some innovative mechanics that codify the idea of taking what the players prepare for and turning it into the job.

From the blurb:

Wilderness of Mirrors is a spy-playing game that turns the very things that make the spy genre work into game mechanics.

Planning Players take an active part in designing the adventure with "intelligence reports" that define the mission parameters.

Expertise No character needs skills or feats to recreate the expertise of your favorite agents.

Trust When characters betray the group or compromise the mission's security, they are rewarded by the game master.

These and other game mechanics provide you with all the tools you need to play the spy game you've always wanted. Use them alone or patch them on to your favorite game system to give it the spice it so desperately needs.


Might sound a little Cheesy but build where the item is to be stored (well a model of it)

So that players can add details as needed Cardboard standies would work well for guards and the like


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