This happened in a multisession one-shot (a game that only consists of one arc/mission/goal that spans multiple sessions) a while ago. It is advertised as a heist mission, thus generally you'll pick rogue and other utility spellcaster that deals with stealth and social interaction. I asked whether there will be combat, and the DM said yes, if you failed your stealth or if the situation calls for it, but all of them can be avoided.

I figured that there will be plenty utility character, but most will not be geared to combat. So, in case rolls gone wrong, I picked a champion fighter, mainly to add durability and as a frontliner. Note that the players picked their own characters without knowing the other characters. They picked all utility spells as wizard and sorcerer, and almost no combat spell or cantrip.

The game involves social interactions to gather information, scouting the treasure room, before finally executing the heist. There are bad rolls, but "fortunately" the heist went rather smoothly. Everyone is happy, but it leaves me slightly disappointed, like I've chosen a wrong character for this mission.

To be clear, I enjoy RP-ing my character during the sessions. However, upon knowing that the other characters are not combat geared, I can't ask my DM (between session) for combat when they roll badly.

I've talked to my DM about this after the game concludes, but he explained that the rest of the party are not suitable for combat, thus he tried to minimize (and actually remove) combat. He doesn't know how to create a combat scene without jeopardizing the rest of the group with TPK. I don't have suggestion either, so I let it slide because the game is already done.

However, I'd like to learn from this situation and prepare when I have such stealth mission with only one combat ready character.

How can I best design a combat encounter with only one combat-ready character, that is a fighter or barbarian (no utility outside combat), without endangering the rest of the group in a stealth mission (like a heist)?

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    \$\begingroup\$ I would challenge that a Fighter or Barbarian has no utility outside of combat. Being Strong is hecka-useful. Hand them a Crowbar and they can open all sorts of things for you, oppose the party with a Very Heavy Door and the big guy gets called to move it, have isolated guards that need to be stuffed in a closet and your big guy does the tying and stuffing. Having a huge terrifying person looming over your shoulder is all kinds of useful when the Social Tank is trying to Intimidate someone. And so on... \$\endgroup\$ Oct 5, 2018 at 20:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ @guildsbounty yes, but brute-forcing usually means a lot of noise that is counterproductive to stealth. \$\endgroup\$
    – Vylix
    Oct 5, 2018 at 20:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ which is exactly why a smart fantasy vault builder will design the vault with parts that require significant force to bypass. So the 'we are super sneaky' team runs into this heavy stone door and can't budge it...while the actual owner has a couple burly thugs responsible for opening the door for him. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 5, 2018 at 20:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Vylix not always. Brute forcing a locked door makes a lot of noise. Brute forcing a body on the ground to a better hiding place is a lot quieter for someone who is strong than someone who's weak and needs a full pulley system to effect. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 5, 2018 at 21:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ What the? I just don't get why this question is being voted to close. There are hundreds of similar questions on the site that we deal with with no problem what-so-ever. Handling a non-stealthly character in a stealth-based mission is a very common and sufficiently tightly scoped problem with the system tag. It's also something that can easily be answered with experience \$\endgroup\$
    – Wibbs
    Oct 5, 2018 at 21:31

6 Answers 6


Emphasize stealth by changing the goal of combat.

During your heist, change up the usual combat objective from "defeat all opponents" to "subdue or silence all opponents before they can raise the alarm." Now, even relatively weak opponents can challenge the party, because they need to be stopped quickly and quietly. The supporting casters can take a role by casting spells like Silence to prevent the sounds of combat from reaching other patrols, or Grease to prevent runners from going for reinforcements. A Rogue could attempt to snatch a guard's war horn before he can use it to raise the alarm. And all the while, the combat-focused character can be doing the heavy lifting, knocking out or killing opponents.

I would keep the enemies relatively weak. Make it clear that the real threat is in allowing an alarm to be raised rather than having the party's HP reduced to 0. Hopefully, this keeps combat tense and exciting, gives an active role to the Fighter as the main bruiser, and keeps the more stealth-oriented characters engaged (without threatening their lives) as they think of ways to prevent the guards from raising an alarm until the Fighter takes them down.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This. Exactly this. Combat should be a means to an end rather than a goal in and of itself. \$\endgroup\$
    – Joe Bloggs
    Oct 6, 2018 at 11:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ While generally brilliant advice, in this case it leads to the additional problem of what happens if the alarm IS sounded. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Oct 8, 2018 at 10:03

There's a problem in that the fighter can't be up-front without compromising party stealth. Possible ways to handle that include:

  • Suggest that the players should bring a multi-classed fighter, who can be stealthy, although he'll be limited in what armour he can use on the mission.

  • A mission where the fighter has a legitimate reason for being openly present, and only starts helping the rest of the party if they get spotted.

  • A mission where the best way to make the intrusion easy is to have a very loud distraction nearby. Many players will enjoy the need to be loud and obvious, probably drunken, maybe riotous. Just don't kill or cripple anyone, and try not to get thrown in the drunk tank, because people may well figure out afterwards that you were a deliberate distraction.


However, upon knowing that the other characters are not combat geared, I can't ask my DM (between session) for combat when they roll badly.

Why not?

Players had a choice and they made it. Adapting the adventure in this way makes their choice meaningless.

As a DM, I would acknowledge that they are not combat-ready, and then make them suffer for it. Let them feel that they left out vital skills and focussed too narrowly. Reward their choice in the area they made as well - don't artifically make it more difficult just because they picked well. But if the situation calls for combat, let there be combat and that they didn't pick fighting skills was their choice, now it's their job to come up with a solution.


Make Strength Matter

There's a litany of things you can do to effect this, but most of them have less to do with combat and more to do with what you can do with strength. This is sort of frame challenge to your question a bit, but I think it better helps you. Consider the following possibilities wherein someone focused on strength can achieve more than dexterous rogues and cunning wizards:

  • When it comes to moving heavy things, someone is going to be able to do such a task much more easily and more quietly if they are stronger. For example, suppose you need to lift a boulder that's in the way, or even better, haul a body. It's a lot easier to do this for an extended duration with a high strength score.
  • Consider that when it comes to pushing through a dense crowd, a bulky powerful character is likely to be better able to do this task than someone who has a slighter frame. This could be important if there's a risk of the group getting separated by a stampede of people. https://i.imgur.com/J5gyauS.mp4
  • Direct combat is unlikely to net you much in the way of things that a fighter will do better than a rogue for the purposes of quiet burst damage. However, there are things in combat that could be done, which are often more useful than damage that a strength based character will be more effective, such as holding open a portcullis, blocking up a door, or something of the like. In general, when it comes to being an effective barrier, strength beats dexterity.
  • Although the rules don't permit grappling to prevent speaking, that doesn't mean as the DM you can't alter them to suit that goal. Have your team stealthily sneak up on a guard and have the group's fighter grapple them; coupled with a DM ruling to prevent the guard from shouting, the party can eliminate that guard from the equation that is their heist. Also, don't forget that shoving someone off a wall is a lot more likely to succeed than with strength than with dex.
  • Lastly, and perhaps most importantly. Loot is heavy. Gonna need some someone with a strong back to maximize your rate of return on this heist as you're not likely to be making more than one trip in and out.

As a general rule, I wouldn't necessarily permit combat in the traditional sense. The situations I described above you don't necessarily need (or want) to roll initiative for. Let the party describe what they want to do and have them roll for it where it's appropriate.


DM as D&D life coach: how make a stealthy Front Line Fighter

Everyone is happy, but it leaves me slightly disappointed, like I've chosen a wrong character for this mission.

To help a future player avoid your problem, you can learn from this and emphasize the nature of the mission. If that still puzzles your player, you can teach them how to build a stealthy fighter. Part of a DM's role includes 'coach' if you are concerned about your players having fun. Good DM's coach their players where the occasion calls for it.

My suggestion to you is to discuss with your fighter a rebuild that makes the fit into a stealthy party easier for everyone. (You can view this as a frame challenge if you like. The reason I am tempted to challenge the frame of your question is that this approach is a lot less work for you than an adventure redesign. Granted, the player has to show an interest in doing this; it never hurts to ask).

My Champion Fighter has the feat Medium Armor Master and a Dexterity of 16. He also has proficiency in Stealth. The feat allows you to add 3, rather than 2, points of the dexterity AC bonus to your armor class in Medium armor. More importantly, it negates the disadvantage on Stealth attempts that medium armor, like scale or Half Plate, normally accrues.

For example:
AC with Half Plate and Shield (dex 11 or less) : 15 +2 = 17
AC with Half Plate and Shield(16 Dex) no feat: (15+2) +2 = 19
AC with Half Plate and Shield (16 Dex) yes feat: (15+3) + 2= 20
That's as good as full plate and shield, and has no stealth penalty.
At a lower level, Scale mail is more affordable:
AC with Scale and Shield (dex 11 or less) : 14 +2 = 16
AC with Scale and Shield(16 Dex) no feat: (14+2) +2 = 18
AC with Scale and Shield (16 Dex) yes feat: (14+3) + 2= 19

If this same Champion makes the decision to multiclass one level of Rogue, he can choose expertise in Stealth. That makes his stealthiness better.

You now have a fighter who can sneak around with your other quiet party mates, and who is able to perform as that melee front liner that you might need for such an adventure.

At level six or seven, the difference in ability checks for stealth is:
1d20 +3(dex)+3 proficiency = +6
With that one level of Rogue multiclass
1d20 +3(dex) +6 (double proficiency) = +9

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    \$\begingroup\$ "Rebuild the fighter to be a stealth infiltration guy" doesn't really seem to answer the question. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mark Wells
    Oct 6, 2018 at 0:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MarkWells suggest you look at the meta on how to "challenge the frame" of a question. I even mention the frame challenge up front). It's less work to do that than what is being asked. But it does require the agreement of the player to work. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 6, 2018 at 2:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MarkWells If you look at the problem statement, it is very clear that the problem is "but I picked the wrong character to play" or "I felt like I picked the wrong character to play." I pulled that text out, for your benefit and for anyone else's who may have missed that part of the question. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 6, 2018 at 2:16

Main uses of a fighter in a stealth mission:

  • As "plan B" if things go wrong. "Unfortunately", things didn't go wrong in your case.
  • Brute strength is useful for opening / carrying things (as others have mentioned)
  • You can have encounters with opponents that won't raising an alarm - alligators, snakes, enchanted statues - it's a fantasy world, adding weird things is easy!
  • For intimidation. When the huge guy with an axe tells you not to raise an alarm, you don't scream.

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