I will soon be running the one-shots from Keys from the Golden Vault in order as a "campaign".

These missions are all set up like heists and, while they obviously favor stealth, I don't want to pigeonhole my players into all making stealth builds. The players have made their lvl 1 characters already and one isn't all that stealthy (they are playing an Artificer), but I don't want to run the game in such a way that would constantly punish them for it.

I realize that they won't have the right skill set for every situation, so what can I do to showcase their role without giving them "plot stealth"?


6 Answers 6


Not everyone needs to be stealthy

I alluded to this in this other answer. Just because you're not the one sneaking into steal something, doesn't mean you're not helping advance the plan.

Think Mission: Impossible

A party only really needs one person to sneak in, steal a thing, and get out. Any more is good for back up but also is another point of failure. Despite what all the memes say, sometimes it's okay to split the party.

So other than the infiltrator(s), what about the rest of the party?


There are two guards standing watch over a door. Do you really need every party member to get past them? Of course not! Instead, have one or two party members create a commotion that draws the guards attention away from the door giving everyone else an easy pass.

  • Start a fight (or some other commotion)
  • Ask annoying questions
  • Perform a petty crime nearby
  • Put on an impromptu play or display of talent to interest people

And the distraction does not have to be next to the door. It could be across town but needs "all hands on deck" meaning fewer guards to deal with on the mission. Which leads into the next topic...

Removing obstacles

Guards are going to be a major obstacle, but so are normal NPC witnesses, traps, physical barriers, and so on. Anything that a PC can do to remove obstacles can help the overall party's goals. This includes:

  • Bribery
  • Creating keys for locks
  • Casting spells to shape wood, stone, metal
  • Animal Handling guard beasts
  • Food poisoning the guards so they are either not available or not at their best.


Spell casters will excel here but anyone can help in this factor.

  • Disguise self repeatedly to confuse witnesses
  • Silent/Major Image spells to cover areas so people can sneak under cover
    • Fog cloud and darkness can also work in some situations
  • Kidnapping and dressing up as key personnel to let party members enter restricted areas
  • Creating false documents


This should primarily happen before the caper, but since people can't plan for everything, you'll need someone to do quick research to bypass a problem.

  • Decipher a sigil that might be a clue
  • Have answers to questions if someone is confronted
  • Get blueprints to a building
  • Learn who has items that are needed (keys, information, tools, passwords, etc)

Coordination / Communication

Now that the party is ready to pull off the heist, one of the most important characters are going to be the person that coordinates everything. No matter how well planned, the dice rolls will fail you at least once. When that happens, you'll need at least one person that can quickly communicate changes and new information to everyone.

That can be spells like message and Rary's telepathic bond, features like race or class based telepathy, communicating through familiars or pets. It could be any combination too.

The sorcerer casts message to tell the Great Old One warlock who uses the Awakened Mind to tell the wizard to communicate with their familiar which gives a signal to the Totem Barbarian that has speak with animals who then walks over to the cleric to tell them to ring the church bell so the fighter can pick a fight with the guards which is the signal for the rogue to sneak in the window.

In the end

Everyone can contribute to the caper. There may not even be any stealth required depending on the plan.

  • 12
    \$\begingroup\$ I want to play in your games! \$\endgroup\$
    – Wyrmwood
    Apr 12 at 20:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ Agree, 1 or 2 PCs infiltrate feels more authentic & I like your creative ideas for alternate contributions. But they're mostly either Preparation Help -or- Entry/Exit Help, which can still leave an extended mid-mission period where the rogue is playing alone. - But D&D is usually more fun when the players are discovering and solving the problems together in real-time... to this end, can you suggest ways for more of the solutions/rolls to actually occur mid-mission, such as the flashback mechanic mentioned below? (maybe a benefactor loans them a pair of linked Handy Haversacks) \$\endgroup\$ Apr 13 at 22:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ @retriever123, 1) There are times to let a single character shine based on their unique talent. And it's not always the rogue. Not every "heist" is Detect Traps/Pick Locks. Sometimes the best person for the job is more straight forward, like having a Noble background so they understand customs at a formal ball and can blend in. Or a bard that can smooth talk their way into an adjoining building for access. Or the Wizard that can shape walls to let their familiar grab the treasure. Maybe it's the barbarian muscle enforcer that "encourages" an inside person to do the job for them. \$\endgroup\$
    – MivaScott
    Apr 14 at 19:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ @retriever123, 2) If you're talking the homebrew of "flashbacks", very similar to the "I know a guy" mechanic where other players can perform tasks retroactively, that's beyond the scope of this question. As for mid-mission, any of my ideas would work. You will still need communication. You might need impromptu distractions. Subterfuge can happen at any time. Robberies are rarely as case of walking in and walking out. Someone is look out, someone ties of the guards, someone plants false evidence, someone acts as a decoy... You get the idea. \$\endgroup\$
    – MivaScott
    Apr 14 at 19:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MivaScott while an all-homebrew answer wouldn't be great, I don't see any indication it couldn't be one suggestion. Forget the rogue, the core of my comment is that while there are infinite ideas for how the guys on the outside can help (and you name many good ones)... actually planning and playing these creative solutions may be challenging for some groups/parties, especially if hewing closely to a published adventure. ALL players encountering and solving the problems as they occur is an approach that works at every table. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 14 at 20:30

Use group checks for common stealth issues

For common sneaking where there isn't a major goal, use group checks. This allows the bad check of the artificer to be masked by other characters with superior stealth. While you may use stealth checks for individually tricky tasks, make sure the artificer can go wherever the party goes. If the stealthy characters go off from experience it disrupts the game a fair bit as you have to run two adventures then.

The main flaw of the heists is the lack of support for planning, which lets you include the artificer.

The book has decent mechanics for suspicion, and for managing some stealthy scenarios, but doesn't support planning well, despite it being essential. As such, it is common for less proactive players to get a bit lost on what to do.

Artificers have spells like disguise self and other powers which are quite effective at solving stealthy problems. There are a wide variety of heists, and some are basically dungeons where they can act normally, but even for stealthy missions they can contribute. Make sure you're aware of their abilities so you can help suggest ways they could contribute to making a plan.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ You mention lack of support for "planning", but don't mention a solution. One I've seen (on Critical Role's ExU: Kymal, with GM Aabria Iyengar who likes to bring in mechanics from other systems into 5e, in this case from Blades in the Dark.) She gave each player the opportunity to invoke a flashback to a plan for the obstacle they just ran into. youtube.com/watch?v=E-0bSdoPj5o&t=545s (near the start of episode 2 of 2 where she describes the mechanic.) \$\endgroup\$ Apr 13 at 2:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'd imagine planning is the more stealthy characters giving a temporary buff to stealth to the non-stealthy character by training them like a teacher would or at least preparing (with temporary or permanent measures) their equipment so that it is easier to be stealthy. I don't play dnd but in a fanfic I'm still planning, a guy is "superprepped by his buds" i.e. they prep his equipment and drill it into his head on what to do to be stealthy (i.e. hide in shadows, holding breath, technique for light footsteps) etc. two follows them in to look ahead and behind and the rest provides overwatch \$\endgroup\$
    – Harry Mu
    Apr 13 at 6:55

Notify the player

If you have concerns you should tell the player. You are right not force them or anything but you should make sure they won't be disappointed. So tell them what the game is about and check if they know what they get into. If they have second thoughts after getting the relevant information let them change the character.

No adventure is just Stealth / different challenges for different players

It is quite normal that not every character is good at every situation. It is even good that way so different players get their chance to shine in different situations. Stealth is certainly one important part of what you want to run but there are other things to do during heists. I haven't run the adventures from the book myself but from what I've read so far (skimming the book and reading reviews) it seems that it rewards creativity. What particularly caught my eye was the suggestion to hand out maps to the player up front to let them plan their moves. Your players just have to account for one party member not being that good at stealth.

TL;DR: Warn your player up front and let them change their mind if they want. If they want to stick with their choice, let your player work out plans to account for the available skill sets.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ The players don't know the content of the modules, but they were made aware they would be running heists before character creation. \$\endgroup\$
    – Shadomew
    Apr 12 at 15:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Shadowmew In that case I would say you have already done the most important thing. \$\endgroup\$
    – Anagkai
    Apr 12 at 15:35

Pass without Trace

If any character can cast Pass without Trace, the whole party can go stealth

At the end of the day, it's up to the party on how to solve a problem, not the DM

There are lots of ways to steal stuff. Stealth, ram raiding, honey trap, ransom, embezzle, charm, mind control, disguise or just plain old magic. Sneaking is just one solution.

  • \$\begingroup\$ As a group, we have decided that Pass Without Trace and Shield are over powered and are running the game without these spells. \$\endgroup\$
    – Shadomew
    Apr 13 at 12:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ Pass without Trace is super super over powered. It should allow you to move without being tracked. It shouldn't give you +10 to stealth. My shadow monk was unstoppable. \$\endgroup\$
    – Thorne
    Apr 14 at 0:39

Don't railroad your characters. If they want to use stealth to achieve their goals, let them. If not, they should have other options.

I played The Stygian Gambit, and I was the only Rogue in the party. Our party had at least 2 wizards. Honestly, my character felt very unneeded in the party.

One of the wizards used his familiar to steal the key to the vault. Another party member won the Three Dragon Ante tournament, allowing us to gain the trophy that we needed.


Use large stealth bonuses for distance.

Stealth now becomes about how close you can get, rather than if you can hide.

If you are in the darkness at 200' away moving at half speed, even a plate armored robot can be quiet. Meanwhile, the stealthy PCs are able to sneak up to within 10' of an alert guard.

In such a system, you'd send scouts ahead to find out a safe path (possibly eliminating or distracting a key guard), then have the less stealthy use that safe path.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Have you done this? If so, how did it work? \$\endgroup\$
    – Anagkai
    Apr 13 at 21:13

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