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Alright, so I'm thinking up a stealth based mission that involves sneaking into a guarded manor and stealing an artifact. Needless to say, it would be best if this was a quiet affair. I have most of it worked out except for the guards. I'd like a stealthy player to be able to incapacitate them but I still want them to be tough enough to be a threat should the player fail to do so. I know the usual rules for knocking out a PC, but almost any challenging enemy would have more than enough health to withstand a sneak attack from a PC. So, how do I make KO-able guards that are still a threat if not taken care of properly?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Break and Enter is a 4e mod that includes additional rules for stealth. Among them is a rule that surprised enemies only have one HP. \$\endgroup\$
    – wax eagle
    Commented Aug 10, 2013 at 12:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ @JonathanHobbs I haven't played with it, I'm just aware of it. \$\endgroup\$
    – wax eagle
    Commented Aug 10, 2013 at 12:52

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Use a skill challenge for the entire sneak-and-grab. Use skill checks to knock out guards, tie them up, put them to sleep, etc. Switch to combat if they fail the skill challenge.

Basically, the guards' hp doesn't matter unless they fail at their stealthing about. Once they screw up, a shout from any guard will bring the pain. They might be able to kill their way out, but unless they've planned this carefully, the manor's entire defenses are going to come down on them.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Since the players may request to be able to knock out guards / put them to sleep in future encounters, it may be worth mentioning dealing with that. It may be good to keep around, but the DM may also decide not to allow it in the future. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 10, 2013 at 9:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks, was thinking of something along these lines. Although I would love a suggestion as to what skill would be necessary to knock out a guard. Stealth is obvious for sneaking about undetected but I don't think sneakiness alone is going to render somebody unconscious. Perhaps a strength check with a bludgeon, or a dexterity check to hit them in just the right spot? \$\endgroup\$
    – Mitharlic
    Commented Aug 11, 2013 at 23:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ Personally, I'd just use Stealth to keep it simple. I'm assuming Stealth and Thievery are the primary skills, with a dash of whatever else makes sense; ask the players what skills they want to use. \$\endgroup\$
    – okeefe
    Commented Aug 13, 2013 at 23:53
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Minions who pull the alarm.

A minion has only 1 hp, so is disgustingly easy to take out. But a simple shout (or a loud whistle, pulling an alarm, whatever you like) to alert the building that something's going down is more than enough threat. Even if the guard in question goes down in the next round without doing any damage, the mission perameters have changed drastically.

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This is an interesting question, because the scenario of sneaking into a dangerous place without being stopped, and disabling the odd sentry, is quite a common chapter in action stories. Yet D&D 4E doesn't have an immediate go-to game mechanic for this.

Running the guards as standard combat, even with surprise round, would be overblown, and probably not give satisfactory results. The 4E combat rules are very geared to skirmishing, and there is no balanced threat in a single Standard monster.

The best immediate fit in the 4E rules is to use a Skill Challenge, focussing on Stealth, Athletics, Acrobatics, Thievery, Perception, Insight etc, and any ideas the players have based on the scenario. In a pure skill challenge, PCs combat abilities are either ignored, or you could require a Basic Attack roll to represent the attack - a failure would immediately fail the attempt to neutralise the guard unless rescued with a hard DC "rescue" skill roll (plus quick thinking from a player as to how their PC could help recover the group from the botched attack)

However, I would personally prefer to have a little more use of combat powers and the combat rules in this scenario. So here is a suggestion based on a simple combination of Skill Challenge and Combat:

  • Design the guards as standard monsters, and a suitable threat to the PCs, should it come to normal combat.

  • Use a simple skill challenge to describe neutralising the guard, with suitable primary skills and descriptions (sneaking up, climbing into unexpected position, creating a distraction etc etc). The outcomes are:

    • Success: Allow three attacks, minus one for each skill challenge failure, against the guard, and treat any hit as an instant kill (as if the guard were a minion). Then go to normal initiative, and the guard may raise the alarm on its initiative.

    • Individual Failure: Each failure reduces the number of silent-knock-out attacks that the PCs could attempt by one. In addition, remember to make failures interesting descriptively, and add some risk ("Stealth roll failure. The guard turns in your direction unexpectedly as you cross the gap, and you have to dive for cover wildly. You land awkwardly, and separate from your allies. Take 5 damage, and you may not contribute to the group's next skill check.")

    • Overall Failure: Roll initiative as normal (the PCs have blown the chance of surprise by their failures). The guard may raise the alarm on its initiative.

This works well in a lot of combinations (e.g. two guards), allows the PCs to use their (hopefully silent) combat powers to finish off opponents, and can be fleshed out with variations to make an extended adventure with several such encounters variable enough to remain interesting. It is not my idea originally, but one I really liked and stole!

If you do go for something like my suggestion, it is worth spending some time practicing how it will play out, since it needs to not be seen as an easy option to be rolled out in all scenarios. Also remember as DM, it is your perogative to decide when specific mechanics apply, such as combat rules, skill challenges, or stuff like this you have added in the name of fun.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Since the ability to inexplicably turn targets into temporary minions would be an exceptionally useful thing, the players may want this mechanic available in the future or assume it is now a thing they are generally capable of. It would be useful to address how to handle this as a DM. Keeping it around may well be fine, but some DMs may not be comfortable with that. (Especially since it only takes a Wizard with Magic Missile standing nearby to kill the target of this manoeuvre, which may be welcome or unwanted) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 10, 2013 at 9:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener: It is no more or less a mechanic than using a skill challenge for the whole disabling. It is not "inexplicable", unless you assume "minion-ness" is some real-life (well, game world) condition translated into game terms. A single attack or sword blow can easily be explained as killing a creature, the idea is in this case to provide enabling mechanics. You do raise a good point though - when to use or allow use of this approach, and not have it available to players as a convenience for killing dragons and taking treasure. I will try to expand the answer. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 10, 2013 at 10:09
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Use the subdual rules; the difference between killing and knocking out is a player's call. So he's making the call to not kill them.

Note also that they aren't dead immediately on being taken below zero, unless it's a long way below zero--and the player can make the call to mitigate damage to stop a hit being a killing stroke. They still meed medical treatment, of course.

Pick one of them. Simple.

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Manors are small, so maybe there's only one guard on watch at a time.

I think you should let the players plan it, not you; but one possibility is that the PC's sneak in at night, head to the barracks and kill the off-duty guards in their sleep, then circle back to finish off the one on duty. If he sounds the alarm, who will come?

But you should be open to other ideas they come up with. Maybe they disable the alarm bell, so if the guard tries to sound the alarm no one will hear. Or perhaps they bribe a servant to give them a map, or disguise themselves as a noble to get past the guards. Or maybe they use a wheel barrow and a holocaust cloak to scare them off.

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Knock-outs

For specifically knocking people out, I read some suggested rules here:

http://thealexandrian.net/wordpress/8360/roleplaying-games/untested-surprise-damage-threshold

That's 3.5e or pathfinder, but the concept should work similarly in 4e. The basic idea is, if you surprise someone (I might even say, manage to remain hidden until you hit them, so "sneak up behind" or "snipe" works, but "charge from cover" doesn't), and do a certain threshold of damage, you can choose to knock them out.

That allows one character to do it some of the time, or a party to dogpile a single enemy with fair certainty.

For enemies with fairly low hp, I might also consider how much slack there is. Eg. an enemy might fight one or two rounds before realising shouting "help" was a good idea, or allow stealth rolls to see if the sounds of battle bring enemies running or not.

Also

I'd also say, check what you're players are expecting. Many groups will just assume that if they can't stealth the entire thing there's no point trying, because the rules of DnD don't really give you any way of doing this. If so, you need to TELL them they have this option. Other groups, if you just set up a stealth premise, will try to follow it and assume movie-logic will prevail.

You probably already did this, but double check, how much stealth rolls you require, is it difficult but plausible? If you make every character roll stealth every turn, that's pretty much a guaranteed failure, make sure you set realistic targets and make it clear when they can avert a failure by sandbagging a guard and when they can't.

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