Theme Week: Crime Episode 1: The Heist

Taking a  page from the Chattydm , I felt the urge to have a “theme week” for my blog posts.  The theme for this week is the tragically overlooked criminal element of RPG campaigns. PCs spend far too much time kicking in doors and slaying monsters. That gets old quickly, so this week I offer some ideas for a more subtle, morally fuzzy approach to fantasy gaming.  It is time for those lawful-good holier-than-thou PCs to get dirty. I mean really, really scummy.  It is time for crime!

A quick interlude to discuss alignment and those annoying lawful PCs and players who misread the intent of alignment.  Lawful means that you follow a strict code of behavior, but it does not make you blindly follow the law of the land in the face of evil.

I quote the 4th Edition Player’s handbook on alignment:

“When leaders exploit their authority for personal gain, when laws  grant priviledged status to some citizens and reduce others to slavery or untouchable status, law has given in to evil and just authority becomes tyranny. You are not only capable of challenging such injustice, but morally bound to do so.”

In short, when the law of the land fails and evil triumphs, lawful PCs can go rogue and start breaking laws. They may not like it, but they can do it.

That annoyance out of the way, let us move on to the fun stuff.

Episode #1 The Heist

Whether it be the quiet skulk into a private residence or a quiet bank infiltration,  nothing is more exciting in a game than a heist. The goal is simple. Take something (the macguffin )away from someone who prefers to keep said item. Surviving to enjoy your booty is also nice.

My approach to the “heist” is simple: less is more.   Create the scenario, such as a powerful, stolen item that “everyone” knows Mr. Evil has in his impenetrable vault. The PCs tasked with the items recovery, begin investigating. Be sure to make a big show about how “untouchable” the villian is from the local authorities. Make him the king’s brother-in-law or something similiar. Now create the scenario. First, create some NPCs that work in the vault(guards, etc), design traps and populate the vault with a few monsters.  Now that it is built, let the PCs figure out how to break in. Give them no help. Nothing. No hints, no handy secret passageways, zip.

Most modules and many home adventures, in my experience, are terribly linear. There is no opportunity for the PCs to go off script and let their twisted little minds run wild. Here is there big chance to demonstrate their inherent cleverness. I guarantee that they party will do something completely unexpected, which makes for great games.

As the DM, it is your responsibility to be ready for some of the crazy ideas. You cannot predict them all, but have some contingency plans in place. Classics like, bribing or blackmailing their way in, digging a tunnel, or using magic are all likely choices.

Teleport deserves a special mention. I prefer either a field that blocks it (not very exciting,) a “divert teleport” field that goes to a jail cell (great fun!) or have the field cause “Harm” as the spell to anyone teleporting through. Arriving in the middle of an encounter with one hit point is just wrong.  Fun, but wrong.

Make certain that anything you do is discoverable by the PCs, whether through magic, research or bribery. If they do not find it, then it is their fault and your are blameless for the heist’s failure.

Truly, this is a great opportunity for the party to bribe, blackmail, lie and otherwise do things they normally want to do, but cannot. For added DM entertainment, get the local mafia involved.  Paladins cutting deals with the local mafia boss is a great role-playing opportunity. Necessity makes strange bedfellows.

I hope you  see the value in some shady dealings, even for lawful characters. The rest of this week I will cover the following topics and how you can use them in a game.

Tuesday: Confidence Games

Wednesday: Blackmail

Thursday: Crazed Sport’s Fans

Friday: Kidnapping

Trask, The Last Tyromancer



Trask is a long-time gamer, world traveler and history buff. He hopes that his scribblings will both inform and advance gaming as a hobby.