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R.G. Wood's Blog

Necessary Pretexts

In a fair fight, the don's man would almost certainly paint the walls with Locke and Calo's blood, so it stood to reason that this fight would have to be as unfair as possible. Scott Lynch, The Lies of Locke Lamora.

These are my (very draft) rules for heists in 5E. Based off the infamous Blades in the Dark roleplaying game, they’re mainly written to avoid lengthy, and painful planning sessions.

Too often, risk-averse players get bogged down in fruitless over-planning. Instead, these rules place them directly in the middle of the action. We assume the party are already prepared, and allow them to retrospectively create plans, on the fly.

There are two parts here: downtime activity to prepare for a heist, without defining exactly what that preparation entails. And then, the actual heist encounter itself, when preparation may pay off.

The Gunpowder Plot Conspirators

The Gunpowder Plot Conspirators, 1605 by Crispijn de Passe the Elder

Downtime Activity: Heist Preparation

The preparation stage allows the players to accumulate Preparation Points (PP) during downtime. These points can be spent later in the actual heist, to retroactively create planned advantages.

Pick a target, and make the appropriate ability check:

TargetAbility Check
A locationDexterity (Stealth)
A wilderness regionWisdom (Survival)
An individualDexterity (Stealth)
A groupCharisma (Persuasion)
A city locationWisdom (Perception)

Resources. Typically, a character needs free movement and money to spend on bribes and other sundries. Depending on the social circle, the funds required are:

SocialSpending
Poor2gp
Merchants/Guildsmen10gp
Nobles50gp

Resolution. Make an ability check. For each additional spend equal to the above, add a +1. Roll to determine how many preparation points you have gathered, by consulting the table below:

Check TotalPreparation Points
1-5None
6-101
11-202
21+3

Complications. All preparations come with some form of complication. The DM rolls on the table below in secret, only notifying players if appropriate:

d6Complication
1Unawares, you uncover a false piece of information. (You lose a Preparation Point, but only discover this when you try to use your last point).
2You offend a contact, who demands an extravagant gift. If not, you have disadvantage on your next Preparation check.
3One of your contacts becomes obsessed with you and won’t leave you alone.
4You attract unwelcome attention from another faction. They will appear unexpectedly in the middle of the heist.
5You uncover a useful piece of information, but only by promising to complete a dangerous task in return. Gain +2 Preparation Points if you complete this task.
6Your unwelcome attentions do go unnoticed. You have disadvantage on your next Preparation check in this location.

Running the Heist

The heist runs like any other encounter, with the notable difference that PP can be spent by players to give their characters pre-planned advantages. Advantages created by PPs represent actions taken during Heist Preparation, that remain unspecified until the moment the points are spent.

When a player spends PPs, surprise! They pull a out knife they'd stashed earlier. Or reveal one of the guards was in on it all along.

Some examples on how you can spend PPs are as follows:

AdvantagePP Cost
Advantage on a roll.1 PP
Ask 1 question about the heist encounter (such as layout of locations, timings of guard patrols, etc.)1-3 PP (depending on question)
Uncover stashed equipment.1 PP for small item, 2 PP for medium item, 3 PP for large.
An NPC is revealed to be another character, perhaps a PC or some other ally.2 PP

Summary

This is an un-playtested draft for an upcoming session encounter where my players are planning a thorny parley with the local thieves’ guild. Obviously, treachery is guaranteed (on both sides) so, to avoid a prolonged and confusing discussion about what everyone is doing, I’m hoping I can just throw the PCs into the action.

Some thoughts:

  • PP costs are finger-in-air values. Adjust to taste.
  • Similarly, the list of advantages PPs can create is probably incomplete.
  • These may give players an overwhelming advantage (each player may have to 1-2 PPS, each). Perhaps there needs to be some constraint on spending PPs?
  • The preparation downtime activity feels like a fun way to hand-wave over planning. But it could also be just another speed bump.

Anyway, let me know what you think in the comments. Joke, there are no comments.

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