D&D General Advice for designing a party stealth mission

I've played video games like Metal Gear Solid where you need to sneak past enemies to infiltrate a facility, and it's pretty fun and visceral, but I'm not sure how to adapt that experience to a tabletop RPG.

For one thing, most stealth games involve one stealthy person, not a group.

For another, the manual dexterity required to use a game controller to move your character deftly from cover to cover gives you moments of tension and then time to breath and plot your next move, but in a turn-based game, you can kinda have perfect information to plan your turn, and the only thing that can go wrong is dice rolling low.

So, like, how do you make something like "infiltrate the enemy base and rescue a prisoner" into a fun scene for a whole party? Have you run scenes like that that worked well? What did you do? How much was rules versus narration?

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I tackled one way of doing this, which you can see in my sessions notes (they're organized, I swear ;)) for Assassinate the Lizard Emperor (GoogleDrive link). It involved substantial prep. Main principles were:

1. Design concentric "rings" of defense, and use PCs' initial group Stealth check to determine how many "rings" PCs bypass effortlessly before adventure begins in slower time
2. Allow PCs 1 hour to prep, and establish that 1 hour as a hard cut off so it doesn't bog down into analysis paralysis
3. Avoid calling for Stealth checks, instead players should want to actively avoid having to make a Stealth check because if they are asked to do so it's a last ditch attempt to avoid being discovered (more like a saving throw)
4. Establish connections between different areas when designing the scene, for example, if the bird is disturbed in Area A outside the evil monk's window, it flies up to Area F perching in the burnt out rafters of the lightning lab. The more of these there are, the more interactive it feels for the party, esp. if they split themselves or become split.
5. Have a table handy of eavesdropped conversations - players love to eavesdrop, and it suits the genre of stealth video games you're interested in modeling.
6. Also have a table of complications handy, but try to make these less "red alert" than imminent discovery and everyone going on high alert. Localized, specific, and individual challenges are good.
7. Borrowing the "flashback" mechanic from Fiasco – Inspiration to narrate "but we prepared for this eventuality" – helped my players out in two scenes.
8. Optionally, if you anticipate need to assassinate foes and you're not severely reducing enemy HP already, my Stealth Takedown Pool idea could work.


Don't try and pre-empt a successful path. Think about how the enemy would protect their facility and put that into play. The PCs will need to come up with actual clever ideas to get through. Then you become the enabler - if it is possible within the parameters you have set (even if unlikely) then the PCs should have a reasonable chance of success.


Failure should be a real risk. So make sure there is either the opportunity for the PCs to be able to succeed through battle (but it should be a very hard battle) or they can realistically find a way to flee. If it turns to custard then I would think a body count of 1 or 2 PCs is reasonable with the rest escaping or being captured.

Play it narratively wherever possible, with occassional skill checks until there is an immediate danger. Then there may be more skill checks or you might even go into initiative, but I would only tend to go into initiative if there is an actual battle.

I have run a stealth mission before - trying to get into a large fort. It all went well until they got close to the inner sanctum. Then it all went horribly wrong. Most managed to escape, but it was a great time for all the players. If there is a real danger that PCs won't survive that makes for some nail-biting fun.

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