D&D 5E Play out this scene

The party of three 4th level characters (a thief rogue, an illusionist wizard, and a moon druid) has just stealthily entered a merchant's office in the commercial district after hours via a back alley window, unseen/unheard by prying eyes/ears. The Captain of the Town Guard suspects this merchant of foul play but doesn't want to cause waves if she's wrong. So she's asked the party discretely break-in to gather information, leave no trace, and report back.

The goal here is for responses to include what each PC decides to do next and how the DM might resolve each of their actions with or without dice using the 5e rules.

DM: This wood paneled 15' x 15' office is bathed in the dim light of the moon coming through the window you just entered. Directly in front of you is a comfortably cushioned mahogany chair and directly in front of that is a mahogany desk with two drawers, both with key holes. The only door to the room is in the wall opposite the window. The door is wooden, reinforced with iron banding, has a coat hook, a keyhole, and a disengaged sturdy-looking bolt lock high up on the door frame. A large, framed map of the town hangs on the left wall. A large wooden shield is held in place by brackets on the right wall. An oval woven carpet covers the floor between the desk and door. A lumpy runner rug lies below the shield. Two unlit sconces flank the door and an unlit oil lamp sits on the desk. A pair of stained gloves, a shallow box of paperwork, a quill pen, and ink bottle sit upon the desk.

What do you do?


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toucanbuzz

No rule is inviolate
Does the merchant live above or around the Office?

Rogue: "I'll search the floor first to see if it makes any noise. Then the desk for traps/locks, if I don't find any keys. I'll look behind the wall map next and then that shield."

Wizard: "Did I remember to cast Detect Magic before we entered? If there's time, I'll do it as a ritual then sweep the room. Also, what's up with that shield? I don't want to touch it, but is the merchant a warrior, or is this thing decorative? Does it look like it's seen combat (dented, scratched)? Oh, are those gloves ink stained? Seems odd to be writing with gloves on and out of place for a merchant to keep a pair of dirty gloves lying around their workplace."

Druid: "Once the rogue gives the all-clear, I'll carefully test the bolt lock on the door frame. If it doesn't make noise, I'll carefully slide it into place. Don't want anyone wandering in here. After that, did I remember Detect Magic or Detect Poison? I wouldn't put it past the merchant if they're hiding something to trap it."
 

Does the merchant live above or around the Office?
Ah - good question. Just updated the description to say that this office is in the commercial district. No one lives nearby.

Rogue: "I'll search the floor first to see if it makes any noise. Then the desk for traps/locks, if I don't find any keys. I'll look behind the wall map next and then that shield."

Wizard: "Did I remember to cast Detect Magic before we entered? If there's time, I'll do it as a ritual then sweep the room. Also, what's up with that shield? I don't want to touch it, but is the merchant a warrior, or is this thing decorative? Does it look like it's seen combat (dented, scratched)? Oh, are those gloves ink stained? Seems odd to be writing with gloves on and out of place for a merchant to keep a pair of dirty gloves lying around their workplace."

Druid: "Once the rogue gives the all-clear, I'll carefully test the bolt lock on the door frame. If it doesn't make noise, I'll carefully slide it into place. Don't want anyone wandering in here. After that, did I remember Detect Magic or Detect Poison? I wouldn't put it past the merchant if they're hiding something to trap it."

Neat. Now, how would you, as DM, adjudicate these declared actions?
 

aco175

Legend
I search the room, do you want Perception or Investigation.

Ok, I search the desk first, first checking for traps.

I have gotten away from having the players saying exactly what they are doing or how they are doing it. As the DM I may or may not say something when describing the room and the PCs in the room vs the players only listening to the DM would see/feel different things.

In a specific mission like this I may ask where they are searching, but leave it open to assume some things. I may ask how long they are searching and adjust the DC to find things based on that. A quick 1 minute search vs an hour. An hour search may lead to a check for wandering monsters but find everything or need a DC10 to find things and a 1 minute check may be a DC20 to find something. There may be more than a couple things to find as well with each requiring something. I try to have some Perception and some Investigation.

There should also be some things that are good intelligence and some things that are red herrings to throw the PCs off in something like this.
 

toucanbuzz

No rule is inviolate
There should also be some things that are good intelligence and some things that are red herrings to throw the PCs off in something like this
That's where the stained gloves came to mind. They could purely be a red herring, but a good investigation should always have them.

I tend to avoid letting players "get away" with using their brains by making a "skill check." That sucks a lot of the fun out of it. Instead, I'd ask them specifically what they're doing to the gloves or drawers. If the rogue says "I'm getting out my kit and seeing if there's a seal on the drawer," I might then allow a Perception or Investigation check to notice anything unusual, even if "looking for a seal" makes no sense, because they're trying.
 

Iry

Hero
Is this a pure hypothetical or an actual party? I had an exhaustive list of things pop into my head, from closing the bolt on the door to buy time if someone comes, to using the rolled up rug to hang over the window to block lantern light while everyone searches, measuring the size of the drawers once they are open to check for hidden compartments, examining the map for tiny holes or marks that might indicate pins or locations of interest to the merchant, etc.

But if this is an actual party, then personality, preference, and intelligence/wisdom levels will play a role in what decisions they might even think of. Also OOC time. A shorter game (3-4 hours) doesn't permit nearly as much investigation as a longer (5+) hour game, just because things need to keep moving. Also DM detail level, but you seem to be putting good detail into your descriptions with (I assume) some payout for paying attention to them.
 

toucanbuzz

No rule is inviolate
you seem to be putting good detail into your descriptions with (I assume) some payout for paying attention to them.
Hehe, it would probably piss the players off quite a bit to have all that flavor text and the room didn't have one mystery in it.

Neat. Now, how would you, as DM, adjudicate these declared actions?
If I'm making this adventure up as I go...

To the Rogue: The floor is well maintained and ground level. It doesn't squeak. You don't find any keys to the desk in the usual spots people put keys. Go ahead and roll Perception to see if your eyes caught anything else (whether there actually is something else; it's good habit to keep players guessing so they don't always assume when a d20 is rolled, something is always there). Hold off on the rest until everyone else does their thing.

To the Wizard: I don't recall you saying you cast the spell as a ritual. You want to? Player says yes. DM rolls a d10 and nods. (You may be checking to see if anyone spots light, movement, noise...10 minutes is a lot of time to be casing a joint in town).

To the Druid: The bolt slides into place, and you'll need to check your sheet for what spells you have prepared today. Druid opts to cast Detect Poison. Nothing. Secretly, there is a contact poison on the brackets holding the shield, but they're blocked by the shield's 1" of metal. The shield is unused, as if brand new, and has a crest that is not heraldry for anyone or anything locally known to PCs. In this made-up scenario, the wall brackets can be held and rotated clockwise, opening a safe box in the wall containing whatever we need it to contain, perhaps a coded cipher that is no good without its partner. The stained gloves are used to safely rotate the bracket. Of course, this runs into the minutiae argument from a player that of course I wear gloves because I wear leather armor, so if going this route be prepared to ask what the PC is currently wearing on their arms, legs, and head to throw them off.
 

Is this a pure hypothetical or an actual party? I had an exhaustive list of things pop into my head, from closing the bolt on the door to buy time if someone comes, to using the rolled up rug to hang over the window to block lantern light while everyone searches, measuring the size of the drawers once they are open to check for hidden compartments, examining the map for tiny holes or marks that might indicate pins or locations of interest to the merchant, etc.

But if this is an actual party, then personality, preference, and intelligence/wisdom levels will play a role in what decisions they might even think of. Also OOC time. A shorter game (3-4 hours) doesn't permit nearly as much investigation as a longer (5+) hour game, just because things need to keep moving. Also DM detail level, but you seem to be putting good detail into your descriptions with (I assume) some payout for paying attention to them.


It's a variation of a scenario that I ran in a "practice" session with other DMs. You can add details to the PCs or the environment as you see fit. Love the creativity so far! In fact, the DM-players who ran this scenario with me did something similar to what you envisioned - securing the door, blocking the space beneath the door, and blocking the window as best possible...

Really, I'm most interested to read how folks here might declare the PCs' actions (i.e. approach and goal) in the scene and how, as DM, you would adjudicate said actions.

Cheers
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
Assuming it's dark
Wizard - casts the light cantrip. "Can't very well find evidence in the dark".

Rogue - checks for traps, especially focused around the oval rug and desk drawers. Ultimately carefully rolling up the oval rug to check underneath. "If I was going to commit the kind of indiscretions he's accused of I wouldn't very well leave evidence alone in an untrapped room".

Druid - Shapechanges into a cat while heading back outside. "I'll be the lookout".
 

Rabulias

the Incomparably Shrewd and Clever
If we are supposed to be looking for malfeasance on the merchant's part, I would want to look over the "shallow box of paperwork," as well as look for any hidden/secondary paperwork to compare with. Any false payments records/invoices? Any cooking of the books? Any blackmail letters or payments sent/received? Any indications of illegal materials shipping and/or smuggling?
 

Unwise

Adventurer
I skimmed the topic, then did not read the description of the place/situation at all, so that I could give an authentic player/PC reaction.

Druid: Ok, so its just one guy we have to kill? I rolled a 19 for initiative. Where am I on the battlemap?
Rogue: What the hell are you talking about? Kill who? What battlemap? Why are you rolling initiative?
Wizard: I cast Mage Armour before we get into combat? I think I said that earlier, or I meant to. Can I do that before I roll initiative?
Rogue: Why is everybody rolling initiative?! We are here to...
Druid: I'm getting a beer, let me know when it's my initiative. I cast shield if anything attacks me before my turn.
Rogue: What would attack you? Why...how are you even casting shield? You are a druid.
DM: ...actually I think I'm going to need a beer too while you are at it...
 

Assuming it's dark
Wizard - casts the light cantrip. "Can't very well find evidence in the dark".

Rogue - checks for traps, especially focused around the oval rug and desk drawers. Ultimately carefully rolling up the oval rug to check underneath. "If I was going to commit the kind of indiscretions he's accused of I wouldn't very well leave evidence alone in an untrapped room".

Druid - Shapechanges into a cat while heading back outside. "I'll be the lookout".

Cool.
Now how would you, as DM, adjudicate these action declarations?
 

If we are supposed to be looking for malfeasance on the merchant's part, I would want to look over the "shallow box of paperwork," as well as look for any hidden/secondary paperwork to compare with. Any false payments records/invoices? Any cooking of the books? Any blackmail letters or payments sent/received? Any indications of illegal materials shipping and/or smuggling?

Sounds good. How would you as DM respond to this particular aspect of the investigation?
 


Rabulias

the Incomparably Shrewd and Clever
Sounds good. How would you as DM respond to this particular aspect of the investigation?
As a DM, I tend to overplan, and provide more background info and detail than ever comes up in the game. So for this case, I would have already prepped a bunch of info they could find depending on What Is Really Going On, including some possible red herring clues that might mislead players if they don't think things through. IMO, investigations in play do not work very well unless the DM has a good idea of how/when/why/where/what is being done and by who. As players work to uncover the mystery, the DM needs to have answers that logically fit together. If they just pull the answers out of a hat, then it will not make sense, and the players have no fair chance to figure things out. Players will take up lines of thought and questions the DM did not consider beforehand; the best way to be ready for them is to have the whole picture ahead of time. Little details and side things can be added/improvised during game, of course - that's part of the fun - but the main throughline of the events needs to be solid. On top of this, players may sometimes miss leads and clues, so the DM needs to have redundant ways to discover the same piece of info.

In this particular case, I would like a convoluted plot where someone is framing the merchant in the eyes of the Captain of the Guard, with the ultimate goal of pushing the captain to violate the law/their oath by punishing/killing/sending adventurers(?) after the merchant. When the merchant is revealed as innocent, the captain will be disgraced and have to resign, or worse, be tried for crimes. Who is behind all this? A crimelord imprisoned by the captain, but still able to exert power outside through minions (think Kingpin from the Daredevil TV show)? Or maybe the merchant guild member spouse of the captain's secret lover? Or the parent of a city guard slain in the line of duty who blames the captain for the loss of their child?
 

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