Running an actual heist?

robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
So Waterdeep: Dragon Heist apparently provides more of a race to the treasure than a heist in a traditional sense, and this made me wonder, is it possible to pull of an elaborate heist in D&D (and for it to be a fun experience).

Traditionally a heist is split into three parts:

1) Research
2) Planning
3) Execution

The research part includes determining all the security measures (both animate and inanimate) that are protecting the loot. It might include timing the guard patrols, identifying the maker of the safe, measuring the distances of rooms, halls, ceilings, figuring out the weight/size of the treasure etc. I can see this being fun as it involves a lot of stealth-ing and exploration

The planning part takes all the information gleaned from discovery and attempts to devise a cunning plan that will circumvent all the obstacles found during discovery. This part worries me because the players, despite all their best efforts, would still have imperfect knowledge (perhaps that's realistic though...?) There could be some fun parts of attempting to bribe a guard, or duplicate a key, as part of preparing for the heist. But I feel like the DM would have to provide "blueprints" to the location in order for the players to feel like they have base to build on.

The third part is of course the exciting bit where the plan is executed and things typically fall apart :)

So my question is - has anyone run an adventure like this? Did it work? Was it fun? If it wasn't fun, is it possible to make it fun?
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Yep, here's one I wrote and ran: The Snow Job.

Research and Planning are mostly abstracted into "Big Problems." This precedes the actual heist itself and, at some point, The Twist occurs which throws a monkey wrench into things.
 
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Laurefindel

Explorer
It can be done, but my (rather anecdotal) experience, it's difficult to have the players plan something that the DM had in mind. The element of surprise "Oh my god, that was him disguised as the bartender all along!" is often lost too. I tried it a few times and always fell short of my expectation...

...until I played Blades in the Dark

The basic concept of Blades in the Dark is "play now, plan later". So in your example, you do a bit of 1), then go directly into 3). 2) is unfolding as you play along, and you call retro-play some 1) as well.

Basically, it plays like the montage in the movies; things are happening as the character are planning in the montage scene. Players can call for flashbacks, retro-actively placing their game, come out with contingency plans as the problem is raised, etc.

Equipment is also left blank until you need it. You select how lightly or heavily equipped you are, and cross "equipment slots" as you reveal and use your tools.

I'm porting many of these concepts in D&D in my Blades in Waterdeep game. the transition is still in progress (following the principle of play now, design game later), but its coming along well.

'findel
 

jgsugden

Explorer
I have done it. The PCs wanted a magic artifact that was held by a Royal Wizard. I designed the defenses - intentionally leaving one vulnerability that could be found.

The PCs did stealthy research, uncovered most of the defenses, and crafted a plan. Then, like the heroes they were, they immediatly discarded it, charged in, murdered royal guards, killed the wizard, set off traps that killed more guards and finally committed double regicide by murdering the King, and then murdering his son one round later. They then declared themselves the rulers just long enough to claim the artifact and abandon their peoples.

With another group I had a better heist scenario where the PCs were hired to play a role in the heist, not realizing that the person hiring them had other hidden plans... There was more of a heist movie feel for that adventure.

So, yeah - it can be done... but only with the right PCs.
 

redCartel

Villager
The trick to this kind of adventure (and mysteries too) is that the players should be right.

Don't have one trick in mind that will get past the Wizard's defenses, have the player's plan, and then alter what the set-up is so that the plan mostly works but has some complications. In a mystery, who the killer (or whatever) is can actually change so that the players are right in *most* of their deductions.

Things that seem obvious to you aren't and the goal is to tell a story where the players are heroes. In heroic stories, the heroes succeed.
 

MarkB

Hero
There are some good systems for this, some of which could be adapted to D&D. Spycrsft, for instance, has what is effectively a 'heist' mechanic to its espionage operations.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
The research part includes determining all the security measures (both animate and inanimate) that are protecting the loot. It might include timing the guard patrols, identifying the maker of the safe, measuring the distances of rooms, halls, ceilings, figuring out the weight/size of the treasure etc. I can see this being fun as it involves a lot of stealth-ing and exploration
There is a sort of problem with the research part, though - heist fiction is written sort of assuming the conclusion. The Heist *will* happen, the characters *will* find most (but perhaps not quite all) of the relevant pieces of information, and that information *will* be relevant to the plan. The characters are almost invariably absurdly competent in their roles (heist stories are often classified in the "competence porn" genre). But, in an RPG, we the writers don't' know ahead of time which pieces of information will be relevant. In most games it is not a sure thing that the PCs will find enough information to make a solid plan, and we don't know that their plan will actually work.

There's one game I can think of that addresses most of these problems - the Leverage RPG, in which every single adventure is a heist or con game. I highly recommend that GMs that want to run a heist look at how this games handles it, even if you have no intention of using the ruleset, because it has a very useful general approach to the genre. Much of the adventure is an emergent thing, rather than a planned thing.

Also, I'd recommend looking at how Gumshoe systems handle investigation scenes, for much the same reason.


This part worries me because the players, despite all their best efforts, would still have imperfect knowledge (perhaps that's realistic though...?)
Yes, it is more realistic. However, heist scenarios are *NOT* realistic themselves, so realism is not your friend here. There are far, far too many potential points of failure in a typical heist for them to realistically succeed.
 

MarkB

Hero
XP to [MENTION=177]Umbran[/MENTION] for mentioning Leverage. I've only played one session of it, but it's very well-suited to this. As I recall, one thing in particular that it incorporates which is a staple of the genre but very difficult to pull off in a traditional D&D game is the fake-out ending - that point in every heist movie where it seems like the bad guy's won and the good guys have all been caught, and then it turns out to have all been part of the plan. Effectively, if the players earn enough 'plot coupons' during the execution of the heist, they can retcon in some extra piece of planning or deception that will get them out of trouble during the endgame.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
XP to [MENTION=177]Umbran[/MENTION] for mentioning Leverage. I've only played one session of it, but it's very well-suited to this. As I recall, one thing in particular that it incorporates which is a staple of the genre but very difficult to pull off in a traditional D&D game is the fake-out ending - that point in every heist movie where it seems like the bad guy's won and the good guys have all been caught, and then it turns out to have all been part of the plan. Effectively, if the players earn enough 'plot coupons' during the execution of the heist, they can retcon in some extra piece of planning or deception that will get them out of trouble during the endgame.
Yep, exactly. It is a direct port of how things work in the TV show of the same name (which I also recommend, it is fun!). There are times in the show where we have little flashbacks, where events in the past that the viewers don't know about are explicated.
 

jgsugden

Explorer
You can approach these situations from another angle.

You can have something well protected that the PCs want/need. You can establish appropriate defenses for the thing based upon the resources of the ones that have it. Then the PCs can decide whether to try to steal it in a heist, kill everybod and take it, or negotiate for it. As long as there are non-heist paths to sucess, you don't need to lay a path (or even worry if there is a path) to heist the item.
 

Derren

Adventurer
Its possible, but D&D is not really build for it as 99% of the rules is combat and the rest is kinda bare bones. Most of the time you are basically free forming which makes the question if its possible kinda irrelevant.
 

robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
XP to @Umbran for mentioning Leverage. I've only played one session of it, but it's very well-suited to this. As I recall, one thing in particular that it incorporates which is a staple of the genre but very difficult to pull off in a traditional D&D game is the fake-out ending - that point in every heist movie where it seems like the bad guy's won and the good guys have all been caught, and then it turns out to have all been part of the plan. Effectively, if the players earn enough 'plot coupons' during the execution of the heist, they can retcon in some extra piece of planning or deception that will get them out of trouble during the endgame.
I’ve not looked at Leverage yet (and it sounds cool!), but as for “plot coupons” one could interpret inspiration in this way perhaps. The players during planning or execution could accumulate inspiration such that it could be used as a pool in order to finagle a clever escape at the end?

How many plot coupons equivalents are we talking? :)
 

Nagol

Unimportant
In addition to Umbran's suggestions which are excellent, I suggest taking a look at Blades in the Dark which has a very nice different take.

ETA ...which I see Laurefindel already mentioned!
 
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CapnZapp

Hero
So Waterdeep: Dragon Heist apparently provides more of a race to the treasure than a heist in a traditional sense, and this made me wonder, is it possible to pull of an elaborate heist in D&D (and for it to be a fun experience).

Traditionally a heist is split into three parts:

1) Research
2) Planning
3) Execution

The research part includes determining all the security measures (both animate and inanimate) that are protecting the loot. It might include timing the guard patrols, identifying the maker of the safe, measuring the distances of rooms, halls, ceilings, figuring out the weight/size of the treasure etc. I can see this being fun as it involves a lot of stealth-ing and exploration

The planning part takes all the information gleaned from discovery and attempts to devise a cunning plan that will circumvent all the obstacles found during discovery. This part worries me because the players, despite all their best efforts, would still have imperfect knowledge (perhaps that's realistic though...?) There could be some fun parts of attempting to bribe a guard, or duplicate a key, as part of preparing for the heist. But I feel like the DM would have to provide "blueprints" to the location in order for the players to feel like they have base to build on.

The third part is of course the exciting bit where the plan is executed and things typically fall apart :)

So my question is - has anyone run an adventure like this? Did it work? Was it fun? If it wasn't fun, is it possible to make it fun?
Just don't forget what's fun.

There's a reason successful heist movies like Ocean's Eleven doesn't really bother with research and planning.

Just good looking dudes executin'
 

CapnZapp

Hero
Its possible, but D&D is not really build for it as 99% of the rules is combat and the rest is kinda bare bones. Most of the time you are basically free forming which makes the question if its possible kinda irrelevant.
THANK YOU.

But tell that to WotC who insists their three pillars are equal...
 

CapnZapp

Hero
You can approach these situations from another angle.

You can have something well protected that the PCs want/need. You can establish appropriate defenses for the thing based upon the resources of the ones that have it. Then the PCs can decide whether to try to steal it in a heist, kill everybod and take it, or negotiate for it. As long as there are non-heist paths to sucess, you don't need to lay a path (or even worry if there is a path) to heist the item.
I don't know.

If your players are anything like mine, the option to fight your way to the goal must be explicitly off the table, before they'll try any other approach.

That's not me dumping my players btw. D&D pretty much is geared towards solution-by-combat, so it's hardly their fault if that's their assumption.

Much better to already say from the outset the mission-giver doesn't tolerate bloodshed or something that clearly flags "this adventure is about alternative approaches".
 

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