How to Plan a D&D 5e Heist and Let Players Have Fun Stealing

Image © Leif Heanzo for Army of Thieves Everything a Dungeon Master Needs to Design Their Very Own Heist Encounter in 30 Minutes By Riley Rath Today's D&D 5e is not just about dungeons and...

Image © Leif Heanzo for Army of Thieves

Everything a Dungeon Master Needs to Design Their Very Own Heist Encounter in 30 Minutes

By Riley Rath

Today's D&D 5e is not just about dungeons and dragons. It's about adventure, storytelling, and fun. And one genre that ticks all these boxes is the classic heist.

Imagine a guard patrolling a dark museum, unaware of the rogue ready to steal a priceless painting. Or a druid in rat form sneaking into a nobleman's manor to free a precious diamond. These scenarios make for exciting gameplay and memorable moments.

With the recent release of the Keys From the Golden Vault anthology adventure module, there's no better time to create your own heists. In this article, we'll show you how to design a heist encounter in just 30 minutes.

What is a D&D Heist?

A heist story follows a group of protagonists through the planning, execution, and aftermath of a significant robbery. It involves interesting characters, high stakes, and unexpected twists. The Ocean's 11 movies, the Sly Cooper video games, and The Great Train Robbery are great examples of heist stories.

In D&D, heists work exceptionally well because they incorporate the three pillars of the game: social interaction, combat, and exploration. However, unlike traditional dungeons, heists rely heavily on exploration, making them unique and engaging encounters.

Why Run a D&D Heist?

Heists are like specialized dungeons, perfect for D&D gameplay. They offer a unique blend of all three pillars: social interaction, combat encounters, and exploration. Players have the opportunity to use their skills and abilities in a variety of ways, making heists inclusive and exciting for all characters.

Heists also create game encounters and storytelling scenes. Each phase of a heist comes with its own set of challenges, allowing players to plan, strategize, and execute their plan. They present a real, non-lethal challenge to players, pushing them to think outside the box and outsmart their opponents.

The Basics of a "Heist Encounter"

To create a successful heist encounter, you'll need to consider a few key elements:

Object to Steal

Choose a valuable, unique, and well-guarded item as the target of the heist. It could be a rare artifact, a magical item, or secret documents. The object should be intrinsically valuable to the players' goals.

Reason to Steal It

Create a compelling reason for the players to steal the object. Whether it's financial gain, the pursuit of justice, or personal motivations, the players need a strong motivation to attempt the heist.

Detailed Map

Design a detailed map of the heist location, including the entrances, exits, and important areas. Make sure to provide clear descriptions and visual cues to guide the players during their exploration.

Surrounding Area

Consider the surrounding area of the heist location. This could include safe houses, social centers, or locations where the players can gather information or supplies for their heist.

Security

Implement various forms of security to challenge the players. Include locks, guards, anti-magic measures, and traps. Each security system should have clues that allow the players to discover and overcome them.

NPCs

Introduce NPCs that can aid or hinder the players during the heist. These NPCs could be guards, servants, or bystanders who can provide information or assistance. Give each NPC a role or archetype that the players can exploit to their advantage.

Assembling the Heist

Once you have all the necessary components, it's time to assemble the heist encounter. Remember that you are not solving the heist for the players; you are providing a sandbox for them to explore and plan their approach.

Allow the players to gather all the information they need by exploring the location and interacting with NPCs. Make sure they have a clear understanding of the security measures and entrances/exits. Encourage them to come up with their own plan, using the available clues and resources.

Heisting: The 4 Phases

A heist adventure follows a pattern of four phases: scouting, planning, execution, and escape. These phases help structure the gameplay and allow the players to immerse themselves in the heist experience.

Scouting

During the scouting phase, players gather information about the heist location and the security measures in place. Encourage them to explore, discover clues, and interact with NPCs to uncover valuable information.

Planning

Once players have enough information, they can begin planning their approach. Provide them with an updated map and give them time to strategize and discuss their tactics.

Execution

The execution phase is where the players put their plan into action. Allow them to act and respond to their decisions, providing challenges and obstacles along the way.

Escape

After successfully acquiring the desired object, the players must make their escape. This is the most likely phase for combat encounters, as they may have to fight their way past resistance or evade pursuing forces.

Final Miscellaneous Tips

Here are a few additional tips to enhance your heist encounter:

  • Give players a clear objective and motivation from the start, ensuring they are invested in the heist.
  • Provide diverse entrance options for players to choose from, allowing them to use their unique abilities and skills.
  • Scatter clues and information throughout the location and NPCs, ensuring the players have multiple ways to discover the necessary information.
  • Create a sense of urgency by adding time limits or the threat of law enforcement.
  • Avoid planning complications ahead of time, as they can limit player agency and feel forced.
  • Stay consistent with the information you've provided to the players, ensuring they can trust the clues and resources available to them.

Remember, the ultimate goal of a heist encounter is to provide a fun and engaging experience for both the DM and the players. Allow them to exercise their creativity, problem-solving skills, and teamwork to pull off the perfect heist.

BONUS: "Why Not Just Use the Official 5e Heist Book?"

While the Keys From the Golden Vault anthology adventure module offers useful resources and ideas, it may not fully capture the essence of a true heist encounter. Many of the adventures feel more like traditional dungeons rather than heists.

However, some of the best missions in the module offer unique and exciting heist scenarios, such as robbing a natural history museum during a gala or infiltrating an Efreeti fortress in the elemental plane of fire. You can draw inspiration from these missions while still crafting your unique heist encounter.

In conclusion, use the provided guidelines and your own creativity to plan a thrilling heist encounter in your D&D campaign. Let the players take charge, explore the world you've created, and experience the excitement of the perfect heist.

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