Sunday, April 14, 2019

Burglary (sage study)

The art of planning, executing and resolving a burglary, a three-step process that requires skills relating to discovery, observance, breaking and entering, appraisal and the purchase and sale of stolen property.

Burglars are those who use their intellectual understanding of architecture and people in order to enrich themselves. They are often better able to understand a person’s home than the dweller does. Burglars don’t need doors; they’ll make a hole in a wall or cut down through a ceiling. They’ll unpeel a building from the inside out to hide between walls, underneath the floorboards or up in the trusses. They'll break into one home, just so they can break through inside walls to reach their target.  Burglars are the dark wizards of building spaces.

If two rooms aren’t connected now, they soon will be. If there is no route from one building to another, a burglar will find a way. Of course, they must always be careful not to get stuck in an attic, or trip and plummet through a plaster ceiling ~ or accidently set fire to the very place they’re trying to enter.  It's happened.

  • Appraisal I: discern subjective value of gems, metal goods, artworks and other items of worth. 
  • Break & Enterenables the character to break and remove doors or windows in order to pass through.
  • Case Buildingassess the interior layout and social strata of a building, its residents and things related.
  • Detect Concealed Doorsenables the location of concealed doors.
  • Lookoutacts as a front to distract attention from a burglary or other ongoing crime.


Silberman said...

The second and third paragraphs here may be among my favorite things you've written for concise prose that sets fire to the imagination. Now I'm looking out my window at that fancy house across the street.

I clicked through to the Case Building ability entry because that was the aspect of the study that made me most wonder, "How would this happen in actual play?" The details of that article, together with the recent "Spell Research Woes", has taken me back to a nagging question I've struggled with for some time: To what degree should players have a reliable expectation of the "move" scale of different activities? In combat, it's always completely clear how long a turn is, which defines the interval at which the DM can interrupt the player's efforts with a countermove. In the game's early days, there was even a dungeon exploration move that has been largely abandoned in favor of a more free-form exploration routine. Then we have efforts to resolve overland travel in moves of a day or a watch. Again, these seem to have the effect of regulating how often the DM might complicate player efforts. As you allude to in the spell research post, absent an established structure, the DM can, deliberately or unconsciously, use their control of time scale to effectively derail and frustrate any project a player proposes. "Oh, you want to try a modified version of that spell component? Well, you'll need a cockatrice cloaca lining, which they might have at this apothecary, but it's in a sketchy neighborhood. Are you walking over there now? Okay, you leave your study and descend the stairs to the living room, where an unfamiliar man sits in your favorite chair, smoking your favorite pipe."

So, back to casing the joint, how do you imagine the actual play at the table proceeding? Does the player declare their character is out on the job for a week, and the benefit accrues? Do they allocate a certain number of spare hours each day, with the DM noting accumulated intel? Or, at the opposite extreme, does the player describe each moment of surveillance, with the DM interjecting suspicious passersby, talkative charwomen and a panoply of other opportunities and annoyances? What should the player expect in advance when they invest in the sage ability, or set out to case a building?

Alexis Smolensk said...

Hm, many questions and all fair. Let me try and cover a few high points Silberman, and if I'm still not clear, ask again.

Right off, the DM intentionally derailing and frustrating projects. This infuriated me as a player and continues to infuriate me when I see Colville, Mercer and others actively advocating for this execrable DMs policy online, ALL THE TIME. The obstacle created by the DM should never be mutable; the DM should have a clear, crisp, complete understanding of the obstacle before the fact, which should not change no matter what the player does. But in a world where fudging is not only tolerated but advocated, why not just move the goal posts whenever?

I'll talk more about this in the spell post I'm planning. Just getting some other writing done first today.

2. This business of the player exposing themselves before giving away the obvious signs that someone else is in the house. I keep coming back to my stealth rule, which it seems I link on a weekly basis. You'll find the link on the case building page. It applies because not only does the player's move potentially expose themselves to the pipe smoker, but the pipe smoker (smell of the tobacco) should expose himself to the player long before the room is ever entered. The "surprise" is engineered by the DM under the ever present hand-wave of "drama" ... which, again, infuriates me.

So much of most game worlds are engineered instances of DM's just messing with parties in utterly reprehensible ways. Whenever I preach player rights or giving more control to the player, however, by making rules that dictate those rights and enable the player to circumvent the DM, I'm told, "Rulings not Rules," which is just another way of saying "I want to be a dick and I don't like boundaries."


Alexis Smolensk said...


So how would I run it? First off, a "week" is 168 hours. Not a few spare hours a day, but ALL the hours, with sleeping wedged in. Secondly, the purpose in casing the building is so that you know, as a player, that you have a perfectly FREE and CLEAR seven minutes when you can climb into this open window left open every day, and wander about the top floor, because the cook downstairs is working, the servant is sweeping and mopping the shop, you've just watched the Mistress of the house leave to perform her visits on friends that she does every afternoon and the Master is playing chess in the Market because this is Tuesday.

These seven minutes are NOT a roll. If there was a roll, it would be a 1 in 500 chance that something odd might happen ~ but if it did, it would be the servant entering the front hall to open the door because a child on the street was hit by carriage and they need to know where the Master is, because he's a physician. As a player, you would be given plenty of opportunity to disappear into some upstairs place, like playing hide and seek when no one is looking for you.

The purpose of the ABILITY is not to create a roll. If someone without the ability tried it, they would mess up and get caught, because they didn't know what they were doing. But a trained burglar? Moving through someone's house after casing the house is child's play.

A DM reaches to create drama out of this set up because it is low-hanging fruit and it is such an OBVIOUS, OVERUSED trope in films and TV. Most DM's can't help themselves, and can't stand the notion that a player might be able to do something like this without it actually being a risk.

But look at what the rules as written don't provide. You don't actually know where the money is. You don't have any special gifts for prying open drawers silently or locating a horde inside a wall. You've got just 35 rounds to get in, move around, pick up stuff and get out. Every 15 feet you move is a round. If a door is locked, and you have lock-picking skill (not all the thieves in my game do, you have to take that study), it may take 5-20 rounds just to open a locked door. And even if you find something and it doesn't happen to be gold coins, where do you sell it? How do you stop a 5th level cleric from casting "locate object" and tracing you to your inn four hours later? And just because you can see the porcelain doll is quite worthy, you don't know exactly how much it costs. Or what its street value is.

These are other abilities that you unlock at higher level, one by one. Eventually you get really, really good at this; but then, that's all the more reason why the DM shouldn't be surprising you at random.

Something may happen, for instance, where you don't have a week to prepare. You need to do the job tomorrow night. You can only case the place for two days. You can't be sure. That changes everything.

Oh, and the 35 rounds, or 7 minutes? That is arbitrary, decided by the DM. But it is decided and known by the player ahead of time ... so the player is warned, and can decide, "Is that enough time to do this job?"

If it isn't, perhaps the player has to figure out some sort of ruse to get the servant out of the house for a longer period of time, before she goes upstairs to wash the walls.

Does that help?

Pandred said...

High quality sage material.

It's good stuff.

Silberman said...

So is the actual procedure at the table for the player of the thief to announce they are casing the building, and then that character is out of play, offstage as it were, for a week of game time, while the other PCs either continue their moment-to-moment activities (with the thief's player perhaps running one of the thief's henchmen) or engage in their own actions that share the "zoomed out" time scale of the surveillance?

Alexis Smolensk said...

Yes, that's right. But the other players can simply agree to jump forward one week. It is probable that any actual burglary during one of my campaigns would occur because the party was looking for a particular item. I don't get the "lone thief" scenario often; and I know how to run it quickly enough that the other players are usually interested in what is about to happen, like watching a play unfold.