Now that we understand what a heist is, and how we want it to work in-game, let’s flesh out the heist a bit.
Of course we need the heist to actually be somewhere. The story is that there is a shipment of magical weapons coming into town, so the logical choice is a warehouse. My first thought was to use The Game Master’s Book of Random Encounters, but since I need to run this adventure on a VTT, I decided it would be better to get a virtual map. I quickly pulled up Lost Atlas, one of my newest finds and easily one of the most useful sites on the web. Lost Atlas is a battlemap search engine that pulls from multiple creators. I searched for “warehouse” and right away a great, free map from Tom Cartos caught my eye. It included a basement, main floor and catwalk and really sparked my imagination. Warehouse found.
My approach here needed to be two-fold – first I needed guards. Second, I needed to fit this adventure into the bigger plot going on in the city. Since this wasn’t really a big boss situation, more of an extended hook to get the PCs more deeply involved in the story, I didn’t want anything too wild. The characters are all 5th or 6th level, so they have solid resources at their disposal. I decided to just stock up on 6-8 guards from the Monster Manual (p. 347), and 2-3 veterans, also from the Monster Manual (p. 350). That seemed like a reasonable guard detail in this warehouse and city. Depending on what happened, I could adjust the number of monsters dial on the fly to tune the drama and difficulty. Again, the set piece isn’t meant to be deadly, but it should still be exciting.
The second part then is to tie this into the bigger picture. The resource for Dulwich mentions the mayor has a masked Captain of the Guard under his command, which is a perfect escalation note for this adventure. In my game, she is not a half-orc as listed (since orcs haven’t been seen in the region for a thousand years), but she is a non-standard race that is operating in the city with ulterior motives. It’s a secret the PCs don’t know about, and aren’t yet close to discovering – but she is a hugely prominent figure in town. They’ve seen how she treats the citizens and already hate her. So now, we’re going to give her a reason to notice, and despise, the PCs as well. I decided the weapons crates would be locked, under an arcane lock and protected by an alarm spell. So whenever the PCs decide to open the crate, word will quickly get to her. Maybe it will be in the warehouse, maybe not – depends on how bold (or foolish) the PCs are. There’s a good chance she will be able to figure how who stole the goods – the PCs usually leave witnesses.
Finally there needs to be a twist, a major complication that is out of the PCs hands. For that, we turn again to the Dulwich citizens. There is a minor thieves guild in town, The Black Cats. I quickly decided that the guild leader would be the one with the details on the heist, and pass those to the PCs. Additionally the guild leader would send in one of her own to protect the guild’s interests. I quickly flipped through my Game Master’s Book of NPCs and decided the guild representative would be played by Angelina Poppers, wild child half-elf archer who has a bit of an addiction to “Gaze” – a performance enhancing narcotic. Perhaps one of the crates in the shipment is full of “Gaze” – would Angelina be tempted to abandon, or even sell out the party, to get away with it? We shall see…
Let’s not forget the shipment itself! It’s not just a MacGuffin – it does need to be functional. I decided not to have the twist be that the crate is empty, with a note from the guard captain saying, “Gotcha!” since there’s no reason for the PCs to be under surveillance, yet. No, this needed to be legit. The crate can’t be full of anything too powerful, or rare – this is meant to arm the city guard! But it should be interesting and useful too, not just stacks of +1 swords. I consulted the Vault of Magic from Kobold Press for inspiration. Right away I saw the Blackguard’s Blade, a common short sword weapon that basically gives advantage when teammates are attacking the same target. Perfect for the town guard! Done.
Wrapping it Up
So just need to run a thread through the whole thing now. The map for the warehouse has a basement, and next to that basement seems to be a secret passage or tunnel….so I decide the thieves guild has a tunnel to a safehouse nearby. The PCs can elect to break in via that tunnel, escape through it, neither or both. I decide the warehouse has a day shift and a night shift, with the night shift having more guards but fewer veterans. Everything else, I’ll come up with on the fly! And that’s the prep. Total time was a few passive hours listening/watching youtube videos while I washed dishes, folded clothes or drove. Active prep time was about 90 minutes, and I expect this adventure will take around 4-6 hours to fully complete.
Next time – what actually happened at the table.
Header image “Red Cloaks” by Tomasz Jedruszek