Stealth and infiltration missions are some of my favorite things in video games and movies, but it took some fiddling to get that same feeling in DnD. I recently had a lot of success using a system adapted from the game Invisible Inc. and wanted to share my process.
In video games, my experience with using stealth usually goes something like this:
- I find my target, observe the guard patrols, and plan out my path into the base.
- I immediately blow my cover by throwing a hunk of meat at a guard instead of assassinating him.
- I ditch stealth in favor of just gunning down anything that moves.
(Bonus points if you know what game this is)
In DnD, this is the equivalent of failing the first stealth check and the whole party immediately giving up on any plans they might have had in favor of a drawn out combat encounter. This can be un-fun for a few reasons:
* A single failed check ruined the entire plan.
* The players felt like tactical geniuses and now they do not.
* There is no recovery; you’ve been spotted once and now all of China knows you’re here.
The way I solved this was by stealing the Alarm Levels system from the best stealth game I’ve ever played, Invisible Inc. The alarm system represents the guards’ increasing suspicion and panic, as well as their increasingly drastic attempts to put a stop to the characters. Each mission starts at Alarm Level 0, and escalates up to alarm level 6. It takes 5 points to reach the next level. At the end of every round, a point is added. Every time one of your agents is detected, a point is added. Other things, like setting off sensors or killing guards, also add points. Every time the alarm level increases, a new threat is introduced, such as additional guard patrols or new cameras going online.
The Alarm system achieves two things:
- It provides a system to steadily increase urgency and tension both narratively and mechanically. It does this in response to both the passage of time and specific character actions.
- It makes it so that mistakes have specific, meaningful consequences without being overly punishing. Players are rewarded for adaptability, while not being punished so harshly for taking risks.
Adapting the system to our games
Step 1: Creating Triggers
First, we need to assign point values to different triggers. For example, failing a Deception check will increase suspicion by a signifiant amount, so we’ll say that that event adds a point of suspicion to the alarm level. Overtly hostile actions, however, should raise the alarm level at a much more dramatic rate, so we can assign higher point scores to those triggers. Here’s the list of triggers I made for my group’s covert rescue mission.
> Failed Stealth, Sleight of Hand, or Deception check (1 Point)
> End of any combat round (1 Point)
> Caught in a restricted area (2 Points)
> Unconscious body found (2 Points)
> Murder witnessed/Dead body found (4 Points)
You can add as many or as few specific triggers as you want. You can of course just add points on the fly as you see appropriate, but I think it’s helpful for the players to know exactly what they’re working with. This lets them make calculated risks and get tactical with their decision making.
Step 2: Creating Threats
Each time the alarm level increases, a new threat is introduced to the situation. They start small at first, but grow more severe the higher the alarm level. I like keeping these a secret from the players until they happen. Here’s an example from my recent game.
Alarm Level Threats:
> Level 0: Everything is operating as normal.
> Level 1: Guards are slightly more suspicious: +1 DC to checks against them.
> Level 2: An additional guard patrol arrives.
> Level 3: The director is alerted and all patients are sent to rooms.
> Level 4: The facility is locked down and an additional guard patrol arrives.
> Level 5: The director scrys on the party, revealing their current location to all guards.
> Level 6: A pair of CR 5 Blood Hunters arrive and close on the party’s location.
There can be any number of Alarm levels, but Invisible Inc. uses 6 and I think it works well. Levels 1 and 2 are fairly relaxed, the characters are taking their time and exploring the facility, and security is unaware of their presence. Levels 3 and 4 put some more pressure on the party by changing the situation in some way. Players and characters are starting to make some mistakes and take some risks, the party is getting closer to its goal, and security is aware that there is some sort of threat. By levels 5 and 6, it’s go time. The party is sprinting instead of sneaking, their location is being compromised, and they’re starting to take more desperate risks. Security is fully aware of the threat and are becoming more and more equipped to deal with it. Hitting alarm level 6 is a great dramatic moment. When each alarm level hits, I like to narrate a little cutscene of the new threat to really sell the rising urgency.
Please let me know what you guys think of this system. How do you guys usually run infiltration? What would you change if you were to bring this to your table?
- Styx: Master of Shadows – a fun, but flawed stealth game.
- Enormous Abstract Environments & Alerts
- Brownie Points: A Streamlined, Easy-to-Track Experience Point System I’ve Been Using For a While
More about Dungeons & Dragons OnlinePost: "A system for making Stealth and Infiltration missions more tense, dramatic, and tactical." specifically for the game Dungeons & Dragons Online. Other useful information about this game:
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