"Black Dougal gasps 'Poison!' and falls to the floor. He looks dead."

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Rulings Not Rules - Sneaking past a guard

My post a couple of days ago about B/X resolution systems got me thinking about how to adjudicate certain situations.

Here is a situation that I remember from an old thread at Original D&D Discussion which I can no longer find. Assuming the use of B/X D&D how would you adjudicate the following situation:

A player character (not a thief) is trying to sneak across the entrance to a hallway in a dungeon. At the end of a hallway is a guard standing in front of a doorway. There is one torch in the hallway where the guard is. The guard is standing about 40 ft from where the player character is trying to sneak across.

How would you handle the situation? Does the PC have a chance to sneak past undetected? What rules would you use or what rulings would you make?

EDIT: Here is what I would do (of course, just one of many ways to handle the situation):

Case 1: The PC is wearing metal armour, carrying usual adventuring gear, etc.
I would give the guard a Listen check with a +1 or +2 bonus (so a 3 or 4 in 6 chance of hearing the PC approaching).
If he heard the guard failed his Listen check then I would roll Surprise with a +1 bonus (so a 1 in 6 chance of being surprised).
If the guard was surprised I wold then rule that he was asleep or something.
This gives the PC about a 5% to 8% chance of succeeding in sneaking past.

Case 2: The PC has stripped off armour, padded anything that could make noise and is generally being really stealthy.
I would roll Surprise for the guard. If he was surprised I would rule that he had is back turned or wasn't paying attention for a moment, etc.
This gives the PC a 33% chance of succeeding.

Case 3: A thief (even though I mentioned the PC wasn't a thief).
Make a Move Silently check. If he succeeded then I would give him a bonus to the same surprise roll I used in Case 2. Note that I am using the RAW that to Hide in Shadows the thief has to remain still so that skill isn't relevant.
This give the thief PC the best chance.


  1. Honestly, I would rule that it wouldn't be possible for the PC to evade detection, considering the circumstances. I'd say that it could only be achieved by a Thief, and that the Thief would have to make a percentile roll that fell under both his Move Silently and Hide in Shadows abilities.

  2. Is there a chance that the guard has fallen asleep at his post? Or is maybe drunk? What if the PC was a halfling and wasn't wearing any armour?

  3. Well there is a clear success (you sneak across), and a clear failure (you are spotted). Now there are two ways I'd do this.

    1) The thief takes a penalty to his roll, if he fails the guard spots him, and gives chase.

    2) The thief takes no penalty to his roll, BUT if he fails the guard gets to give chase and gets a free attack.

    I'd be upfront with both options, because that is how I roll.

  4. Simple:
    Thief or halfling: 1 or 2 on a d6
    Anyone else not wearing metal armor 1 in 6
    Anyone in metal armor, no chance.

  5. Are we assuming a 30' radius (i.e. 60' diameter) of illumination from the torch? And are we assuming the guard is looking toward the passageway, and not distracted? If so, then it appears that the radius of the torchlight extends all the way to the wall of the corridor through which the PC is moving (assuming that the guard is 40' away and the torch is about halfway between them). In interpreting this for a non-thief, I'd use the thief as a base-line and go from there. Given the situation and measurements indicated in the diagram, I'd personally rule that even the best thief would have *no* chance to make it since the thief is using his/her "hide in shadows" skill. I've always taken the "hide in shadows" skill to presume that there *are* shadows, and unless there is an obstacle not shown on the diagram between the torch and the PC to cast a shadow, then there is no shadow in which a thief could hide - s/he is simply moving through torchlight. Using that as a baseline, I'd rule that if a thief cannot do it, there's no way anyone else could. On the other hand, if the guard is distracted, or if the torch doesn't have a 30' radius, or if there is some form of light-blocking obstacle, such that the far wall of the corridor is flecked with shadow, then a thief could certainly attempt it. If said shadow is deep enough to be considered "total blackness" I might even rule that a thief could do it automatically (regardless of level) and other characters could attempt it too (maybe using their own level on the thief table, to reflect their lack of expertise and the possibility that even in a deep shadow they might slip up and let the tip of a piece of equipment flicker out into the light). In any case though, non-thieves would only have a chance at all if they're not wearing metal armor - the sound would give them away. Of course, I present this only as an example of what I'd take into account when making a ruling, and not as what is "right" or "wrong."

  6. If the hallway were longer, so that the T-section is not illuminated, I'd use the surprise rules. If it is illuminated, a thief would still be able to do it potentially by creating a distraction, then rolling surprise. For a different location and orientation of the guard, a thief could toss a pebble or something to get a guard to look away, but with this arrangement, the distraction probably needs to come from behind, so it's probably going to be magical.

    Halflings have that special ability to escape notice, so they would be able to attempt it no matter what.

  7. The guard is looking at the torch. His pupils are shrunk from the light entering his eyes. Assuming this is in a dungeon, I would rule that his vision beyond the torch is impaired.

    I would therefore give a Thief auto-success, assuming he told me he waited until the guard appeared distracted or otherwise innatentive.

    For anyone else, their success would depend on how important it was that they get past this guard unnoticed. If it was not terribly important, I might give the Players anywhere from a 2 to a 5 in six chance, depending on the precautions they took, and the armor they were wearing.

  8. If guard is guarding path through door (i.e. looking wrong way) I'd let player sneak with small chance (1 in 6) of "something bad" happening.

    If guard is guarding down hallway I'd roll moral check for guard. Failure indicating they are asleep, reading orc porn, or otherwise failing at their duty. Again allow sneak with small chance (1 in 6) of "something bad" happening.

    If guard is guarding down hallway and makes their moral check then it will be very hard to sneak by, 1 in 6 chance of success. Smart players would now start brainstorming on how to distract the guard or achieve their goal via another path.

    btw if character does something creative that would reasonably work I'd reduce/eliminate chance of bad thing or increase slightly chance of success. Examples are remove footwear to be quiet, leave behind extraneous and noisy equipment, wrap all with cloth and use boot black on face and all shiny bits.

  9. You let them roll, but they appear to sneak past successfully regardless of the result.

    If they have failed the roll, the guard follows them/arranges an ambush if things are going too easily, or have dragged to a halt.

    Otherwise, just more heroic derring-do.

    That is, I like to create complications through failed rolls, not task-based failure per se.

  10. Check for surprise.
    If guard is surprised and PC isn't then the PC sneaks past.
    If PC surprised then the PC doesn't sneak past without being noticed.

  11. I don't like thinking much when I DM, so I'd probably say:

    Metal armor: no chance.
    Non-metal or taking steps to be quiet, etc: surprise roll 1-2.
    Thief: if move silently successful, surprise on a 1-4 (ie cut guard's chances in half). Otherwise, surprise roll.