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Plot holes in "The Case of the Haphazard Heist"?

Posted: Wed Mar 14, 2012 2:28 am
by Ogrepuppy
My cousin has decided to play an Elf Wizard (I made him 2nd level). This will be his first time playing D&D, and he chose Sherlock Holmes (the Benedict Cumberbatch version on the recent BBC show) as his inspiration.

I have a pre-written dungeon crawl (it's part of the bonus DM kit PDF) that I intend to run him through, but it's not very long and I feel a detective-ish character is kinda wasted by using a mere crawl. (He'll have a DMPC fighter to help him in the dungeon, have no fear.)

I decided to give him some investigative work before having him face the dungeon. A. C. Doyle liked to use misdirection in his Holmes stories, thus I borrowed a bit from The Red-Headed League. In that story, a man is distracted by an odd, tedious task while unbeknownst to him a major heist occurs. I thought it'd be fun to use a major heist to distract from a (seemingly) more humble crime...

The Case of the Haphazard Heist

Sherlock (I'll use that name for the PC) starts out in a medium-sized city, let's say Dyvers in Greyhawk (although it could be any city).

He's recently been assisting the City Watch with a few low-key cases, but now he's being included in a bigger case: a jewelry store burglary. As the adventure begins, Sherlock mentions the robbery in passing to an herbalist friend. The herbalist replies that he also was aware of a nearby burglary that same night: a scrivener's shop was broken into and the copyist murdered, a few doors down from his own herb store! Apparently the City Watch found the scrivner's death to be of lesser criminal importance than the jewel heist as they haven't devoted any men to the investigation.

What's Going On:
Hadvar--the more wicked and greedy of a pair of dwarf brothers--learned a few months back about a map to a nearby mine in mountains not far from Dyvers. Somewhere in the mine, according to rumor, is an abandoned dwarven enclave...including treaure. His funds running dangerously low, his clan scattered, and with no financial opportunities in the near future, Hadvar hatched a plan to steal the map and set himself up as a new thane in the enclave. To sweeten the deal, this isn't just any enclave--it's a treasure house for a long-dead king of the Cult of Ore, who knew powerful stone- and earth-magics. If Hadvar could wrest control of those magics...

After convincing his brother, Dalvar, to help him search for the treasure-house, Hadvar needed to steal the map and eliminate anyone who knew about the mine. He planned to create a diversion for the City Watch while he stole the map. Dalvar, a gentler soul, refused to take part of any killing, although his innate dwarvish lust for gold and gems compelled him to help his brother with the rest of the plan.

Hadvar subtly used criminal intermediaries to find brave thugs (expendable patsies) who'd do a specific 'job' for cheap. He was directed toward the Bratva ("the brotherhood"), a group of foreign criminals who had recently arrived in Dyvers looking to establish a name for themselves. The Bratva agreed to send a trio of their men to rob a jewelery store during the middle of the day and lead the City Watch on a merry chase around the city, especially since it seemed clear they'd walk away with a handful of fencable loot.

At the same moment the robbery was occuring, several streets down, Hadvar quietly entered the scrivner's shop. Hadvar barricaded the door, crushed the scrivener's skull, and rapidly began searching for the map. Once found, Hadvar walked out the back door of the place and slipped away into the shadows.

Within 36 hours, the dwarf brothers had discovered the mine and began exploring it, while the Bratva hatched other schemes and tried to put the botched job out of their minds, vowing that, with time, they'd take control of all crime in the city.

Sherlock, miffed that the jewelry heist seems so....uncomplicated, is intrigued to hear that another crime occurred on the same day/at the same time. This is where I plan to let my cousin loose....

Things that Sherlock could do:

- interview the jeweler's apprentice
- interview one or both remaining Bratva...once he tracks them down (I'll improvise this, but they will spill the beans quickly that a mysterious benefactor hired them to rob a jewelry store at a specific time)
- interview City Watch guards that arrived on scene first, who will explain that the perps ran away from them, but seemed almost to be leading them away from the scene until finally the perps split up and were lost in a crowd

- examine crime scene:
unusual features of jewelry store robbery from Sherlock's perspective:
- robbery took place during middle of day
- three hooded men entered store via front door, wielding crossbows and maces under their cloaks
- robbers overcame the master jeweler, knocked him out & bound/gagged him, threatened apprentice
- robbers had an odd foreign accent
- apprentice reluctantly and under threat of life told robbers where strongbox was hidden (in storage cubby)
- robbers quickly found the hidden trap door to the jeweler's storage cubby in the floor
- magical ward in trap door electrocuted & killed one thief [a variation on fire trap]
- it was obvious his death set the other two men into a panic
- they didn't bother attempting to pick the lock on the strong-box
- remaining robbers fled the jeweler's shop and are currently 'whereabouts unknown'
- City Watch was alerted quickly and pursued surviving robbers through many streets
- Sherlock will recognize dead man as a member of the Bratva, a powerful foreign mafia that recently 'branched out' to Dyvers from a distant land--this gang hasn't had a chance to make a big name for themselves yet
- two robbers are still alive (presumably)
- details of lightning trap can be determined via Spellcraft checks.
- why in the world would someone pull a robbery during the day, when it was incredibly risky to do so?

- examine crime scene:
unusual features of scrivener's shop robbery from Sherlock's perspective:
- scrivener worked alone; if he needed help he hired short-term assistance
- scrivener copied documents, but sometimes maps
- burglary took place exact same day, and presumably almost exact same time, as jewelery store heist
- likely one person entered store
- scrivener, an elderly and frail man, was found dead of an odd head trauma (weapon is not of standard make...looks to be a weighted puncturing hook based on wound) [weapon was a craghammer]
- store was 'tossed' in an obvious attempt to find something specific [a map], scrolls in the cartography section of the store seemed to receive most of the attention
- booted footprints suggest a person of short stature may have been in store recently
- jack-booted, smallish footprints in back 'yard' of shop leading away
- mess in shop: paper, scrolls, scroll tubes, writing utensils and ink everywhere, but...there's one scroll tube that seems to be missing it's contents...why just that one?
- empty scroll tube bears seal of Dyvers' Cartography Guild, suggesting a map


Does this make ANY sense so far?

I mean, it's generic fantasy, and intentionally so: my cousin doesn't have the years of baggage about fantasy RPG settings that I do, so it'll all be fresh to him. Plus the mystery is intentionally supposed to be EASY. Many of the clues will be handed to him, in a not-subtle manner, to help him figure out what's going on.

I admit I'm not exactly sure how the Bratva will lead Sherlock to the dwarves, as Hadvar is killing off any witnesses/ties to the abandoned enclave and thus wouldn't have shown his face when setting up the Bratva deal..

I'm also not 100% how I can get Sherlock to the mine, where the dungeon itself is.

:: ponders ::

Re: Plot holes in "The Case of the Haphazard Heist"?

Posted: Wed Mar 14, 2012 3:48 pm
by GnomeBoy
The whole thing sounds solid.

Random, un-considered, off-the-top-of-my-head thought: The Bratva members could easily have family, wives, girlfriends, etc. What if a child of one of the Bratva members noticed the Dwarf? It'd be a vague kind of lead, since the child wouldn't be able to specify accents and things of that sort that Sherlock could use to pinpoint a culprit. But it might make a way to begin the link... Might also make a nice Oliver/street urchin moment, something for Sherlock to put together himself, if he's in the right place, and there's a square or whatever, where children are playing ("Have you seen any odd people lately, children?").


Re: Plot holes in "The Case of the Haphazard Heist"?

Posted: Sun Mar 18, 2012 5:15 pm
by Ogrepuppy
After giving it a little time, I think I have a slight modification that could help tie pieces together and also make it a slightly 'simpler' mystery (I don't want to overwhelm my poor cousin in the first adventure!)...

First, to be clear, the mine near Dyvers is a gold mine that, a generation ago, collapsed. The humans of the area avoided the mine since then because of it's questionable structural integrity. The old dwarf thane set up his treasure-house in an enclave very close to this lucrative vein of gold, but the collapse mentioned above opened once-sealed passages into the Underdark. Goblin squads surged up from caverns below and wiped out the dwarven city and sacked it, then moved on. (This is not important to the investigation, but bits of the story--the humans' perspective--can be gleaned if Sherlock thinks to ask questions / investigate.)

Hadvar isn't as careful about keeping things a secret....he's a little more sloppy. People have seen the dwarven brothers; the two have been asking (seemingly innocuous) questions around town about "the old gold mine to the north".

When Hadvar went to the scrivener's shop, he didn't kill the old man--just threatened him with his craghammer (Hadvar was wearing a kerchief over his nose/mouth/beard). Thus, the scrivener is alive (and Sherlock can question him) thus provided a clue about a dwarf looking for a map.

Hadvar and Dalvar (in the early stages of their plan) even went so far as to pose as dwarven prospectors, to get official permission from Dyvers to explore the mines and assess the option to stabilize it. The city flatly refused the brothers' request. (If Sherlock asks his contacts in the City Watch, they'll tell him about the 'prospectors' that were looking into reopening the mine.)

Finally, as you mentioned Gnomie, children saw the meeting between Hadvar & Dalvar and the Bratva rogues. One of the (Bratva) children stole Dalvar's kerchief, a uniquely dwarven-made square of dark cloth with a recognizable dwarvish embroidery. Sherlock may see this and ask the kids where they got the cloth. If Sherlock talks to the children, they'll confirm that one of the Bratva met with 'a short, funny little man'.

Re: Plot holes in "The Case of the Haphazard Heist"?

Posted: Sun Mar 18, 2012 6:00 pm
by Ogrepuppy
Clearly I have some work to do regarding descriptions of locations, assigning names to characters, etc. but I think this kinda makes sense. I described it to my wife this way, and she agreed that it made kooky sense.

1.) bad guy wants to find gold mine treasure map to get filthy rich,
2.) hires mafia toughs to stage a fake jewelry heist to distract cops, while he...
3.) steals map from human Xerox machine that pinpoints where treasure is
4.) bad guy travels to mine and is poised to profit; meanwhile....
5.) Sherlock talks to a buddy about his current case, and the buddy mentions a similar nearby robbery
6.) Sherlock starts the adventure at the jewelry store and can interrogate witnesses, talk to cops or examine clues
7.) Sherlock can then pursue leads: mafia toughs or human Xerox machine, both which lead him to description of bad guy
8.) Sherlock pursues bad guy to gold mine, has dungeon crawl

By the way, Hadvar (the wicked brother) is killed by an elemental living in the mine, while Dalvar (potentially) survives. In fact, when Sherlock goes into the gold mine he eventually meets up with Dalvar who asks the investigator to find his brother.

Re: Plot holes in "The Case of the Haphazard Heist"?

Posted: Sun Mar 18, 2012 6:16 pm
by Ogrepuppy
Love the wife, bless her soul. She asked, "Why didn't the dwarf steal a whole bunch of scroll cases while he was in the Xerox copy guy's shop to throw the cops off the trail?"

Great idea.

Hadvar, who doesn't have a lot of time to find or steal the specific map he wants, yoinks random scroll cases along with the specific map. Scoots out the back, leaving old scrivener to look for cops (who are currently running after the mafia dudes). Hadvar flees a few blocks away, then (down a dark alley) drops all the scroll cases on the ground & starts to open them, looking for the map. Once he finds it, he tucks it in his belt; he discards the scroll case as well as all the other half-rummaged through documents. (I picture a pile of unfurled scrolls and opened scroll tubes littering the back of an alley.)

This can be the 'easter egg' clue: if Sherlock asks the right street urchin or beggar the right question, possibly he'll find this discarded pile.

Re: Plot holes in "The Case of the Haphazard Heist"?

Posted: Sun Mar 18, 2012 6:50 pm
by GnomeBoy
Yes, you bachelor gameheads -- wives can be good for some things. :D

Re: Plot holes in "The Case of the Haphazard Heist"?

Posted: Sun Mar 18, 2012 11:13 pm
by Ogrepuppy
Is this still making sense?

Re: Plot holes in "The Case of the Haphazard Heist"?

Posted: Tue Apr 03, 2012 2:24 pm
by Ogrepuppy
I think I'm making it too complex.

I can strip down the idea to give the same info with less effort / time / NPCs. I can have the heist be in a place where documents and treasure are kept...a...a...what do they call that? Oh yeah....treasury. :D

Besides, do I want to start the session for a first time D&D player with a pile of talk? Or do I want to get to some action (combat) soon after we begin?

Re: Plot holes in "The Case of the Haphazard Heist"?

Posted: Wed Apr 04, 2012 4:01 pm
by GnomeBoy
Some people like threading their way through a mystery -- but going with some action is rarely wrong.

Re: Plot holes in "The Case of the Haphazard Heist"?

Posted: Thu Apr 05, 2012 7:06 am
by Raven_Crowking
The idea of the scrivener is good, because robbing a treasury makes sense, and robbing a scrivener is more unusual.

Some notes:

(1) There will be a client who knows what was being copied. Was that client killed? If so, that is a clue, and might point toward the killer more directly. Also, a friend of the client (not killed) could know what was being copied. Otherwise, obviously, the client knows.

(2) A Falling Out: The violent dwarf brother falls out with his non-violent brother over the killings. Does one brother slay another? A dead dwarf points toward dwarves, and, if the "murder weapon" of the scrivener is found on the body, that should seem to point to a "case closed" for the Watch, until Sherlock notes that the dead dwarf obviously did not bash his own brains in....a very unlikely method of suicide!

(3) You need a Lestrade to offer wrong conclusions to Sherlock. And also, of course, to help mop up/(try to) take credit for the successful case when it is over.

Finally, recall the maxim of ACD's Sherlock Holmes that common crimes are hard to solve because there isn't anything to make them stand out -- they could be done by anyone. It is actually the unusual elements in unusual cases that give the detective something to work with. IOW, murdered scriveners are better than robbed treasuries because there is an element of the unusual to give your Sherlock an idea where to begin his investigation.


Re: Plot holes in "The Case of the Haphazard Heist"?

Posted: Thu Apr 05, 2012 11:58 am
by Ogrepuppy
Can't type much right now, but GREAT ideas, Crowking!


I had to go to work, so didn't have a chance to comment earlier. Onward, ho! ("Did he just call me a ho?!?")

Please keep in mind that, while nothing is set in stone, I had certain directions I intended to go in with this investigation.

Specifically, the dungeon crawl (the second half of this adventure, where the map points to outside Dyvers) describes two dwarf prospecting brothers down in the mine; one prospector is trapped and/or dead at the hand of a small earth elemental, and when 'the adventurers' (in this case, Sherlock and a DMPC) arrive on the scene, the second dwarf runs up to them looking for them to help him rescue his brother. This seemed very A.C. Doyle to me (I dunno why), so I expanded the idea to make one dwarf more sleazy and scheming, and thus Hadvar was born....and, really, the entire idea of stealing a map that was seemingly innocent but in actually incredibly important (if for no other reason than the treasure in the dwarf enclave). And, true to most Sherlock stories, the bad guys usually have Karma bite them in the ass at the end, so Hadvar will be beyond our help at the end of the crawl....and the gentler, more pleasant Dalvar will be politely asked to get a permit to prospect/mine/dig in the gold mine from the City of Dyvers if he wishes to stay in the area.

Now, running with your idea, there could have been three brothers, two evil and one...less so... The two evil ones (Hadvar and another, say Grimmen) bickered over who got to become Thane of the abandoned enclave, came to blows, and the weaker Grimmen was slain...viola, the dwarven corpse you suggested with Hadvar's craghammer embedded in his skull. Dalvar might not even know Hadvar killed Grimmen. (I have this image of Dalvar being a sweeter, more innocent 'kid brother' type who would get pissed if he knew Hadvar murdered their brother in cold blood.)

Regarding the scrivener, it'd be very easy to say he had an apprentice clerk who could fill part of the role(s) you've suggested.

And, to start the adventure with a bang (and tie in some related elements), I can begin the scene in media res with Sherlock facing down against two or three Bratva thugs who he's been "eyeing" for a while. They caught him snooping and chased him through the back alleys of Dyvers....although, unbeknownst to them, Sherlock was actually leading them to a unique, unpopular cul de sac where he intended to turn the tables on the Bratva and go on the offensive.....

....."And roll for initiative!"

Re: Plot holes in "The Case of the Haphazard Heist"?

Posted: Tue Apr 17, 2012 5:03 pm
by Ogrepuppy
I dunno. This seems 1) railroady, and 2) very elaborate for a first-time D&Der.

I'm trying to think of ways to pare this down or simply use exposition to get the character directly into the action, which (I feel) is at the mine.

Sure, investigation would be fun and certainly essential to Sherlock Holmes, but I might actually save the investigation for a second adventure and let my cousin experience a "true" D&D session with a quick 'n' dirty dungeon crawl first.

Ostensibly, this dungeon crawl will allow him to try combat and monsters before we get into the nitty gritty of "playing a role" and meeting tons of NPCs.

Re: Plot holes in "The Case of the Haphazard Heist"?

Posted: Wed Apr 18, 2012 8:15 am
by GnomeBoy
Re: too elaborate.

I can remember being an inexperienced player with an experienced GM, and being a more seasoned player playing in games run by inexperienced GMs; one hallmark of both was that clues tended to get dropped in the players' laps. Villains (that you may not even know yet are villains) blurt things out that maybe they shouldn't have if they wanted to keep their secrets secret. The one stone that seems the most likely one to turn over has gone unturned by the 'authorities', and -- voila -- the vital clue that ties everything together is there! There's always a cryptic/semi-cryptic/not-at-all-cryptic note left behind that points to exactly the place you need to go to... I'm sure you see where I'm going with this. If the plot seems too elaborate, you can 'dumb it down' (for lack of a better term) by more-or-less laying it bare. Then let the player wander through the schematic of the plot as he sees fit, and it's still all new to him. This will play faster than making him figure it all out, and will get to the action quicker without sacrificing the weight of events that lead to that action. There can still be corners of it for him to figure out on his own, or not, and that's the icing on the plot cake.

Mmmmm, cake...

Re: Railroady.

I never worry about this too much. No plot survives player interaction. You've always got to improvise based on what the players actually do (not what you expected they might do). And most importantly: You've got to have a plot planned out, so when the players do go in their own direction, you can do that improvisation that keeps the story going. Having a plot that goes A B C can seem like railroading, but being realistic, you can't be expected to invent a whole world of people, places and things in advance (who has the time?), nor on the fly. Some people can make it seem like that is possible, but they're just grafting on other plots they've already done or things from tv shows you haven't seen, or whatever.

Railroading is in how you run it, not how you devise it.


Re: Plot holes in "The Case of the Haphazard Heist"?

Posted: Wed Apr 18, 2012 8:40 am
by Raven_Crowking
OK, first off, so long as you are figuring out what has happened, and what the villains are doing, you are not railroading. Railroading is deciding what the PCs will do with what you hand them, which is not in your control (nor should it be). Holmes didn't solve all his cases, and if your PC fails to solve the case, that should be okay.

I.e., if you demand Outcome X occurs, you are railroading. If you are setting up a complex situation, and considering ahead of time what might arise (so that you can be prepared if it does), that is just good GMing.

What you want to do is (1) know your villains' motives, (2) know what clues are immediately available as to what happened, and (3) ensure that your villains are not so clever that their plan cannot be figured out.

(3) is why you want many avenues which the PC(s) can explore. It is absolutely okay to have your murderous dwarf believe that he is more clever than he actually is, and do some stupid things that become clues.

Holmes had his Baker Street Irregulars; your investigator may have the chance of using divination magics to get yes/no answers to a few questions, depending upon the milieu. Also, a crew of official and/or unofficial contacts to do legwork is a very good idea.

Whatever you do, resist the temptation to change the scenario to match the players' guesses! Nothing damages the joy of victory so much as discovering/feeling that the fix was in. If you imagine that players do not often know when the fix is in, well, I've a bridge to sell you.

You may also wish to be prepared to have a lesser mystery lead back into this one. The dwarf didn't pay his inn tab before departing, and the innkeep wishes your Holmes to track him down. Or he stole some mining tools from another patron. Or both. And, of course, some evidence is in his inn room.......

Related reading: ... t-and.html ... t-and.html ... nd_06.html

Best of luck with it!


Re: Plot holes in "The Case of the Haphazard Heist"?

Posted: Wed Apr 18, 2012 9:02 pm
by Ogrepuppy
First and foremost, thanks for your replies. They gave me 1) a lot to think about and 2) a boost of encouragement.

I'm pretty hard on myself when it comes to designing adventures...primarily because I read a ton of published adventures and they're (let's face it) often utter crap. I don't like running crap for my players, no matter who they are. Thus, I put pressure on myself to NOT write crap. That's a ton of pressure for someone who doesn't write adventures for a living.

Also, I think I tend to come up with plots, rather than situations due to the fact that I used to think I wanted to be an author....and that's a big downfall. Plots tend to be railroady, because things have been determined ahead of time without interaction from the PCs. Situations are, by their very nature, open-ended: they rely on the players to resolve them. I tend to write plots. If I simply shifted focus, altered my perspective, so that I designed situations...I'm pretty sure I'd be a better adventure writer.

Second, what I'm getting from both your posts (synthesizing them together) is that while I may think my heist is a bit sprawling, it's really that I'm thinking up all the details that need to be there in case my player zigs instead of zags. I'm covering all my bases. While that may seem overwhelming on screen as I read over what I've written, the basics of the heist are actually pretty simple. And the more clues I can toss my player, the more easily he'll piece together the mystery puzzle and the happier he'll be when he finally says, "Hey, I need to look for a dwarf in a nearby mine!".

Sherlock getting to the mine is the ultimate goal...because his suspect will be there, and he'll be able to resolve the mystery when he finds his suspect.

Re: Plot holes in "The Case of the Haphazard Heist"?

Posted: Thu Apr 19, 2012 3:14 pm
by GnomeBoy
Here, here!

But there.