Thursday, January 6, 2011

Crime 101: Robber vs. Burglar

On Tuesday we talked about the differences between a Robbery and a Burglary. Today we're going to talk about building a Robber versus building a Burglar. Now, whether you're a player or a GM this should have some use to you - unless you already know everything I'm putting down here - and even if you're not into playing thieves, maybe you'll see how your current character can still do a good job stealing. In short, I'd love it if this helped ripped the top off the idea of the class based 'thief' as the go to person for any type of stealing. Because, honestly, there are so many ways to steal it is silly to think only one class can do it.

Building a Burglar
Let's start with the burglar. Why? Well, two reasons. One, we started with robbery on Tuesday, and I like to try to be fair. Two, most of the work for a burglar is already done for you. In fact, if you look at most class based games, the 'Thief' - or 'Rogue' in modern editions of D&D - is in fact very close to a burglar.

Don't believe me? Well, take a moment and look at the skills. Move Silently, Climb, Acrobatics, Pick Locks, Detect Traps, Disable Device. These are the bread and butter of a burglar who is trying to get into a building unnoticed, take the valuables, and get the heck out. The combat skills can help, sure, but they're secondary. After all, you're only using combat skills when you get caught, and a good burglar is rarely caught. So, secondary combat focus...hmm...yep, just like the thief class once again.

Now, there are different kinds of burglar - the most popular being the Cat Burglar and the Hamburglar (yes, I's horrible, sorry) - but for the most part their role is the exact same. Get into the building, get the goods, and get back out. Cat Burglars specialize in second (or higher) floor entrances, others specialize in entering from below, but aside from that they're remarkably similar.

So, how do you build your burglar? Well, like a thief of course. You're going to want a decent dexterity, and a number of skills. Picking Locks, Disabling Devices, and Appraise are probably the most important, followed by things like Hide and Move Silently. Why in that order? Well, the first three are your skills that get you paid. Picking Locks gets you in, disable devices (or security in more modern systems) lets you bypass the security and crack safes, and appraise means that you aren't stealing anything not worth taking. Move Silent, Hide, or Stealth depending on your system are then secondary, and needed only when getting in requires getting past some form of guard. Not something you'll need for every heist, but still something good to have.

The real trick to playing a Burglar however, is the mindset. You need to be more focused on finesse than brawn. Speed is also a factor, but not as big a one as it is for other types of thieves. Patience however, and preparation, can be a much bigger deal than it is for others, and you want to be prepared for waiting things out, and only moving when you have to.

Building a Robber
In a lot of ways, a Robber is very different from a thief. Subtlety isn't the name of the game here. Force is. You need to get up in the face of your victim, show them who is in charge, and take what you want, all under the guise of an "or else something bad happens" threat, or by simply using the force and then taking what you want. This makes a drastic shift in where your build should be focused on. You want strength more than dexterity, for one. Your skills of choice are now Intimidation, Sense Motive, and weapons training/combat skills. In fact, looking it over, a Fighter makes a better Robber than a Thief does. Funny that, huh?

Now, much like with burglars, there are different kinds of robbers. Unlike with burglars, the difference here is usually what is stolen. Do you steal from armored cars? Do you rob banks? Stores? Or do you mug people in the street? Like burglars, the differences are less spectacular than you would think. There is little difference between mugging someone, and robbing an armored car. Sure, one is grander, and needs more man power, but in the end both take from the same skill of trees, and the same operating procedure.

So, we have strength, intimidation, sense motive, and combat skills. These are all equally important depending on the task at hand. Oh, strength is here as it is often what intimidation is keyed off of. If your system of choice uses a different stat, (like willpower in Roll and Keep) then replace strength with that. Aside from these however, we also need some planning. Believe it or not, armed robbery takes planning if you want to do it well. Less patience is involved than with a burglary perhaps, but for something like an Armored Car or Bank Heist, it isn't unusual to spend a couple of weeks to a couple of months prepping the job. If only to hit when the money is best.

The big difference between Robbers and Burglars though comes in the execution. Where a burglar will spend time planning, and casing, their execution can also be slow. They play a game of patience, taking their time to avoid traps, guards, cameras, and to get the best loot and get out. Yes, speed can help, but done right, the burglar can take their time. A robber on the other hand, must be quick and efficient once they begin to execute their plan. Whether it is a person being mugged, a bank, or an armored car on the street, weapons are present and the potential for the police to show up - or someone to try and play hero - increases by the moment. As such, robbery is very much a case of "Three weeks of planning, three minutes of execution", and you want to keep that in mind while making your character.

You need to be decisive, you need to know what you want going in, and you need to have fall back plans ready to go because you don't have time to stop and think once things are going off. This brings the intelligence stat heavily into play for robbers, perhaps even more so than for burglars, but ultimately it comes down to being decisive. Three minutes isn't very long. With six second rounds, you get 30 rounds out of it. Long time for a fight, but that vanishes a lot quicker when the people you are threatening freeze for ten to twenty seconds at a time.

So, keep this in mind when making your robber. Decisiveness, and quick, efficient use of force are your keys to success.

Unsurprisingly there are similarities between the two types of thieves. Both need some ability to plan, and to spend time casing a mark. This is done as much to increase the score, as it is to decrease exposure. The planning phase for both is remarkably similar. What is security like, what security forces need to be overcome, how does the vault work, etc. So, starting off, very similar between both.

the differences, as said, comes in the execution. Burglars can take their time, moving slow and carefully to maximize their take with deception and subtlety. Robbers need to be fast and efficient, they need to be through the door and heading straight for their goal, because they need to be out of the area before reinforcements show up. Burglars often have the luxury of working alone, robbers often need to work in teams to control the situation.

There are more differences between the two as well, but these are the key ones. Hopefully, by pointing them out, you'll be able to make a better choice when making your next thief.


  1. In truth, most fighters play the role of Robbers by default. Only they don't just threaten violence, they kill and then strip the corpse. I'm not sure what they would do if an Orc said "Please don't kill me, heres all the gold I have. Just take it and go!"

  2. Sounds like something fun to find out.

    My group's default fantasy setting is L5R, where the person would be executed anyway. But in a more western fantasy game, I could see that being a lot of fun to go with.

    If nothing else, the orc may get to run away by dropping the cash, begging for its life, and running. If only on the pattern break.