So, to start off, just what is robbery? Dictionary.com defines it as follows.
1. the act, the practice, or an instance of robbing.
2. the felonious taking of the property of another from his or her person or in his or her immediate presence, against his or her will, by violence or intimidation.
It is the second definition that we are looking for when it comes to the difference between robbery and burglary. Now, from that definition there are some things that are very clear.
1. The victim is present for a robbery.
2. There is an overt presence and threat of force.
This, in other words, means that the victim is being coerced into giving up whatever it is the robber is looking to take. This is a straight up, face to face, short term exploitation of the victim by the offender.
So, how do they work? Well, depending on the kind of robbery changes that, but for a good example you can look to Atraties's post on the Anatomy of a Mugging from a couple of weeks back. In general though, they go like this. The offender(s) approach the target, make a display of force, take what they came for, and then leave. The victim is usually left feeling resentful of the offender, and if done right, completely powerless to stop what is going on.
A better way to show it would be examples though. The movie 'The Town' is full of examples of robbery, with Ben Afleck's character - and his crew - being a team of professional robbers, doing a number of heists over the course of the movie. John Dillinger was a robber (watch Public Enemies for examples of some of his work). Armored car heists are robberies. Basically, any time someone is there, being threatened with force, and something is being taken you have robbery.
Now, on the other hand we have burglary. Before going into it, here is Dictionary.com's definition of burglary.
the felony of breaking into and entering the house of another at night with intent to steal, extended by statute to cover the breaking into and entering of any of various buildings, by night or day.
Now, there are some key differences right off the bat. First off, the definition specifies at night. This isn't necessarily the case, burglary can happen at day time, but it does usually occur at night. Second, the target here isn't a person but a building. Third, there is no overt use of force to threaten or coerce a victim into giving over the money.
Basically, for a burglary you are breaking and entering into a building, taking what you want, and leaving. If things go right, the victim never knows you were there until it is too late. In fact, them not knowing about you at all is a desired effect. So, we have a very big key difference with robbery right there.
Examples for burglary are just as prevalent in films. The heists in the Italian Job are meant to be burglary. In the new movie the last one doesn't quite fit, but the opening job, and the original plan, are acts of burglary with no force used - aside from what is needed to break in. Cat Woman, of the Batman comics, is a burglar and breaks into people's homes and takes what she wants without ever being detected. As is, or was, Marvel Comics' Black Cat. Most people when they say they are playing a thief mean a burglar.
The difference between the two is fairly clear. Both are used for taking things that don't belong to you, stealing in other words. However, the means of how that stuff is acquired is different. Burglary is, generally, a more finesse based approach, where stealth is a key. You go into the building, avoid being seen, take what you want, and go. Sure, sometimes in real life burglars force their way in, but the key idea is still to not be seen or hassled while stealing. Robbery, on the other hand involves the direct use of force, or the threat thereof. The victim is right there, and being coerced into handing over whatever is wanted.
So, what is the point? Well, for one, knowing the difference is important as a GM and a Player because how you handle them is different, and can help with seeing different approaches to the same thing. On Thursday, I am going to go over things to keep in mind when building a Robber or a Burglar, which should also help bring this together into a better light. Finally, with this cracked and the difference shown, we can further explore the details of the individual acts, and how they work.