HOW TO: Stealth characters

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Advice on writing thieves, assassins and/other stealthy characters.

Lock picking:

I've seen some stories where characters grab a paperclip, and boom, no lock can stop them. I've also seen some where master thieves take a hammer and smash the lock. 

A lock has a series of tumblers in it, each of which need to click into place for it to unlock. a key's design is usually exactly what it must be to get these tumblers into proper positions. There are a wide array of shapes and sizes for lock picks, and if you're going to go round picking locks, you're gonna need more than one. There is no universal lock pick. Furthermore, for some reason a lot of people don't include the secondary locking tool: a lock wrench. this is used to turn lock, and to keep the tumblers in place once you've appropriately placed them with the lock pick. A lock picker will know that a tumbler is in place when they hear it click, but the nose is usually quiet, so they'll often have their ear close to the door. 

Can you pick a lock with a paperclip? Yes, but it's hard as hell, and a paperclip won't fit into all locks. Not to mention it's a pain turning the lock once the tumblers are in place. 

With code locks, a lot of movies or books show someone pressing their ear closely to the lock while turning it, and listening for a click when it hits the right number. This actually works. These are the most useless goddamn locks in history. 

Now if you're in modern day, with smart locks and various other tech, I'm afraid I can't help. Though the previous advice will help for most locks and that information still applies to basically all types of locks that aren't incredibly expensive. 


the dashing rogue slips through the shadows, his cloak billowing behind him, and somehow none of the dozen patrolling guards walking right by happen to notice him. 

Yeah that's not how it works. 

Sneaking involves a lot of remaining still, knowing your surroundings, and holding your breath.

A thief infiltrating a house will scout it out, usually for weeks in advance. Sometimes they'll pose as various businessmen and try to get owners of the house to let them in the house for a while so they can study the ins and outs of it. Cracking open a window isn't quiet, and you need to know what doors will creak and what doors won't. 

If you're trying to sneak, you need to try and stick near furniture and heavy objects. the floor isn't nearly as likely to creak when you're near these. Furthermore, you need to step lightly, and wear the appropriate footwear. Usually some cloth wrapping around ones feet will help be quiet, but avoid any shoes that might make clacking noises, or sound like they're peeling off the floor when they move. A their will also never scuff their feet if they're good at sneaking. 

Black clothing also helps you sneak if it's dark and you're surroundings aren't brightly coloured. If you're in a city of white buildings and marble, you'll want matching attire. this is just if you're skulking about a city, though. Just make sure you don't stand out. However, dark clothing will help you greatly to not be sen from a distance at night. 

If a thief suspects someone's nearby, they should always try to locate a hiding spot, and remain perfectly still. Do not move, and a good their will hold their breath if they start getting anxious, as heavy breathing could easily give someone away. 

Many stories also don't seem to account for the fact that various rogues and criminals have shadows too. Even a quick and subtle movement of a shadow might be enough to away one's presence. it's really, really hard to actually sneak up on someone due to this and several other factors. Most people will actually feel tense and usually catch wind of it if someone is sneaking up behind them as even very quiet sound and movements like breathing will subconsciously register to people if you get to close. 

I'm a master assassin, and I carry a goddamn great sword. 

There's a reason why they would use daggers. Assassins didn't usually sneak into the king's bedchamber in the dead of night without being seen once. There are guards. A long hallway with two guards standing in front of the door at the end, there is absolutely no way to slip past that. 

they would usually have to get into the building during the day, disguised as a servant or even another guard. they'd have to wait for the perfect opportunity to sneak into that nobleman's bedchamber, midday when he's absent, and then wait there for hours. 

If the assassin is sneaking in at night, they rarely go through the interior of the building. Just like a thief they'll get the layout of the building and then they'll usually enter through a window of wherever is closest to the target. if they don't have those guard patrols memorised, they're screwed. 

But you know what's not subtle? An assassin carrying a scimitar or some flashy crossbow. If you're going to sneak past people, you need a weapon no-one will see, and you can probably hide if someone decides to search you. 


This is mainly for modern era stories, and I just wanted to say I've seen a few shows where the criminal isn't wearing gloves throughout the whole thing. You always wear gloves, you never leave the murder weapon. If you touched something without gloves, you may as well take it with you to avoid the risk. 

Slipping out of handcuffs:

This usually requires dislocating you fingers. Ouch. But, if the one cuffing or tying up the thief isn't paying too much attention, you can keep your hands at an appropriate angle that the cuffs will not go on correctly, or the ropes not pulled tight enough and can probably slip out of them. 

Who needs a mask when you have shadowy hoods?

Guess what's the easiest facial feature to notice in the dark?  If you guessed eyes, the you're right. But, if you're bleeding in and your eyes are veiled by a hood that's somehow not obscuring your vision while you crane your neck downwards to ensure that it covers your face, then people are still going to be able to see your lips, which stand out as the second most of any feature on a person. 

Yes a hood is good, If you're trying to blend in, but it's not good for making sure people don't see your face. Wear a damned mask. 

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