How to handle sneak attacks?

I have a PC (burglar) who often likes to try and get in a sneak attack when he sees things headed toward a conflict. So far I’ve generally used that just as the trigger for a kill conflict, but I’d like to somehow give a chance for the attack to be beneficial (or detrimental).

I figure this would be something like a vs. Scout test leading directly into a Conflict, with the margin of success subtracted from the opposition’s disposition.

Are there any rules to address this, or thoughts about different consequences for succeeding or failing?


I usually call for Hunter and treat it like a stealth kill from a video game. I will often let a character pick off one enemy before the fight in this way, if it makes sense in the fiction. Or it can even skip a fight entirely if the target is alone. These kinds of takedowns are really common in fiction, underrepresented in RPGs in my opinion.

Removing a helping die before a conflict is a really strong advantage mechanically, and it just feels so right for sneak attacks.

Obviously there’s a bit of plot armor for important NPCs.


I like these solutions. But I offer a counter example:
In the recent playtest, the burglar wanted to gank Saw Back before they group clashed with his pack of kobolds. He wanted to sneak around behind the group and do the deed but I declined to allow it. The kobolds had encircled the group with spears leveled, trying to hem them in. They were staring at the burglar (and other characters). It didn’t make sense so we moved on.

The thief also wanted to pop Saw Back with a throwing axe before kicking off the melee. To me, that seemed like initiating a conflict, not a well planned take down that would avert disaster.

I like using sneak attacks as the lead in for kill conflicts because I find that folks often want to try to solve a problem they created without having to clean up the mess they made, if that makes sense. Players love riling up a group of enemies then declaring themselves the victors after making a desperate threatening move in their direction.

I prefer to fight those out.


Spitballing some more sneak attacks (when it really is a sneak attack, not when there’s been blustering and whatnot already):

  • Hunter vs Scout: opponents start down 1-2 disposition
  • you get a free Maneuver with some static Ob representing how sneaky the sneak attack actually was, before the first volley actions are revealed
  • Hunter vs Scout: if you choose Attack or Feint as your first action, and the character narrating their sneak attack is the one who gets the first action, take +2D
  • Hunter vs Scout: opponents may not Defend on volley 1 :wink:

As a paintball player, my initial reaction is that a sneak attack is meant to do one thing and that’s force someone into a strategically inferior position. Sometimes that inferior position is removing one or more of their people from a fight before the fight starts. More often than not, I think that the idea of an ambush is to make whoever you’re attacking stop making decisions, and start getting manipulated by you, usually by placing themselves into an even more dangerous position.

As a GM I think that the D&D version of a sneak attack has made the concept of a sneak attack very one dimensional and boring in most rpgs.

I would argue that in Torchbearer, nine times out of ten, the idea of a sneak attack is already covered by what Feints and Maneuvers already do. That one time out of ten, I’d allow for a preparatory roll like what Mordeth or Greedy suggested, based off of what the players were describing.



Though as Greedy points out, there are other ways to represent “forcing someone into a strategically inferior position” in the TB system that the core game doesn’t touch.

One thing we played with at BWHQ: the ambushed side has to reveal their first action first and the other side can then change the order of their three selected actions to suit.


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