Development Credit: Maltruism
Stealth is the ability to pass a hostile point undetected.
To pass unseen is not enough, you may still be heard. To pass unheard is not enough, you may still be smelled. To pass unseen, heard or smelled is not enough, the flare of a torch or candle may send your shadow into view. Awareness of all these may still be insufficient as wind whistles through a hole in your armor, betraying your presence. And it is a must to leave no trace of your passage. It helps to have great agility or acrobatics, either to slip through narrow openings quickly and soundlessly, or to make quick and amazing moves to reach high or far hiding places in a pinch.
And your actions themselves may generate visible, audio or olfactory signs of your presence. Many think if they open a door silently, their presence is assured to be undetected. But they do not think about the noises going on outside the door that now pass through the opening in increased volume and clarity. Even the angle of the door itself may cause a draft to shift direction, bringing a noticeable chill to an enemy guard. A strong odor of a nearby compost heap may find its way past the nose of this same guard. Or you may lean on something hot. Silently yes, but still sending a waft of burning leather the same way. And all this is outside of the possibility of a variety of traps and sensors specifically designed to betray the presence of the otherwise undetectable.
The truly stealthy individual is aware of not just things on the floor to avoid stepping on. He is aware of drips of condensation, and knows to allow them to continue uninterrupted. He is aware of the look of the walls and ground for anything that looks about to crumble. Is something about to make noise? Is it a noise that will be out of the ordinary? Enough so to cause a guard to come look? The stealthy individual is considering every aspect of his surroundings, considering what can go wrong. Is the line around that tile unusually dark, hinting that it may be loose? Is there a crack in the wood of that door, that could be a peephole? Is there a puff of dust from below it that might be the result of changing air pressure from a different door being opened beyond it? Could that herald the approach of more guards? Did that candle flicker differently than how it has been flickering for the last several bits? Does the dust on the floor look naturally accumulated, or could it be artificially applied to cover something? And at all times..."Where will I slip to, in the event of a hostile approach?"
He is also aware of any means to create a diversion or distraction. He may carry pebbles in his pocket. But if so, he will be aware that they need to be of the same kinds of pebbles found nearby. A quick fire-starter technique is always handy. But it needs to look like an accident, unless secrecy is unnecessary once he passes the hostile point. Maybe he can set up something to fall over, down a different hall, a few bits after he's gone around the other way, in hopes the guards will leave their post to investigate.
Stealth is the perfect balance of paranoia, patience and confidence.
The beginner has probably managed to sneak up behind a friend at a party to play a prank, or sneaked some cookies from a jar, at best. But if he was in a truly perilous situation, he had best have back-up to help him fight free. He only thinks in terms of where he steps. Not even considering other senses or directions that may be important. He would be hard-pressed to slip past a sleeping guard. This individual has learned to consider many other aspects of what may give away his presence, but he is far from adept at controlling them. He may very well hit a chandelier while he waves his arms to keep his tip-toed balance. He may have the sense to get out of sight and hope there is a cat to take the blame. His own nerves are his greatest enemy. He has trouble silencing his breathing when he has to keep still if hostile forces are passing his hiding place. And the smell of nervous sweat will betray him. He could get past a sleeping guard easily enough, but a sleeping dog?...doubtful.
This individual can elude most any unprepared position, if there are handy niches to move to and from. A wide open area, or a tight area fully monitored by guards is going to be too much though. But given time to study the behavior of the guards and the cycles of their replacement duties, he may find a weakness to exploit. He is aware of many ways that all the senses can betray him by now. He either had a talented mentor, or he was lucky to live through these past learning experiences. He is very aware of his own scent, and takes steps to neutralize it. A sleeping dog is no problem. He is likely to have learned other skills to aid him when things go wrong. Maybe he is good at disguises, or bluffs, or has some forged papers. Maybe he has an emergency dose of sleeping poison. Maybe he's just very good at hand to hand combat and can choke the guy silently.
This man rarely needs back-up skills to by-pass a hostile point. He is quick to gauge what distractions will get the greatest response from those he's trying to get by. He has a knack for timing his moves from one niche to the next, and seems to erase his tracks as he moves. He is usually prepared to distract even dogs from his trail. But too much concentration on his distraction techniques will draw his focus off of the details of stepping on something, or having studied whether a door tends to creak or not. It is only when several opposing elements have to be dealt with at the same time that he might fail to go unnoticed. Even then, though, he will be quick to bring other skills into play to cover his mistake. He does not lose his cool when things become tense.
The master of stealth is in complete command of his place in the environment. He is like part of the wall. He does not seem to touch the floor. In the brush, he seems to meld with the foliage, causing no sounds of movement that do not seem natural. He is the wind, He is a shadow. It seems that the enemy is always looking the other way when he comes into the open. It seems that he has shed his scent permanently. Or maybe replaced it with something that drives dogs away. Only an opponent with exceptional skills of observation are likely to detect this man, and only if he is warned to look.