Contracts are needed to run Heists. In order to execute a Heist, you need to know the location of a valuable Artifact and what defences safeguard it. Contracts containing these clues can be found throughout Wraeclast alongside coins with the mysterious emblem of the Rogue Harbour. Travel there and turn in these objects to hire the expertise you need for your Heist.
Take Contract to Adiyah in the Rogue Harbour. You’ll pay her a sum of markers to arrange the Heist, allow you to select which specialised Rogue you’d like to take with you and handle transportation. Contracts can be crafted, if desired, to increase their difficulty and reward, much like maps.
Artifacts are the main objective from a (non-Grand) Heist. If you complete the Heist successfully with Artifact in hand, you can turn it into Faustus, the Fence at the Rogue Harbour in exchange for a sum of markers greater than you paid to run the Heist.
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Gather Markers. You’ll get these from regular monsters throughout the game and from turning in Artifacts after you complete Heists. These are essential for paying Rogues to assist you with Heists, and to reveal details of a Blueprint for Grand Heists.
Completing Heists is also essential for gaining intel and increasing Rogue skill experience. These are also important for being able to run Grand Heists. Rogue skill experience improves their ability to perform certain tasks during Heists. Heists and Grand Heists also require Rogues with a specific level of skill in certain tasks.
When you plan Contracts and Blueprints, you’ll have an interface which allows you to pick which Rogue has the appropriate skill level for the job required. This means you won’t have to use your memory to know who is right for what job.
There are bonus things to consider, like using a Thief’s Trinket to change which rewards you receive from a Heist or Rogue equipment to improve their skills, but they are not fundamental to your success.
The main thing you need to do is complete regular Heists by reaching the Artifact and turning it in for profit.
A Heist attempt is only considered a failure if you die after the lockdown and lose your contraband. If you die after the lockdown is in effect, you won’t be able to return to the Heist and collect those items (but they can be collected by remaining party members). If you die prior to the lockdown, you can return to the Heist.
You can somewhat consider it a failed state if you don’t reach the Artifact (because you can’t turn it in for a profit, advance your Rogue’s experience or gather intel from the Heist), but if you make it out, you will still get to keep your other rewards.
In a Grand Heist, each wing has its own alert level to manage, so if you fail at one wing you’ll still be able to attempt the others. You can also Stash your items between wings to ‘lock them in’ in case you die in one of the other wings.
If you just want regular Path of Exile items and don’t want to engage heavily in running Heists, it’s a viable strategy to simply begin the Heist, steal as much as you can until you reach the alert level cap and then make your escape.