Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Lockpicks and Locks

Brunomac did a blog Thieves Tools Hard to Get?  back in September and for some reason I've been going back to that question and others concerning thieves tools.  This is me rifting off some ideas that have been bouncing around in my head and some I've implemented in my game.

I've mentioned before I stole/borrowed how lockpicks are used in my game, from video games (ie Fallout, Oblivion..).  I like that they are a finite resource and needs to be managed.  I'll include some of the stats I use in play.

Is it illegal to possess lockpicks?  Yes, because there is only one thing to do with them.  But its a secondary consideration.  No guard is going to pull you over at the gate, frisk you and throw you into the pit because you have a set.  If your caught doing something else and then the authorities find them on you then another charge will be added.

Availability (and Crunch for Play)
Lockpicks are easy for a thief to get.  The guild has specialty craftsmen who create them.  The most common is a simple five pick set.  They sell for listed price to thieves.  They can be found at shops fairly often at 20% above cost, although shopkeepers will mark them at 50% above cost claiming they could be thrown into the dungeon for years as their children shrivel and die from hunger.  These picks will snap if the player fails his lockpick roll by 20% or more. 

There are higher quality lockpicks, but these are much more difficult to find.  These are specially sets made for master thieves.  Having a set of these means you've earned your spot in the guild or had a hammer harder than the thief's head.  On occasion these can be found in black markets for 10x the normal asking price.  These picks rarely break, but can if the player fails his roll by 40% or more.

Then there are the legendary picks.  These are picks are made from adamantite or mithril.  They do not break and add a 20% of picking a lock.  It is rumored they can even dispel magic locks.  These picks are not for sale.  They are often possessed by legendary thieves of the time.   Only two sets are known to exist.

Having the picks become a resource that needs to managed adds an element to the adventure.  If a thief fails to pick the lock what is keeping him from doing it repeatedly until he unlocks it.  Sure there will be wandering monsters, but I think if there is a risk that if the player continues to fail his roll he may use up all his picks.  I think it adds an element of tension.  Some may find it an unnecessary element, but I like it.  And so far the players seem to think its okay.

You need locks to make those picks useful.  Like the picks there can be various levels.  For locks I like to use a five level of difficulty system.  To add a challenge to the upper level thieves who can unlock a chest with a look.  Here is the simple break down.
Crappy Lock  +10% to Pick
Simple Lock  0% to Pick
Difficult Lock  -10% to Pick
Complex Lock  -20% to Pick
Master Lock  -40% to Pick
I like the 'mini game' feel of picking locks.  But I've also found this very handy when players start establishing their base of operations.  They don't want to get broken into.  So they need locks.  Good locks.  Here's a simple guide to it.  Find your base price for a lock.  In my world a standard (simple) lock is 5sp.  A crappy lock would be less.  A Difficult lock would start at 25sp, a complex lock would start at 100sp and a Master lock at 500sp. 

While I don't do this often, if there is a particular lock maker, say Frower of Ellon, has made locks for years the player may be familiar with the locks he builds and therefore gain an advantage.  If I decide the player knows the lock I give a flat bonus of 10%.  I only use this element occasionally because too much of a good thing can bog down play, but if done correctly can add another nice touch to your world.  

Magic Locks
A mage casts Wizard Lock on a chest the thief is screwed.  But if he doesn't know that its magic locked then let him waste his pick trying to open it.  However, once a thief has been around a while (say over 5th level) he will know the difference.  If the player succeeds on his pick roll he will then know it is magically locked.  Thieves are trained to evaluate, adapt and overcome obstacles.  A thief knows he's going to run into these situations.  At 9th level a thief will carry scrolls of Knock to get past such annoyances. And of course mages counter with a big fat magic trap. 


  1. Fantastic. This is very likely how I will do locks from now on. Something just "clicked" while reading this, I always wanted to do locks this way but was never sure how. Thanks!

  2. Excellent ideas. I had the image of a 6th- or 7th-level thief attempting to pick a magically-locked door and feeling a slight "buzz" in his lock picks...something just barely there, imperceptible to a newbie, but something that lets him know magic is involved.

  3. Excellent way to do things. While D&D locks are of course cinematically complex for a quasi medieval society, closer to Victorian Era picks really aren't that break prone.

    Still resource management is a very D&D way to do things and I like it.

    A last bit, its reasonable for a good set of picks to give a bonus to skill, this means its usually a more comprehensive set as much as anything.

    This sight shows a range of tiers


    8 piece to 69 piece from $30 to $120

    I personally would just have cheap (-10%) standard (+0) , superior (+5 or 10) and masterwork +10 or 20 to taste) like I do with weapons and armor.

    A break result might in it dropping a category and below cheap means you treat it as improvised (-20 say)

  4. Some time it is possible that we forget where we keep our keys .Reason is that may be we are too busy. lock picking is important skill set for such people. People can open locked chests and doors without any damage.

  5. I was going to mention improvised lockpicks - bits of metal and hooked ends.

    They give a -10% chance of success, but you can scrounge them up really easily, and the guards won't tend to notice if you're carrying some scrap metal.

    Perhaps they have a chance to shear and ruin/jam the lock?