On Locks and Keys: Redux

So for the past year or so, we've been playing with the BURP lock system in Numenhalla.

After extensive playtesting, we've found it to be somewhat unsatisfactory.

BURP Lockpicking

In short, a lock has a number of pins. Each pin has an action that will set it, allowing you to go to the next pin. If you guess an adjacent option the pin gets stiff. If you guess an option farther distant, the pin jams.

The actions are, Bump, Undulate, Rake, and Probe.

If you have a Dragon Shadow Double Pin brand lock (BBUU), and the players record the sequence, then the next time they run into a Dragon Shadow Double Pin, then they already know how to get past it.
You can have related locks (Like a Dragon Shadow Triple Pin (BBBUUU)) allowing players to use their previous collected "Lockpick spellbook" to assist with future locks.

The process of selecting which pin is completely random and uninfluenced by player skill.

Why? There is always a "Best Option" and when there is more than one choice, there's no information to use to decide which is best, making the choice random. Since all the player choices are random, you could essentially just calculate a percentage chance of success and roll the dice to save time!
You could calculate a percentage chance of success and roll the dice to save time!

I wonder where I've seen that before?

A new solution

What we're looking for is a minigame that involves player choice and considers character skill. Mastermind seems like an excellent option (for example), but it isn't a mini-game. It's really a whole game, and would occur far too frequently in a megadungeon environment with many locked doors.

So here's my new solution!

Yahtzee locks
Locks have a set number of pins. The number of these pins is unknown to the lockpicker.
Players receive a pool of D6's. They may roll these dice once and turn in the dice in to pick a certain number of pins.

For example, if you turn in a single pair, let's say two 4's on the dice, that will set a single pin. If you turn in a set of triples, you set two pins. A full house (a pair, and triples) will set four pins.

If you have a lockpicking skill, at certain thresholds/levels/whatever, you gain the ability to reroll any number of the dice you wish, once, twice, or more. If you have a reroll and your dice come up 1,2,2,3,4,4 you could choose to reroll the two's and three's to go for more fours, or reroll the 3 to get a full house. The 1 would be pulled from your die pool.

Again, the player decides when to turn in dice to set pins and they don't know how many pins the lock has.

Anytime you roll a 1, that dice is removed from your pool for this lock. You start each new lock with a fresh pool of dice. If you fail to set all the pins, you jam the lock and it will no longer open.

Viola! Meaningful player choice, a reason to track locks, and something that takes into account player skill.

Here is the table:
Dice Set Number of Pins set
Doubles 1
Triples 2
Four of a Kind 5
Five of a Kind 8
Small Straight (4 in a row) 5
Large Straight (5 in a row) 8
Full House 4

  • Characters get a number of dice (1d6) equal to 1/2 their level (minimum 1) in their lockpick die pool.
  • Thieves/Experts get a number of dice (1d6) equal to their level + 1 in their lockpick die pool.
  • Characters get a number of bonus dice equal to their AC bonus from Dexterity added to their pool.
  • You need lockpicks to pick a lock
  • Masterwork or excellent lockpicks allow a free reroll.
  • For percentile editions, every 20% you get in your lockpicking you get an additional 2 dice and an additional reroll.
  • For Skills, the middle road: Untrained devices just grants you your dice as listed above. For each level (Skilled/Expert/Master) you gain +2 dice and a free reroll. So a master in devices would have +6 dice and could reroll 3 times. (Note that experts still get their 1 free mulligan per level, which can apply to any single die rolled in this pool)

How many pins does a lock have? Generally a number of pins equal to 1d6 per dungeon level.

Hack & Slash 
FollowGoogle +NewsletterSupport


  1. This is a pretty fantastic system. One thing that I'm missing though... you mention that this system still gives "a reason to track locks". Yet, I'm not seeing where this would come in (other than to say that the Dragon Shadow Double Pin has four pins). Since I'm only half way through my morning coffee I've probably just missed it, but could you point out/clarify this for me?

  2. I'm confused. Thieves just get level + 1 dice to roll, once? No rerolls if you're not using a skill system?

    Even with rerolls, a level 9 Thief only ever gets 10 dice. On his best day ever, that's two five-of-a-kinds (8 pins each), for 16 pins. 18-pin locks start to show up on dungeon level 3.

    And on a more average day, that Thief gets more like a four-of-a-kind (5 pins) and two pair (2 more pins), for 7 pins -- an average lock on dungeon level 2.

    What am I missing, if a high-level Thief can't pick most locks on dungeon levels 2 and 3?

    1. Don't thieves get some % ability to open locks in all editions?

      "For percentile editions, every 20% you get in your lockpicking you get an additional 2 dice and an additional reroll."

      From the article above.

      If for some reason there are just no skills at all whatsoever for thieves, I'd grant them a reroll at the same levels you'd get them in 1st edition: 1st, 5th, 9th, 13th.

    2. Aha. I didn't realize this stacked with the Thief/non-Thief distinction in bullets 1 and 2.

  3. Or, since a thief's job is to pick locks, you could say it's automatic if they take a turn and give them a 5-in-6 to try to do it in a round or when they have to be quiet.

    Nobody rolls percentiles to see if a wizard can use a spell.

    1. Puzzle locks, right? Not simple locks. Anyone can open simple locks. These are complex devices designed to keep people out.

  4. This seems like a lot of fun. Do you do anything similar for disabling traps/devices?

    1. Same process, in reverse. The goal would be to get enough 1's to jam the trap before setting it off.

    2. Ah, very clever. I'm going to try this during my next game. Thanks for producing fun material.

  5. I use the following method in my Tunnels & Trolls house rules, replacing the general saving roll mechanic.

    Set a challenge level (2 - 5) and a magnitude (5 - 40) for each lock. The player rolls 'action' dice (d6) equal to the challenge level, plus as many 'impact' dice as they like. If the total rolled is greater than their DX plus Thief skill, they jam the lock. Otherwise, they reduce the magnitude by the total of their 'impact' dice. They can roll as many times as they like, but each roll costs 1 search turn (10 minutes).

    Appropriate Class or Talent each reduce the number of 'action' dice required by 1.

  6. So, let's see if I understand your proposition correctly.

    Let's say a 5th level Thief (base 6 dice) with 16 Dex (+2 dice) and Expert Lockpicking (+4 dice and 2 rerolls) attempts to pick a puzzle lock on dungeon level 3 (3-18 pins).

    He rolls the following set: 3, 6, 5, 5, 6, 3, 1, 5, 6, 5, 1, 5. Lucky rolls! Let's see, what we may have:
    * two 1s removed from pool (reduced to 10 dice)
    * double 3s + triple 6s (4 pins)
    * five 5s (8 pins)

    Unmodified, this set potentially unlocks 12 pins, which - on average - would be sufficient (74.07% of puzzle locks on this level have 12 or less pins). Our goal, however, is to increase this number as much as possible. If we rerolled one of the 3s, we may end up with a 4 (thus, four 5s, two 6s, and four in a row = 11 pins), a lucky 6 (thus, five 5s and four 6s = 13 pins), or something else (triple 6s and five 5s = 10 pins). If we rerolled both 3s, we'd have 30.56% chance of rolling one 6; and we would still have one reroll left (if need be, both can be rerolled again, ultimately increasing our chances of rolling a single 6 to slightly over 50%).

    Let's say we gamble, and first roll a 3 and a 4. If we stop now, we would only have 11 pins. We gamble again, and roll snake eyes. Darn it! 10 pins it is. If only we could resist the urge to gamble so much...

    Is this the kind of reasoning that with these rules you would have liked to encourage? Now that I have actually thought about it, it is kind of cool. Also, the number of pins actually there is secret, right?

    1. Have you been using these rules recently?
      Did players like it?
      Did it make picking locks great again, or did it turn out to be just okay?


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...