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D&D 5E Cryptex

Plaguescarred

D&D Playtester for WoTC since 2012
I want to drop a cryptex in my campaign, for those who ignore what it is, it's a portable vault used to hide secret messages, scroll etc. I'm not too sure on the method to open it. A Skill challenge seems like a natural fit, a serie of Intelligence (Investigation) checks where success unlock it and failure breaks the vial of vinegar and destoy the content? Or may be Thievery, since it's normally used for open lock? A mix of both? How would you go about it?

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Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Well, ask yourself the question - WHY do you want to use this? What is the end result you want to see?

"Just because it is cool," doesn't really answer the question. Why is it cool? What do you think should be fun about this for the players?
 

Plaguescarred

D&D Playtester for WoTC since 2012
For the challenge. I want to use this as a mean to offer, through some challenge, either a treasure in the form of magic scroll, or a plot hook in the form of a map or letter leading to a future quest. A simple scrollcase would be open without risk and effort. A Cryptex offers both.
 

aco175

Legend
The more times you have the players roll, the greater the chance of failing, but challenges tend to have a couple fails built in to build tension. The question is how to make it cool and fun for the players and what is the reward for the effort.

Maybe they are given one to deliver and told not to open it. This now becomes irresistible to some who must know the what is in it. It might be better when there are other clues to lead them to an answer and they need to carry it around for a couple quests while searching for leads on the name of the ship the Duke served on when in the military. Breaking into the graveyard to find out the Duke's dogs name on the collar buried in the family crypt. If the players know up front that it is extremely difficult to open, they may go along, but also just break and cast mend. See the speak with dead murder mystery thread and other real world vs. game play threads.
 


Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Depends on how they want to solve it. Investigation if they're trying to solve the puzzle, thieves tools if they just want to disable it. I'd make the former a lower DC than the latter. I'd also give them options to find clues on how to solve the puzzle, either through hints in the current setting or perhaps something they have to do other tasks for. Lots of options there, everything from capturing someone who might know the code to looking for the equivalent of a sticky note with the password on it.
 

There are two ways to open a cryptex - the way it is meant to be opened, with the combination, or by bypassing it in some way. It's quite easy to get inside without the combination - the hard bit is doing so in such a way so as not to release the acid and destroy the document inside.

If the PCs want to try the second method, I would ask for a DC 30 thieves tools check. If they fail by 5 or more the acid breaks. Otherwise they can try again.

If they want to try guessing the combination, you need to decide if the character's have a better chance of guessing than the players. You might just pick a password and let the players guess. If there is some reason why the character might have a better chance of guessing - e.g. it's the name of the First Emperor of Puzzleopolis, you might allow an appropriate skill check - history in this instance. But if it's just a matter of blind guessing, then no amount of Investigation skill is going to help.

I guess another way would be to blindfold a halfling and let them punch keys randomly. If they roll a 1 on the D20 the lucky trait triggers and it opens.

Divination magic might also be used.

You might allow them to try and look for fingerprints on the keys - don't prompt the players, they need to come up with this on their own. In which case a DC 15 Investigation check gives them an anagram of the password.
 

Plaguescarred

D&D Playtester for WoTC since 2012
I'm also looking at ways to have the party to take part of the action rather than a single character. Perhaps some secondary skill checks can be attemped to assist primary checks where success give them advantage, and failure disadvantage.
 

I'm also looking at ways to have the party to take part of the action rather than a single character. Perhaps some secondary skill checks can be attemped to assist primary checks where success give them advantage, and failure disadvantage.
It's not really something multiple people can work on, but you can involve everyone in discussing how they are going to try an open it, rather than just saying "make a skill check to open it".
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
For the challenge. I want to use this as a mean to offer, through some challenge...

Okay, so when you are putting together a combat challenge, you think of what kind of challenge you want it to be, right? Like - is it against one big boss, or a horde? Is it a challenge to kill off widely spaced ranged attackers, or melee opponents who get in the party's midst? And so on.

Same idea goes here - what kind of challenge do you want? What kinds of things do you want them to do? Is it a widget hunt for clues to the combination spread around town? Is it a social challenge to extract key information about the combination from the one person left alive who knew the previous owner? Is it a purely technical challenge of fiddling with a physical object? Is it a full-room challenge where the party must piece together the action of the mechanism by interacting with a large space (Fifth Element style)?
 

Plaguescarred

D&D Playtester for WoTC since 2012
More could help with a Wisdom (Perception) check and say one of the symbol character seems more worn or used and grant advantage to the next check, Simialrly, another could recall lore about the symbols with an intelligence (Arcana or History) check and help in deciphering attempts. As for the main attempt, more than one can give it a shot too. Especially if i limit the number of attemps by the different Skills between Dexterity and Intelligence.
 

Plaguescarred

D&D Playtester for WoTC since 2012
Okay, so when you are putting together a combat challenge, you think of what kind of challenge you want it to be, right? Like - is it against one big boss, or a horde? Is it a challenge to kill off widely spaced ranged attackers, or melee opponents who get in the party's midst? And so on.

Same idea goes here - what kind of challenge do you want? What kinds of things do you want them to do? Is it a widget hunt for clues to the combination spread around town? Is it a social challenge to extract key information about the combination from the one person left alive who knew the previous owner? Is it a purely technical challenge of fiddling with a physical object? Is it a full-room challenge where the party must piece together the action of the mechanism by interacting with a large space (Fifth Element style)?
Thank you the idea gets more and more traction in my mind as i'm thinkering about it. The Cryptex will be found in a dungeon most likely, and opening it will be an open lock through deciphering. Rather than using a single Dexterity check, i'm looking at multiple ones and alternate checks as well. I will look into how 4E handled Skill Challenges and also this post on Critical Hit to inspire myself. I could also use some of your suggestions about previous owner knowledge. I am not sure to understand the last reference to Fifth Element what would piecing together the action of the mechanism by interacting with a large space be like?

 

The thing about a skill challenge is it abstracts the problem. It doesn't need to be a cryptex, it could be any security system.

If you are going to the trouble of including a real world device, it seems a bit of a waste to roll play opening it rather than role play opening it.
 

Plaguescarred

D&D Playtester for WoTC since 2012
The thing about a skill challenge is it abstracts the problem. It doesn't need to be a cryptex, it could be any security system.

If you are going to the trouble of including a real world device, it seems a bit of a waste to roll play opening it rather than role play opening it.
I don't see why it would be a waste to have checks vs roleplay for overcoming a Cryptex since it's a vault with a combination lock, and while locks are real world device, we use checks to overcome them in D&D. I am toying with the idea of roleplay being involved to discuss with NPCs concerning it's origin, even may be obtain 1 success along this way.
 

A cryptex is a bit more "special" than a standard combination lock, and cannot be cracked in the same way (by listening for tumblers falling into place).

If you want the document case to have a generic combination lock just say "it has a combination lock", don't bother calling it a cryptex, since you are not adding anything by doing so.
 

Plaguescarred

D&D Playtester for WoTC since 2012
A Cryptex is adding something different to a generic locked vault, its combinasion is letters rather than numbers, both as flavor and mechanical purposes. Usually scroll case are not secured by elaborate lock system.

I'd allow a Dexterity check to listen for tumblers falling into place inside a Cryptex if the letter's position is part of the right combinasion. It could count toward 1-2 successes, but not all of them for exemple.

I envison this challenge to be overcomed using different skills rather than simply be a password entry that you know or not. May be it's wrong, but i feel it is a better way to be a multi-player challenge using their different attributes to the best of their capacities.
 

its combinasion is letters rather than numbers
That's a meaningless distinction, unless the letter code is a word that can be deduced.
I'd allow a Dexterity check to listen for tumblers falling into place inside a Cryptex if the letter's position is part of the right combinasion. It could count toward 1-2 successes, but not all of them for exemple.
So, an bog standard lock that requires multiple rolls for no apparent reason.
I envison this challenge to be overcomed using different skills rather than simply be a password entry that you know or not. May be it's wrong, but i feel it is a better way to be a multi-player challenge using their different attributes to the best of their capacities.
So why is this lock so different from all the other locks the rogue cracks dozens of every adventure? The main thing about a cryptex is it's a very early example of a combination lock. Later locks - including many of those typically found in D&D - where more sophisticated.
 

Plaguescarred

D&D Playtester for WoTC since 2012
I've come to a first draft what do you guys/gals think? Feedbacks and suggestions welcome

Skill Challenge: Cryptex
The party attempt to decipher the code and open the Cryptex
Complexity: Requires 6 successes before 3 failures.
Primary Skills DC 15 Intelligence (Investigation) check, Wisdom (Perception) check or Dexterity (Thieve's Tools) check to deduce, inspect and carefully manipulate the Cryptex. Each skill can only be used to accomplish 2 attempts towards the overall skill challenge.
Secondary Skills DC 13 Intelligence (Arcana) check, Intelligence (History) check, Wisdom (Insight) check or Charisma (Persuasion) to assist Primary Skill checks to recall lore about symbols or history, obtain information from NPCs about the Cryptex's code and to anticipate or second-guess other character attempts. Skill checks denoted as assist do not count as a success or failure towards the overall skill challenge, they instead either grant advantage or disadvantage to a Primary Skill Check. Each skill can only be used to accomplish 2 attempts towards the overall skill challenge.
Success: The Cryptex unlocks and can be safely opened.
Failure: The Cryptex does not unlock and the vial of vinegar breaks, destroying the content.
 

Really a cryptex doesn't need any skill rolls at all. Entering an incorrect combination does not break the acid, so you can just work through all possible combinations until you get to the right one, just like opening a bicycle lock.
 

Plaguescarred

D&D Playtester for WoTC since 2012
That's a meaningless distinction, unless the letter code is a word that can be deduced.

So, an bog standard lock that requires multiple rolls for no apparent reason.

So why is this lock so different from all the other locks the rogue cracks dozens of every adventure? The main thing about a cryptex is it's a very early example of a combination lock. Later locks - including many of those typically found in D&D - where more sophisticated.
A combinason lock wether letters or numbers, can be deduced. What makes a Cryptex different is that it uses letters that could be encrypted with a message along with it, (ex. Q: Equal time the sun crosses the celestial equator. A: Equinox) and where a failed attempt destroy the content it is protecting. If that clue is not present, i want it still be openable, but with a certain challenge for the party.
 

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