D&D 5E D&D is a drag race, think of climbing as a cantrip, and the rogue would be better at lock picking if it could only pick a few locks per day.

Quickleaf

Legend
But D&D doesn't even really have rules for lock picking in the first place. This is part of the problem for me. D&D has vaguely defined skills that say things like "You can attempt to do X" but it says nothing about how long it takes or anything relevant. D&D doesn't attempt to simulate this aspect at all, since it has no rules for it.

Also note again that my example rogue has infinite uses of the basic lock picking skill, but has a few limited uses of "success with no risk of failure, instantly".

It's hard to say that my system is less realistic than whatever is already in D&D 5E (since there is basically nothing to compare my system to in the first place)
What's more interesting to me about your question are the implicit rules that influence it. And you're calling one of those out here explicitly: Lockpicking having almost zero guidance for how the GM can adjudicate it.

In my own approach to Lockpicking, I try to handle this in 3 ways.

1 - More Lock Detail
Because I am interested in encouraging creativity, I try to think about and describe locks with a bit more detail (this is often with a broad brush "the entry door is X lock, all other locked doors in the dungeon are Y locks"). For instance:
  • Barred Doors – technically not a lock, (5e RAW allows Knock to be used on a barred portcullis, for example, but I prefer the older AD&D interpretation, which is itself a long story because there were contradictions in the text, but I believe "can't open bars" is the intent), and while you cannot lockpick it, you can devise creative methods of opening it
  • Knot & Wax Seal – technically not a lock, but a deterrent, easy to cut past, very hard to cover your tracks
  • Door Latch – technically not a lock, but also trivially easy for anyone with a bit of skill to open, an automatic success / speedbump for a rogue with proficiency in thieves' tools
  • Pin Lock – push key in, lift up against a few little pins, pull back and pull the bolt lock out
  • Warded Lock – twist key, but there are obstructions that a key must be shaped to slide around in order to be twisted
  • Push-Key Padlock (aka Spring Lock or Fetterlock) – these have a spring mechanism inside which can trap a lockpick / the wrong key or get jammed
  • Combination Locks
2. Lockpicks as a Resource
I've been assuming the typical "thieves' tools" includes 10 lockpicks/skeleton keys – these can be resupplied by dealing with thieves' goods or the criminal underworld, but often they're illegal. Warded Locks are the most vulnerable to lockpicking, so expending a lockpick automatically opens a Warded Lock unless it's of masterwork quality or otherwise exceptional.

Similarly, when dealing with a Pin Lock, Warded Lock, or Push-Key Padlock there's the chance your lockpick might break. Could be if the check fails by 5+ (what I usually do), could be natural 1, could be some other determination the GM makes.

3. Knock's Limitations (and Uses) in My Games
Against a Push-Key Padlock on a chest or vault door? Knock spell is your weapon of choice! Against a Door Latch? Sure you could cast Knock, but that's overkill when the rogue can pop it open automatically. Against a Barred Door? Knock won't do crap, and it's up to the clever thief to tap out the hinges or whatever.

I like to have Knock leave some sort of an effect on a Pin Lock (such as yanking the bolt out of the locking mechanism entirely) or a Warded Lock (such as damaging the obstructions in the lock to prevent it from being re-locked). So it's not just the loud sound but also inspection will reveal tampering. There's a tradeoff consideration to be made.

4. Rules Ecosystem Around Lockpicking
Destroying a door in 5e RAW is trivially easy and has very little cost – it's a choice of "do we mind spending 1-2 rounds hacking/blasting it down and leaving obvious evidence?" Not always, but more than half the time I try to attach some consequence to destroying the door – e.g. giving monsters in the room beyond automatic surprise against the PCs.

Breaking a door in 5e (Strength check) suffers the same issue as many skills in 5e – no guidelines on repeatability & no guidelines on consequence. So I have rules that mitigate that:
  • Let the Roll Stand – If the barbarian couldn't break the door down, their check stands. The barbarian can't simply try again & the gnome wizard doesn't stand a chance (and cannot make that roll), unless something shifts dramatically in the narrative.
  • Failed Checks Have Consequences – The result is almost never "nothing happens." Instead, the PC ramming their shoulder into the wall takes some bludgeoning damage, can't use that arm to wield things for 10 minutes as it goes numb, they break something fragile on their person, etc.
My final thought is about the culture of gaming and the question "Why do we want to get to the other side of this locked door?" In my AD&D / BD&D days, there were clear answers to that question: To find the treasure, for the sheer joy of discovery, to surprise the monsters, or to provide us with an escape route or alternate route around wandering monsters. I think with modern D&D culture deemphasizing "get the gold" and also deemphasizing (through its hyper focus on combat) the joy of explorative discovery... there is increased burden on the GM / Adventure to instill in the players reasons to spend time on a locked door.
 

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pawsplay

Hero
This is one of those gatekeeping aspects 5e deliberately moved away from, that I don't miss. Just set the DC enough that a non-thief can't do it reliably during combat, and you'll be fine.
 

Parmandur

Book-Friend
which, regardless of how you feel about the implementation, generally was addressing various complaints various people had had with D&D for quite some time
But that's just the question: is there a problem? Some people may have had some issues, and some proposals may have helped some of those people...but how many, at each step there?

As it stands, D&D is a game of attrition and resources management (more 600 lap NASCAR than a 60 second drag race). Drag race solutions (tires, etc) don't work for a long circuit race, different techniques are required. If a machine is well designed gor NASCAR and doesn't do as well in a drag race, that doesn't mean that it is bad at it's core design purpose.
 

Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
What's more interesting to me about your question are the implicit rules that influence it. And you're calling one of those out here explicitly: Lockpicking having almost zero guidance for how the GM can adjudicate it.

In my own approach to Lockpicking, I try to handle this in 3 ways.

1 - More Lock Detail
Because I am interested in encouraging creativity, I try to think about and describe locks with a bit more detail (this is often with a broad brush "the entry door is X lock, all other locked doors in the dungeon are Y locks"). For instance:
  • Barred Doors – technically not a lock, (5e RAW allows Knock to be used on a barred portcullis, for example, but I prefer the older AD&D interpretation, which is itself a long story because there were contradictions in the text, but I believe "can't open bars" is the intent), and while you cannot lockpick it, you can devise creative methods of opening it
  • Knot & Wax Seal – technically not a lock, but a deterrent, easy to cut past, very hard to cover your tracks
  • Door Latch – technically not a lock, but also trivially easy for anyone with a bit of skill to open, an automatic success / speedbump for a rogue with proficiency in thieves' tools
  • Pin Lock – push key in, lift up against a few little pins, pull back and pull the bolt lock out
  • Warded Lock – twist key, but there are obstructions that a key must be shaped to slide around in order to be twisted
  • Push-Key Padlock (aka Spring Lock or Fetterlock) – these have a spring mechanism inside which can trap a lockpick / the wrong key or get jammed
  • Combination Locks
2. Lockpicks as a Resource
I've been assuming the typical "thieves' tools" includes 10 lockpicks/skeleton keys – these can be resupplied by dealing with thieves' goods or the criminal underworld, but often they're illegal. Warded Locks are the most vulnerable to lockpicking, so expending a lockpick automatically opens a Warded Lock unless it's of masterwork quality or otherwise exceptional.

Similarly, when dealing with a Pin Lock, Warded Lock, or Push-Key Padlock there's the chance your lockpick might break. Could be if the check fails by 5+ (what I usually do), could be natural 1, could be some other determination the GM makes.

3. Knock's Limitations (and Uses) in My Games
Against a Push-Key Padlock on a chest or vault door? Knock spell is your weapon of choice! Against a Door Latch? Sure you could cast Knock, but that's overkill when the rogue can pop it open automatically. Against a Barred Door? Knock won't do crap, and it's up to the clever thief to tap out the hinges or whatever.

I like to have Knock leave some sort of an effect on a Pin Lock (such as yanking the bolt out of the locking mechanism entirely) or a Warded Lock (such as damaging the obstructions in the lock to prevent it from being re-locked). So it's not just the loud sound but also inspection will reveal tampering. There's a tradeoff consideration to be made.

4. Rules Ecosystem Around Lockpicking
Destroying a door in 5e RAW is trivially easy and has very little cost – it's a choice of "do we mind spending 1-2 rounds hacking/blasting it down and leaving obvious evidence?" Not always, but more than half the time I try to attach some consequence to destroying the door – e.g. giving monsters in the room beyond automatic surprise against the PCs.

Breaking a door in 5e (Strength check) suffers the same issue as many skills in 5e – no guidelines on repeatability & no guidelines on consequence. So I have rules that mitigate that:
  • Let the Roll Stand – If the barbarian couldn't break the door down, their check stands. The barbarian can't simply try again & the gnome wizard doesn't stand a chance (and cannot make that roll), unless something shifts dramatically in the narrative.
  • Failed Checks Have Consequences – The result is almost never "nothing happens." Instead, the PC ramming their shoulder into the wall takes some bludgeoning damage, can't use that arm to wield things for 10 minutes as it goes numb, they break something fragile on their person, etc.
My final thought is about the culture of gaming and the question "Why do we want to get to the other side of this locked door?" In my AD&D / BD&D days, there were clear answers to that question: To find the treasure, for the sheer joy of discovery, to surprise the monsters, or to provide us with an escape route or alternate route around wandering monsters. I think with modern D&D culture deemphasizing "get the gold" and also deemphasizing (through its hyper focus on combat) the joy of explorative discovery... there is increased burden on the GM / Adventure to instill in the players reasons to spend time on a locked door.
I know it's not the point, so feel free not to respond, but your description of "modern D&D culture" makes me sad.
 

IMO rogues pay too much power budget for some hypothetical ability to pick locks all day long. They aren't particularly great at combat, being roughly on par with a warlock. I gave mine the choice between an ASI, feat, or extra attack at 6th and 14th level.

Classes with no resource management really get the short end of the stick unless you plow through 5E's ridiculous 6-8 fights per day. Yeah yeah, social/exploration encounters... but if the team isn't spending resources, is it really an encounter?
 

But that's just the question: is there a problem? Some people may have had some issues, and some proposals may have helped some of those people...but how many, at each step there?
There's a problem there because people keep complaining that there is a problem. We all know 'the 5/15 minute workday,' and 'you can always go out and rest,' and 'who actually plays dungeon-crawls these days?' and 'did anyone ever actually play name-level keep & follower game?' and any number of other short-hands for differing play experiences that have become positively memetic. Things like that don't become iconic terminology because one random crank has a problem with something -- it happens because more than a few do and find a common language when they share their common complaints.

As it stands, D&D is a game of attrition and resources management (more 600 lap NASCAR than a 60 second drag race). Drag race solutions (tires, etc) don't work for a long circuit race, different techniques are required. If a machine is well designed gor NASCAR and doesn't do as well in a drag race, that doesn't mean that it is bad at it's core design purpose.
I'm going to start off by saying that D&D is quite safe from the machinations of this thread. However the OP framed it, the subtextual reality is this thread is just jawing about alternative proposals of how one might have made the game/how one might homebrew a solution to a perceived problem.

Either way, I'm not sure I agree. D&D, if it 'is*' anything*, I would say it is a game of adventuring in a fantasy word, and that it utilizes attrition and resource management to facilitate that (and where attrition and resource management are imperfect at doing so are points of weakness in the design framework). Even if it is, if a game perfectly exemplifies a pre-declared set of operational design parameters, but those design parameters don't facilitate a gameplay people find beneficial, that purity of execution doesn't make the game less suboptimal for their use. *and here again I think we're faced with a half-century of the game trying to be all things to all people.

Regardless, I'm not really worried about whether a game is "bad at it's core design purpose." I'm not here to cast judgment or even give thumbs up/down, X out of Y stars, etc. This isn't an awards show and no one is going home with a prize. Peoples' enjoyment of their own gameplay is (IMO) the overarching goal here. If we find proposals that help meet that end, that's how I think we accomplish something here*.
*although again I think we're really just mostly jawing for the sake of it.
 

niklinna

satisfied?
Alice: "Why are there spells that allow casters to do things better than non-casters?"
Bob: "Because spells are a limited resource and as such they must be more powerful"
Alice: "How many times per day do you typically need to pick a lock?"

Meditate on the above and you will soon reinvent D&D "The Wheel" 4E.

I don't think the typical rogue really needs the ability to pick any amount of locks per day, and so it seems like an unfair restriction to argue that the rogue must be inferior at their natural shtick just because it has an at-will that is a rarely useful one at that.

At least let them swap out this base cantrip for something more interesting when they don't need it, but this is a digression. Let's get back on track...

I am willing to bet that it would be an improvement to the rogue in general if we took away from them the ability to pick locks at will and gave them a limited use, "once per day you can pick any lock with no risk of failure" ability. There might be a middle ground here, as surely there will be objections to the above along the lines of "This is too gameist. It doesn't make sense they can't pick more than one lock per day".

At which point I refer to the caster classes which make very little sense with their nine sets of separate pools of limited use abilities, but this is another digression... (casters should use spell points, seriously)

The easy way to fix the above objection is to relax the constraints. Think about casters. Casters have an expendable resource and then at-will cantrips to fall back upon. Even the most cantrip reliant caster, the warlock, has access to abilities above the base cantrip that they use.

So let us think of the basic ability of the rogue to pick locks with a chance of failure as being an at-will cantrip. From here, the next step is obvious: We give the rogue the ability to boost their lock picking by spending a limited resource, call it Excellence or something like that. Finesse? Unlike expertise, which increases the chance of success, this ability allows the rogue to do things which are beyond the basic capabilitis of skills and at no risk of failure.

In terms of mechanics this is completely in line with Superiority Dice, Second Wind and Action Surge et al. A basic at-will ability, attack, enhanced by spending a limited resource.

In terms of power this is completely in line with spells as they currently exist.

"Objection! This sounds overpowered!"

That's certainly possible. If it is, try to nerf the cantrip rather the main attraction. The rogue is supposed to be, you know, actually good at lock picking and whatever it is they do.

The system can be extended to every class that has mainly at-will powers cough I mean at-will abilities and shouldn't be limited to lock picking. You could give the rogue the ability to pick any pocket too. Give the fighter an incredible boost in climbing or jumping potential or even just movement speed. The possibilities are endless.

As long as non-casters are prevented from having access to limited use abilities the argument will always be that they must be worse at their main thing than a caster, because a caster has to pay to do X and the specialist does not have to pay.

Martial damage is a bit of an exception here, because it is so blatantly obvious what's going on that it's pretty much impossible to be even unintentionally biaised in favour of spells.

TLDR: Martials are limited because they are forced to rely on "cantrips", and cantrips "must" be limited because they can be used without restrictions. The only cost is the opportunity cost. The fix is obvious: Make their abilities into limited use abilities. Doing this invalidates any arguments about the ability being overpowered (as long as it is equally or more limited than a spell with the corresponding effect).
This all sounds a lot like Blades in the Dark to me!
 


Quickleaf

Legend
I know it's not the point, so feel free not to respond, but your description of "modern D&D culture" makes me sad.
My hypothesis is that the more abstract / less cool details there are (eg. For lockpicking and doors), the more it becomes incumbent on the GM / Adventure to inspire exploration, rather than the it being baked into the game.

Yeah, if we start to get too far afield from the topic of skill adjudication, cantrips, magic parity, and such, we should either move the side-conversation or politely bow out.

Where I think it's relevant is that @MuhVerisimilitude 's question/idea is framed not only with certain rules infrastructure of 5e assumed as given, but also – if I'm reading in between the lines correctly – a certain culture of play.

I know discussing culture is very subjective because in actuality it's multiple micro-cultures within the RPG community, all with varying shades of difference. And I also think it's important not to exclusively focus on drawbacks – there are several things that imo Modern D&D Culture does much better than the OSR: power fantasy/feeing like a hero, deeper character development & attention to motivations (more interesting to me than “get the gold”), and a sense of narrative arc / hero's journey are the big ones.
 

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