D&D General How are locks so hard to open?

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
So while D&D worlds are generally a mashup of different eras of history, mixing and matching technological advances to keep them from feeling "too modern", the fact is, even modern locks aren't terribly hard to open with the right tools and you can learn how to bypass them yourself by watching some YouTube videos. Locks during the time periods that D&D tends to mimic should, by rights, be fairly simple to open.

And yet, even first level characters can encounter DC 20 locks (5e's Sunless Citadel, for example) that you only have a 25% chance of opening. Who is making all these devilishly complex locks in the first place?

In a similar vein, Kobolds, often seen as backwards savages, can churn out very complex mechanical traps and no one bats an eye. I've encountered many a "Hallway of Death" over the years, from your basic, Indiana Jones inspired devices all the way to Rube Goldbergian monstrosities that even Grimtooth (of Grimtooth's Traps) would find excessive.

Mechanisms that, mind you, can be found in dank dungeons, where no one has been around to maintain them for decades, if not centuries.

Should locks and traps be all that hard to bypass? What would reasonable DC's be for these things? I'm finding it defies logic to keep using high DC's for these sorts of things, and yet, I'm leery about the consequences of lowering the DC's; if it becomes too easy, then locks and traps just become speed bumps, costing nothing but time to bypass.
 

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GMMichael

Guide of Modos
Should locks and traps be all that hard to bypass? What would reasonable DC's be for these things? I'm finding it defies logic to keep using high DC's for these sorts of things, and yet, I'm leery about the consequences of lowering the DC's; if it becomes too easy, then locks and traps just become speed bumps, costing nothing but time to bypass.
You're talking about the game that allows PCs to be anthropomorphic dragons. Logic is out the window.

Locks were probably relatively expensive back in the day... and the knowledge and tools to defeat them relatively rare. Regardless, an unwatched obstacle isn't an obstacle. So I'd go with easier locks and more roving guards.
 
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In my games there is no YouTube to reference. And yes, modern locks can be bypassed and defeated, but have you actually tried it? It's not as easy (usually) as those YT videos might indicate. There is a huge amount of feel and experience needed to actually use picks to bypass tumblers etc.

Besides, breaking a lock or door is usually much easy. Notice how SWAT teams usually just break in a door instead of pick the lock? Same holds true in most cases in D&D.
 

So while D&D worlds are generally a mashup of different eras of history, mixing and matching technological advances to keep them from feeling "too modern", the fact is, even modern locks aren't terribly hard to open with the right tools and you can learn how to bypass them yourself by watching some YouTube videos. Locks during the time periods that D&D tends to mimic should, by rights, be fairly simple to open.
... partially because there's no YouTube videos for people to learn from. Not to mention that while the locks would generally be worse than modern locks, so would the tools, putting them back on the same level.

And yet, even first level characters can encounter DC 20 locks (5e's Sunless Citadel, for example) that you only have a 25% chance of opening. Who is making all these devilishly complex locks in the first place?

In a similar vein, Kobolds, often seen as backwards savages, can churn out very complex mechanical traps and no one bats an eye. I've encountered many a "Hallway of Death" over the years, from your basic, Indiana Jones inspired devices all the way to Rube Goldbergian monstrosities that even Grimtooth (of Grimtooth's Traps) would find excessive.

Mechanisms that, mind you, can be found in dank dungeons, where no one has been around to maintain them for decades, if not centuries.

Should locks and traps be all that hard to bypass? What would reasonable DC's be for these things? I'm finding it defies logic to keep using high DC's for these sorts of things, and yet, I'm leery about the consequences of lowering the DC's; if it becomes too easy, then locks and traps just become speed bumps, costing nothing but time to bypass.
The rest of this is because you have a fantasy setting. Kobolds are ingenious because they're kobolds. They might not understand the fundamentals of metallurgy to make great weapons & armor, but they've got an innate knack for mechanics. If you have an issue with this, then simply accept that due to the existence of magic and fantasy races, the setting is actually light years ahead of our modern understanding of machinery maintenance.
 


Micah Sweet

Legend
... partially because there's no YouTube videos for people to learn from. Not to mention that while the locks would generally be worse than modern locks, so would the tools, putting them back on the same level.


The rest of this is because you have a fantasy setting. Kobolds are ingenious because they're kobolds. They might not understand the fundamentals of metallurgy to make great weapons & armor, but they've got an innate knack for mechanics. If you have an issue with this, then simply accept that due to the existence of magic and fantasy races, the setting is actually light years ahead of our modern understanding of machinery maintenance.
I'm not sure ignoring a clear logic discrepancy is the right call.
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
I see that as the DC to pick the lock in a relatively short period of time. Generally speaking, if the PCs have all the time in the world, I let them succeed automatically.

Another factor to consider is that most D&D worlds are pre-industrialized. Which means that those locks would probably be hand crafted. That, of course, means that it would be more expensive, but it could also mean that any given lock is more difficult to pick because it isn't a lock of standard design, but rather unique to that craftsman.
 

Vaalingrade

Legend
In a similar vein, Kobolds, often seen as backwards savages, can churn out very complex mechanical traps and no one bats an eye.
That's because the ones calling them backwards are doing so in order to justify killing them and taking their stuff and also the gnome god being a jackass to theirs.

Kobolds are the most technically advanced species in D&D World, but they're not fully human shaped or big enough to hit people until they chill like dragonborn.
 

jgsugden

Legend
Cheap locks are easy to break and open. High quality locks are much harder. So how do you get high quality lockseverywhere in D&D?

1.) Most campaigns have been locked at a technology level for one or more millenia. They don't see advancement in science, technology or industry. As such, there have been a lot of opportunities for lock makers with skill to make durable and long lasting locks ... and those locks eventually make their way into secondary markets where they are available.

2.) There are a lot more lock breakers in D&D than in the real world. How many times have those goblin near Phandelver been robbed? It makes sense to invest in good qualitt locks given the frequency of theft.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
Because the peoples of most D&D worlds have access neither to bump keys nor lockpick guns?

Or--maybe--because it's a game element, or a game premise, that there be skills worth taking because there will be uses for those skills? It seem both possible and plausible for the DC of a given lock to be about quietude and speed as much as getting in. Of course, that introduces other avenues for philosophical dispute ... 😆
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
I view it from the perspective of the game, not how things work in our actual or fictional reality.

A way to look at it is that a DC 20 Dexterity (Thieves' Tool) check to resolve picking the lock is potentially the harder way to do it, but it comes with the upside that you don't have to break down the door which creates noise - which may draw unwanted attention - and removes the resource of a door from you. (Doors are incredibly useful in a dungeon tactically.)

This is just another example of presenting meaningful choices to your players. Do you want to pick it? Break down the door? Cast a knock spell? Explore to find another way into the chamber it leads to?
 

Whizbang Dustyboots

100% that gnome
Kobolds, often seen as backwards savages
I will not stand for this kobold slander.

Kobolds are the most technologically advanced of the so-called monstrous humanoids. They should be cranking out the high-difficulty locks and traps.

Maybe a goblin or orc dungeon should have DC 10 and 15 locks and trap bypass difficulties, but traps and locks are kobolds' thing. They should be creating the hard ones.

And as for the basic question, of whether this stuff should be so hard, a DC 10 lock is close to pointless. Even at level 1, characters will essentially walk straight through them. Lower than DC 10 shouldn't even be a skill check, since making people roll on things you intend for them to succeed on just sets the players up for slapstick and is a waste of everyone's time as a DM (IMO).

So the only place to go is up.

Maybe DC 15 locks should be the standard, but when you're up against the thieves guild or kobolds or -- worst of all -- kobold thieves guilds, DC 20 is appropriate, IMO.

That said, good DMing wouldn't make a lock a fail state for an adventure. There should always be alternatives, whether they're different routes through a dungeon, only putting helpful-but-not-required items in locked chests, scrolls of Knock or -- crazy thought here -- keys.
 
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Vaalingrade

Legend
Cast a knock spell?
Hahahaha.

Man, I was one of the first people to complain about Knock back in the day, but what they did to that spell instead of just removing it was cruel and unusual.

Like Charm, it's not 'cast this spell to be instantly punished for what people in 3.x did'. Might as well include a 9th level spell that just straight kills the caster instantly and blocks resurrections.
 

It's not as easy (usually) as those YT videos might indicate. There is a huge amount of feel and experience needed to actually use picks to bypass tumblers etc.

Besides, breaking a lock or door is usually much easy. Notice how SWAT teams usually just break in a door instead of pick the lock? Same holds true in most cases in D&D.
Tell me about it. My bathroom doorknob broke and kept coming off when I went to open the door from the outside. I just put it back on for two months until I decided to fix it. While I was replacing the doorknob, I had the door closed and was standing in the hallway and the piece of the doorknob on the bathroom side fell out into the bathroom. I had one half of the doorknob in my hand, the other half on the bathroom floor and the latch was still engaged in the door frame. It took me about 20 minutes with a hammer and flat head screwdriver to pry the molding off frame enough to disengage the latch and get the door open. So yeah, it's not as easy as breaking out the old Master Charge card to pick a lock.
 

aco175

Legend
Would the thieves' tools and picks be as good as they are today? Or are they crude and rough like people think the locks are. Then they should balance out.

I could argue either way with the skill and tool combo from Xanthars in that you get advantage to open the lock if you have both. I can see you not getting advantage since you need the tools to do the thing in the first place. I guess it could be argued that a PC would normally use a dagger or hatpin like in the movies.
 

Bolares

Hero
So while D&D worlds are generally a mashup of different eras of history, mixing and matching technological advances to keep them from feeling "too modern", the fact is, even modern locks aren't terribly hard to open with the right tools and you can learn how to bypass them yourself by watching some YouTube videos. Locks during the time periods that D&D tends to mimic should, by rights, be fairly simple to open.

And yet, even first level characters can encounter DC 20 locks (5e's Sunless Citadel, for example) that you only have a 25% chance of opening. Who is making all these devilishly complex locks in the first place?

In a similar vein, Kobolds, often seen as backwards savages, can churn out very complex mechanical traps and no one bats an eye. I've encountered many a "Hallway of Death" over the years, from your basic, Indiana Jones inspired devices all the way to Rube Goldbergian monstrosities that even Grimtooth (of Grimtooth's Traps) would find excessive.

Mechanisms that, mind you, can be found in dank dungeons, where no one has been around to maintain them for decades, if not centuries.

Should locks and traps be all that hard to bypass? What would reasonable DC's be for these things? I'm finding it defies logic to keep using high DC's for these sorts of things, and yet, I'm leery about the consequences of lowering the DC's; if it becomes too easy, then locks and traps just become speed bumps, costing nothing but time to bypass.
It absolutelly defies logic. But games have this ludonarrative dissonances. The GAME needs locks to be hard to pick, because lockpicking is a big deal for the trope and the genre. It needs to be a challenge and have different DCs so the player feels rewarded when they succeed in lockpicking. This a matter of realism vs gamedesign. I feel like realism should take a backseat if the gameplay aspects of lockpicking are fun and engaging for the players.
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
Tell me about it. My bathroom doorknob broke and kept coming off when I went to open the door from the outside. I just put it back on for two months until I decided to fix it. While I was replacing the doorknob, I had the door closed and was standing in the hallway and the piece of the doorknob on the bathroom side fell out into the bathroom. I had one half of the doorknob in my hand, the other half on the bathroom floor and the latch was still engaged in the door frame. It took me about 20 minutes with a hammer and flat head screwdriver to pry the molding off frame enough to disengage the latch and get the door open. So yeah, it's not as easy as breaking out the old Master Charge card to pick a lock.
While breaking down a door is arguably easier (with the right equipment), picking a lock isn't rocket science.

I bought a lock pick set for myself a while back (just out of curiosity) and I was able to get a firm grasp of the basics within an evening. I wouldn't consider myself an expert in any sense, but I've successfully picked a few locks, though it typically does take me a while the first time with a new lock. For a while I was doing it just to have something to fidget with while watching TV, and I got my time on that lock down to a few seconds.
 

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