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

Count_Zero

Adventurer
I think it also bears mentioning that depending on the circumstances, some locks might not be in the best of shape - a locked chest in a dungeon might be one the occupants recently brought in with them... or the chest might have been sitting in the dungeon for quite some time and hasn't been frequently used, or time and poor conditions might have served to gum up the works a bit.
 

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Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
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.
That’s a 25% chance of opening on any given attempt, when conditions are such that a failed attempt is both possible and consequential. With those factors in mind it doesn’t seem unreasonable to me.
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
Why would agreeing on the baseline rules of D&D be a great virtue?

Each table should have its own understanding of how the rules work. So understanding the various ways you can read the rules is far more important than agreeing on what they are; that gives you the ability to move between tables, and understand alternative readings and what they do to the game.

I mean, it isn't as if people are constantly changing tables in a functioning D&D group situation, outside of West-marches or organized play. And in both of those cases, the table rules are usually shared among the DMs in a way separate than the D&D books.

The rules arguments almost always come from the perspective of "X is the right way to read the rules, Y is wrong", which ... is the wrong way to read rules. "This rule could say X Y or Z. Do any of these reading cause problems in gameplay? What are they?" moves rule-wars away from "I am right you are wrong" to "hey, if you allow simulacrum chains, you get some gonzo play like this!"
Simply because it makes conversations about the game's rules easier? I mean, every game has house rules, and that's fine, but when you can't even really have a conversation about how the game plays without house rulings, I feel that we all end up talking past each other a bit too often.
 

Voadam

Legend
1e AD&D DMG page 19 "Opening Locks: The act of picking the lock to be opened can take from 1-10 rounds, depending on the complexity of the lock. As a rule, most locks will take but 1-4 rounds of time to pick."

1e PH page 28 "Opening Locks may be attempted by any given thief but once per lock. If the score generated exceeds the adjusted (for ability and race) base score, the thief has failed; and no amount of trying will ever enable him or her to succeed with that lock, although the thief may try again when he or she has risen to a higher level of experience. Success opens the lock."

2e PH revised page 56 "The amount of time required to pick a lock is 1d10 rounds. A thief can try to pick a particular lock only once per experience level. If the attempt fails, the lock is simply too difficult for the character until he learns more about picking locks (goes up a level)."
 
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Voadam

Legend
It is, because let's be honest, this is nothing really new to the game. Ever since DC's were added for opening locks, they've been fairly high. I can't really say how complex locks were in AD&D, since you had a % chance to open them based on skill, though I vaguely recall lock quality modifying the check somewhere- The Complete Thief's Handbook, perhaps?

I remembered that as well but did not see anything in a quick search in the 1e PH or DMG. The 2e revised PH equipment list only tells you that you can buy poor or good locks, not what the mechanical effects are. The 2e PH open locks section does not mention lock quality either.

Found it!

2e DMG revised page 54 "Lock Quality The quality of a lock can increase, decrease, or leave unchanged a thief’s chance of picking that lock. The higher the quality of the lock, the harder it is for the thief to pick. Table 24 lists the different lock qualities and the amount they add or subtract from a thief’s percentage chance to open it. Unless otherwise noted, assume that all locks are of good quality. The quality of a lock cannot be discerned just by looking at it. Indeed, one of the tricks of the master craftsman is to disguise the difficulty of the lock by housing it in a cheap-looking case. A thief can learn the quality of a lock by attempting to pick it. This attempt need not be successful (“Gee, this lock must be a really superior job. It’s a lot harder than it looks.”)"

Table 24:
Lock Quality Quality Modification
Wretched +30%
Poor +15%
Good 0%
Excellent –20%
Superior –40%
Masterful –60%

The 2e Complete Thief's has its own different new rules for modifying locks on page 111.
 
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Voadam

Legend
Which got me wondering about entire dungeons where you'd told things like "doors: all doors are made of thick wood and bound with iron and have DC 20 locks unless otherwise stated"- this struck me as very odd, and I got to wondering about why it's like that.
I read an article suggesting that older D&D dungeons are not just places, they are mythic Cthonic underworld places that people are not welcome in. It works differently for the surface people who do not belong than it does for the underground denizens.

People need torches and light, everybody who is a monster does not need light.

Doors are heavy and stuck and need to be forced open with a strength mechanic check for PCs but monsters are not impeded.

1e DMG page 97

"Doors: As a rule of thumb, all doors are hard to open and hard to keep closed or open for player characters, while inhabitants of the dungeon find little difficulty in these regards. Regardless of how a door opens, it is usual that its weight and condition require that force be used to swiftly operate it. This is represented by the roll of d6 for each person involved in pushing, pulling, lifting, sliding, or whatever. A roll of 1 or 2 typically indicates success, anything above indicates the door still remains unopened. (Cf. PLAYERS HANDBOOK, Character Abilities, Strength.) Very heavy doors might reduce chances by half. Locked doors might only open if two or even three simultaneous 1’s are rolled. Most doors are about 8’ wide, and this allows up to three characters to attempt opening. A door of 3’ or less width allows but a single character to make an attempt. If wooden doors (always metal bound, naturally) are broken down by axes and the like, it will take some time — a full turn is usual — and require at least 3 checks to see if nearby and/or wandering monsters are attracted by the noise. Doors can also be blasted away by fireballs and other spells, for example. This will not be likely to draw monsters to the vicinity immediately. Any such destruction will, however, attract the attention of all passing creatures and possibly cause future problems. Intelligent dungeon inhabitants will certainly make efforts to repair damage if it is in their interest to do so. Finally, metal doors (usually locked) will be very difficult to open, requiring a knock spell or similar means most of the time."

Moldvay Basic (B/X) page B21

"Doors
NORMAL DOORS: Doors in a dungeon are usually closed, and are often stuck or locked. A lock must usually be picked by a thief. An unlocked door must be forced open to pass through it. To force open a door, roll Id6; a result of 1 or 2 (on 1d6) means that the door is forced open. The roll should be adjusted by a character's Strength score adjustment. The number needed to open a door can never be less than 1 nor greater than 1-5.
Once a door is opened, it will usually swing shut when released unless it is spiked or wedged open. Doors will usually open automatically for monsters, unless the door is held, spiked, or closed with magical spells."

The dungeon itself fights you.
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
I remembered that as well but did not see anything in a quick search in the 1e PH or DMG. The 2e revised PH equipment list only tells you that you can buy poor or good locks, not what the mechanical effects are. The 2e PH open locks section does not mention lock quality either.

Found it!

2e DMG revised page 54 "Lock Quality The quality of a lock can increase, decrease, or leave unchanged a thief’s chance of picking that lock. The higher the quality of the lock, the harder it is for the thief to pick. Table 24 lists the different lock qualities and the amount they add or subtract from a thief’s percentage chance to open it. Unless otherwise noted, assume that all locks are of good quality. The quality of a lock cannot be discerned just by looking at it. Indeed, one of the tricks of the master craftsman is to disguise the difficulty of the lock by housing it in a cheap-looking case. A thief can learn the quality of a lock by attempting to pick it. This attempt need not be successful (“Gee, this lock must be a really superior job. It’s a lot harder than it looks.”)"

Table 24:
Lock Quality
Quality Modification
Wretched +30%
Poor +15%
Good 0%
Excellent –20%
Superior –40%
Masterful –60%

The 2e Complete Thief's has its own different new rules for modifying locks on page 111.
It's a good thing the 2e Thief can raise their thieving abilities above 95%!
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
I read an article suggesting that older D&D dungeons are not just places, they are mythic Cthonic underworld places that people are not welcome in. It works differently for the surface people who do not belong than it does for the underground denizens.

People need torches and light, everybody who is a monster does not need light.

Doors are heavy and stuck and need to be forced open with a strength mechanic check for PCs but monsters are not impeded.

1e DMG page 97

"Doors: As a rule of thumb, all doors are hard to open and hard to keep closed or open for player characters, while inhabitants of the dungeon find little difficulty in these regards. Regardless of how a door opens, it is usual that its weight and condition require that force be used to swiftly operate it. This is represented by the roll of d6 for each person involved in pushing, pulling, lifting, sliding, or whatever. A roll of 1 or 2 typically indicates success, anything above indicates the door still remains unopened. (Cf. PLAYERS HANDBOOK, Character Abilities, Strength.) Very heavy doors might reduce chances by half. Locked doors might only open if two or even three simultaneous 1’s are rolled. Most doors are about 8’ wide, and this allows up to three characters to attempt opening. A door of 3’ or less width allows but a single character to make an attempt. If wooden doors (always metal bound, naturally) are broken down by axes and the like, it will take some time — a full turn is usual — and require at least 3 checks to see if nearby and/or wandering monsters are attracted by the noise. Doors can also be blasted away by fireballs and other spells, for example. This will not be likely to draw monsters to the vicinity immediately. Any such destruction will, however, attract the attention of all passing creatures and possibly cause future problems. Intelligent dungeon inhabitants will certainly make efforts to repair damage if it is in their interest to do so. Finally, metal doors (usually locked) will be very difficult to open, requiring a knock spell or similar means most of the time."

Moldvay Basic (B/X) page B21

"Doors
NORMAL DOORS: Doors in a dungeon are usually closed, and are often stuck or locked. A lock must usually be picked by a thief. An unlocked door must be forced open to pass through it. To force open a door, roll Id6; a result of 1 or 2 (on 1d6) means that the door is forced open. The roll should be adjusted by a character's Strength score adjustment. The number needed to open a door can never be less than 1 nor greater than 1-5.
Once a door is opened, it will usually swing shut when released unless it is spiked or wedged open. Doors will usually open automatically for monsters, unless the door is held, spiked, or closed with magical spells."

The dungeon itself fights you.
That's crazy, but at the same time, kind of neat in concept. I wonder why that description of dungeons and why they are the way there are got forgotten; the only example off the top of my head for a dungeon that works like that would be possibly Undermountain.

If dungeons are actually ancient labyrinths that extend into some other realm, or are a manifestation of some other realm into the player's world, or are haunted by some dead or forgotten god, or otherwise have a sort of "life" of their own, then yeah, all the weirdness makes perfect sense. I'm going to have to remember this for the next time I do some campaign building.

Thinking about it, it's similar to something I attempted in a 4e game; the players had entered the Feywild and were in the lands of a hostile Archfey; as a result, I explained to the players that the very land was hostile to them; the bitter cold of Winter caused cold and necrotic damage, foiling their attempts to stave off the chill; their movement was slowed even when flying; certain patches of ground could inflict damage just by standing on them for too long.

Unfortunately, since most dungeons are not presented this way, the weirdness just feels, well, weird.
 

Voadam

Legend
That's crazy, but at the same time, kind of neat in concept. I wonder why that description of dungeons and why they are the way there are got forgotten; the only example off the top of my head for a dungeon that works like that would be possibly Undermountain.

If dungeons are actually ancient labyrinths that extend into some other realm, or are a manifestation of some other realm into the player's world, or are haunted by some dead or forgotten god, or otherwise have a sort of "life" of their own, then yeah, all the weirdness makes perfect sense. I'm going to have to remember this for the next time I do some campaign building.

Thinking about it, it's similar to something I attempted in a 4e game; the players had entered the Feywild and were in the lands of a hostile Archfey; as a result, I explained to the players that the very land was hostile to them; the bitter cold of Winter caused cold and necrotic damage, foiling their attempts to stave off the chill; their movement was slowed even when flying; certain patches of ground could inflict damage just by standing on them for too long.

Unfortunately, since most dungeons are not presented this way, the weirdness just feels, well, weird.
Its a bit like alignment and alignment languages. It is weirdness that is there, not explained why, just that it is, and probably a lot of people ignored it. There is potential for some conceptual coolness, but you have to work to conceptualize it in a cool way.

I conceptualize alignment language (at least in the three part Law Chaos Neutrality sense) as aligning yourself to an omnipresent cosmic force which allows you to intuitively communicate to others who are connected to that cosmic force as well. Alignment as cosmic force shared telepathy on a level without words. This would allow Chaotic Hobgoblins to work with Chaotic Red Dragons even though there is no shared dragon or goblin language between the two. I don't use alignment languages, but that is how I conceptualize it as a decent way to think about it as written in Moldvay Basic though and would be a basis for it if I decided to use it.

4e's Dawn War Cosmology works well for the OSR dungeon feel as well. Torog is running/crawling around the Underdark in trapped pain, thrashing, lashing out, and giving off divine dungeon aspects in his wake from his very being. You can see traps spontaneously generating from him as well as things like doors being just hostile on a background minor interaction level with things getting worse the deeper you go and the closer you get to him. 4e is also a bit vague on whether the underdark is a whole different plane from the surface world.
 

NotAYakk

Legend
Simply because it makes conversations about the game's rules easier? I mean, every game has house rules, and that's fine, but when you can't even really have a conversation about how the game plays without house rulings, I feel that we all end up talking past each other a bit too often.
If getting caught up on what the rules say causes conflict, I wouldn't call that "easier".

You can have lots of conversation about how a game plays without agreeing on how force wall interacts with secret hut. In fact the conversations you can easily have are about how it actually plays. What does "without house rulings" requirement do to make the conversations about actual play better? That looks like it just excludes people from the conversation as not being true scotsmen.
 

MoonSong

Rules-lawyering drama queen but not a munchkin
Unfortunately they didn't make it much of a meaningful choice, but rather the option of last resort. Using Thieves Tools should always be the designed ideal option, as it costs no resources and has minimal consequence (unless you failed to notice a trap). Knock has the resource cost of a 2nd level spell slot, so while you'll always succeed, you're paying for it. With the 5E "ringing the dinner bell" mechanic, you're paying a resource and suffering a consequence for using it. The only time it's useful is when you don't have the time to break down the door, or for whatever reason the door is nigh unbreakable. IMO they should have either left off the "dinner bell" mechanic or they should have made it a ritual.
I've wanted to try to use knock as a divine soul (or a multiclass with bard/cleric) with silence and subtle spell. (silence the area and then cast knock which can be done with subtle) I haven't found a game where it can be done, but I'd argue that the combo ought to work. My arguments are that knock is written that way so casters can't casually replace a rogue/thief in the party, but it takes a lot of build opportunity cost to make a sorcerer in this way (either by choosing the one subclass with silence or by losign three levels to bard or cleric, and on top of using one of the limited metamagic choices on subtle spell, and neither silence nor knock cna be easly retrained) and it costs two spells and one sorcery point a pop, so it is not unearned. Anyway, that would be my argument, but finding a game is hard enough as it is.
 

UngainlyTitan

Legend
Supporter
Locks are hard to open because of the lack of WD40 in D&D.


Seriously though, it is more of a genre trope. In D&D when they started to give odds on opening locks, they made it hard. In part because everything that had a test at the time was hard. The movie, TV trope where the hero can open a lock with picks faster than I can open my door with a key never impacted D&D.
 

Warpiglet-7

Cry havoc! And let slip the pigs of war!
I read an article suggesting that older D&D dungeons are not just places, they are mythic Cthonic underworld places that people are not welcome in. It works differently for the surface people who do not belong than it does for the underground denizens.

People need torches and light, everybody who is a monster does not need light.

Doors are heavy and stuck and need to be forced open with a strength mechanic check for PCs but monsters are not impeded.

1e DMG page 97

"Doors: As a rule of thumb, all doors are hard to open and hard to keep closed or open for player characters, while inhabitants of the dungeon find little difficulty in these regards. Regardless of how a door opens, it is usual that its weight and condition require that force be used to swiftly operate it. This is represented by the roll of d6 for each person involved in pushing, pulling, lifting, sliding, or whatever. A roll of 1 or 2 typically indicates success, anything above indicates the door still remains unopened. (Cf. PLAYERS HANDBOOK, Character Abilities, Strength.) Very heavy doors might reduce chances by half. Locked doors might only open if two or even three simultaneous 1’s are rolled. Most doors are about 8’ wide, and this allows up to three characters to attempt opening. A door of 3’ or less width allows but a single character to make an attempt. If wooden doors (always metal bound, naturally) are broken down by axes and the like, it will take some time — a full turn is usual — and require at least 3 checks to see if nearby and/or wandering monsters are attracted by the noise. Doors can also be blasted away by fireballs and other spells, for example. This will not be likely to draw monsters to the vicinity immediately. Any such destruction will, however, attract the attention of all passing creatures and possibly cause future problems. Intelligent dungeon inhabitants will certainly make efforts to repair damage if it is in their interest to do so. Finally, metal doors (usually locked) will be very difficult to open, requiring a knock spell or similar means most of the time."

Moldvay Basic (B/X) page B21

"Doors
NORMAL DOORS: Doors in a dungeon are usually closed, and are often stuck or locked. A lock must usually be picked by a thief. An unlocked door must be forced open to pass through it. To force open a door, roll Id6; a result of 1 or 2 (on 1d6) means that the door is forced open. The roll should be adjusted by a character's Strength score adjustment. The number needed to open a door can never be less than 1 nor greater than 1-5.
Once a door is opened, it will usually swing shut when released unless it is spiked or wedged open. Doors will usually open automatically for monsters, unless the door is held, spiked, or closed with magical spells."

The dungeon itself fights you.
This is very interesting.

I was thinking about this in the last few days…telling players that it’s a natural law that dark attracts dark and light, light. In other words bad places and creatures draw bad things to them, hence dungeons full of disparate creatures can happen.

I mean and orc stronghold does not need this to be—-but some classic dungeons make more sense this way.

I like the idea that the place itself become an opponent! Doors stick, etc.
 

Me, my wife and kids are playing Sunless Citadel. I'm also building the dungeon with XPS foam. I didn't think they would be able to unlock the door that leads to south western halls. I was wrong and didn't build those rooms lol. They didn't get too far though and decided to go another way. I will not underestimate their skills again though.
 

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
This is very interesting.

I was thinking about this in the last few days…telling players that it’s a natural law that dark attracts dark and light, light. In other words bad places and creatures draw bad things to them, hence dungeons full of disparate creatures can happen.

I mean and orc stronghold does not need this to be—-but some classic dungeons make more sense this way.

I like the idea that the place itself become an opponent! Doors stick, etc.

In 13th Age, aren't the great dungeons actually "living things"?

For 5e, in the Goodman B2 reincarnation,
there is "an ancient theme dedicated to a long forgotten god of chaos. The evil of [that] unholy place is what attracts evil humanoids and other evil clergy to the Caves.
and it also notes
there are various tribal alliances and warfare, the monsters learn from experience, and the emptied areas refill over time
.
 

Warpiglet-7

Cry havoc! And let slip the pigs of war!
Me, my wife and kids are playing Sunless Citadel. I'm also building the dungeon with XPS foam. I didn't think they would be able to unlock the door that leads to south western halls. I was wrong and didn't build those rooms lol. They didn't get too far though and decided to go another way. I will not underestimate their skills again though.
I have a full foam dungeon we used for that!
 

Whizbang Dustyboots

100% that gnome
That's crazy, but at the same time, kind of neat in concept. I wonder why that description of dungeons and why they are the way there are got forgotten; the only example off the top of my head for a dungeon that works like that would be possibly Undermountain.
Judges Guild modules work this way, as do most OSR dungeons.
 

Whizbang Dustyboots

100% that gnome
For 5e, in the Goodman B2 reincarnation,
there is "an ancient theme dedicated to a long forgotten god of chaos. The evil of [that] unholy place is what attracts evil humanoids and other evil clergy to the Caves.
and it also notes
there are various tribal alliances and warfare, the monsters learn from experience, and the emptied areas refill over time
.
The first spoiler was always a popular head canon about B2 and I believe Gygax explicitly stated the second spoiler -- at the very least, it was explicitly how dungeons in BD&D and AD&D were supposed to work. They were never truly static.
 

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
The first spoiler was always a popular head canon about B2 and I believe Gygax explicitly stated the second spoiler -- at the very least, it was explicitly how dungeons in BD&D and AD&D were supposed to work. They were never truly static.
The second spoiler looks copied pretty closely from the original B2. I couldn't find a quote in the original B2 to go with the first, but it seems obvious and I very well could have missed it.
 

Warpiglet-7

Cry havoc! And let slip the pigs of war!
Me, my wife and kids are playing Sunless Citadel. I'm also building the dungeon with XPS foam. I didn't think they would be able to unlock the door that leads to south western halls. I was wrong and didn't build those rooms lol. They didn't get too far though and decided to go another way. I will not underestimate their skills again though.

I planned a “con” for my family and friends but the pandemic hit. We have barely used this stuff since my friends have dm’d and I have just been playing.

But I used my prototype for sunless citadel. I used spray paint on foam and melted it but used the “rough walls.” I hand painted these with modpodge and paint mixed. Durable!

1666456516938.jpeg
 

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