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

Quickleaf

Legend
One thing I'd like to see more dungeons do is have locks (and secret/concealed doors) integrated into the overall design. For example, locks become more significant if there's a need for secrecy or a chase scene later on.

It's pretty common for a lock to appear with meager description (e.g. your DC 20 to pick the lock example) in a place with low stakes/urgency.

I just was converting an AD&D Dungeon magazine adventure by Chris Perkins, "Dragon's Delve" (in #62), and I like its judicious approach to locked doors. There are only three locked doors in the fortress:
  • One is the prison cell with the captive dwarven emissaries that PCs are trying to rescue. The keys are on the jailer.
  • The other two are in the throne room, connecting it to the vaults and guest chambers. These either serve as alternate routes for the PCs who find the keys / open the doors, or as an escape route for a villain who has keys to both.
It also has some nice secret doors where the mechanism of action is well described, usually with a clue about what that mechanism is, but not so obscure that players can't figure it out with a bit of experimentation.

However, the adventure repeatedly falls into the same trap that most D&D adventures do with locked chests: there's no tension, no urgency, and no consequences. Here's an example:
The padlock securing Rhorvald's chest is very sturdy and can be broken only by a single blow inflicting 12 hp damage or more. It is also well-made, imposing a -15% penalty to a thiefs open locks attempt. Inside the chest is a sack of 154 gp, a gem-studded beard comb (worth 225 gp), and a pair of well-oiled dwarven gauntlets wrapped in sheep skin.
 

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Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
Lack of standardization may be an issue - especially "advanced" locked, where each highly skilled locksmith has developed their own tricks to make their locks tricky or difficult. So every time the lockpicker tries to defeat a lock, there is always a chance that it's something they have never seen before and they have to figure out how to do it.

Now add to that the stress of not knowing if the lock is trapped with a poison needle or some deadly blasting magic...
 

Warpiglet-7

Cry havoc! And let slip the pigs of war!
This is an interesting discussion.

I have struggled with this issue but feel like I am getting it figured out with some ideas generated here.

One thing I know is that castles did not keep invaders out with locks. A lock on a flimsy door is still only as strong as the door.

Time pressure and drawing attention as you lumberjack through a door are the way to go. I was just thinking about a locked door at the and of hall. You could really get pinned in by making a lot of noise.

A stone or metal door notwithstanding…
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
One thing I'd like to see more dungeons do is have locks (and secret/concealed doors) integrated into the overall design. For example, locks become more significant if there's a need for secrecy or a chase scene later on.

It's pretty common for a lock to appear with meager description (e.g. your DC 20 to pick the lock example) in a place with low stakes/urgency.

I just was converting an AD&D Dungeon magazine adventure by Chris Perkins, "Dragon's Delve" (in #62), and I like its judicious approach to locked doors. There are only three locked doors in the fortress:
  • One is the prison cell with the captive dwarven emissaries that PCs are trying to rescue. The keys are on the jailer.
  • The other two are in the throne room, connecting it to the vaults and guest chambers. These either serve as alternate routes for the PCs who find the keys / open the doors, or as an escape route for a villain who has keys to both.
It also has some nice secret doors where the mechanism of action is well described, usually with a clue about what that mechanism is, but not so obscure that players can't figure it out with a bit of experimentation.

However, the adventure repeatedly falls into the same trap that most D&D adventures do with locked chests: there's no tension, no urgency, and no consequences. Here's an example:
I think, back in those days, breaking open a chest risked destroying delicate treasure (like potions), which would have to make a saving throw. So it's possible that the chests are working around that logic.

Admittedly, that particular chest doesn't contain any potions, but it's still a choice if the players don't know that. If picking the lock fails (back then I think you couldn't retry, although I may be misremembering), you can either break it open and risk delicate treasure or try to come back for it so you can drag the entire chest off somewhere you could take your time and carefully disassemble it.
 

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!

View attachment 264517
This looks awesome. I'll try to get some pics of what I have. The first thing I built was big stone structure they used to get down to the dungeon.
20220906_183502.jpg
 

Warpiglet-7

Cry havoc! And let slip the pigs of war!
This looks awesome. I'll try to get some pics of what I have. The first thing I built was big stone structure they used to get down to the dungeon. View attachment 264531
That is really cool! I need to make more “features” like stairs or platforms. I also don’t yet have curved walls…

Here it is stored. I have enough doors and straight pieces for sure!
 

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That is really cool! I need to make more “features” like stairs or platforms. I also don’t yet have curved walls…
That was my first attempt at terrain. I found black magic craft on YT and me and my wife went overboard. Got a proxon foam cutter and that made life easier. I really like your floors, did you use a roller? I've been hand cutting tiles and bricks lol.

Sorry for the derail everyone!
 

Warpiglet-7

Cry havoc! And let slip the pigs of war!
That was my first attempt at terrain. I found black magic craft on YT and me and my wife went overboard. Got a proxon foam cutter and that made life easier. I really like your floors, did you use a roller? I've been hand cutting tiles and bricks lol.

Sorry for the derail everyone!
Haha! I used the proxxon cutter and bought rollers…

Yep, Black Magic Craft! But I have some doors locked in there so now we are back on topic ;)
 

Haha! I used the proxxon cutter and bought rollers…

Yep, Black Magic Craft! But I have some doors locked in there so now we are back on topic ;)
Yeah reading ahead I was pretty sure they weren't going to be able to unlock the door in the south chamber. My wife got a lucky roll, the dragon door stopped them though. I was able to build a few more rooms then we had an weekend long game session and they got ahead of my building speed. I think from now on I'm just going to build a few set pieces for the bigger fights lol.
 

Warpiglet-7

Cry havoc! And let slip the pigs of war!
Yeah reading ahead I was pretty sure they weren't going to be able to unlock the door in the south chamber. My wife got a lucky roll, the dragon door stopped them though. I was able to build a few more rooms then we had an weekend long game session and they got ahead of my building speed. I think from now on I'm just going to build a few set pieces for the bigger fights lol.
Totally cool. And on topic—-

My group did not get in that door to see the skinny green sleeping guy all because I did not handle doors well.

I must keep in mind hitpoints of materials and their hardness.

9/10 times these hard to open doors will be coming down. But at a cost…

Occasionally I pick up a good nugget from ENWorld that changes my play.

I like 5e but there are areas like this one which are needlessly opaque.
 

Yora

Legend
When you can try again, DC 20 means anyone with the slightest bit of talent and no training can do it. Proficiency with thief tools means the character knows the basic principles of lockpicking, and so DC 20 locks are just a matter of time.
It's really only DC 25 locks and higher where low level thieves might run into an actual wall.

In the end, like all security systems, locks don't exist to make unsanctioned access impossible, but so complicated and time consuming that it hopefully won't be worth the time of potential thieves and intruders.
And it's also always important to remember that a lock can always only be as secure as the latch it is put on.

Then there is also the concept of overt and covert entry. (And I third one I have forgotten.) Breaking a lock is almost always trivially easy in everyday situations but leaves obvious signs of it. The finer arts of unsanctioned access are all about getting in while hiding the breach. (And the third type is actually leaving no signs of a breach even when you look for them.)
 

tetrasodium

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.
Nearly all locks are trash that just need to be more secure than the nearest window. Some applications require quality locks that tend to be significantly more expensive and they wind up paired with other forms of security like alarm systems, Secondary locks (ie rfid & secondary key locks), monitored cameras and/or guard patrols.

The difficulty is not in "picking the lock", that comes with having the knowledge & tools to quickly make use of other less monitored gaps in security & doing it quickly or skillfully enough to avoid detection or triggering some form of alert.
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
Yeah reading ahead I was pretty sure they weren't going to be able to unlock the door in the south chamber. My wife got a lucky roll, the dragon door stopped them though. I was able to build a few more rooms then we had an weekend long game session and they got ahead of my building speed. I think from now on I'm just going to build a few set pieces for the bigger fights lol.
Ironically, when I ran Sunless Citadel, the Barbarian street urchin rolled a nat 20 and opened the door early, which eventually got them into a fight with the troll priest, where we lost the Monk- I was surprised, I had gotten the idea from playing in AL that you had to really work to kill a character, but at 1st level, not so much.

They ran away and came back later, at which point he had actually regained his full power. And took him out with ease, now that they knew what they were dealing with and had a plan.

It just goes to show that some doors are not meant to be opened!
 

Whizbang Dustyboots

100% that gnome
I had gotten the idea from playing in AL that you had to really work to kill a character, but at 1st level, not so much.
Sunless Citadel is a converted third edition adventure, if you're using the one from Yawning Portal, and it hasn't been balanced around fifth edition assumptions or styles of play. (See the 1E adventures there, which throw dozens of giants at player characters in some adventures.)
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
Sunless Citadel is a converted third edition adventure, if you're using the one from Yawning Portal, and it hasn't been balanced around fifth edition assumptions or styles of play. (See the 1E adventures there, which throw dozens of giants at player characters in some adventures.)
Yes, I gathered that after I ran Forge of Fury, and once I was done with Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan, I was quite done with Tales from the Yawning Portal.
 

Whizbang Dustyboots

100% that gnome
Yes, I gathered that after I ran Forge of Fury, and once I was done with Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan, I was quite done with Tales from the Yawning Portal.
I am fond of the original versions of most of the adventures in Yawning Portal, but I really think they need to let it go out of print and either do a remastered version with everything updated to a 5E standard or, better yet, do in-depth treatments on many of them, that both rebalance them and flesh them out.

It pained me to see the giant series, in particular, feel so ephemeral, when it was a genuinely big deal series when it came out. It deserves to get that kind of treatment for 5E. If WotC won't do it (and no, Storm King's Thunder is a different adventure and doesn't count), they should license it out to Goodman Games for the OAR treatment.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
One thing I'd like to see more dungeons do is have locks (and secret/concealed doors) integrated into the overall design. For example, locks become more significant if there's a need for secrecy or a chase scene later on.

It's pretty common for a lock to appear with meager description (e.g. your DC 20 to pick the lock example) in a place with low stakes/urgency.

I just was converting an AD&D Dungeon magazine adventure by Chris Perkins, "Dragon's Delve" (in #62), and I like its judicious approach to locked doors. There are only three locked doors in the fortress:
  • One is the prison cell with the captive dwarven emissaries that PCs are trying to rescue. The keys are on the jailer.
  • The other two are in the throne room, connecting it to the vaults and guest chambers. These either serve as alternate routes for the PCs who find the keys / open the doors, or as an escape route for a villain who has keys to both.
It also has some nice secret doors where the mechanism of action is well described, usually with a clue about what that mechanism is, but not so obscure that players can't figure it out with a bit of experimentation.

However, the adventure repeatedly falls into the same trap that most D&D adventures do with locked chests: there's no tension, no urgency, and no consequences. Here's an example:
I suspect the chests are locked more for verisimilitude reasons than gameplay ones. That said, I’m one of those DMs who believes there should basically always be urgency in a dungeon. If nothing else, there should be checks for wandering monsters or other complications at regular intervals so that time spent futzing with locked chests brings the party closer to the next such check.
 

Vaalingrade

Legend
Have there ever been actual rules for prybars?

Or chests that are themselves valuable so you don't want to use prybars on them?

Because there is very little reason to deal with locks on chests in the dungeon. As it stands, you just break the damn thing or take the chest to open in safety.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Have there ever been actual rules for prybars?

Or chests that are themselves valuable so you don't want to use prybars on them?

Because there is very little reason to deal with locks on chests in the dungeon. As it stands, you just break the damn thing or take the chest to open in safety.
There are rules for crowbars - advantage on Strength checks.

If I put a chest in a game, it will be special in some way. As you say above, the chest itself is valuable (and often heavy) and/or it contains fragile treasure, so busting open the chest comes with risk of breaking stuff like potions or art objects. An example:

Capture.JPG
 

The reason the locks are so hard to open is because the characters are trying to open then with a lpck pick. That's the wrong tool. If you're on a dungeon crawl and it's not on a stealth mission then the way you open a lock in a dungeon is like this:

 

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