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

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?
DC20 sounds reasonable to me if you use the baseline of a not particularly dextrous person untrained at lockpicking. If it was any lower we'd be asking who was making these locks that couldn't even keep out someone with no training or aptitude. Masterlock?

D&D Next is looking better - at +5 with advantage from having the right tools you've a 7/16 chance. The problem is +2 isn't enough for proficiency.
 

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James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
DC20 sounds reasonable to me if you use the baseline of a not particularly dextrous person untrained at lockpicking. If it was any lower we'd be asking who was making these locks that couldn't even keep out someone with no training or aptitude. Masterlock?

D&D Next is looking better - at +5 with advantage from having the right tools you've a 7/16 chance. The problem is +2 isn't enough for proficiency.
Actually, you can't use Thieves' Tools without proficiency.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
Also remember that a turn in D&D is 6 seconds. So a lock you only pick on a 20 is closing in on 50% chance it's open in two minutes. So the lock at the very edge of what you can do will be open in about two to two and a quarter minutes half the time.

Sorry, the idea that locks are hard to open in D&D is just false. They may be hard to open in 6 seconds, but you know what - that's reasonable.
 

Warpiglet-7

Cry havoc! And let slip the pigs of war!
Also remember that a turn in D&D is 6 seconds. So a lock you only pick on a 20 is closing in on 50% chance it's open in two minutes. So the lock at the very edge of what you can do will be open in about two to two and a quarter minutes half the time.

Sorry, the idea that locks are hard to open in D&D is just false. They may be hard to open in 6 seconds, but you know what - that's reasonable.
That helps me frame it up.

It’s hard to do right fast. Do it fast and you might avoid trouble or beat the clock. Given time it requires a lot less skill/luck.
 

Whizbang Dustyboots

100% that gnome
That helps me frame it up.

It’s hard to do right fast. Do it fast and you might avoid trouble or beat the clock. Given time it requires a lot less skill/luck.
Which also suggests that maybe most locks shouldn't need a roll at all if there's no time pressure -- as with many other skills. The question then would be what the threshold would be for just saying "yeah, you got it open eventually," since it wouldn't be appropriate for every lock, especially ones the really good stuff is secured behind.
 

Warpiglet-7

Cry havoc! And let slip the pigs of war!
Which also suggests that maybe most locks shouldn't need a roll at all if there's no time pressure -- as with many other skills. The question then would be what the threshold would be for just saying "yeah, you got it open eventually," since it wouldn't be appropriate for every lock, especially ones the really good stuff is secured behind.
Yes. I like to roll when it matters. No time pressure and your bonus tot the roll suggests it’s a matter of time no need.

I wonder if you could even have an estimated time to completion based on the spread between bonuses and needed roll.
 

Which also suggests that maybe most locks shouldn't need a roll at all if there's no time pressure -- as with many other skills. The question then would be what the threshold would be for just saying "yeah, you got it open eventually," since it wouldn't be appropriate for every lock, especially ones the really good stuff is secured behind.
Didn't we already say this? When their are no time pressures or implications from failure, then you don't roll. The DM just decides what happens. And it's easy to effectively make this determination by using a "Automatic 20" result to decide.
 

Actually, you can't use Thieves' Tools without proficiency.

No, you can. It's just "a small file, a set of lock picks, a small mirror mounted on a metal handle, a set of narrow-bladed scissors, and a pair of pliers." There's not anything magical there that blocks you from using thieves tools to accomplish something that would require a pair of pliers to accomplish.

You just don't get to add your proficiency bonus to the check when using them. That's the only benefit of proficiency.
 

Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
Which also suggests that maybe most locks shouldn't need a roll at all if there's no time pressure -- as with many other skills. The question then would be what the threshold would be for just saying "yeah, you got it open eventually," since it wouldn't be appropriate for every lock, especially ones the really good stuff is secured behind.

The issue I suppose is whether the attempt leaves the lock intact or if its busted. Givenntime anyone can certainly wreck a lock to open a door, but it will leave an obvious sign of entry
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
No, you can. It's just "a small file, a set of lock picks, a small mirror mounted on a metal handle, a set of narrow-bladed scissors, and a pair of pliers." There's not anything magical there that blocks you from using thieves tools to accomplish something that would require a pair of pliers to accomplish.

You just don't get to add your proficiency bonus to the check when using them. That's the only benefit of proficiency.
Page 103 of the 5e DMG: "Locked Doors. Characters who don't have the key to a locked door can pick the lock with a successful Dexterity check (doing so requires thieves' tools and proficiency in their use)."
 

Galandris

Foggy Bottom Campaign Setting Fan
The basic ward lock was known to Sumerians whereas the Tumbler was invented by Romans and Chinese and pretty much stayed that way until the 18th century Pin and Tumbler (Yale) lock. Thats why gates and doors were mainly latched, barred, guarded rather than relying on locks.

And that latched and barred door sounds like a DC 20 door to open without bashing it. Are you denying the party rogue the ability to defeat a closed door on the ground that there is no lock to pick but another closure mechanism (like the opening is caused by pulling a particular book in a bookstand three rooms away?) I don't -- let that poor rogue get some spotlight. In my representation of the magical world of Artificers, thieves tools include a long list of standard password to get Kundarak-protected doors to open themselves, classed by door model -- it's very often that the owner don't change the administrator password on them, leaving it to mellon for some obscure reason.
 

Voadam

Legend
Page 103 of the 5e DMG: "Locked Doors. Characters who don't have the key to a locked door can pick the lock with a successful Dexterity check (doing so requires thieves' tools and proficiency in their use)."
I was going to say this was a callback to the 1e DMG's hidden rules but there is the 5e PH Page 152 under equipment.

"Lock. A key is provided with the lock. Without the key, a creature proficient with thieves' tools can pick this lock with a successful DC 15 Dexterity check. Your DM may decide that better locks are available for higher prices."

And PH page 175 under working together "For example, trying to open a lock requires proficiency with thieves' tools, so a character who lacks that proficiency can't help another character in that task."
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
I was going to say this was a callback to the 1e DMG's hidden rules but there is the 5e PH Page 152 under equipment.

"Lock. A key is provided with the lock. Without the key, a creature proficient with thieves' tools can pick this lock with a successful DC 15 Dexterity check. Your DM may decide that better locks are available for higher prices."

And PH page 175 under working together "For example, trying to open a lock requires proficiency with thieves' tools, so a character who lacks that proficiency can't help another character in that task."
Ah thanks for checking that. At first when I re-read what the PHB said about tools, I was about to concede the point, but I remembered Maxperson bringing up the DMG statement some time ago during a discussion about gatekeeping skill checks with proficiency.

It is nice to know that it's referenced in the PHB elsewhere, even if it's somewhat at odds with the description of how tools work.
 

Voadam

Legend
Ah thanks for checking that. At first when I re-read what the PHB said about tools, I was about to concede the point, but I remembered Maxperson bringing up the DMG statement some time ago during a discussion about gatekeeping skill checks with proficiency.

It is nice to know that it's referenced in the PHB elsewhere, even if it's somewhat at odds with the description of how tools work.
The 5e Player's Handbook also has language that read in isolation suggests proficiency is not necessary to pick locks.

Page 154

"TOOLS
A tool helps you to do something you couldn't otherwise do, such as craft or repair an item, forge a document, or pick a lock. Your race, class, background, or feats give you proficiency with certain tools. Proficiency with a tool allows you to add your proficiency bonus to any ability check you make using that tool."

This seems to indicate that the tool is necessary and proficiency only adds a bonus on the check.

Also on page 154

"Thieves' Tools. This set of tools includes a small file, a set of lock picks, a small mirror mounted on a metal handle, a set of narrow-bladed scissors, and a pair of pliers. Proficiency with these tools lets you add your proficiency bonus to any ability checks you make to disarm traps or open locks."

Again as written this is consistent with proficiency just adding a bonus, not being a requirement to use the tools.

This seems a natural place to specify that lack of proficiency does not allow use of lock picks (a specific exception to the general rule on proficiency and tool use). It does not mention that fact here though, only in other places.
 

One jerk is flooding the market with high quality locks, driving the price down dramatically.

You come across him one day in a cave just piled full of locks. Some villagers nearby taking them and selling them without him even noticing.
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
The 5e Player's Handbook also has language that read in isolation suggests proficiency is not necessary to pick locks.

Page 154

"TOOLS
A tool helps you to do something you couldn't otherwise do, such as craft or repair an item, forge a document, or pick a lock. Your race, class, background, or feats give you proficiency with certain tools. Proficiency with a tool allows you to add your proficiency bonus to any ability check you make using that tool."

This seems to indicate that the tool is necessary and proficiency only adds a bonus on the check.

Also on page 154

"Thieves' Tools. This set of tools includes a small file, a set of lock picks, a small mirror mounted on a metal handle, a set of narrow-bladed scissors, and a pair of pliers. Proficiency with these tools lets you add your proficiency bonus to any ability checks you make to disarm traps or open locks."

Again as written this is consistent with proficiency just adding a bonus, not being a requirement to use the tools.

This seems a natural place to specify that lack of proficiency does not allow use of lock picks (a specific exception to the general rule on proficiency and tool use). It does not mention that fact here though, only in other places.
Mind you, even though it's not explicitly stated, proficiency gating tool can make sense. I mean, before I started watching those lockpicking videos, I would have no idea how to use the various tools of the trade to do much of anything.
 

Whizbang Dustyboots

100% that gnome
One jerk is flooding the market with high quality locks, driving the price down dramatically.

You come across him one day in a cave just piled full of locks. Some villagers nearby taking them and selling them without him even noticing.
Alternately, high quality locks are just the larval form of mimics, hiding in the midst of a manufactured landscape until they reach maturity.

Getting picked is how they spread their pollen to other lock-larvae.
 

Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
C861D958-B113-4C06-B758-CF92437746E5.jpeg


remember the Lock Lurker
 

Bill Zebub

“It’s probably Matt Mercer’s fault.”
If I’m DMing, and the lock is pickable, somebody trained in lockpicking will always succeed.

Eventually.

But if there is time pressure, or they don’t want to leave any indication they’ve been there, or there is some other constraint, I might ask for a roll.
 

Page 103 of the 5e DMG: "Locked Doors. Characters who don't have the key to a locked door can pick the lock with a successful Dexterity check (doing so requires thieves' tools and proficiency in their use)."

What an incredibly obscure place to put that.

It's also just questionable game design. Like the options are not pick the lock or you'll never get past it. You can just smash the door or chest or the lock itself. Or disassemble the hinges or the lock itself. It's not a video game where you're limited to the options the designer put there. You can always circumvent the lock Picking a lock has advantages, sure, but it's primary use is expediency. It's odd to make proficiency a requirement here and essentially nowhere else.

It's especially odd when just a few pages later the same book says that any character can use Perception to find traps, followed by an Investigation and perhaps a Thieves' Tools check to disable it... with no requirement for proficiency mentioned at all. It then doubles down that any character can use Arcana to find magical traps.

I was going to say this was a callback to the 1e DMG's hidden rules but there is the 5e PH Page 152 under equipment.

"Lock. A key is provided with the lock. Without the key, a creature proficient with thieves' tools can pick this lock with a successful DC 15 Dexterity check. Your DM may decide that better locks are available for higher prices."

Wow, that is horrifically worded. Note the wording difference here and with James' DMG quote.

Strictly speaking, it actually suggests you can pick the lock without thieves' tools so long as you have proficiency with them. Alternatively, it suggests that the DC to pick the lock with proficiency is DC 15, but would be something else otherwise. The book as written says either of those more clearly than it says that tools and proficiency with tools are required to pick the lock.

And PH page 175 under working together "For example, trying to open a lock requires proficiency with thieves' tools, so a character who lacks that proficiency can't help another character in that task."

Yeah, the fact that this only appears in kind of limited areas and not under the tools section itself is... incredibly poor writing on WotC's part. Why would I look up doors or locks if I want to know how the rules for Thieves' Tools work?

It's odd enough that I wonder if it was either a late addition or late removal. Or an error. I certainly believe the books are full of simple errors.

Edit: Clarity.
 
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