Game Design: Locked Doors | KingSpoom's RPG Design & Theory Junkyard

Game Design: Locked Doors

A locked door... it's an obstacle that is commonly used in RPGs. Doors were designed to keep people out, among other things. It is generally the case that DMs who use a locked door actually wants the party to get to the other side! Parts of the adventure are on the other side of that door, after all. However, a common occurance in this situation is the PC's failure to open the door to access that adventure. This can be a problem.

First, a little explanation. Why does the DM lock the door if he wants the party to go through the door? There could be several reasons. Locked doors are used to protect treasure. However, the case may be that the DM doesn't want the party to just get that treasure without earning it. Without the chance of failure, the success of the party would mean nothing. Replace "treasure" with "the rest of the adventure" and you have a big problem.

It is my belief that the system can be blamed for this sometimes, but the DM can also take blame for not recognizing the problem. I also believe that the system can help solve this problem if you take a long look at it. The problem can occur because:

1: There is only 1 solution to a given problem presented to the PCs
2: The problem presented to the PCs MUST be solved to continue the adventure
3: The way the problem is solved is left to chance, instead of choice (or trade-off)

I don't see anything above that can't be solved with preparation and the right system. (1) By overlooking a challenge before you use it in play, you can determine how it can be solved, and make sure that there can be more than one approach. Just having 2 solutions greatly reduces the chances of the PCs being stuck behind the door. (2) You can also take a step outside of the obstacle and see if there is any way the PCs could continue without solving the problem. (3) This is the option I have been focusing on lately.

A lockpicking skill is nice to have, but represents a chance of failure. By allowing the party to bash the door down, but making sure there is a penalty for that action (likely a random encounter, guards being alerted, chance to damage weapons/shoulder) you are allowing the game to continue, the players to make a decision that alters the game, but have still provided obstacles for the PCs. Take a good look at the list of skills in the system you play, what situations those skills handle, and if you can come up with another way those situations could be resolved. It's well worth the effort.


Anonymous said...

My preferred solution is to have a price for failure; the stock example is that failing to pick the lock (quickly enough) leads to a random encounter/set-piece battle.

KingSpoom said...

Does that mean that, as long as the PCs survive the battle, they'll always pick the lock?

I've been fooling with the idea of a skill, where it's either:
roll success = win
roll failure = win, but...

The weird thing being that it's the only skill in the system that works like that right now.

Anonymous said...

There could always be another way in which requires other skills, e.g. There's an open window on a house or a cave entry above ground level that the players would need to climb up to to reach. Or you could introduce another npc, e.g. the master thief who followed the group to steal their treasure, but now offers his 'services' for a price. So, now players could accept the offer, haggle, threaten the thief...