Friday, April 15, 2011

Making Picking Locks Fun, Disarming traps + Die Drop Fumbles

3 new rules...

Standing on the shoulders of research done by Telecanter, I rigged up these...

BURP Lockpicking Rules

Quoth the man:

Your thief knows four ways to manipulate locks...And that's it. She knows the wrong actions might Jam the lock permanently preventing it from being picked or opened with a key.

So, DM, when you come upon a lock, roll d4 to determine the method that will finally be effective:


Or BURP as a mnemonic.

An ordinary lock--most locks--only have ONE right move.

Roll or decide how hard the lock is--1 thru 4: This is how many guesses the PC gets. The harder the lock, the fewer wrong guesses you can make before it jams: i.e. a 1-Guess Lock jams on the first wrong guess.

A 4-Guess Lock is the easiest.


Assume "bump" and "probe" are radical solutions--like performing a "controlled drop" on your ipod to fix it.

Guessing wrong by 1 (i.e. guess "probe" and it's actually "rake") means you get to keep guessing (up until the jam limit for the lock). Guessing wrong by 2 or more (i.e. probing when you should be undulating) means the lock jams.

(Clever thieves will be able to realize after a while what their options are after one pass according to what happens to the lock. i.e. after a "rake" that does not jam the lock, the thief will know the next thing to do is undulate or probe.)

Every time a thief levels up, s/he gets one "get out of a jam free" card.

"Get out of jam free" cards can be used once, ever, so even high-level thieves will only have a handful at most at any given time.

These "cards" take 20 minus (thief level) rounds to use.

Having lock pick tools adds a number of "cards" equal to the gp cost of the tools divided by 25.

You can bolt on a system which takes into account traditional lock pick percentages by including that as a chance to unjam and remove the unjam-free system.

Trapped locks:

New traps: For any given civilization/dungeon/building that has recently and arbitrarily-placed traps, simply assign a number 1-4. That number represents trapped locks in that place. So like in one dungeon all "bump" locks could be trapped, in the next, all "rake" locks are trapped, etc. These traps respond to any attempt to pick the lock.

Old traps: This rule is for ruins and decaying places--these ancient traps are hard to spring. Two wrong guesses result in a trap going off.

BURP Disarming traps:

Tell the thief there's a trap and it'll go off after a number of wrong guesses equal to his/her level. The thief's options are as for a door, with the added modifiers of "hard" and "soft" (i.e. rake hard, rake soft, bump hard, bump soft, etc.) DM rolls a d8 to determine the proper action.

Die Drop Fumble:

If you drop a die off the table while rolling (DM too) it results in a "fumble token" to be used later to make a failure into a spectacular failure. If a player dropped the die, the DM may use it next time the PC fails to do something, if the DM dropped the die the players may choose to use it next time an NPC or monster fails to do something.

Playtest in 3 hours.


DaveL said...

Any rules mod is a tradeoff between "granularity;" that is, how realistic a given task is, and bogging down the game in needless complexity, and player boredom. It's kind of up to the GM to decide, and based on players reactions whether you continue to use it or not.

Zak Sabbath said...

In other news from DaveL, the sky is blue and water is wet.

Jeff Rients said...

Aw, go easy on the poor guy. Every established principle is a new insight to somebody. This must be his first visit here or he wouldn't be dropping this kind of advice.

Zak Sabbath said...

Jeff, how is it you've been blogging so long and still manage to be so nice?

Ursca said...

Oh, I love these.
A nice bit of player skill involved, whilst still being in-character.

Zzarchov said...

The "4 options" thing (And the patterns it forms) might go well with something I occasionally run for locks.

I played Mastermind. 1 guess per round, harder locks require more parts of the pattern. Then it was simply coloured pegs, but using actions (ie, this lock needs Bump/Bump/Undulate/Rake) would be waaay cooler.

Mastermind being the boardgame where one player has a set of 4 hidden pegs and the opponent tries to guess them. Being told how many where "right colour in right spot" and "right colour in wrong spot", without knowing which pegs are which.

Why is this relevant? Guessing one option is fun, but pretty soon i'd bet you'll be back to it being boring.

Add in where they need to guess a pattern and get feedback to try next round and you might get the whole table sitting around helping and paying attention.

Just a suggestion.

Zak Sabbath said...


That option seems more fun, but more effort and time. The ordinary way is the least fun, but requires the least effort and time. This was a middle path between the 2.

Plus the names of the actions will be funny with my players.

Next stop--if I do it--is designing some puzzle with a visual interface--more effort up front but faster and more interesting to use for everyone.

Blair said...

As sloppy, overpowered die rolls never fails to infuriate me I'm going to have to try out the Die Drop Fumble, although perhaps a more punitive varient that include granting tokens for dice contacting terrain or miniatures as well.

Zak Sabbath said...


I think it's important to remember to tell everybody the rule right off the bat and to say: this goes for the DM too.

Otherwise they'll be angry.

C'nor (Outermost_Toe) said...

Quick question: I'm making a Karyat demon for the Gigacrawler game (It didn't go yet, by the way, but I'm hoping to actually get it up and running when at least one of the people doesn't have to deal with finals). It has 10 skills, half of which I've used on making it really, really, good with an axe. I'm assuming that, since it's a Karyat demon, that it will know about them, and also something about the Laernu family, especially the Sarnith branch (Both of which they're a part of). Should such knowledge, that basically comes from having been one for a couple of hundred years, cost skills, or simply be assumed?

Zak Sabbath said...


Here's what I think: taking it as a skill nails it down, not taking it a skill leaves it at the GM's discretion. So it depends how bad--as a player--the player wants to have that knowledge.

If you want to be an awesome Gigacrawler soldier, cut that answer and paste it under the comments on the original Gigacrawler skills post.

Anonymous said...

Looks good. Lock picking probably comes up rarely enough that this metagame wouldn't get old. I think a similar mechanic for traps (at least the small "poison needle" type traps) would be fun too.

Anonymous said...

I can't speak for Jeff R. but I would guess that not being constantly harassed by Alexis and Kent helps improve his mood.

Anonymous said...

Can't delete my own comments & I just noticed you already covered the traps angle too. I should probably try to do people the courtesy of reading the whole post before commenting.

Zak Sabbath said...


Alexis is all my fault--I totally willingly go up to the mountain and talk to the crazy hermit.

C'nor (Outermost_Toe) said...

There may be a bit of confusion here - this is something that the players will run into if they do something, not a character. They know pretty much nothing except, maybe, what I said here.

Zak Sabbath said...


If you're the GM then it knows whatever you want it to know. Unless you want it to be some elaborate minigame to stump the demon--in which case make up yr own rules.

trollsmyth said...

Plus the names of the actions will be funny with my players.

Yeah, if this doesn't result in somebody shouting out, "Ah-yeah, rake it, baby, RAKE IT!" at some point in my games, I will be horribly disappointed. ;p

Telecanter said...

Cool. Hope it works out well.

Akhier the Dragon Hearted said...

The system definitely seems better then a simple dice roll. Funny names always helps to make things interesting if done right.

I see only one thing I would add and that is make different actions cause more noise when they fail. Like having a Bump or a Rake attempt when failed be more noisy then the other two. Picking a lock is not exactly quiet so if there are monsters in the next room they should have a chance of hearing it and being able to get ready for an attack.

-C said...

Yar, I wrotes thou a table! It needs all yar dice!

It'll name your lock, and the material, and provide BURP options for up to SIX tumblers!

-C said...

Also, Zak, is there a way to contact you privately?

My e-mail address is on my page.

I'd like to submit my roll all the dice keys and locks tables to the fight on contest, but *both* involve rules innovations you pioneered, and didn't know if that would be a problem or not. Couldn't hurt to ask.

Zak Sabbath said...

@ -c

google me.

Night Wizard said...

this is a cool mechanic dude, so I offer these suggestions in good faith. Since pin tumbler locks didnt show up until like the 1840's, most locks you'd come across in a D&D style setting would either be a warded lever action thing, some primative shit using a spring or some kind of annoying puzzle construction shit.

For levers, the terminology would probably be different (raking and bumping are shit you do with pin tumbler locks) but thats just semantics. Unless it was trapped you'd have to be a total ass to jam one of these, so you might want to give some extra "get out of jams"

There's a bunch of weird old designs that involve shitty spring steel mechanisms, opening them would involve inserting tools and prying/levering the shit inside until it opens, less complicated, but more likely to break something inside (spring steel used to suck). Easier to open but greater chance of jamming maybe?

Weird puzzle shit is outside my personal experience, it seems like you're thief would just have to sit around fucking with it for a while, any jam result might result in accidentally unlocking it or something stupid, whover built the thing was probably an ass anyway.

A good thief's best tools are experience and patience. To be cool to your thief you might give them a roll to see if they've encountered other locks built by the same locksmith and know what kind of tricks he uses (master locksmiths should be pretty rare, and their works highly regarded). If your thief's operating under shitty, less than optimal conditions (like if some fucking fighter dude keeps asking him stupid questions) you might make them roll a wisdom check to avoid getting pissed and breaking something.

Modern pin tumbler locks are almost impossible to accidentally jam, but really easy to fuck up if you mean to.

Zak Sabbath said...

@Night Wizard

I respect your implied research on lockpicking and thievery and hope, for the sake of my posessions, that you do not live in the greater los angeles area.

We can say "break" the lock instead of "jam", but unless you come up with a better mnemonic, I gotta stick with "burp".

What you've go there is a "simulatory" system, whereas what I got here is a "puzzle" system with a simulatory bolt on (the get-out-of-ajam-frees that go up per level) frees. The point of this system is not to make lockpicking more realistic or granular, but to add narrative tension to situations in the game where there's a lock, like:

Z: Bump Undulate Rake or Probe Connie?

C: uh.....

Kimberly: Probe! probe!'

Viv: Undulate! Undulate!

C: I'm gonna "rake" it.

Z: The lock breaks, you can't open it.

K: I fucking TOLD you!!!!

mordicai said...

Hm...BURP makes me think that a "rock/paper/scissor" lock-picking system might actually be neat...with some locks or thieves having "dynamite" style options. Then you could make the level of the lock the number of times you have to beat it?

Zak Sabbath said...


It essentially -IS- rock paper scissors only with one 2 choices that are riskier but might be right.
so it has slightly more strategy.

The main advantage of one over the other seems to be just the way it looks/feels when you're actually playing. KISS pinball vs. Dukes ofHAzard pinball.

Night Wizard said...

Sorry, I've got a thing for spreading lock awareness...

Hartful said...

I'm loving this what about this change, imagine BURP not as a liniar set of options buy on a wheel. Just like North east south west. North is next to east and west and one away from south. That would mean each lock has one totally wrong answer. And two options that are close. You could have the farthest away number be an instant jam, and theother options provide a way of saving from a jam with lockpicking skill. Just an idea.

Zak Sabbath said...


that's very similar to the mechanic here but it makes the "b" and "p" options options no more nor less risky than any other. maybe a good thing

Hartful said...

Yah your right... it defeats the player skill factor that is so greatl about your system. So as it stands rolling a 2-3, would be easier locks then rolling a 1-4
So if the lock is a B then there is only one other option U that will not jam it. Yet if it's either U or R then ud get two other options that do not result in a jam.

You could then set the probability of the lock being B or R as less like d100
1-15 B
16-30 P
31-65 U
66-100 R
Or something like that, or just assign the Bs and Rs to a much harder lock.
anyways the system is great, just one of the reasons why this is the best dnd blog around

Akhier the Dragon Hearted said...

If you add my idea of some of the actions causing more noise then others to Hartful's idea you would add back some of the challenge and make just sitting there retrying till its right more risky. Sure you could fix the jam and all but it takes time and makes noise so maybe monsters nearby would come around to check what the noise is.

Zak Sabbath said...


i think it;s a good idea--I say, to keep it simple. B makes the least noise, P makes the most, etc. etc.