Saturday, 16 April 2011

Building on Locks and Traps

Arkhein asks the question that has been on everyone's mind since the Quick Primer on Old School gaming dropped - how do you get all descriptive and Old Schooly with mechanical devices when you're neither an engineer nor a locksmith? How do you solve in-game mechanisms without game mechanics?

So, Telecanter comes up with this neat, simple flowchart thingy for dealing with locks and mechanisms.

Zak adds his own take on the system.

I have but three things to add. One is an observation that with a lock, you succeed by getting it to work and fail by jamming it. With a trap, you succeed by jamming it and fail by getting it to work. So, you can use the same procedures for the two, but with different desirable outcomes.

Two is a variation. Roll on the list of 36 text-adventure-style action words from the "black die 1" column of Table D in my Endless Bag of Tricks pdf. Do this once for each of the action words you're using to solve the mechanism. It's then on you to come up with a trap/trick/lock description that uses them all. I just rolled up "Move," "Turn," "Sit on," and "Push" which suggests a nasty-looking rotating door with a built-in seat.

Three: could you use an actual puzzle in-game? Having played a fair number of the Big Fish hidden object computer games, I am excruciatingly familiar with the kind of old mansion whose exploration requires completing Towers of Hanoi, 15/16 slider puzzles, pipelaying games, and the like. I am pleased to say that the recent Mansions of Madness board game from Fantasy Flight includes this kind of mini-puzzle in a way that doesn't feel overly forced or corny. At least after one play. So perhaps that can be useful, every once in a while.

Another inspiration for a "get the sequence right" puzzle designer, by the way, is the GROW series of flash puzzles (strip of square icons to left in that link), the perfect blend of clue-giving, trial and error, and sheer surrealism.

Oh yeah, and speaking of mechanisms, this, if you ever wondered what a DC 35 lock looked like.


  1. Great stuff. That chest lock at the end is awesome.

  2. I like how you generated those action words from your list to flesh out the moves related to the trap.

  3. A hammer and chisel will beat most locks in less then an hour. The trick is not getting eaten by a grue during that hour.

  4. I just spent something like 2hrs at that GROW site.. very cool :)

  5. I did up a little table that generates the names and materials of locks, as well as assigning BURP values to up to 6 pins.

  6. As far as another game to use in-game to simulate lockpicking or trap disarming, the perfect choice would be Mastermind. However, that would take too much table time. I'm not sure what to do with this realisation.. I will try to come up with something :)

  7. My original version/revision of zak's idea was mastermind, but then it occurred to me with the way locks are set up, that you could *always* guess the lock in 3 guesses.