Thursday, April 14, 2011

You Can Pick Your Friends And You Can Pick Your Nose, But . . .

The smell of molding paper was overwhelming.  Collapsed wooden bookshelves lay in scattered heaps around the ancient library.  The party stood around a large metal box attached to the wall.  Ferrit the Halfling thief knelt next to it, a set of metal picks, hooks, and a torsion wrench in his hand.

"I search for traps," the boy smiled and picked up two ten-siders, his mohawk flopping from side to side.  Each summer since he was very small, he has requested a mohawk.  Now that he is home-schooled, Texas school haircut regulations need not be enforced, so he can hawk his mo all he wants.

"The DM rolls that in this version, remember?"

"Oh yeah," he sighed, his mowhawk drooping a bit.  I rolled the dice behind a can of Coke Zero.

"You search all around the cold iron box and the lock and don't find any traps," I said.  "What do you do now?"

The boy nervously looked around the table at the other players.  One nodded.

"Okay, I try to pick the lock," he said, grabbing his dice again.

I sighed.

At least in 4e the boy would get to do SOMETHING if his thief was doing his job.  He could at least toss a d20 around.  Thieving by DM die roll in the old school just seems quite . . . unfun.  The boy hasn't complained openly, but the drooping mohawk says it all.

There has got to be another way.  He needs to feel empowered and involved.

I suppose I could have him describe what Ferrit is doing, and then add or subtract some percentage o the skill roll based on how good what he said sounded.  I've done that a lot in the many skill based games of the past.  It just doesn't seem right in this circumstance.

I had a thought, though.

Why not toss the dice.  Not to roll them, just put them away.  Then I could make traps and locks a puzzle for the boy to solve.

I'm not really sure how to do this.  I envision something like . . .

"Okay, you see the lock has four tumblers that you can see from the keyhole," I say casually.

"I take a stick and wiggle it inside the hole a bit,' the boy says.

"Okay Mister Smartypants, you set off the poison needle, which stabs at thin air where your thumb <i>would</i> have been, were you trying to pick the lock with your tools."

"Boomshakalaka," the boy pumps his fist, his mohawk fully erect.  "I carefully roll the first tumbler to the right until I feel resistance . . ."

Okay, something like that, but without the boy and I having to become experts ourselves in the art of ancient lock-picking. And not boring the rest of the party while we are doing it.   I'm just not exactly sure how to pull it off.

Any ideas on this?  Any pointers to someone who has already come up with something similar?

Thanks in advance.

- Ark


  1. Two ideas that could possibly work:

    For my wife's thirtieth birthday, I set up a treasure hunt in the house for her to find her present (à la The Da Vinci Code). One of the final items was a box locked with a lettered combination lock. The previous item she had found was a slip of paper with a riddle. The answer to the riddle was the combination I had set in the lettered padlock. Perhaps something similar would work. Or else a math problem perhaps with a normal combination lock? Probably feasible only if there are one or two locks to be picked, but it could be reserved for "extra special" locks.

    Alternatively a short simple logic puzzle might work? You could give him a slip of paper (parchment?) that says something like this:

    Examining the lock you see four tumblers. As you look at them, you realize that...

    Moving tumbler one before moving tumbler three will release the trap.
    Tumbler four must be moved before tumbler one.
    Moving tumbler two before moving tumbler four will block tumbler four so it cannot be moved.
    (etc., etc., providing enough clues to answer the following question correctly)
    In what order do you attempt to move the tumblers?

    If he gets it right, the lock opens, if not he sets off the trap (or simply fails to open the lock).

    You just have to make sure that your clues are valid and that there is one and only one correct answer.

    To keep the rest of the party from getting bored, perhaps a combination of making sure there are things for them to do/examine while the thief works on the lock, and just simply keeping the lock-logic puzzle fairly short and simple (e.g. three tumblers instead of four).

  2. I like Bard's logic-problem idea quite a bit, and I'm liable to use it for my theives when the time comes (I'm still in the planning stages for my own Labyrinth Lord sandboxy hackity thing).

    Perhaps if the theif in question gets the answer *wrong* then you can have them roll to see if they can still stop the trap from being sprung with their theif's tools and take a second crack at it if they make a successful "Disarm Trap" or "Pick Lock" roll after that.

    I've been trying to come up with a physical contraption as well that will allow my players to roll a die and not let them see the results while still making it something I can read. I have a feeling it involves a wide mailing tube with a window cut in the side of it at one end.

  3. I play games where you roll dice and add them together to get you random number distribution. So in that case the GM rolls one die and the player another. I'm also pretty old school in you just don't roll to find or disarm a trap, you tell me what you are doing. Explanation can always suceed if done correctly. In my game the dice are more along papa's comment, as a potential backstop to utter failure.

    On a d20 mechanic perhaps the GM rolls a d20, the player rolls a d20 and a d6. On a 1-3 on the d6 you use the in the open palyer roll, on a 4-6 the secret GM roll.

  4. That was an excellent read good sir! Makes me want to play fall out! lol.

  5. Dungeons and Digressions suggested origami:

    I've seen others suggest physical puzzles (wooden, iron). Both of those could be fun.

    But I think I would try to make an abstracted flowchart with actions connected to results (poke, twist/jam, trap, etc) and then make certain types of locks similar and learnable. I mean, "Oh, this is an Old Grink lock..." twist, twist, poke it opens. That way thieves could really learn types of locks. You could give them several flowchart bubbles free for each level of ability or add more for lock difficulty.

    Hmm, I might mock this up and post tomorrow about it.

  6. The logic problem ideas are interesting, but in a system where there's a way of dealing with a skill that's randomized, I think it makes sense to keep that random (i.e., as opposed to tricks and traps that any PC might have a chance to deal with, in which case the logic problem or puzzle is a cool approach).

    Or, at the risk of tarnishing whatever old school cred I have, couldn't you just use the 4e rules for this? I mean, let him roll his own dice. Old school is using what feels right and allows the players and DM maximum fun. Why not?

    (Having said that I have no idea what 4e thievery is like. It may be awful and reprehensible to me. But basically: Dogmatic Old School is not Old School. It's crap.)

  7. And, of course, as I wrote that Telecanter comes up with a far more interesting non-dice approach to the problem. Jolly good.

  8. I just wrote up a way to use a quick (potentially) game of Mastermind to do it. Also, though, if the result of the roll is going to be obvious, I always have the player roll it. I only to player rolls when they wouldn't be sure of the outcome right away.

    pick lock - player rolls
    disarm trap - dm rolls
    climb walls - player rolls
    hide in shadows - dm rolls
    etc :)

  9. @All-a-yall - Thanks for all the great ideas and suggestions. I appreciate it greatly!

    And yeah Zombie, I had no idea what you were talking about until I looked up Locks and Fallout. Never played it. But heck, it might be more interesting than I thought. :)

    - Ark

  10. I'm a month and a half late, but I have an idea about the Find Traps skill if you are still interested.