For this second installment of the Bringing the Awesome series we are looking at using improv and other play techniques to make the simple and trivial tasks in your game, well, awesome. This week, we’re talking about opening a locked door. But not just a locked door! The locked door.
It’s a classic set up in RPGs: the party exploring the dungeon comes upon a locked door with treasure surely on the other side. Or a group of intrepid explorers finds the hidden door in the crypts. By unlocking it they will reveal the crypt of the vampire! Or the researchers find the door in the cavern used by the cultists and opening it will reveal their plans and the terrible idols they worship can finally be destroyed. The variations are endless.
The Locked Door
Since opening the door is the penultimate encounter, it should be much more important to the game than a simple roll vs. skill to pick the lock (unless it is specifically meant to challenge a certain player, a situation which has its own pitfalls, and which will be covered in another post). So the mechanism by which the door is locked or unlocked can be the creative spark for the party and the last encounter of the session or game.
So how is the door locked or sealed? This is the fun part! No one knows, not even the GM. It opens when the players do something that is awesome enough. The details can be revealed in the gameplay. Let the players work out the solution, drop hints if need be, but don’t plan it out completely.
You see an outline in the wall where the last cultist you were following disappeared. The wall itself is warm and vibrates slightly rather than being cold dead stone. It is a door of some kind, but no door handles or hinges are visible.
What is next? The players try typical solutions like prying the door open, shooting it, searching for a secret mechanism on the edges, etc.
Remember the goal here is to encourage both creative thinking and group unity in problem solving. This is why there is no set solution to the lock. It will open once the players do something fun that gets them helping each other.
The Door Opens
One player has a letter written by the cultists and at the bottom is a saying in a mysterious language.
We shout the phrase at the door!
This is good but not quite there yet. maybe have one PC roll against their Perception (or equivalent). They feel the vibrations growing stronger then fading away.
Maybe its not what we say as much as how we say it. Try repeating the phrase slowly and get those names exactly right …
There it is, now to get more players involved.
Can the professor decipher the writing enough to get the name right? Maybe he can roll on his Languages skill?
Bingo! the professor makes his roll and the parties’s speaker repeats the phrase, invoking the Elder God this temple was for and the door swings open.
The main goal with an obstacle like a locked door is to get the group working together to overcome their obstacles, not to design the Perfect Lock Which The Players Will Never Figure Out.
Maybe next time a player will try rolling his perception then he just happens to notice the lamp on the far wall has some scratches on its mount which opens the door when someone holds the bracket down and they jump through at the last moment. Or another group will use a PCs’ Art skill to find the hidden name of the Elder God that in the painting in the previous room that opens the door. The details of the solution are less important than the fun in figuring it out.
As a GM the goal is for the players to think out of the box and ideally for as many of them to cooperate in the solution as is possible. This will work great in a convention game with a group of players or several groups, each group can find a unique solution to the locked door puzzle and get something to remember in the game.
Remember to up your game and to bring the awesome. Playing this way is so much more rewarding than simply rolling dice and beating the target number. Sometimes it is better to just let the game happen and be fun instead of overplanning.