Archive for August 24th, 2010


Keys to the (Underground) Kingdom

“I have dared much for this meeting! Look! The keys to your chains! I stole them from Shukeli. What will you give me for them?”

—Robert E. Howard, “The Scarlet Citadel”

Dungeons are littered with locked doors and locked treasure chests. (Admittedly, no old-school ruleset specifies which or how many are locked, but that many are locked is always clear.) But where are the keys to open these things? Keys aren’t listed on any of the treasure tables.


    • If this is a mythic underworld, there’s no need for keys because the locks are sui generis, existing for no purpose other than to thwart adventurers.
    • For Gygaxian realism, you can add keys to DM-created treasure caches or put them in the possession of whichever creatures run the appropriate part of the dungeon.
    • Lastly, if you want keys to show up randomly, assign them to some part of the treasure table that you wouldn’t otherwise use. Personally, I rarely have treasure maps handy, so if “Treasure Map” turns up on the treasure tables I can assign a key instead.

The availability and utility of any given key depends on its use. The lock on a private room or treasure chest likely only has one corresponding key, while the lock on a display case or armory door might have several associated keys. Meanwhile, skeleton keys may exist that open a number of locks.

Of course, just because the PCs find a key doesn’t mean it will do them any good! Adventurers are in the habit of bashing down locked doors, and once a door’s been bashed in, the key associated with its lock does little good. Similarly, a key found on a body might belong to a room in its former owner’s stronghold hundreds of miles away. There’s no way to know!

Here’s an off-the-cuff table to determine a key’s utility:

    1-4: Opens a specific door in the dungeon. Roll randomly to see which level the door is on, then roll to see which room number it’s associated with, rerolling if the room doesn’t have any doors.
    5-6: Opens a treasure chest, vault, padlock, manacles, etc. Roll randomly as with #1-4 above.
    7: Skeleton key that opens all doors on a dungeon level, except for any special doors that you deem to require their own keys. Roll randomly to see which level it works on.
    8: The key doesn’t open anything in this dungeon, and never did.

Past Adventures of the Mule

August 2010
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