24
Aug
10

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.

Solutions:

    • 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.

9 Responses to “Keys to the (Underground) Kingdom”


  1. August 24, 2010 at 4:50 pm

    Key’s for Maps is a great swap-out. What about using a few descriptive tables to identify a key (“bronze, mouldering, engraved”). Use the same tables whenever a locked door is encountered and if the party has a key with the same attributes as the lock then it is either the exact key or one close enough to work.

    On a 2 attribute match you might grant some sort of bonus to Open Locks checks.

    I would have the PC roll as Paralysis save as well – on a fail the key is destroyed or stuck irretrievably in the lock, whether the door opened or not.

  2. August 24, 2010 at 5:29 pm

    I’ll admit that my modus operandi thus far in actual play has been to roll a d20 when the PCs try a key in a lock, with the lock opening on a 20. Thus far the PCs have yet to be successful.

    Descriptive tables seem unnecessary to me, but that’s because I have an overactive imagination! And of course one dungeon may use lots of iron while another is big on brass, so one table won’t fit all, as it were. But sure, a few short tables will indicate what a key is made of, whether it’s plain or ornate, etc.

    I figure there’s a 1 in 20 chance that any given key is independently valuable: made of silver, perhaps, or with an ornamental stone set in the bow.

    On a 2 attribute match you might grant some sort of bonus to Open Locks checks.

    I’m not sure that using the wrong key would give any special benefit to a thief that an actual set of thieves’ tools would not. I might allow a thief who’s lost her thieves’ tools to attempt to open a lock with the wrong key, but not with a bonus.

    I would have the PC roll as Paralysis save as well – on a fail the key is destroyed or stuck irretrievably in the lock, whether the door opened or not.

    Aw, that just seems cruel!

  3. 3 Lord Bodacious
    August 24, 2010 at 6:25 pm

    A straight 5% for any key on any door is a bummer for players, and can really break the illusion when players realize that this cool, rune scribed key they pulled of the demon lord doesn’t work in the big rune-scribed doors, and in fact all keys are equally likely/unlikely to work on any door. While most players won’t see this ‘behind the curtain’ math of a 1 in 20, this seems a pretty low standard for a B/X success check (when 1 in 6 is often ascribed for ‘nearly impossible’ acts).

    I’d say a key found within a dungeon should either have a specific use or a chance at a pretty tight category of uses. With this low success rate, players will just throw up their hands on keys altogether and just decide that all doors must be bashed (in the same way over trapping a dungeon leads to overcautious play, or abandonment of reaction rolls leads to mass murder of dungeon denizens).

    While it is a contrived plot device to have the key to the room held by the monster next door, this exists for a reason: it builds a feeling of integretity within a dungeon. The DM should encourage players to find keys and other such workarounds, rather than make it highly improbable or more trouble than simply bashing down doors.

  4. August 24, 2010 at 6:39 pm

    A straight 5% for any key on any door is a bummer for players, and can really break the illusion when players realize that this cool, rune scribed key they pulled of the demon lord doesn’t work in the big rune-scribed doors, and in fact all keys are equally likely/unlikely to work on any door.

    I never said it was a good idea; one does not ‘admit’ things one is proud of!

    In any case, I’d like to think that any DM worth their salt can recognize the difference between “ordinary key, ordinary door” and “extraordinary key, extraordinary door.” If the DM gives you a 5% chance that the Glowing Platinum Key opens the Glowing Platinum Portal, you are entitled to pummel said DM about the head and shoulders with a baguette.

    (when 1 in 6 is often ascribed for ‘nearly impossible’ acts)

    Really?

    I’d say a key found within a dungeon should either have a specific use or a chance at a pretty tight category of uses.

    Which is, in fact, the thrust of my original post.

    While it is a contrived plot device to have the key to the room held by the monster next door, this exists for a reason: it builds a feeling of integretity within a dungeon. The DM should encourage players to find keys and other such workarounds, rather than make it highly improbable or more trouble than simply bashing down doors.

    There is much to be said in favor of this approach.

  5. 5 Lord Bodacious
    August 24, 2010 at 7:30 pm

    I’m glad we are agreed. I think my concern is that you post a great table, then digress into this 1 in 20 jibber-jabber. Now pass me the loaf and accept your punishment!

    “(when 1 in 6 is often ascribed for ‘nearly impossible’ acts) … Really?”

    ok, this is an exaggeration, but yes, I have heard this bandied about. ( P: “can I swing from the chandelier and jump over the ogre? ” DM: “… sure… 1 in 6”). In retrospect your slightly more flexible 3d6/4d6/5d6 under the relevant stat chat is a more verisimilitudinous solution.

  6. 6 Naked
    August 24, 2010 at 7:33 pm

    It frightens me when I see posts like this about how truly random dungeon crawls can often be.

  7. August 24, 2010 at 7:40 pm

    I suspect you’re associating this with last week’s game, where the party attempted to use a random iron key to pass through the fire-breathing iron door. This was a clever plan, marred only by the fact that keys are typically made of iron! Because it was a good attempt to use an extant item, I gave it a good chance of succeeding (I can’t recall if it was 1 in 6, 2 in 6, or 3 in 6). Sadly, it proved to be the wrong key, but this demonstrates the DM’s role in tailoring rulings to the situation at hand.

  8. August 24, 2010 at 7:43 pm

    It frightens me when I see posts like this about how truly random dungeon crawls can often be.

    Randomness is a valuable tool for the insufficiently prepared DM, as it allows events to transgress the boundaries of the DM’s habits of thought.

  9. August 25, 2010 at 9:24 am

    Not directly on-subject, but I always liked the Necromancer’s Crypt Key, which when placed in any locked tomb door not only opened it, but raised the occupant(s) as undead.

    Note how manfully I resist calling it a ‘Skeleton Key’.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Past Adventures of the Mule

August 2010
M T W T F S S
« Jul   Sep »
 1
2345678
9101112131415
16171819202122
23242526272829
3031  

RPG Bloggers Network

RPG Bloggers Network

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog & get email notification of updates.

Join 1,045 other followers


%d bloggers like this: