Thursday, December 3, 2009

A Lock for Every Key

Over at the K&K Alehouse, Trent Foster offers up a terrific bit of wisdom with regards to dungeon design:
Really, every lock in every dungeon, whether on a door or a treasure-chest, should have an accompanying key (usually in possession of an NPC, occasionally lost but still likely located somewhere within the dungeon) and finding those keys is likely to be much easier and more reliable than attempting to pick the locks.
This is a philosophy I wholeheartedly endorse and one I try to employ when designing my dungeons as well. I definitely bore it in mind while writing The Cursed Chateau, although I'll admit right now that I didn't play completely fair on that score.

I tend to view dungeons as at least partially as puzzles. To be fun, puzzles need to include all the pieces necessary to get the whole picture. That doesn't mean any puzzle has to be easy and indeed some of the most satisfying puzzles to put together are the most difficult ones. That's why I think having a key for every lock in the dungeon is essential. Without them, you're pretty much demanding that every party must included a thief and that's a bad design in my opinion. Even leaving aside the issue of whether thieves ought to be included in OD&D at all, I don't like the notion that a party must have a member of class X or class Y to succeed and that's just what having locks without keys does.

So, this is an insight I'll be bearing in mind in all my future endeavors. I think I actually have a good track record on this overall, but, like everything, there's always room for improvement in one's dungeon design.

63 comments:

  1. I also like this because even if the physical layout of a dungeon is linear, this creates the opportunity to mix up the progress with the little subquests to find each key and return to its lock to try it out.

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  2. would other methods of opening doors count as "keys?" For instance, if a door is locked and there's no physical key, but nearby lairs some kind of modified ooze or slime whose physical remains could dissolve the lock? Obviously the dungeon's creator didn't intended that to open the door, but as the DM, you decided to place that monster specifically there to give thinking players a rather clear option of getting through the door (once they've slain the monster, of course).

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  3. Do you draw a line between dungeons you write for people you're playing with this week and dungeons (or versions of dungeons) you're writing for public consumption?

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  4. On the other hand, James, I knew a DM who sometimes designed traps or locks and didn't even have an idea himself what would unlock it. (I'm pretty sure most of the traps were of the non-lethal, 'channeling' type, but I'm not 100% sure about all of them.) If someone came up with a good idea, he ran with it.

    I rarely do that myself, because I'm always worried I'll make a bad call, but I remember having fun in his games back in the day.

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  5. I gotta great big key, also known as a war hammer. Granted it isn't the quietest method in the whole world, but who cares? Bringing a thief should make things easier. A party without a fighter can still slay 30 orcs, it is just easier with couple of guaranteed hitters.

    Thieves brought a new dynamic to the puzzles that you can create/solve.

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  6. Asking "Where is the key?" is a useful exercise when deciding that a door is going to be locked.

    I think "Far, far away," and "in the pocket of some dead guy on the other side of the door," are valid answers.

    But yeah, it should be thought about.

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  7. I guess I've been spoiled. In 10 years, I've never had a player question the lack of keys to every lock in dungeon. I'll be sure to remember this post for my upcoming campaign.

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  8. Another reason to include keys: Even if the players bring along a thief, that thief can always die. You don't want to force the entire group to go back to base just because one party member met an unfortunate demise/got kidnapped/is unconscious.

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  9. I agree wholeheartedly.

    Finding the correct key cards to gain access to locked areas motivated my players to explore nooks and crannies of my Mutant Future "megadungeon" that they probably would have left alone otherwise. It is an excellent motivator and when they pieced together the clues and figured out where the body of the general was and got his gold key card everyone was quite excited.

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  10. I like it too. I'm not sure if every key would still be extant though. Sometimes even a thief would be useless where a lock might be rusted solid, in which case you might need to borrow Ripper X's warhammer - or search for other points of entry, secret doors, ventilation shafts etc..

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  11. " That's why I think having a key for every lock in the dungeon is essential. Without them, you're pretty much demanding that every party must included a thief and that's a bad design in my opinion. "

    This is just plain wrong and I'm surprised at this assertion. Doors can be kicked down.

    The important thing to remember is that locked doors that must be progressed through need keys. All others, to optional areas, need not have them.

    I would also say that each lock having a key actually breaks suspension of disbelief. A single key should fit multiple locks for the place to feel real.

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  12. I think it depends on the dungeon, really. Often, the dungeons I make are forgotten, unused places, only inhabited by vermin. Some of the keys might still linger on there somewhere, but often, they are lost to the ravages of time. Perhaps the original inhabitants took them with them when they left. So, my players often face locked doors that have no key to them.

    This serves a couple of purposes:

    1) it enhances versimilitude - why would an old and abandoned place still have all its keys left?

    2) it makes the thief feel useful, if the party has one;

    3) it makes the party think, "We should really get a thief!", if they don't have one; I use similar logic concerning all classes and always have them face undead monsters if they have no cleric (and, of course, if they do have a cleric, then it's rewarding, see 2);

    4) it's not an impassable barrier even if they don't have thief, if the door is wooden. My players often use axes and hammers to bludgeon doors down, it just takes time and of course draws the attention of any nearby monsters. It's really up to them, if they are prepared to possibly alert the whole place or not.

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  13. That reminds me wasn't there some article in White Dwarf or Dragon (or somewhere) about door strength vis a vis kicking them down?

    I'm sure we argued the point a few times at school.

    I tried googling it but only found these AD&D famous last words:
    "Forget picking the lock, just kick the door down!"

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  14. I fail to see the logic behind the statement. Unless by "key" one means "some way to open the lock without resorting to a thief".

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  15. I think this may be part of his anti-thief stance... the idea that locked doors are put in, without keys, to justify the thief class. However, it fails to note that the game has rules for kicking doors down which any class may engage in.

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  16. I wouldn't say there needs to be a key (or other method of opening/bypassing) for every locked door, but there should be plenty around.

    Even with the Thief in play, there is a good chance even a mid-level Thief will fail at that open locks roll, and have to wait until they gain a level to try again by the book.

    Locked doors shouldn't be put in dungeons because of the Thief. The Thief should be there to occasionally save you the time and trouble of having to search down the key, or alerting all nearby monsters by using Ripper X's trusty war hammer or a few good kicks to open the door.

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  17. I believe it's possible to design a solvable puzzle without knowing exactly what the solution will be. I trust the ingenuity and desperation of the players, and my own ability to adjudicate on the fly when they make a plan. That's part of making the story together as you go.

    In that sense, an adventure needn't be designed with a "key" for every "lock".

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  18. I also like this because even if the physical layout of a dungeon is linear, this creates the opportunity to mix up the progress with the little subquests to find each key and return to its lock to try it out.

    Just so.

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  19. would other methods of opening doors count as "keys?" For instance, if a door is locked and there's no physical key, but nearby lairs some kind of modified ooze or slime whose physical remains could dissolve the lock? Obviously the dungeon's creator didn't intended that to open the door, but as the DM, you decided to place that monster specifically there to give thinking players a rather clear option of getting through the door (once they've slain the monster, of course).

    I certainly didn't intend to for this suggestion to be taken literally, but I do think there ought to be the means to bypass every locked door within the dungeon itself.

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  20. Do you draw a line between dungeons you write for people you're playing with this week and dungeons (or versions of dungeons) you're writing for public consumption?

    To a degree, inasmuch as the players in my home game have a wider ability to leave the dungeon and go hunting for possible keys in places already established in the campaign. That's not a guarantee in something I write for more general consumption, so I can't assume it to be the case.

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  21. On the other hand, James, I knew a DM who sometimes designed traps or locks and didn't even have an idea himself what would unlock it. (I'm pretty sure most of the traps were of the non-lethal, 'channeling' type, but I'm not 100% sure about all of them.) If someone came up with a good idea, he ran with it.

    I sometimes do something like this too, although I always have at least one solution in mind, because it rarely serves a referee well to have no idea what something he's place in a dungeon is or how it can be overcome.

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  22. I gotta great big key, also known as a war hammer.

    I'd never look down my nose at brute force as a valid option, but that's an option for players. As a referee, though, I think it's important that consideration be given to what and where the keys to each lock are.

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  23. I think "Far, far away," and "in the pocket of some dead guy on the other side of the door," are valid answers

    Yes, they are. I've used the latter one in my own games.

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  24. Doors can be kicked down.

    Some can, sure, but not all of them. Heavy metal doors are surprisingly resistant to such things.

    The important thing to remember is that locked doors that must be progressed through need keys. All others, to optional areas, need not have them.

    I make no such distinction, because there is no "must" to any of the areas of dungeons I design. That presupposes a kind of linearity I try to eschew.

    I would also say that each lock having a key actually breaks suspension of disbelief. A single key should fit multiple locks for the place to feel real.

    When I said each lock must have a key, that didn't preclude the possibility of a single key working for multiple locks. As you say, it makes sense that this would be the case, so I consider it a good solution in many cases.

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  25. 2) it makes the thief feel useful, if the party has one;

    3) it makes the party think, "We should really get a thief!", if they don't have one; I use similar logic concerning all classes and always have them face undead monsters if they have no cleric (and, of course, if they do have a cleric, then it's rewarding, see 2);


    See, neither of these approaches holds much appeal to me. I don't think referees should worry about making a player of any class feel useful.

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  26. Unless by "key" one means "some way to open the lock without resorting to a thief".

    Yes, although, from a "realistic" standpoint, who makes a lock without a key? Why would such a thing exist?

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  27. Back when I used to write computer adventure games I found it demoralisingly useful to think of the games as a long series of locked doors and keys between the player and the goal. It was demoralising because it laid bare how reductive the puzzle-solving was - how far the computer game experience was from S. John Ross' "tactical infinity." It was useful because it posed two challenges - how to dress up these key-lock exercises in such a way that they wouldn't be received as such, and how to come up with activities that couldn't be reduced to this formula.

    Several other commenters have drawn attention to the tactical infinity angle: that a keyless lock - or better a simple bar across the door - requires a creative solution. But there's another way to look at it: a lock (obstacle) presented in the right way can be a mission briefing, to go and get the key (McGuffin). If the obstacle is an unbeatable adamantium golem and the key is his dispossessed, amnesiac creator, then you have a whole quest right there (as long as the golem's not standing on a bridge).

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  28. However, it fails to note that the game has rules for kicking doors down which any class may engage in.

    I think you miss my point. It's not that every lock should only be opened by means of a key found conveniently nearby. It's that every lock in a dungeon should, logically, have a key somewhere and the referee should know where that is. I'm firmly opposed to there being only one solution to every obstacle in a dungeon, but there should be optimal and sub-optimal solutions and having to choose between them is exactly the kind of approach I prefer.

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  29. I agree with this philosophy as well but, a key doesn't always have to literally be "a key".


    veri: coetaftu
    That's a monster name if I ever saw one.

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  30. a key doesn't always have to literally be "a key".

    Of course. I don't think anyone's suggested otherwise.

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  31. Removing the necessity to have party member X or Y was explicitly one of the 4E design goals (paired with "making a player of any class feel useful", which you eschew). I think it's interesting to see that new-school logic drive toward some of the same places as Gygaxian naturalism: how did the original builders of this lock open it, and what happened to their keys. It's also interesting to consider situations that highlight the differences: "the key is in the pocket of a dead guy on the wrong side of the door" feels very appropriate for an AD&D adventure (especially if that guy was a thief who died of contact poison smeared on the key), but seems to violate the explicit setting-up-of-subquests assumptions of a D&D 4E adventure. -Tavis

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  32. "he important thing to remember is that locked doors that must be progressed through need keys. All others, to optional areas, need not have them.

    I make no such distinction, because there is no "must" to any of the areas of dungeons I design. That presupposes a kind of linearity I try to eschew."

    James, all of our dungeons exhibit linearity whether you make efforts to eschew it or not; there are only a few ways down to the next level in a dungeon and it is these routes that I agree with you on. If you, like me, build dungeons with optional challenges in, then I disagree that every lock needs a key (on these optional elements which do not have to solved in order to progress further into the dungeon).

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  33. Disagree 100%. 110%, even. Sure, the lock had a key at some point, and maybe it's even around somewhere. But maybe not. There's no reason in the world why anyone should assume that it is. Isn't such an assumption the opposite of what an open sandbox would imply?

    This idea seems to be terribly close to the idea that any monster encountered should be defeatable. I don't believe that for one second, either.

    Sometimes you run into stuff you can't beat. The good PCs can tell when they've done this and adapt.

    The world is what it is. Sometimes the princess is held captive by an ancient huge red dragon. Sometimes she's behind a locked door that has no key. Sometimes the dragon is guarding the locked door.

    Figure it out if you can. Even something the DM specifically designed to be "unwinnable" can probably be overcome by clever players. But if a dragon guarding a locked door automatically means that an anti-dragon magic item and a key are somewhere waiting to be found, I'll go play Mario Bros.

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  34. "If the obstacle is an unbeatable adamantium golem and the key is his dispossessed, amnesiac creator, then you have a whole quest right there..."

    This sort of door-key sub-quest is exactly why I no longer play computer games. The "to pass point A you have to go to point B and take action X then go to point C for the solution then go back to point A to apply the solution" type of computer game design really turns me off - fast. If your purpose for placing keys to doors in your dungeon is to build sub-quests for the characters, you've lost me. (And I know for a fact my game group loathes this sort of "adventuring" as well.)

    However, if I get James right, that's not the point of the "every door should have a key" philosophy, as his "I'm firmly opposed to there being only one solution to every obstacle in a dungeon" comment seems to indicate.

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  35. I agree with Christopher. If we build our roleplaying game adventures using the same set of rules that computer game designers use then we will run into the same issues that they have and turn a lot of our players off.

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  36. Well, I referenced the recent "why we aren't funny" link as a hint that I didn't think this sort of thing was all that great, either... and the whole thrust of James' blog here is against the scripted quest format. There's something to be discussed in this, though: sometimes the PCs are given (opportunities for) jobs to do, and doing them has consequences, or opens up interactions that wouldn't otherwise have been possible. Reductively, that's always a key-lock. James recently did it twice, first setting up the hook to explore where the elves went, then triggering the mummy trap (which is an inadvertent sort of lock - one that puts you inside a particular path of events, which it is desirable to bust out of). He didn't say "now go find the other mummy caches," but he did provide a character who could lay in the necessary exposition.

    All of which is a long preamble to a request: I would be really curious to know how James feels about puzzles in some detail. In the old Colossal Caves/adventure game idiom the only way through the game is solving the puzzles. In the ideal type sandbox there is no way through because the game has no direction as such. Somewhere between these extremes is the campaign, that contains a reactive world and generates stories through play. James has written some about where he sits on this continuum, and he's written a bit about puzzles, but I'd be curious to know where he sees puzzles (broadly conceived) fitting in the overall scheme, and whether he favours staying in one place on the continuum or if he actually quite likes the occasional foray into complete freeform or more linear plotting.

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  37. I think I understand. It's not that there should be a key nearby, or even, necessarily, in the dungeon, it's just that, if a door has a lock, then presumably there is a key somewhere.

    We're not talking video game rules here, we're talking real-world logic. Nobody makes locks without keys. Chances are that the key still exists, figure out where it is and write it down.

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  38. Speaking of thieves...let's reference the hobbit (blah blah gygax blah blah Tolkien ;)

    gandalf and the dwarves specifically wanted bilbo "the thief" to sneak into and raid the dragons lair. Not accidentally The Ring also granted the ability to hide (magically).

    Could the thief be a human answer to the hobbit? PC's can hire sages, assassins, men at arms, etc. Should 'burglers' be on that list? Perhaps they must all be halflings, Tolkien provided us an archtype, and gives a better rational in the rules for halflings.

    Perhaps the inclusion of the thief stole the little fellows thunder!

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  39. I couldn't disagree more.

    How many times have you looked for a key and just can't find it - either because it's lost or just plain gone. For essential doors to a dungeon? Yes, I can see that. But if we're talking about a long lost dungeon that nobody has been to in over 100-200 years, I just can't see there being a key for every door. Things do get lost, stolen, or just plain destroyed in some way or fashion.

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  40. If the DM needs to know where all the "keys" are, then he might as well ask himself who made all the tricks and traps, why they did, where they got all the treasure they put in the chests (particularly that diamond tiara), who they got it from, etc. I agree a bit of vermisilitude is good, but it gets ridiculous after awhile. Sometimes things just ARE. It reminds me of the canned modules that have pages and pages of dungeon backstory that the PCs will never, ever know or care about, just so the DM can know. Who cares? Make it up on the fly, or forget about it, chances are players are even less interested than you are.

    Most players are just interested in getting to the other side of the door, locked or not. If they are more worried where all the "keys" are, maybe everyone needs to be doing something else besides dungeon crawling.

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  41. I think too much of having to find a key or other item to continue makes it a bit too much like a video game dungeon adventure. Needing to go find a key (or lever, or crank, or statue, etc.) to continue is the standard in those games.

    Just sayin' I think a little of that would go a long way. If I want to go on constant key quests, I would just play Baldur's Gate or Diablo.

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  42. As someone who's currently struggling to run a thief-less campaign (hoping to make the games more about player challenges than character challenges - and dice rolls), I can understand where James is coming from. I don't think he means for the "key for every lock" approach to be taken so literally. It's the concept that there's - somewhere - a means of opening the lock that doesn't necessarily involve going to the dice. (Because, as we know, going to the dice means putting our fate in the hands of fickle Fortune.) That option always exists (picking the lock, breaking the lock, etc.) but there should be a better option - somewhere.

    Of course, he may not mean this at all, in which case this is all me. :P

    (Word verification: "traci" - she's not as hot as she used to be, and is certainly no Dejah Thoris!!)

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  43. would other methods of opening doors count as "keys?"
    Excellent point, and if we're going to count metaphorical keys, is the thief himself not a key?

    Another reason to include keys: Even if the players bring along a thief, that thief can always die.
    Another reason to include thieves: Even if the players bring along a key, they may lose or break it before they get to the door. Dungeoneering is resource management, and the party members are resources too.

    I'm not arguing for the thief class or anything, but I think it's easy to go too far in the one-dor-one-key direction and thus stymie the ingenuity of the players. It reminds me of computer games like Resident Evil, where you can be lugging around a rocket launcher and yet be unable to open a wooden door because you don't have the matching key. I want no part of that in my roleplaying games. But that's not what we're really saying here, is it?

    every lock in a dungeon should, logically, have a key somewhere and the referee should know where that is.
    This is much more clear, and is an idea I very much like. Although this:

    If the DM needs to know where all the "keys" are, then he might as well ask himself who made all the tricks and traps, why they did, where they got all the treasure they put in the chests (particularly that diamond tiara), who they got it from, etc.

    is a good counter-point.

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  44. I think I understand. It's not that there should be a key nearby, or even, necessarily, in the dungeon, it's just that, if a door has a lock, then presumably there is a key somewhere.

    We're not talking video game rules here, we're talking real-world logic. Nobody makes locks without keys. Chances are that the key still exists, figure out where it is and write it down.


    This is exactly what I meant in the post James quoted (which was perhaps not as clear and concise as it could've been since it was written as a casual message-board post, not a deliberate manifesto). The key could well no longer exist, or be located so far away as to effectively no longer exist, but presumably there was a key at some point, and (at least IMO) it's worth giving at least a bit of attention to where that key currently is. (As a corollary to this, there should also be keys floating around for far-away locks, or locks that have been broken or no longer exist, and so on, so every time the party finds a key they shouldn't be able to automatically assume it opens some nearby lock, and vice versa.)

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  45. I guess if it fits in with a DM's current plan, a key may have to be found for a particular door. Otherwise, what me worry? Are we talking about brand spanking new construction? Keys held by the gnomish dugeon caretakers? Or are we talking about a complex in the wilderness that is hundreds of years old (which is usually the case with my dungeons)?

    Do you still have the keys to the last place you previously lived?

    No offense to the find Alehouse, but I don't especially see particular wisdom in "every door should have a key." In the modern real world, hell yeah. In the dungeon? I guess it depends.

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  46. "The keys the thing wherein we catch the conscience of the DM!", or something like that..

    Oddly enough, I'm launching a module called "Minotaur Meat" in a couple weeks that features some locked prison cells and a diabolical key ring as part of the encounter...

    Gotta love mysterious dungeon keys!

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  47. If every lock has a key but some are lost to time, why are you even bothering with this rule - you've already broken it. Probably for the best!

    Let there be a place for the thief's lockpicks, the fighters boot and the dwarf's axe in problem solving.

    Finally, never design dungeons - or adventures - to a formula. Be whimsical, be magical, be fantastical!

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  48. 1 of 2
    How do you define a "Dungeon"? To me it simply is an adventure site. Terrain where the action takes place. Most people assume that a Dungeon is an underground labyrinth. But a Dungeon is basically a keyed adventure map. It ususllay takes place in an underground maze, but a Dungeon can also be a town, a forest, any wilderness, an ocean, a highway. All of these can be represented ina game and will make a suitabe adventure. Think of the palyers tarveling 340 miles as a part of a group of pilgrims along a well known road from one dundeon to another. In that case you do not really have a map, but aseries of encounters, both traditional, but also with the NPC's in the group. All these are still tied to some sort of an adventure map and a key, but how about a Big City adventure. You don't have to have it mapped out. Better to have it split into urban sections, and then have a set of encounter tables for both teh NPCs, Monsters,as wella s what type of buioldings and merchants can be encoubtered along specific streets (main thoroughfares). And we can go still further away from Physical sites, labyrinths and keys. Adventue can take place with characters caughrt in the middle of an intrigue involving secret societies, guilds, and other groups of NPCs. In this case it's not the phycial site write up that is important, but a network of political and social relationships between these powerful NPCs. How do you map that? That is where D&D rules coem up woefully short. D&D rules really end at the wilderness terrain and sandbox design.

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  49. 2 of 2

    James, at one time you metuoned that you hate having your players locked into a "plot", but putting your story for the RPG players to overcome into a Dungeon site, you have alreasdy restricted them, and by making the game a series of locks and keys, you make the story as linear as computer games. Yoi characters can go anywherem but they still ahve to find the "Key". The Key is a solution to a problem, of course, but when you make it a set of keys to ulock the doors, you create a series of choke points to make a lienar adventure.

    I agree with you, that an RPG adventure differs from fiction in that it does not have a "Plot", rather a group of players choose their own battles (create conflict), further their own designs (pick a plot, a path across the terrain, whatever it may be, in which the story takes place), and write their own backstory to their characters, an RPG adventure is, then, a SETTING with the an analysis of possibilities and consequences, adapted to a particular game mechanic.

    I love sandboxes. Sandboxes are all about two dimesnionality and player choice/skill. The best way to avoid a lienar dungeon is to place doors (challenges), but to make several "keys" (solutions) available to players, and have a set of consequences to each resolution,as awell as a alternative ways of getting there.
    For isntance, in one adventure I have players lookign for the Dungeon location as part of a larger adventure to have the players locate a party of missing low level adventureres, who have found and went into a long forgotten stronghold. The missing adventurers are imnportant because their parents are the leading citizens in the Barony. They found the Dungeon site (and were captured within), when one a girl thief gained access to a retired wizard's tower, adn looked through his non-magical scroll collection. The Wizard will gladly point to players where the girl was browsing for the whole afternoon, but the Wizard must be found first. Players have a number of options of how to find the trail of the NPCs. They may go into the household of the old man who hired them and talk to the siblings to see who else was invovled. They may start going village to cillage to see if anyone saw them. They may hit the taverns and see if anyone has heard of them. All efforts will yield different NPCs who will give different, but esentually true accounts. The players will not even know in the beginning that they group were adventurers who went on a dungeon expedition, only that some young gentry is missing and their parents, maybe even the Baron himself, are dreadfully sick with worry (as they should be). Gradually the players will discover who the missing adventurers were, who they were as a group, where they went, and hopefully, they will eventually mount an expedition to rescue the "kids". The Wizard's tower and the actual trail that the adventurers elft are "Doors" and there are several keys which may lead the players to the rescue. The mechanics and tricks for drawing a "map" of this adventure, is the knowledge missing from D&D books.

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  50. At the risk of beating a dead horse:
    --James did not say that he thinks every lock should have a unique key that is the only way to open that lock; in fact, he said he's opposed to that idea. All of you who say he's being as reductive as computer games seem to have missed this point.
    --No one makes a lock without any kind of key at all, so for any given lock it's worth thinking about where the key is. You might decide it's irretrievably lost and the players will have to think of some other way to open the lock; that's fine. It's really a matter of design; what options do you want to give the players for bypassing a particular obstacle?
    --Trent Foster suggests the keys should likely be in the dungeon; I think the likelihood depends on the nature of the dungeon. Currently occupied orc lair? Definitely. Centuries-old lost tomb? Much less likely.
    --Finally, I'd ask how many of you ever give thought to putting keys in the dungeon. In my experience, few referees do; once you do it, though, the players will start looking for them, which can be quite interesting.

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  51. John, I think you'll find that everyone one of us here have put keys in dungeons before, many of us are not new to D&D!

    The objection is to the idea that /every/ lock needs a key. It doesn't. Some locks do, some don't.

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  52. I find it fascinating that, after many, including myself and the originator of the post I quoted approvingly, have repeatedly made it clear what was intended by the notion of "a key for every lock," there's still a dispute going on here. I think anyone who honestly interprets what I said as meaning I think it's vital to good refereeing to be obsessed with minutiae, placing a "story" at every locked door, or emulating video game design has rather missed my point.

    The principle I'm defending a corollary of Gygaxian Naturalism, namely, that having locked doors without any notion of why they are locked or how they might be opened independent of a specialized character class designed at least partially to overcome them, is not a type of design I endorse. If you enjoy that sort of thing, more power to you, but I prefer my dungeon contents to make some sense naturalistically and that means assuming that locks have keys, even if those keys are long lost or very difficult to get.

    Mind you, I feel the same way about traps, treasure, and monsters too, so maybe I am a miserable obsessive without a sense of the fantastic.

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  53. I think the assumption is that every lock has a key is just built into how we interpret the world and hardly worth even bringing up.

    I don't think anyone is trying to paint you as a "miserable obsessive without a sense of the fantastic." that strikes me as being a strawman position. My point was that in fantasy, there has to be mystery - some things even the DM does not know.

    In this case, I would say it's a detail that the DM simply does not need to know - the location of every key to every lock in the dungeon. Only for a few important doors should he need to know this.

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  54. "everyone one of us here have put keys in dungeons before, many of us are not new to D&D!"

    Not true, alas. Just the other day my players killed the Patriarch who had brought on his demise by seeking to revenge himself on the PCs who had found a private chest of his in the dungeon, broken into it, and taken his stuff. He then holed up in another room where his cult's communal treasure was kept in two chests. When they searched his body, neither he nor his retainers were carrying keys to any of these chests. Not only was that a potential supension-of-disbelief-shattering moment, but it was a missed opportunity to entice the PCs with a fourth and especially ornate key on the Patriarch's ring that didn't match any of the locks they knew about.

    Some ideas for how to avoid this happening:

    - Recite "every lock has a key" like a mantra

    - Mention keys among the possessions of NPCs in published adventures (this, in combination with the above, is what misled me; I took the Patriarch & his chests from Cavens of Thracia, although in Jaquays' defense I suspect a careful read of the module might indicate that the chests are not locked at all, merely cursed & trapped in ways that he doesn't need a physical key to bypass)

    - Add keys to random treasure tables and dungeon dressing generators, perhaps with a frequency similar to that of maps.

    Unfortunately my experience suggests that The Recursion King's implied solution - having a my-dice-are-older-than-some-of-my-players history of D&D play under one's belt - cannot be included in the above list. -Tavis

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  55. "Unfortunately my experience suggests that The Recursion King's implied solution - having a my-dice-are-older-than-some-of-my-players history of D&D play under one's belt - cannot be included in the above list"

    I'm not even sure what this is supposed to mean. Seeing as you brought me up though, I'll reiterate my solution: include keys for important locks, not for every lock on the map. I hope that clears up my position somewhat.

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  56. When I was 12 or 13, I was playing on a merry-go-round with another kid. I was a skinny, weak nerd and he was a very athletic kid. He ran around the wheel, pushing it while I was riding it, and he got it going so fast that all I could do was hang on for dear life, clutching desperately to the rails, feeling like I was going to lose my tenuous grip and fly off at any moment.

    Oddly enough, I'm having deja vu as I watch this thread...

    ;D

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  57. hehe ;-)

    It certainly can be hard to get your point across, especially when others try to put words in your mouth lol

    It would seem that James has touched upon a contentious issue - an issue that is much wider than it initially appears. How much realism should a game have? How much detail does one need to run a believable adventure? This is why he refers to Gygaxian naturalism in his recent reply... these things become almost philosophical positions, so its reasonable to expect differing opinions to surface in the discussion (and a few trolls, too lol).

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  58. This has been a great topic and discussion. I posted above that I disagree 100% with the "rule" that keys must be in the dungeon and I also disagree 100% with the idea that James posted that no key means a thief is required.

    I also disagree with the idea that since a lock had a key at one time, it's the DM's responsibility to know where it is today and record that fact. just as I'd disagree that the DM is required to record any of a bazillion other historical tidbits about the campaign world.

    All that said, I often *do* have keys available somewhere, often in the dungeon itself. Sometimes getting the key is a sort of side quest,, which is apparently the wrong way to do it because computer games use that method. I guess I'm taken aback by the idea that many games have dungeons where many locked doors never have keys. That's not something I've run into. My experience, both as player and DM, is that *most* locked doors have a key or other opening method available *most* of the time. In fact, the dungeon that my honorable mention entry in the one-page dungeon contest used locked doors and keys as a central theme.

    It's the idea that locked doors *must* have keys and that not having a key means a thief *must* be present that I disagree with.

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  59. all I could do was hang on for dear life

    That's excellent. Thank you.

    veriword: parks. Bucolic, safe-seeming places that turn out to contain hideously dangerous traps, such as merry-go-rounds.

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  60. >Finally, I'd ask how many of you ever give thought to putting keys in the dungeon<

    No, but I imagined that somewhere a locksmith was building all these great locks without keys. They all end up at the Big Lots or 99 Cent Store. Of course every lock was created with a key.

    >Recite "every lock has a key" like a mantra<

    Jesus Christ, I wish my biggest problem was my players relationship to locked doors.

    I know this all comes from the frame of mind of "all doors in a dungeon are closed unless you spike them, and all doors are locked. And all doors are locked to players, but will open for a giant slug or passing Gel. cube," but I still don't understand how this topic goes to 60 comments. And three from me! Godammit!

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  61. Ok, I've lurked long enough. This discussion has had so many different debates because I don't think James was quite clear on his point in the original post. I don't pretend to think I can read his mind, but what I get from it is this:

    - Put a lock on a door because it makes sense. Not because you need something for the thief to do.

    - For every lock you put in, take a moment to think about what happened to the key. You may find an interesting story there. It is entirely possible that all the keys are long gone.

    I personally have always liked the 'dead adventurers' at the beginning of B1 and often put a dead adventurer in the party's path that will have a map fragment. I think next time, I'll put a key as well and see what comes of it.

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  62. I serve on a programming-language development committee (the MUMPS Development Committee, or MDC), where we discuss every detail of the future development of the language in often excruciating detail and decide which ideas get added to the language and which don't.

    Although we are all friends and peers in that committee who have worked together for years, nevertheless we noticed that at times we would get engaged in out-of-control arguments we couldn't explain later.

    By studying the patterns of these arguments, which followed the same pattern as this one, we arrived at an explanation and a name for it.

    The explanation is that among friends and colleagues, with the big issues we're careful not to slip into a fight - we're extra polite with one another because we recognize how much is at stake with the big issues - so it's only the trivial disagreements that cause knock-down-drag-out fights. Our description of this pattern is "the intensity of the argument is sometimes inversely related to the importance of the issue."

    Strange as it seems, this is a real phenomenon; all the MDC members have learned to recognize it.

    I see it here, in this argument in the comments to James's blog post. Most of the things people are arguing against are things no one has said; they're just things we're afraid they might mean. We're aggressively cautioning each other not to be stupid or crazy, which in itself is a little crazy in this specific way I've come to know so well. I've done it myself plenty of times.

    At the MDC we finally had to name this phenomenon so we can refer to it when we saw it, which was more often than I'm proud to admit. Since these kinds of arguments only really break out when we agree on most things and disagree on just a few details, it means we think we're disagreeing when mostly we're actually agreeing.

    We call it being in violent agreement.

    At the MDC, we decided the unwritten rule should be that whenever we recognize that we're in violent agreement, it's time to acknowledge it and move on to a new topic, usually with a certain amount of sheepish grinning.

    I propose we do the same in this instance.

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  63. Rick: I hope you get paid highly for all that. We're just a bunch of nutcase hobbyists giving it away for free!

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