10 Things to Say When a PC Spectacularly Fails to Pick a Lock

Adventurers always seem to be picking locks. Whether they are trying to open a treasure chest or gain access to a locked room, locks often stand in their way.

By Arthur Rackham


Sometimes—of course—the PC manages to open the lock; other times he fails and sometimes his attempt is a spectacular failure! A PC (hi, Andy!) in my Shattered Star campaign inspired this article. “Unfortunately,” the only PC in the group with levels of rogue isn’t very good at picking locks and disabling devices. Hilarity has ensued (repeatedly).

Use the table below to determine what happens when the PC spectacularly fails to pick a lock. (Obviously, modify the entries on this table to take into account where the lock the PC is trying to pick is placed.)

  1. As you carefully explore the lock’s inner mechanism, your pick snaps in half and jams the lock. You’ve now got two problems—how you’ll extract the broken pick and (afterwards) how you’ll pick the lock!
  2. Your hands are sweaty. As you jiggle the lock your pick slips from your fingers and slides through the lock into the room beyond!
  3. You slip and badly bend your pick making it useless for further lock picking attempts.
  4. You sneeze violently and stab yourself in the forehead with the lockpick. You take 1 point of damage.
  5. Your picking makes an inordinate amount of noise as you grind your pick in the lock. Anything in the room beyond probably knows you are coming.
  6. There is a ominous clunk from within the lock and your pick is stuck! It seems you’ve managed to break the lock’s internal mechanism…
  7. Your hands are sweaty. As you pick the lock you slip and stab the pick into the door. (Unless the PC pulls the lockpick out carefully, it is bent and ruined).
  8. Doubt assails you. Picking locks is hard and you are crap at it. Until you successfully pick a lock, you suffer a -2 on all such checks.
  9. Your hands are sweaty. The lockpick drops out of your hand, hits the floor and rolls under the door.
  10. Sweat drips down your forehead. Without thinking you wipe it away with your hand forgetting you are holding a lockpick. You stab yourself in the eye. You take 2 points of damage.

System Note

For Pathfinder game play, I’d only use this table if the PC fails the Disable Device check by 5 or more. After all, as the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook says, “If you fail by 5 or more, something goes wrong.”

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