20 Suspiciously Unusual Locks

Sometimes a door is just a door and sometimes a lock is just a lock. But sometimes, it isn’t.

By Matt Morrow

By Matt Morrow



Every now and then, the brave PCs come across an otherwise atypical door or lock. Some are particularly hard to unlock while others have a unique method of opening such as a special object that must be inserted into the lock or a puzzle than needs solving.

Use the table below, to generate the details of such strange locks.

  1. This lock has no keyhole but has a series of internal magnets. The proper alignment and placement of magnets on the surface of the door unlocks it.
  2. This lock has a shackle shaped like an octopus’s tentacle and a body with a vaguely octopus-like head.
  3. This massive lock’s keyhole is big enough to fit an arm inside. A PC must place his arms into the hole to manipulate the pins embedded in the doorframe.
  4. This lock has three keyholes, one of which is the correct keyhole. The others could be nothing more than decoys or they could contain sinister traps or even tiny guardians.
  5. This lock has a three by three set of holes in its face. Placing pegs in the correct four holes unlocks the mechanism. The pegs are hidden elsewhere (but nearby).
  6. The lock’s faceplate has three revolving dials in it; each dial has the letters of the Dwarven alphabet etched into them.
  7. An obviously wrong key is jammed into the lock and broken off. It must be removed before the lock can be picked.
  8. This lock’s faceplate is red and shaped like a heart and its keyhole is heart-shaped. Pushing a certain arrow through the keyhole unlocks the mechanism. The arrow—which has red fletching—is held by a statue of an archer standing in a nearby room.
  9. This trefoil-shaped lock has several sliding pieces, allowing the pieces to shift into various configurations. Sliding the pieces into the correct position unlocks the mechanism.
  10. This door’s locking mechanism is inside a steel mouth filled with sharp teeth. If the lock is manipulated incorrectly, the jaws snap shut.
  11. This lock is intelligent and vain. Picking the lock has no effect; instead, one must use diplomacy and flattery to convince it to open.
  12. Each time the lock is opened, the pins change position, effectively creating a brand new lock.
  13. This lock has a clockwork mechanism mounted on it. Manipulating the lock’s pins starts the clockwork mechanism counting down, but counting down to what?
  14. This lock is a simple lever on a very strong spring. The lock’s keyhole leads to a reservoir. When the proper amount of liquid fills the reservoir, the lock unlocks. Adding too much liquid makes the door harder to open until the excess drains away (a process which takes hours).
  15. This lock is a strange tangle of wires, rods and circles. Manipulating the puzzle so it comes apart unlocks the mechanism.
  16. This lock is a simple chain and ball where the ball fits in a slide to the side of the door. However, the slide is a complex maze. To unlock the door the ball must be manipulated through the maze.
  17. This lock is a complex clockwork mechanism. Unless the mechanism is taken apart and reset, the lock only unlocks once per day.
  18. The lock has an immovable iron rod sticking out of it. Heating the rod to the correct temperature unlocks the mechanism. Heating it to too high a temperature, makes the door harder to open.
  19. This lock has a large prism set into its face but no keyhole. Shining a light through the prism at the correct angle unlocks the mechanism.
  20. Attached to the mechanism of the lock is a harmonica. Playing the correct tune on the harmonica unlocks the mechanism.

Guest Designer

Robert (Bobby) Nichols is a too damn long-time player and GM for many games: from all the editions of AD&D and D&D, Champions & Fantasy HERO, Pathfinder, GURPs, Amber, TORG, Vampire & Werewolf and others more arcane that these.  The beach and the mountains close to his home and his muse Sara provide him with inspiration.  In his previous life he was a dragon and in his next life he will be a cat; hence his username. He has no blog or newsletter, despite promising himself every year that he needs to start one.  However, he does administrate Character Portraits and Dungeon Inspiration over at tumblr.com.

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This article will appear in GM’s Miscellany: 20 Things II, available in March 2017. For more, check out our Free Resources page.

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