As I started to write this post, I began with a short story about pickpocketing. I had some strong opinions about the activity, but soon I started to notice that they were not as well thought out as I remembered. Nevertheless, I finished the post and copied it here. Only then, when I started to edit the text, I realised that I had somehow shifted to writing about lockpicking. So… Lockpicking then, I guess.
But yes, to keep this post in line with the last one as dissecting the three iconic fantasy rogue skills, I’ll be concerned more about digital roleplaying games. One of the most obvious reasons for lockpicking is getting through locked doors. A skilled rogue can pick a lock silently and without a key. These two are the main selling points of lockpicking… Or at least I feel that they should be. But lately, the focus has seemed to shift. Instead of being troublesome barriers between you and progress, they are just annoying bumps that have to be clicked with a certain guy.
Unlike traps, locked doors are generally handled just fine, the issue is with larger context. A door should be an element that lets the player to express themselves. How do you get through a locked door? Smash it with force? Pick the lock? Find and persuade the keyholder to relinquish the key? Find a way around it? In other words, there should (nearly) always be another way to open a locked door in addition to lockpicking. The methods should also be more than cosmetic. Some examples to be used in a Dragon Age-type game:
Lockpicking: Rogues can pick all nonmagical locks from the start, but it takes time. When the player clicks on a door with a rogue, he or she runs over and starts working, generating a progress bar. If an enemy attacks the rogue, he has to defend himself, thus stopping the progress bar from advancing. When the bar is full, the door unlocks. Better locks and low skill makes the process longer. After unlocking, the rogue automatically goes into stealth mode and the other party halts. Behind the door is either a solitary, bored guard, conveniently facing the other way, or a small group of guards, idly killing time.
This system would enable a situation which is quite rare in games: Defending a point. When a large, difficult combat encounter happens, you can either fight it as a whole party, or send the rogue to open the next door, essentially fighting at reduced efficiency for a while. After the door is open, the party can retreat and relock the door. This situation should of course be used sparingly, and most of the time opening a door is just clicking at it with the rogue.
Another point is the enemies behind the door. If the other method of getting through a locked door is by force, then it should have consequences. Breaking a door is loud work, and whenever the fighter/barbarian/whatever breaks the door, the game spawns a combat encounter behind the door; Most likely archers behind shield-bearing fighters. This way the player can choose to not have a rogue in the party, and still be able to get to locked places.
Finally, lockpicking should be a renegade option. Say that the players need access to the Royal Dungeons of Neverport, and only the Grand Duke has the key. Grand Duke, indifferent to the plight of the players, will relinquish the key only if they take care of the marauding band of bear cubs that have been ravaging the countryside. Or, the rogue could just pick the lock. But most likely the players will take the duke’s offer, since as a side quest it will be worth money and experience, and at the very least, just plain content. This, of course, is remedied by giving the player an equal amount of experience for picking the lock as what he would have received by taking the quest. Or, by having the Duke’s guards inside the mines(?) stop the players as intruders.
What about chests or containers? Well, first of all, do not give the players experience for unlocking chests with a rogue. The players will take every point of experience they can find, and that way you are just forcing the players to have a rogue in the party. And I’m in favour of what KotoR did: Make breaking locks a possibility, but have the process destroy something inside. That way you get the most content with rogues, but will give the players without one some content. Or, have the traps explode and give an Injury to the opener.
All right, next time I’ll try to write about pickpocketing.