Lock Picking



Development Credit: Tio Silver

Locks play a crucial role in life on Idalos. Without a way to keep things like doors, chests and shackles closed, things like privacy, security and imprisonment (or the illusions of them anyway) would be a distant dream and would make civilizations far more dangerous places to live in. Considering how important a role they play, it should be no surprise really that over the years many people have come up with ideas on how to go about bypassing these locks, and from their refinement and practice of these ideas the skillset known as lock picking has come into existence.

With training in lock picking a person can get through the doors, open the chests and escape from the jails that other people don't want them to get through, making it a useful skill not just for criminals, but for adventurers and law enforcers too. Some people might even manage to make an honest career out of their skill; opening doors for people who've lost their keys, or testing the security of a noble's safe for flaws. Even at a low level, a lock picker will find themselves able to break into low security areas that other characters may not be able to get to; but be warned that not all locks are created equal, and attempting to bypass something too complex could waste time the character may not have. The more skilled a lock picker becomes, the faster they can open locks of increasing complexity, until they reach a point were shackles seem to melt off them in an instant. A true master lock picker is nigh impossible to restrain and can go almost anywhere they wish, making them arguably some of the most free people in the world. Unless, of course, they are restrained with ropes instead.


In order to understand how to pick a lock, one first needs to know how exactly a lock works. Below is a diagram of a typical door lock.


The most important part of a typical lock, the part that actually locks and unlocks it, are the pin chambers. Each pin chamber is composed of three things: a spring, a driver (attached to the spring) and a pin. Without a key present the drivers, pushed down as low as they can go by their springs, are wedged in the spaces in between the part of the lock that twists around to open the door and the rest of the casing (called the Shear Line). The result of this is that the drivers physically block the cylinder from turning, and thus the lock will not open.

However when the proper key is inserted the indentations in the key push the pins, each of which are of a matching size, upwards. These in turn push the drivers upwards as well, until the space between the drivers and pins are all properly aligned with the Shear Line. When the key holder twists the key there is nothing blocking the Shear Line and preventing the cylinder from turning, and so it is free to twist and open the lock.

In order to pick a lock a person needs two things: lock picks and a tension wedge. To begin, the lock picker inserts the tension wedge into the keyhole, and uses it to gently twist the cylinder and apply a gentle amount of pressure on it. Then they insert a lock pick, and manually push each pin upwards until they're level with the Shear Line. It is very important that they maintain the right amount of pressure with the tension wrench as they do this, as this pressure is what stops the springs pushing the drivers and pins back down. Too much pressure and they wont be able to push the pins upwards, but too little pressure and the pins will fall down back out of place again, and the lock picker will have to restart from the beginning. Once all the pins are correctly aligned with the Shear Line, however, the lock picker need only increase the pressure with the tension wrench to twist the cylinder further, and the lock, now unblocked by any drivers or pins, will click open.

In the beginning an aspiring lock picker will need to practice on padlocks without cases (or cases made of glass) so that they can see how they're maneuvering the locking mechanics and get the hang of opening them. In order to make practical use of this skill however the lock picker will need to learn how to judge how high to move the pins without looking at them, relying solely on the pressure they feel coming from the pins. This is the part of practice that'll take the longest and result in the most failures and frustrations, for if the lock picker pushes a pin too high up its pin chamber it will block the Shear Line in the same way as the driver pins, resulting in a lock that will not open, and the only way to undo this mistake is to take the pressure off the tension wrench and start all over again. Once they've learned to do this, however, they'll be able to take this skill out into the real world, and with enough time, patience and the right equipment will be able to open any simple lock they encounter.

Five pin locks as seen above are one of the more complex types of lock found in Idalos, the kind found in the houses of the rich or important government buildings. Cheaper locks have fewer and bigger pins, and cheapest kind found in common houses use basic skeleton key designs.

Other Types of Locks

Not all locks need keys to open, and as such can't be picked in the standard way. A safe, for example, requires a specific combination on numbers to be entered on its dials before it will open. The deadbolts or latches more commonly found in poorer houses are simply slid into place by hand, and might require clever use of magnets or a means of drilling through the door to open. There are too many different types of locks to list the methods for opening them all, but a skilled lock picker is one who realizes that lock picking isn't about fiddling around with picks, but about researching the mechanics behind different types of locking mechanisms and discovering ways to exploit them.

This also applies to magical locks. One does not have to be a mage to pick a magical lock, they need only discover the trick behind the magic and come up with a solution to it. An alchemist could make a lock which has pins that bounce like rubber unless touched by the right key, and a lock picker could dip their picks in a chemical that'd freeze the picks solid when it touches them. A transmuter could make a lock that'd electrocute those who tamper with it, and a lock picker could reply with wooden lock picks that wouldn't conduct the electricity. A dustforger could make a lock that only opens when they themselves touch it, and a determined thief could just cut off that mage's finger. Although getting hold of a sufficient quantity of the mage's dandruff could be a preferable option. It's all about research and finding creative solutions.

Related Skills

Lock Picking is essentially a combination of knowledge on the inner working of various types of locks, and the developed ability to sense pressure on the picks with just your sense of touch. Therefore, there are two skills which, if used correctly, can decrease the amount of time a character needs to pick any locks they encounter. These skills are Detection and Intelligence.

Detection: Through their developed sense of touch, a person with skill in detection will have an easier time distinguishing the minute differences in pressure between a pin that's too high in its chamber, too low, or just right. They'll also be faster in identifying the correct amount of pressure to put on the tension wrench.

Intelligence: Every house has a builder who made it, who in turn followed a plan while building it that might have included the type of locks they installed into its doors. Alternatively, that builder may have bought all the locks they use from the same company, who might have blueprints of the locks they sell or a particular style of lock unique to them. By following the thread of information a character with Intelligence may be able to learn exactly what type of lock they'll need to pick before they time comes to pick it, and so can pack exactly the right picks for the job and won't need to waste time testing the inner mechanics of the lock before opening it.

Skill Ranks

Novice (0-25)

At this point the lock picker is still mostly practicing in private on their own training padlocks, coming to grips with the inner mechanics of them and getting used to opening them without being able to see the inner workings. They may be able to handle the locks of common doors and chests, but as this takes them about ten bits (minutes) to do it's impractical to use if they're on a short time limit or if there's a chance of guards or witnesses spotting them. Fortunately this is the sort of skill one cannot truly learn from books, so chances are they'll have some sort of scoundrel teaching them who can help in emergencies.

At this level a lock picker might find that their picks break often if they lose focus or get frustrated at their lack of progress. They might be able to get through the locks on a low-end house with enough time, but higher market properties, typical shops, military buildings and the like will be beyond them.

Competent (26-50)

Now we're getting somewhere! The lock picker can handle simple locks in about a bit (minute), allowing them to rely on it during missions where time and stealth are vital. With time, patience, and the right knowledge they can even get past some of the more difficult locks, and are beginning to come up with a few ideas of their own for bypassing the types of locks most lock pickers can't get past. These are still just ideas though, nothing they can rely on.

Expert (51-75)

At this level, lock picking beginnings to look effortless for the character. Simple locks fall in a handful of trills (seconds), advanced locks a minute, and the character has now developed such an understanding of the various types of locking systems that they can break through unusual things like safes, vault doors, and even low tier magical locks towards the higher end of this tier. They've also become so dexterous with their lock picks that they can pull off tricks like unlocking handcuffs around their wrists from behind their backs without the guards noticing, and in emergencies can improvise by using small items such as sewing needling or quills in place of picks.

Master (76-100)

There are very few places on Idalos, if any, that a master lock picker cannot get in or out of as they please. Simple locks open in an instant, advanced ones in a manner of trills (seconds), and every other type of lock either magical, mechanical or both will fall before them eventually. With enough time, knowledge, and planning a master can break through almost any lock anywhere, perhaps even one designed by an immortal, or requiring a hundred different keys. What's more, their skill with a set of picks is so great that they could pick their way out of a jail cell door with their feet or tongue if need be, and could improvise a pick out of something as clumsy as a paintbrush, a fork, or even their own fingernails.