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Old 02-26-2016, 02:37 PM   #1
Join Date: Oct 2010
Location: Cambridge, UK
Default [Basic] Skill of the week: Lockpicking

Lockpicking is the IQ/A TL skill of opening locks without the key, combination, or other intended means. The only default is IQ-5, and Traps defaults to Lockpicking-3. Modifiers include equipment, TL, inside information, especially for combination locks, and -5 if working in total darkness, which can be bought off with the Work By Touch technique. High-Tech p203 gives Lockpicking a bonus against lower-TL locks equal to the usual penalty for working with lower-TL equipment, so a TL7 thief gets +1 to pick TL6 locks and +3 for TL5. If the skill is floated to DX, High Manual Dexterity and Ham-Fisted apply.

On a successful roll, you open a lock in one minute, less 5 seconds times your margin of success. Safes and other challenging tests may have different base times. Traps attached to locks have to be dealt with via Traps skill, rolled separately. Lockpicking dates from GURPS 1e. The skill overlaps with Electronics Operation (Security) and Traps; the GURPS 4e FAQ has a section on this.

Lockpicking is an extremely common skill on templates for intruders of all kinds. Action has more equipment, and quick rules for using it. DF has Lockpicking as a DX-based task for reasons of tradition, plus low-tech equipment and modifiers, and lockpicking via telekinesis. High-Tech has lots of equipment, modifiers for quality locks, safes, and electronic locks. Low-Tech has a lot of detail on early types of lock and their modifiers, and Magic has spells that help in various ways. Power-Ups 2, 3, 6 and 7 have examples for this skill, and Powers has abilities that boost it. Thaumatology: Sorcery has lock-opening abilities, and Ultra-Tech has equipment that verges on magical. Pyramid #3/47 has an article on safecracking by RogerBW that's well worth reading for any game featuring TL6+ burglary, especially for guessing combinations.

Lockpicking depends on equipment, and is quite often rolled at penalties. Basic equipment isn't terribly expensive, which makes quality lockpicks quite worthwhile; a character of mine has been grateful for an Equipment Bond on Very Fine lockpicks several times, and made them Signature Gear.

How have you broken into a game?
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Old 02-26-2016, 05:41 PM   #2
simply Nathan
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Default Re: [Basic] Skill of the week: Lockpicking

I've seen one PC have it in a campaign that came to fruition and was talked out of learning it myself. We never used it because it was mostly a wilderness romp type of DF rather than the tomb robbing type.

When making parties of PCs, I always make sure at least one has this skill.
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Old 02-26-2016, 06:29 PM   #3
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Default Re: [Basic] Skill of the week: Lockpicking

A PC in a Supers game I was running used this skill and the underwire in her bra to break herself out of restraints before a deathtrap could finish its work. It was a campaign moment of awesome.
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Old 02-26-2016, 06:40 PM   #4
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Default Re: [Basic] Skill of the week: Lockpicking

Originally Posted by Rocket Man View Post
A PC in a Supers game I was running used this skill and the underwire in her bra to break herself out of restraints before a deathtrap could finish its work. It was a campaign moment of awesome.
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Old 02-26-2016, 06:43 PM   #5
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Default Re: [Basic] Skill of the week: Lockpicking

Played in a gurps cyberpunk game years ago. One character had lockpicking and electronics operation security at ridiculous levels. He was a menace! To the point that if the cops turned up we would just surrender because he could get us out of anything.
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Old 02-26-2016, 07:03 PM   #6
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Default Re: [Basic] Skill of the week: Lockpicking

I recently took up lockpicking (and locksmithing in general) again. When I was a teenager my second cousin taught me how to make torsion wrenches, picks, etc. from scrap metal with some files and sandpaper to keep me out of trouble. (I have issues passing up puzzles/riddles/protected systems etc. - I love to break them.) Each week he'd show me how to pick something new until I got good enough that we moved onto cars and security systems. Padlocks and house locks are pretty easy for the most part (unless you have security system to work around). Cars on the other hand - at least more modern cars - can be difficult just getting in. In most cases you need either a breaker bar or flexible unlocking tool (aka a "slim jim") - though I'll note if you have such a tool it becomes very easy. That's for manually opening a car door or trunk - it gets more complicated if the car relies on electric opening mechanisms.

Opening the lock itself is pretty easy - apply the right amount of pressure to the tumblers and it opens. A bit more complicated:
  1. The key is inserted in the keyway (where the key goes) of the plug (the mechanism which rotates). (The Hull of the lock is where the plug is housed, but that's not really important.) The protrusions on the side of the keyway are called wards - wards make sure only a specific type of key can be inserted into the keyway. In essence, this later part is how bump keys work - by being capable of inserting themselves into any lock they can use the "bump method" to temporarily align the tumblers so the door opens.
  2. Once the key is inserted it properly aligns itself to the tumblers enabling the plug to be rotated so the lock can be opened. Tumblers are numbered from 1 (the first pin touched by the key - sometimes called the primary pin) to whatever (4 is common with most household locks - I've worked on a 8 pin once - it was hellishly hard) by a correct key.
  3. An incorrect key may hit one or more pins, but unless all are just so the lock stays locked. This alignment is called the sheer line.
  4. Turning the key opens the lock.
See here for an image that gets this across.

So what you are doing when you try to pick a lock is align the tumblers is using your pick to force the tumbler pins into place. You then use your torsion wrench to keep that pressure. That's really all there is to it. Now, for cars its a bit different because the mechanism is much larger - anyone can learn to open a car with a slim jim. My cousin equated it to playing one of those claw games with the stuffed toys. You just need practice and patience. Essentially, you slip the hooked end under the locking mechanism in the door panel and just pull straight up. More expensive cars have things like pick sheaths (a metal hood around the lock bar that you're trying to grab) or even non-straight bars (I've seen some that curved or branch off into housings and such).

I'll also point out that improvising picks in the field (e.g., paperclips, bobby pins, whatever) gets a well-deserved -5 for improvised equipment. It's bloody hard unless you know exactly what you are doing and have practiced with improvised picks before. The exception to this is something like a 1 or 2 pin lock like you find on display cases or cabinets - in that case it really

In either case, "picking" an electronic lock is much harder and it makes it even more difficult if you're trying to pick a physical or manual lock as well. It's like trying to spin two plates on sticks at the same time. You can do it, but it takes practice. (See that common theme there?)

Sorry if I bored anyone with the lecture - it's been awhile since I actually talked about this kind of stuff and I'm a bit sick at the moment.

On to my games: Someone always takes this skill because it's just too useful. One particular game I ran was a political thriller - one of the players was playing a oil industry lobbyist who "grew up rough" (His initials spelled SUE by pure accident and he was the source of some of the only comic relief in a all-too serious game.) He managed to get inside a locked office and get the documents he needed, but broke his pick in the locked door while doing so. He spent awhile trying to get the pick back, but ultimately failed. That single action snowballed into a paranoid senator becoming even more paranoid and eventually started an active shooter incident. We had to quit right after that because of the Aurora Theater Shooting. It was too much like what happened in the game and every one was mental drained anyways so we stopped.
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Old 02-27-2016, 12:47 AM   #7
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Default Re: [Basic] Skill of the week: Lockpicking

Almost every character I've ever made in GURPS has had Lockpicking... not all of them got to use it, but they had it.
Feel free to steal, borrow, fold, spindle, mutilate any rule, advantage, etc I come up with it.
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Old 02-27-2016, 01:05 AM   #8
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Default Re: [Basic] Skill of the week: Lockpicking

@ Ghostdancer, awesome story, hope you get well soon!
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Old 02-28-2016, 02:05 AM   #9
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Default Re: [Basic] Skill of the week: Lockpicking

Originally Posted by johndallman View Post
Ultra-Tech has equipment that verges on magical
Quick note on electronics operation (security) vs lockpicking in Ultra-Tech: Lockpicking will defeat electronic locks, biometric locks, combination locks and mechanical locks, while Electronics Operation (Security) will defeat electronic locks, combination locks and biometric locks.
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Old 02-28-2016, 07:35 AM   #10
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Default Re: [Basic] Skill of the week: Lockpicking

I can't remember the context, but it's been pointed out that some low-TL locks are just too big for normal high-TL lockpicking tools to work on them, though they're trivial to open once you've got the big tools. Worth considering in a cross-TL game.

I'm glad to say that master keys seem to be on the way out at long last. They've always got into the hands of criminals, and the recent TSA lock incident has shown how easily they can get into the hands of everyone else too. (I won't link to it here, but there are tested 3d-printer-ready files for all those keys...)

Which leads to something worth considering in a TL8+ game of lockpicking: a casual photograph of a key is enough to duplicate it mechanically. If your covert observer has a decent camera, he can lie up, photograph the guy getting through the secured door, and have a key of his own within minutes. Countermeasures to this include magnets embedded in the key, or electronics.
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