Friday, August 10, 2012


These last days I've been playing some Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines. Every time I replay this game I'm surprised with a particular feat: Lockpicking. How awesome is that? Shamefully, it's not even well implemented. I don't like to point out Bloodlines weaknesses but this is a huge mistake that can't be replicated in Vampire the Masquerade: Renaissance.

Here's how it works (according to the game manual):
During the course of your travels, you may come across locked doors or password protected computers. If you have a pair of lock picks, which can be bought from your local pawnshop, you can try to open locked doors. When your character begins the lock picking attempt, a progress bar appears. If your lock picking feat is higher than the lock rating, you’ll unlock the door. If not, it will say “Fail” on the bar and the door will remain locked. If you have trouble opening a lock, try using your vampiric abilities to increase your lock picking feat.

Now let's focus on each element separately. 
  • "If you have a pair of lock picks". Great. That's realistic: without tools you can't lockpick. However, once you get your pair of lock picks you're done. They are unbreakable so you're never running out of lock picks. It would be much fun to play lockpicking if your lock picks could break.
  • "When your character begins the lock picking attempt, a progress bar appears". Great, the progress bar shows some progress. But what progress? The bar is filled automatically with time, just forcing the player to wait. In essence, it's a useless wait bar. 
  • "If your lock picking feat is higher than the lock rating...". Strange. Your Lockpicking feat being compared to the lock rating (what's a lock ration, anyway?). If you have Lockpicking at 3 you can automatically open all doors with lock rate 3. Following the narrative system, however, you should roll your Lockpicking feat 3 against the door difficulty (typically 6), meaning you can succeed, fail or botch in each door individually. 
Going back to the useless progress bar, there's ever more fine detail there. I'm sure Troika developers wanted a sense of progress in lockpicking. In fact, in Vampire: the Masquerade PnP RPG I'd say lockpicking is an extended action (meaning that the player requires a number of accumulated successes to successfully lockpick a door). Here's how extended rolls work. The player repeatedly rolls the dice accumulating successes until he scores a predefined number of successes. Let's say you're lockpicking the door in the image. This kind of doors (wooden doors with a simple lock) require only 5 successes to be picked. When you start the lockpicking attempt, a progress bar appears but now the bar shows the number of accumulated successes in the lockpicking extended roll. You roll the dice (Lockpicking 3 against default difficulty of 6) obtaining 0 5 0. Two successes, good but not enough yet to open the door. The progres bar grows reaching ( 2 / 5 ). Next roll: 3 1 7. A fail, no successes to add so the bar remais at 2 / 5. More rolls: 9 2 6. Two successes, we're nearly done ( 4 / 5 ). Final roll: 5 3 1. A botch (because shit happens) resets the accumulated successes ( 0 / 5 ). Also, botches may break your lock pick and increase the difficulty in +1 for the next attempt.

As a final addition to lockpicking, I want to add a bit of tension. If the player character is detected during a lockpicking attempt, it will trigger a police chase sequence. During the extended roll the player is only waiting for more succeeses, since dice rolls are displayed on-screen, while being performed automatically at regular intervals of time. Therefore, the player can look around and decide when to stop lockpicking before being noticed.

And that's all for now. With these little improvements, I hope lockpicking will be much more fun to play (prototypes will tell, anyways).


  1. Have you ever played Alpha Protocol? They turned lockpicking/hacking/electronics into mini games. Lockpicking involved aligning pressure pins. Electronics was selecting a series of wires in a maze and Hacking was matching two sets of random numbers/letters in an ever-shifting word search grid. All of these tasks had a time limit based on difficulty and additional locks, wires, or quicker changing word grid.

    It was the most fun I have had for these types of skills in a game and would work well in a VTM setting where the dice rolls determined difficulty of the mini game. I.E. you have 2 successes on a difficulty 6 lock and have to align 4 pressure pins in 12.5 seconds versus three success rolls for 3 pressure pins in 11 seconds.

    1. First of all, thank you very much for the comment! I haven't played Alpha Protocol but I'm familiar with similar mini-games. I think they are too skill-based to fit in a narrative RPG like Vampire the Masquerade. What if I'm not good at the mini-game? Should I even care about leveling up lockpicking just to face the cumbersome task of beating the mini-game? Nah, thanks again for the idea, anyways. It's great to have creative feedback :D

  2. Nice work! Thanks for sharing with us all of this information about how to pick a lock, I will save the link to visit it time to time.