Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Operation Pick This Lock

Still looking for guest posts for next week. If you've got something you've wanted to throw out for public consumption, no matter the size, send it in to

I've got to give a shout-out to Nathan, who runs plot at Exiles' Silver Springs Camp, for this gem. Got to give credit where credit's due. I apologize in advance if this is something that's supposed to be super secret.

We're always trying to think of alternate ways to do lock picking in LARPs. In some games, picking locks is simulated by, well, picking locks. Unfortunately, there are not a lot of ways for players to practice that (although I do remember another guy and I carrying around a set of luggage locks in high school for study hall - yeah, we were those guys). As an added pain, lock picks are less than legal in some states.

Recently, though, I got to experience a really ingenious way to do lock picking.


I know, Operation is the catch all for puzzles and has been done a million times. But before you dismiss this idea, you need look how well the game matches the mechanic.

First off, lock picks are a consumable, IG item. No actual OOG lock picks are required (other than some sort of rep). You can probably carry around as many as you want, but you'll have to find/buy them and having lock picks might be illegal in the game you're playing.

So now that you've got your picks and your ne'er do well character has rolled up on a lock, it's game time. The difficulty of the lock is set by the difficulty of the Operation game*. If it's an easy lock, there might only be 1-2 pieces to remove. If it's a fairly difficult lock, it might require removing all the pieces from the game. The time to play the game obviously translates to the time it takes to pick a lock.

Every time the player picking the lock fails (makes the game buzz), it means that their pick has broken in the lock. What's more is anyone who hears the buzz can hear the lock pick breaking (which may wake someone up from a sound sleep if a cat burgler breaks a pick). If the player has more lock picks, they can continue working on the tumblers from where they left off.

Obviously, you can spruce the puzzle up a bit to make it harder (I am fairly sure that I will regret this). Use metal pieces to make it so that pieces touching the walls will set it off as well. Use pieces that have to be manipulated to fit through the hole instead of being pulled straight out. Find some way to add motion into the mix.

I was really impressed with this mechanic, so I'm bringing it to you guys. It works particularly well in games where there are no rules for lock picking, as it doesn't actually require and IG skills or OOG equipment on the players, as it's effectively another puzzle that players need to tackle.

*Obviously, you aren't limited in using the off-the-shelf Operation game. The concept behind that game is fairly simple and anyone who can use a hobby-grade soldering gun could build their own version of the system if you really wanted to make it difficult. But as the guys at Silver Springs showed, an off the shelf, spray painted operation can look pretty bad ass.


  1. IFGS used to use this sort of mechanic with a copper wire post and a kind of copper wand that if they touched it would complete a circuit and buzz. The wand ended in a loop and to pick the lock players had to get the loop off of the post with out buzzing. The post could be simple or you could bend it into more complex shapes for a more difficult tumbler set.

  2. While I dig the carnival wire game (as you described), the part I don't like is the all or nothing feel to it. I guess you could use up a lock pick and have them continue from where they were, but that can be jarring and can lead to a lot of grey areas on how many contacts a person made.

    The nice thing about a setup like operation is that it is a series of smaller challenges. So if a player were to get through part of it, there would be a sense of accomplishment, even if someone else had to step in afterward to finish the puzzle. You just can't get that with a copper post/wand setup.

    Just as a question - how did IFGS handle failure? Did you lose an item? Did you take damage or an effect? Or did you just have to start over?

  3. Mark Henry ~MariusJune 8, 2011 at 4:49 PM

    Luggage locks can sometimes be picked by using the metal bar on your belt btw!

    I find it fun to pick low quality locks, but not so much the more complicated types. Time invested does not usually = reward.

    I think a puzzle could be fun to pick a lock, however others should not be able to help or give advice w/o the pick lock skill as well.

  4. If you look hard, you can sometimes find pocket versions of Operation as well. I've got a minature one that I'm saving for a skill mod, down the road...

  5. Had to take a bit of time to catch up on the Blog and Larpcast before I noticed this. The mechanic wasn't really super secret or anything and I'm certain it will appear in other situations down the road, so no worries!

    I did feel it fit really well for the situation and the fact that it reduced the amount of marshalling required on my part was a big plus that ensured other staff would be avaliable for other PCs.

  6. Awesome post..As a human we can not remember so many things.Some time it is possible that we forget where we keep our keys .Reason is that may be we are too busy. how to pick a lock is important skill set for such people. People can open locked chests and doors without any damage.