In the book, one of the examples given for wind magic is that you can pick a lock with it. Now my question is, should using wind magic to pick a lock just be a minor use of magic and not require a roll, or should i make the caster have to put shifts into it to make them be able to pick the lock, and have to beat a value i set?

i kind of like the idea of making them have to roll, but then they're taking stress, which i really don't care for, and i couldn't imagine most locks (unless they're something special) requiring more than 2 shifts.

So, should i make them roll and take stress, just give it to them, or is there a middle ground i'm missing?


2 Answers 2


If you make opening locks a zero-stress spell, à la flickum bickus, you can just say goodbye to any locked doors in your game ever.

I'd make it a 1-Stress Rote. That way, they have to ask themselves whether it's worth casting or not. Otherwise, they'll just be opening every door in every corridor they ever encounter, just to see what's inside - like smashing crates in video games!

Even though the Rote doesn't require a roll to control the magic, you could still require a roll to represent manipulating the tumblers, etc.. That way locks can be Aspected with things like "shoddy" or "Swiss manufactured" or whatever, and provide varying levels of challenge to open.

EDIT: It is important to keep a cost associated with opening locked doors. Let's say you have a game where opening locked doors is a zero-stress, no-roll spell like flickum bickus. Now, all doors are effectively unlocked. An unlocked door is a barrier only by convention. That is, unlocked doors are barriers to polite people. Which means that it might as well not be there at all.

Sidebar: What About Blocked Doors?

Now sure, you could have doors jammed shut with wedges (or pennies) or barricaded with furniture or boarded over or whatever. But none of those would fall to any "unlocking" spell anyway, so let's leave them out of the picture.

One of the comments complains about the lack of "realism." Realism is:

A) Overrated in gaming, and

B) Not what FATE is about

FATE is about story not reality. Here's a piece of supporting evidence: Go read this example of combat in FATE. Now, when Bonnie puts "blinded" on her opponent, she gets to tag it once for free. But she has to spend a FATE point to invoke it a second time. That's because an Aspect is not a situational modifier, it's a piece of fiction that can be used when it's important to the story. If FATE were modeling reality, once Bonnie blinded that guy, he'd be subject to appropriate penalties until he got better by whatever mechanism, and Bonnie wouldn't have to spend metagame currency to create narrative significance.

The comment says, "...there are doors, and there are locks- that's just the way of the world..." Right. And there are cars on the street and there are tiles on the hallway floor, and birds in the trees, and planes in the sky. You're not going to stat each of those out, or even mention them in more than passing unless they're important to the story.

So what I'm saying is that when you have a locked door, you're asserting that it's important to the story. And if it's important to the story, then the PCs should have a meaningful decision to make - "Do I spend a Stress point to unlock this door or do I try to pick it manually, or do I try to break it down, or do we blow it open..."

With the free unlocking spell, there's no question. Just unlock the door and move on. No story. No decision. You might as well have a roll against a target of -12. Even with a zero skill and a roll of -4, you're going to succeed. So you're just wasting time.

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    \$\begingroup\$ One way to keep zero-stress spells and locked doors: some locks are better than others. Most simple locks might require no roll, but as soon as someone has put some thought into the quality of the lock, then set a difficulty and call for a roll. In other words: save the rolls for the interesting challenges. (Regardless: good answer, +1.) \$\endgroup\$ Sep 2, 2011 at 23:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ In my DFRPG game, the players were frequently able to open doors by using Spirit magic to manipulate the door from inside - pushing panic bars was pretty easy, pushing smaller "thumb" handles harder, and turning knobs harder yet. All of these were just 1-stress spells. \$\endgroup\$
    – gomad
    Sep 3, 2011 at 20:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ But then, if there is some sort of conflict behind the door, don't they start the encounter with less ability in regards to spells? I think that's what the crux of it is- is the game about the removing of the door obstacle, or the conflict that lies beyond? \$\endgroup\$
    – Chuck Dee
    Sep 5, 2011 at 13:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ @wraith808 - That is exactly the point. It makes the question of whether to use magic to open the door an important decision. Otherwise, why have the door there at all? \$\endgroup\$
    – gomad
    Sep 5, 2011 at 22:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ @gomad- But there are doors, and there are locks- that's just the way of the world. If you don't have locked doors, then that's unrealistic. But every locked door isn't going to be significant, and I think that only significant actions should require record keeping. If a door is an obstacle, there should be point. But every door shouldn't have to be unlocked in order to save the pcs from having to make such inconsequential decisions IMO. \$\endgroup\$
    – Chuck Dee
    Sep 6, 2011 at 2:48

Opening locks (as with anything) should be based upon the story needs, and how the lock is opposing the effort.

What I'd do it as is an attack roll upon the integrity of the lock. A standard lock might actually require 0 shifts, making opening a closet door or the typical inner door of a house a zero-stress spell. From there, scale it as your campaign requires; perhaps a 1 would be a typical lock (you'd be amazed at how easily the locks that protect our houses are to bump- or perhaps you wouldn't be), a 2 a deadbolt, 3 a security lock, etc.

As far as the players always opening locks, there's a reason I'm sure that Harry doesn't; the threat of different types of security systems (there are some that Hexing would set off rather than kill), and the threat of mortal authorities.

Use the setting and the environment as your obstacles in cases of rampant abuse of the rules, rather than trying to make the rules restrict their actions. That way, when you absolutely do need them to get through that lock, the rules that you set up don't get in your way.


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