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View Full Version : DM Help Thank you Mario! But our prin..I mean key is in another castle!



hangedman1984
2016-03-03, 01:33 PM
Background info: in an upcoming game I am going to have my players going through a goblin hive. At the end of this dungeon will be a door that is magically sealed and can only be opened by using a special key that can be found elsewhere. Question is what is a good way to make sure the players know that the key won't be found here so they don't spend a whole lot of time scouring this dungeon?

dascarletm
2016-03-03, 01:40 PM
Background info: in an upcoming game I am going to have my players going through a goblin hive. At the end of this dungeon will be a door that is magically sealed and can only be opened by using a special key that can be found elsewhere. Question is what is a good way to make sure the players know that the key won't be found here so they don't spend a whole lot of time scouring this dungeon?

Easy way: have them find a note talking about where the key is, or about the person that took the key with them.

hangedman1984
2016-03-03, 01:47 PM
Easy way: have them find a note talking about where the key is, or about the person that took the key with them.

Problem is the key wasn't exactly "taken" by someone, instead more like found in another location by someone who is probably not even aware this door exists.

dascarletm
2016-03-03, 02:07 PM
Problem is the key wasn't exactly "taken" by someone, instead more like found in another location by someone who is probably not even aware this door exists.

Let me ask, whoever made the lock and key, did they always intend for them to be separate? I suppose knowing why they are in different locals would be helpful.

hangedman1984
2016-03-03, 02:29 PM
Beyond the door is a deeper dungeon containing an artifact that in the wrong hands could cause a lot of bad stuff. So the key and door were separated to protect it. All this happened thousands of years ago so few know anything about any of it. About say a hundred years ago someone stumbled across the key (the key isn't shaped like a normal key but looks like a cube). Not knowing what exactly they had stumbled across the person kept it as an interesting curiousity.

Kane0
2016-03-03, 03:30 PM
So have something engraved in an ancient language by the door. Someone that can read it gets the plot hook. Bonus points for cryptic rhymes

Zaydos
2016-03-03, 03:31 PM
Another option is to have a journal by one of the goblins about their failed attempts to open the door.

Kane0
2016-03-03, 03:42 PM
Another option is to have a journal by one of the goblins about their failed attempts to open the door.

Bonus points if the goblin writes down what hes tried and learned so he doesnt forget, then still forgets.

Khedrac
2016-03-03, 03:52 PM
Runes on the door spelling out that one will know the correct key because it glows with an unhideable light if brought within 1 mile of the door...
Nothing glowing nearby means the key is not here.

LastCenturion
2016-03-03, 04:00 PM
if the PCs leave a goblin alive to interrogate, I recommend having him cave easily and admit that they've tried to open the door, and assume that the key is elsewhere. Make sure the PCs know the goblin isn't lying. Otherwise, do what the poster a few up said and have a journal that says "We've tried opening to door with all we can think of, and there isn't anything that worked. Perhaps a key is elsewhere, but we don't have the resources to go find it," or something of the sort. Not recommended, but possible: Tell the players out of character that the key isn't in the dungeon.

AMFV
2016-03-03, 04:02 PM
Background info: in an upcoming game I am going to have my players going through a goblin hive. At the end of this dungeon will be a door that is magically sealed and can only be opened by using a special key that can be found elsewhere. Question is what is a good way to make sure the players know that the key won't be found here so they don't spend a whole lot of time scouring this dungeon?

Hmmm, why do you not want them to scour the dungeon? I mean if you're designing the whole thing, you should strive to make it so the entire thing is interesting enough to have them go through. One option is to include a riddle or some-such at the door, which will clue the players into the potential options. I would also include some other hooks in-case they don't find the key, which is possible. Don't be disappointed if they don't find the key. A DM should never put all of his eggs in the basket that they players have to find, he should scatter a few about for safekeeping.

CombatBunny
2016-03-03, 04:22 PM
Be very careful with this one,

It doesn't matters if you break a little bit the suspense, but you must deliver the message that the key is elsewhere in the most direct manner possible.

Have a book lying in the floor that explicitly tells the legend about the door whose key was lost in a far distant land.

Have a manacled prisoner in this room that tells the party that the key is nowhere to be found here but in a distant location.

Have a magic rock with a face inscribed on it tell them that they will have to search for the key far away from this dungeon. Make the door itself magically alive and able to speak to deliver this information.

Whatever you do, donít be subtle with this one. Fail to follow my advice and I assure you that there is no party or group of players in this world that won't try to use and exhaust their wisdom or resources trying to find a way to open the door in that same room; the session will come to a halt and you will lose all your momentum and excitement in exchange for bored and enraged players.

P.S. Moreover, donít let any character make any roll to try to open the door. State clearly ďDonít roll, any attempt to open the roll automatically failsĒ. Otherwise you are telling them that there is in fact a chance (even if tiny) to open the door without the key.

AMFV
2016-03-03, 04:27 PM
Be very careful with this one,

<snip>
Whatever you do, donít be subtle with this one. Fail to follow my advice and I assure you that there is no party or group of players in this world that won't try to use and exhaust their wisdom or resources trying to find a way to open the door in that same room; the session will come to a halt and you will lose all your momentum and excitement in exchange for bored and enraged players.

I disagree completely, if the dungeon is designed so that people going through it will become bored and/or enraged, then you need to cut rooms and areas. Exploring the dungeon should be it's own reward, if there's too much extraneous stuff, then the DM should add additional hooks for potential sub-adventures. Maybe there's more going on than whatever is happening behind this door. There should always be a few sideplot options, so that players don't get hung up on one thing.

Also it's not really a good idea to have every problem have an obvious solution, that makes for boring fare, to my mind at least.

CombatBunny
2016-03-03, 04:36 PM
I disagree completely, if the dungeon is designed so that people going through it will become bored and/or enraged, then you need to cut rooms and areas. Exploring the dungeon should be it's own reward, if there's too much extraneous stuff, then the DM should add additional hooks for potential sub-adventures. Maybe there's more going on than whatever is happening behind this door. There should always be a few sideplot options, so that players don't get hung up on one thing.

Also it's not really a good idea to have every problem have an obvious solution, that makes for boring fare, to my mind at least.

I agree with you, because you seem to be an experienced GM. You know how to unstuck your game and have different paths and keep it fun even when non trivial problems arise.

As for the way the OP exposes his problem, Iím assuming that he is a novice GM and thatís why I wouldnít recommend him to follow your advice. Iím also assuming that the quest for the key is an important part of his adventure and he has dedicated a great deal of work planning it. But maybe Iím just making the wrong assumptions.

TheYell
2016-03-03, 04:36 PM
The door is massive, looks like an Aztec calendar, all carved stone in a circle ten feet across. Must weigh a ton. Hinges on the inside like a bank vault. In the center is a bare brass plate. And around the plate it says USE THE KEY OF ZANZIBAB.

But when they get to Zanzibab there's no key. They can just start the quest for the key at that point. Oh and the key is the same blank brass, a hand high and an arm long and has no teeth, so that's how they know they found it. A key with no teeth for a magical lock with no hole.

AMFV
2016-03-03, 04:40 PM
I agree with you, because you seem to be an experienced GM. You know how to unstuck your game and have different paths and keep it fun even when non trivial problems arise.

As for the way the OP exposes his problem, Iím assuming that he is a novice GM and thatís why I wouldnít recommend him to follow your advice. Iím also assuming that the quest for the key is an important part of his adventure and he has dedicated a great deal of work planning it. But maybe Iím just making the wrong assumptions.

One of the most important things for a novice GM to learn, is that sometimes you have to be willing to throw out what you had planned, he can certainly bring them back to it later, I would frame stuff around that, maybe later they learn that there's something in the door that they need, and then they start out to find the key. Maybe they scour the entire dungeon and don't find it, and move on, then he has to develop a hook to pull them back. Sometimes the most important lesson is that even if you have 45+ pages of notes, you can move things around, or you can improvise, I would say that's the key.

hangedman1984
2016-03-03, 05:15 PM
Another option is to have a journal by one of the goblins about their failed attempts to open the door.

Think this will be what you're do. It gets bonus points because I was planning to have the lead "goblin" actually be a barghest and a recurring antagonist.

Berenger
2016-03-03, 05:41 PM
The door bears marks of attempted destruction: there are tiny cracks where it was battered with a large ram, slight scratches where it was attacked with a pickaxe, burnt areas where the goblins tried to set it on fire, crude magic symbols of decay und ruin alongside the remains of a sacrificed goat where the shaman of the tribe tried to soften it up with magic etc.

This tells two things:

1. The door can't be destroyed or opened by force or low-level magic.

2. If there goblins went to such lengths to open it, they presumably ransacked the area for the key, to no avail.

goto124
2016-03-03, 08:22 PM
Hmmm, why do you not want them to scour the dungeon?

"You scour the dungeon. The key is not here. You could get a nat 20 and the key isn't jumping into your hands."

johnbragg
2016-03-03, 09:49 PM
Background info: in an upcoming game I am going to have my players going through a goblin hive. At the end of this dungeon will be a door that is magically sealed and can only be opened by using a special key that can be found elsewhere. Question is what is a good way to make sure the players know that the key won't be found here so they don't spend a whole lot of time scouring this dungeon?

Let's see, trying to use the Three Clue Rule here.
1. Other posters have suggested having a goblin to interrogate.
2. PArty finds a fragment of an old parchment. Semi-coherent rantings about "Where is the Key of Zanzibab? I have scoured this entire dungeon, and it is nowhere to be found! The door mocks me, it is useless without the key!"
3. The Door mocks the players, and their feeble attempts to open the door, in an ancient, no-longer-spoken language . "Little lockpicker, big basher, clever spellslinger, try and fail. There is no way to open the door without the KEy of Zanzibab, which was hidden far from this place!" Take some time to come up with what the door is saying, let the characters who put a bunch of ranks into linguistics and knowledge skills get pieces of it, unless they use a comprehend languages spell.

This is the easy part. The hard part is, how are your players going to find the key?

What? Of course your blackhearted greedy murderhobos are going to try to find the key. Doors are locked to protect something valuable. IF there's something valuable, then the PCs can loot it. If they aren't supposed to open the door, the door shouldn't be there.

goto124
2016-03-03, 11:51 PM
For number 3, no ranks in Knowledge (Linguistics) is required to know the door is mocking you :smalltongue:

Glad to see someone use the Three Clue Rule!

AMFV
2016-03-04, 08:49 AM
"You scour the dungeon. The key is not here. You could get a nat 20 and the key isn't jumping into your hands."

You don't roll to scour a dungeon, every room needs explored. The players get to interact with the rooms, so you have a lot more exciting experiences, that feel like you're moving forward

Zaydos
2016-03-04, 12:42 PM
You don't leave a room of the dungeon unexplored regardless. There might be loot.

That said I've learned as a player and as a DM that searching for a key that's not there gets frustrating. Having a clue that it isn't is just more fun.

icefractal
2016-03-04, 04:11 PM
You also need a reason why they don't just break their way in. Really, looking for keys at all is mostly just a genre thing. Burglars don't use keys. Neither do SWAT teams. The first thing I'd think when finding a big impressive door, and no key to be found in the entire area, is not "better search the world for the key" but rather "better break in without a key".

Two options, off the top of my head:
1) Not only the door, but a box enclosing the entire sealed area is made of indestructible material. Note that this does telegraph that something extremely important is inside, and also the material itself would be highly valuable if it can be moved. So depending on the PCs, they may well try getting outside help and/or just selling knowledge of the location at this point.

2) The door is a device that opens a portal to a demiplane. You can dig around it, but there's nothing on the other side. You can (with difficulty) smash it, but then it would just be a useless piece of metal until repaired. Only using the key would activate it properly and open the portal. Note: If any of the players are extremely good at Use Magic Device (like, can hit DC 35+ reliably), they might question why they can't just trick the door. And that would be a reasonable question.

goto124
2016-03-04, 09:14 PM
You also need a reason why they don't just break their way in.

Because there are a lot of security measures:


Beyond the door is a deeper dungeon containing an artifact that in the wrong hands could cause a lot of bad stuff. So the key and door were separated to protect it. All this happened thousands of years ago so few know anything about any of it.

That artifact probably has the protection of a dozen 22-level wizards, maybe even gods if it's on that level.

Then again, it's good to decide what exactly the protections are, so that the GM can describe to the players instead of just saying "no sell".

hangedman1984
2016-03-05, 12:10 AM
You also need a reason why they don't just break their way in. Really, looking for keys at all is mostly just a genre thing. Burglars don't use keys. Neither do SWAT teams. The first thing I'd think when finding a big impressive door, and no key to be found in the entire area, is not "better search the world for the key" but rather "better break in without a key".

They're first level characters, new players so no real char op ability, and the door will be revealed to be magically protected, thus requiring the key.

AMFV
2016-03-05, 09:40 AM
They're first level characters, new players so no real char op ability, and the door will be revealed to be magically protected, thus requiring the key.

Make sure you include a reason why they can't go around (by tunnelling)

goto124
2016-03-05, 09:46 AM
You want to dig through stone? Sure, the world's in danger but it'll wait for you...

Lvl 2 Expert
2016-03-05, 09:54 AM
I'm not sure I like this idea in the first place, having a puzzle that can be only solved by going away to some random other place. If you do use it, make sure to give good hints to let them start searching. Don't be afraid to railroad them. They can't search the whole world, and at that point it would be much quicker and more fun to go one dungeon over and kill things until they are of a high enough level to circumvent the door. Maybe say they feel a type of magical energy that they only ever felt before in the throne room of king Questgiver the Great or something (the key might be in the crown jewel room, attached to a scepter. The energy signature is too vague to find the exact position of the object, but it has inscriptions similar to those above the door in the dungeon). Make it blatantly obvious where they should start searching, the puzzle only becomes solvable when they have somewhere to begin looking.

icefractal
2016-03-05, 02:40 PM
You want to dig through stone? Sure, the world's in danger but it'll wait for you...They're level 1, what makes you think they're in the process of saving the world? :smalltongue:

AMFV
2016-03-05, 03:55 PM
You want to dig through stone? Sure, the world's in danger but it'll wait for you...

What self-respecting adventurer doesn't have a pick and a hammer? I mean there's not liable to be more than a few feet between the rooms, so that's less than a day.


I'm not sure I like this idea in the first place, having a puzzle that can be only solved by going away to some random other place. If you do use it, make sure to give good hints to let them start searching. Don't be afraid to railroad them. They can't search the whole world, and at that point it would be much quicker and more fun to go one dungeon over and kill things until they are of a high enough level to circumvent the door. Maybe say they feel a type of magical energy that they only ever felt before in the throne room of king Questgiver the Great or something (the key might be in the crown jewel room, attached to a scepter. The energy signature is too vague to find the exact position of the object, but it has inscriptions similar to those above the door in the dungeon). Make it blatantly obvious where they should start searching, the puzzle only becomes solvable when they have somewhere to begin looking.

I concur. With the caveat that if you do have a puzzle like that you should have other ways to proceed without solving that particular puzzle, to basically go around it.

hangedman1984
2016-03-05, 09:39 PM
I'm not sure I like this idea in the first place, having a puzzle that can be only solved by going away to some random other place. If you do use it, make sure to give good hints to let them start searching. Don't be afraid to railroad them. They can't search the whole world, and at that point it would be much quicker and more fun to go one dungeon over and kill things until they are of a high enough level to circumvent the door. Maybe say they feel a type of magical energy that they only ever felt before in the throne room of king Questgiver the Great or something (the key might be in the crown jewel room, attached to a scepter. The energy signature is too vague to find the exact position of the object, but it has inscriptions similar to those above the door in the dungeon). Make it blatantly obvious where they should start searching, the puzzle only becomes solvable when they have somewhere to begin looking.

I'm well prepared with ways to direct them to where the key is hidden, it's just making sure they actually leave and don't get frustrated looking for something that isn't in the dungeon, and giving me a way to let them know without me straight up telling them that the key is elsewhere