Master of Unlocking

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Jump to: navigation, search
"Jill, here's a lockpick. It might be handy if you, the master of unlocking, take it with you."
Barry, Resident Evil

In certain video games, the humble Locked Door is among the most complex devices a Featureless Protagonist is likely to encounter, requiring years of specialised training to comprehend its intricate workings. Faced with this diabolical machinery, a lesser man will turn and run in terror, their mission forever incomplete. But one of the NPCs with you has no such fears; their senses have been dulled to the terror before them. They step forward boldly. Maybe they deliver a sharp kick or shoulder barge. Maybe they pull out some lockpicks, a door-opening computerised contraption, or an explosive charge. Regardless, once they've worked their magic, the dastardly door lies forever defeated, the way forward clear.

You've just witnessed a Master of Unlocking at work.

Typically, the Master of Unlocking is a plot contrivance to explain why only certain doors can be opened, since only the master can correctly determine which doors are vulnerable to their awe-inspiring skills; that, or the developers are trying to make NPCs appear useful without having them actually do anything. It's also used to avoid Interchangeable Antimatter Keys. If a player character is Master of Unlocking in a game with more than one PC, it's probably to allow them into areas the others can't go. If they're the only character, their skill with certain doors is likely to just be covering up loading the next room; either that, or some doors will be harder or riskier to open than others, but have bigger rewards.

In a movie, a character whose skill with lockpicks or doors is noted is likely to have Chekhov's Skill or Chekhov's Hobby, with their talent being useful in a specific situation or bought up in a stressful one.

Related to Plot Coupon; one might be required before the Master of Unlocking can get to work, such as a set of picks or a passcard for their decoding device. Often related to The Law of Conservation of Detail if the Master is an NPC; it means the pesky player won't try to open all those doors the developer didn't put anything behind.

Examples of Master of Unlocking include:


Video Games[edit | hide | hide all]

  • The Trope Namers is Resident Evil, which typically gives a set of lockpicks to the female PC(Jill) to explain why they can get into areas the male PC(Chris) can't.
  • Every single Call of Duty game has the player accompanied by NPCs with this awesome power.
  • Splinter Cell featured a lockpicking mini-game.
    • The sixth game Conviction gets rid of it altogether. You can smash right through locked doors.
      • You could do that in previous games, it just wasn't the best method of being stealthy.
        • No, you couldn't. You could pick the lock, destroy the lock with a disposable pick (in the first two games) or break the lock with a knife (in Chaos Theory and Double Agent). Chaos Theory introduced the ability to bash open unlocked doors, but they wouldn't actually be smashed into splinters. They would still function as doors.
  • God-make-it-stop FPS Legendary has the player character a skilled thief who knows how to re-wire security panels (without even using his hands). This is the "covering up loading the next room" version.
  • In Killzone 2 this is Garza's special ability. Also, the player character, Sev, can plant frame charges, but only on certain doors.
  • Alyx Vance has a door-unlocking device that can deactivate Combine forcefields.
  • In Batman: Arkham Asylum, Batman adds this to his existing list of skills after being given the warden's keycard, which he uses with his handy decoding contraption. In comics, a lockpicking kit is in one of the capsules/pouches on his utility belt.
  • BioShock (series) lets the player character try his hand at being master of plumbing. The sequel instead has you master stopping the arrow in the right part of a meter.
  • Deus Ex requires the player acquire a given number of Plot Coupons to open a given electronic or mechanical lock, modified by their multitool and lockpick skills.
  • Eye of the Beholder (based on Dungeons & Dragons). A thief character with a set of lockpicks.
  • Aliens Versus Predator 2 has the Marine equipped with two unlocking tools, a hacking device for computers and a blowtorch for locks. The Predator gets a "Charge Emitter" for hacking. The Alien just breaks things.
  • The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion had lockpicking as a skill (you played a minigame which involved carefully pushing the lock's pins into place). There was no reason to actually invest in the lockpicking skill however, as the mini-game was very easy regardless of lockpicking skill. Especially after you acquire the unbreakable Skeleton Key, which made an easy minigame laughably easy.
    • Morrowind did this better. You actually needed a certain level of lockpicking skill to beat a certain level of lock, so you couldn't expect to break the hardest lock with level 5 security, for example, unlike Oblivion.
      • Or you could just bypass the entire thing with an open spell, one of which you can get for free in Oblivion.
  • The minigame was revamped for Fallout 3, where it was simplified to twisting a bobby pin around a lock until you find the right spot to open it (amusingly, this occurs regardless of whether the door is a safe with a numeric keypad, a huge bulkhead with a handwheel, etc; apparently pin-tumbler locks are both widespread and invisible). There was also hacking, which achieved much the same thing.
    • The first two Fallout games had a lockpicking skill which would be checked against the difficulty of the door. It was also more realistic than the third in that, if you wanted to pick something electronic, you had to find an advanced set of picks later in the game (this could be circumvented, but only with very high levels of the skill).
    • Their immediate Spiritual Successor Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura also had a similar RPG lockpicking skill, which you had to practice and learn first, before you could fully use it.
  • Age Of Decadence has a lockpick skill.
  • Rei in Breath of Fire III can open some locked doors, but the number of times it's used to advance the plot is exactly once near the beginning of the game and the best item you can find behind one of the doors he can open is a fishing rod.
    • Also, Danc/Karn from the first game can unlock every door that's locked and disarm booby traps.
  • In Beyond Good and Evil, Pey'j can use wire cutters to get through chain-link fences. Later on though, in a far more epic example, Double H can bust through barred doors by putting on the helmet of his Alpha Section uniform, shouting "CARLSON AND PEETERRRRRRS!!", and ramming straight through it.
  • In the Quest for Glory series, Thief characters can get into McGuffin buildings and rob houses by this method.
  • In Red Faction II, slinky stealth-expert Tangier is the only one capable of opening certain doors, despite the main character being a demolitions expert, and the game's gimmick being its utterly destroyable environments.
  • Thieves in Final Fantasy III could unlock locked doors without using up a Magic Key.
    • In Final Fantasy VI, Locke does this when the party visits Narche in the second half of the game with no explanation beyond a simple wink.
  • In World of Warcraft, Rogues can learn to pick locks that are on safeboxes, treasure chests, and doors. Alternatively, an Engineer can just blow locks apart with explosives. Or a Blacksmith can make Interchangeable Antimatter Keys.
  • In Thief, it's one of the most crucial game mechanics besides stealthing. While it's pretty boring and simple in the first two games, the third installment made it surprisingly fresh and fun.
    • While the protagonist Garrett is the only one seen using lockpicks, the guards and civilian NPCs also often have keys and can lock or unlock doors as long as they're holding them.
    • This is stock-in-trade for all the Keepers; mastery of lockpicking is a crucial part of getting in and out of anywhere without a trace.
  • Yahtzee's Trilby : The Art of Theft, a stealth Gaiden Game set in his Chzo Mythos universe, also features some pretty cool and relatively advanced-looking lockpicking... for a game made in the no-thrills AGS engine, that is...
  • The Hitman series and its Russian cousin Death to Spies also feature lockpicking several times during a mission.
  • In the Fire Emblem series, only thieves and assassins can use lockpicks to open doors and chests without keys. Later games would introduce the Rogue class, which one-ups them by being able to unlock doors and chests without lockpicks.
  • Gears of War has occasional sequences in which Jack, the Team Pet Do-Anything Robot, is tasked to weld open a tricky but necessary door, and the Space Marines have to hold out against waves of enemies until he's finished.
  • A nice use in Area 51 where at one point the player has to hold off the zombies while the Master of Locks opens the next area. The master can't die but if one gets past then he has to shoot it himself and it breaks his concentration.
  • In the original Castle Wolfenstein, if the player finds a locked chest, he has to "lockpick" it (wait for a timer to count down) before it will open. The player can shoot the chest to speed up the timer; unfortunately, this uses up bullets, and may attract nearby guards.
  • In Another World, your alien cellmate helps you escape the prison in level 2 by jimmying the doors open. You've got the tough job of protecting him from the laser-toting guards while he fiddles with the controls though, because if he dies you have no way out.
  • Locked doors can be a major nuisance in the Jagged Alliance series, which often entails having your mercs dig through the corpses to try to find the right key. Fortunately, they can be circumvented by having characters with good lockpicking skills, with lockbuster shotgun rounds, or with the old standby of plenty of 'splosives.
  • Rogues in the Dragon Age series of games are generally used for unlocking chests, and can increase their skill at doing so.
  • In Solatorobo, Red manages to pick a lock using a wire (yes, just a wire) when captured by Gren in Shetland.
  • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim has Mercer Frey, who is given to you as a companion for a certain Thieves' Guild quest and can open any door, including ancient Nordic doors that usually require both a puzzle to be solved and a specific variety of a unique type of key to open. As it turns out, he does it by using Nocturnal's Skeleton Key, which he stole, as you find out when he pulls a Face Heel Turn on you - or rather, a Reveal.
    • Other than that, Vex is the best lockpick in Skyrim, being that she's the Master-level trainer for it.
    • In-game, lockpicking is done largely the same way in Fallout 3/New Vegas, with the exception being that you can pick any lock regardless of your actual skill level (though you will go through a lot of lockpicks with a low skill level on particularly difficult locks). Also, Vex of the Thieves' Guild is a true Master of Unlocking, as she's the one who can train your skill to the maximum.
  • From Chapter 2 of Tales of Monkey Island onward, Guybrush can use his Hook Hand as a lockpick to unlock doors and treasure chests. Of course, there are only a few items that can't be unlocked by his hook alone, and that is in the final chapter.
  • In Dragon Quest IV, Oojam, who joins your party in one chapter, can open locked doors that would normally require the Magic Key. As you can't get the key yet, this makes him a required party member in order to get to the boss.
  • In Diablo II: Lord of Destruction, we have the Assassin. She can unlock chests without a key. Some have complained that it's a pointless skill, since keys are so easy to come by in the game that you're usually selling the extras to make room in your inventory.

Film[edit | hide]

Apone: Hudson, run a bypass.

  • John Connor in Terminator 2: Judgment Day has a laptop password-cracking program. Extended in the comics where in one case he used the exact same program to crack Skynet itself with a line of codes finishing "Easy Money."
    • In the same movie, Sarah Connor doesn't do too badly with actual locks, using just a bent paper clip.
  • Flynn in Tron has a talent with electronic locks among his various skills and uses it to open the huge main door at ENCOM.
  • Sing, the main character in Kung Fu Hustle.

Brother Sum: A bum like that could come in handy.

Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • iCarly: Sam Puckett. Most often used to avert a typical sitcom Zany Scheme required to get past the door.
  • The Doctor's sonic screwdriver allows him to open or unlock basically anything, be it electronic or mechanical and whether it actually has anything that can be considered a lock or not.
    • Unless it's "deadlock sealed", or made of wood.
    • Earlier incarnations had another weakness, namely a limit on how much force it could exert; it could shift the moving parts in an electronic or mechanical lock, but not a deadbolt or a bar across the door.
  • This is the reason why Vila is so valuable to the team in Blakes Seven. He's genuinely upset whenever he finds something he can't break into.
  • In Hogan's Heroes, one of Newkirk's many talents is lock-picking. One episode had a lock he couldn't handle, so British Intelligence smuggled in "Alfie the Artist," who was even better.

Literature[edit | hide]

  • The Weasley Twins from Harry Potter have taught themselves lockpicking for situations where magic doesn't work or would be ill-advised.
  • The ability to open anything (not limited to doors) is an explicit superpower in Neverwhere, belonging to Door and her family. It comes in pretty handy.
    • The first thing Door opens in the story? A portal to London Above. The second thing she opens? Somebody's chest. As in the part of the body holding the heart and lungs.
  • Mister Brown in the Discworld novel Hogfather is a veteran thieves' guild-affiliated lockpick, and renown in the city. Pity he decided to work with Mr. Teatime, who promptly has him killed once He Has Outlived His Usefulness.
  • Early in one of Isaac Asimov's "Black Widowers" mysteries, Black Widower Manny Rubin, a writer, talked about a story idea he'd come up with: an international conspiracy of locksmiths, enormously influential because no secret is safe from people who can open any lock. The publisher he offered the notion thought it was unrealistic. So did the other Black Widowers.

Tabletop Games[edit | hide]

  • In Dungeons & Dragons and other games based on it, this is the primary role of the Thief or Rogue, since bashing down doors or prying open chests is not always a wise option (bashing down doors makes noise that attracts monsters, and prying open chests can get you nailed by whatever trap the chest has protecting its contents).
    • This is of course the reason that only high HP characters are allowed to pry open chests.
      • This is also the reason why a ten-foot pole is a crucial piece of dungeoneering equipment.
        • The 1st level arcane spell Scatterspray can be a good replacement: It shoots small objects in an area around, so long as they are not held tight. Guess what locks and trap activators are made of?

Real Life[edit | hide]

  • In Real Life, locks are not overly complicated devices and most, especially pin tumbler locks, can be picked with some effort. Disc tumbler locks, such as Abloy, are notoriously difficult to pick. Seasoned lockpickers belong in the top notch on prison pecking order, and are respected amongst other criminals.
  • Locksmiths.