Master of Unlocking

"Jill, here's a lockpick. It might come in handy if you, the master of unlocking, take it with you."
Barry Burton to the Trope Namer, Resident Evil

In certain video games, the humble Locked Door is among the most complex devices the Player Character 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 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.


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    Video Games 
  • The Trope Namer is Resident Evil, which gives a set of lockpicks to the female PC (Jill) to explain why she can get into areas the male PC (Chris) can't. Jill also picks locks in Resident Evil 3.
    • Gets a Continuity Nod in the Resident Evil 5 DLC Lost in Nightmares opening cutscene (pictured), when Chris and Jill break into the Spencer Estate, Jill picks the lock on the front door while Chris covers her.
    • Both Claire Redfield and Leon Kennedy are masters of unlocking in Resident Evil 2, though Claire starts off with lockpicks while Leon has to find them. This gets a nod in Resident Evil 4, when Leon's Voice with an Internet Connection asks why he can't pick a particular lock (all the locks in the game are either shootable or need some sort of Plot Coupon rather than a normal key).
    • Another example is Alyssa Ashcroft from Resident Evil Outbreak. She starts every scenario equipped with a tool that can be used to unlock certain doors.
    • It gets an explicit Continuity Nod in Resident Evil: Revelations 2 when Barry uses lumber swinging on a crane to break a locked gate as he remarks, "Who's the master of unlocking now?"
  • In the Famicom forerunner to Resident Evil, Sweet Home, one of the party members, Emi, came with a key, giving her the innate ability to unlock doors. Without her in your party, you would need to find a wire to be able to pick open locks.
  • Every single Call of Duty game has the player accompanied by NPCs with this awesome power.
    • In some cases the player himself has this power, though very selectively. For a humorous example that also displays Take Your Time, see shoot the hinges!
  • Splinter Cell featured a lockpicking mini-game.
    • The sixth game Conviction gets rid of it altogether. You can smash right through locked doors.
      • In previous games, 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.
  • 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.
  • Half-Life 2: 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 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 lockpicks or electronic multitools to open a given electronic or mechanical lock, modified by their Electronics and Lockpicking 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: normally attempting to force a lock breaks the pick if you fail, but automatically opens the lock if you succeed. Because the Skeleton Key is unbreakable, anyone with it can simply spam the Force option until they open any lock except for ones scripted to be unpickable. The Champion of Cyrodiil essentially stops picking altogether and just rams the Skeleton Key around the lock for a bit until it pops open.
    • In Morrowind, 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). Hacking is similar, but is based on a different skill (Science rather than Lockpicking) and you have to pick the right password out of a number of similar words.
    • 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 & Magick Obscura also had a similar RPG lockpicking skill, which you had to practice and learn first, before you could fully use it.
    • This lockpicking system was directly transplanted into The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, instead of using Oblivion's frustrating system.
  • 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 & 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. Generally this becomes less and less useful as the games go on, at least in Hitman, as later stages tend to use electronic locks and keycards.
  • 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.
    • In Fire Emblem Awakening, level 1 Thieves have Pick/Locktouch skill as their starting class skill, letting them open chests/doors without any special items a la Rogue. A Thief that gets married can also pass Locktouch to their children if the player so desires.
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • Despite being incredibly powerful, the main use of a Keyblade in Kingdom Hearts is the ability to open any lock (except for a couple of chests). The locks don't have to be physical, and can be on a person or a world.
    • Hades is able to exploit this by kidnapping Meg, putting her inside the lock that Zeus used to seal the Underdome, and waiting for Sora to rescue her.
  • Claptrap robots in Borderlands serve to allow access to blocked off areas. As of Borderlands 2, the company that makes Claptraps, Hyperion, is trying to take over the planet, and has every one of the things deactivated... except for one that got away. The last Claptrap proves an invaluable resource in the rebellion against Hyperion due to his ability to bypass Hyperion security measures — as he says, he was made to open doors. Of course, this being Borderlands, he's not very good at it.
    Claptrap: I said "aaaaaaannndd open!", not "aaaaaaaaaand close a secondary set of doors!"
  • In The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, the Collapsing Lair suddenly has bars in front of a lot of doors that were open on the way in. Zelda can un-bar them for you with her magic.
  • In Bioshock Infinite, Elizabeth can pick just about any lock as long as Booker has a sufficient number of lockpicks. It's handwaved as a skill she picked up during her lifelong imprisonment in Monument Island. Where her captors allowed her to study lockpicking. In prison. Of course.
  • Stan from ObsCure can even sense nearby locks. Don't ask how it works.
  • Half-Life: Opposing Force has engineer soldiers - equipped with blowtorches - who can burn open specific doors that block your way.
  • PAYDAY 2 allows this with the Ghost class-a high level skill increases the speed of lockpicking, eventually allowing you to open safes by hand (instead of relying on a drill), and another skill at the same level allows you to open security doors (which require the drill or a keycard normally) with your handy ECM jammers. Regardless if the team wants to do stealth or not, the Ghost's major role is to open doors quickly.

     Anime and Manga 
  • Tooru Amuro from Detective Conan is one of these, which is rather odd since Japanese law prohibits possession of any lockpicking tools and carries a penalty of one year imprisonment or a 500,000 yen fine.
  • This is Dario's main skill in Hana no Ko Lunlun. He saves a Sicilian little girl who gets Locked in a Freezer during a hide-and-seek game, and since Lunlun witnesses this she becomes rather interested in what he can do. It turns out that years ago he helped out in a huge robbery for Healthcare Motivation reasons, and now he's a Punch Clock Villain fugitive waiting for the Statute of Limitations to kick in...

  • This is the gimmick of Justice League of America villain The Key.
    The Key: Didn't your parents ever warn you there was a man you couldn't lock your doors against.
  • Jean Grey never had a key made for her dorm at the Xavier School since she could just use her telekinesis to manipulate the tumblers. Of course, since every X-Man has to lose their powers once in a while, it's surely come back to bite her a few times.
  • Midnighter can apparently pick locks faster than Jack can kick down doors, although why a man who can literally command cities would even need to kick down a door is never explained.

  • The Keymaker in The Matrix Reloaded.
  • Hudson in Aliens.
    Apone: Hudson, run a bypass.
  • John Connor in Terminator 2: Judgment Day has a laptop password-cracking program. He mostly uses it to commit ATM fraud, but it ends up being helpful in unlocking the storage unit where the remains of the original Terminator are kept within Cyberdyne HQ. 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.
  • In Now You See Me, Jack Wilder is undisputed king of this trope. However at least Henley and Daniel can pick handcuffs themselves.

    Live Action TV 
  • 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 Blake's 7. 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.
  • Parker of Leverage can unlock anything from safes to doors to handcuffs. Being a world-class thief, it pretty much comes with the job.
  • Castle's daughter Alexis in Castle proved to be a capable picklock in the episode "Target" when she used a hairpin to break out of the cell where her kidnapper left her. Though to be fair it did take her an hour.
  • In GoGo Sentai Boukenger, there was a lock-based Monster of the Week whose power was to be able to enter any place. Walls opened like portals for him, the better to steal MacGuffins without getting the heroes' attention too soon.
  • In Supernatural, Dean has escaped from handcuffs no less than four times, using nearby items like paperclips and, one time, a car antenna.
    • Sam used a credit card to unlock a door when he didn't have a lockpick with him.
  • Sherlock Holmes in Elementary. Picking locks is one of his many hobbies, and he has quite a collection to practice on; this allows him to escape handcuffs fairly easily, among other things.
    • Sherlock's sobriety sponsor Alfredo is a former ace car thief, and today tests security systems for automobile companies. Lockpicking is the most basic of his skills, and he's very good at it. Both Sherlock and Alfredo have been teaching Watson to pick locks, as well.

  • Jerin of A Brother's Price is this, due to his grandmothers having been spies.
  • 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.
  • Sasha, the protagonist of The Tenets of Futilism, can pick locks and hotwire cars with ease. She apparently learned the skill in her younger, wilder years.
  • 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.
  • Iggy from Maximum Ride. Was self-taught and the only one shown to know how to pick locks. Plus he's blind.
  • Jason, from The Saints, is able to use his magic to unlock doors. So far he's the only character introduced able to do so.

    Tabletop Games 
  • 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.
  • In general, tabletop RPGs not featuring some form or other of lockpicking skill are probably in the distinct minority due to the obvious if situational usefulness of being able to do a little breaking and entering without making noise or leaving an easily discovered trail of broken doors behind. At the same time, since only one such expert can work on a lock at a time and it's rare that multiples need to be picked simultaneously, there's little reason to have more than one or two of them in any group (with the main argument for a second already being "as backup just in case").


    Real Life 
  • 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.
  • When Richard Feynman was working on developing the atomic bomb, he made a hobby of cracking the safes and combination locks used to protect important documents. He mostly used various silly tricks to do it, and not technical locksmithing skills, and would sometimes leave snarky notes in supposedly secure places pointing out that they weren't.