#RPGaDAY 2019 - DAY 15: "DOOR"

"You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension." -Rod Serling

One of my favorite aspects of Fantasy RPGs is the ability to turn mundane items into something wonderous by applying magic to them. Ropes can climb up by themselves, travel can be reduced to walking into a circle on one side of the world, and appearing on another and so on. And one of my favorite ways of doing this is to look at mundane items, think about what they really are or do, then use magic to enhance their natural properties.

Doors are a staple of RPG's. I distinctly remember looking at my first game module map (Module B1, In Search of the Unknown) and focusing on how different doors are represented: Opened, closed, locked, secret, etc and being fascinated by the possibilities.

When I think about doors, I see that even the cheapest, most mundane unlocked door has multiple distinct purposes: They keep things out or in; they provide passage between two areas or states. (inside/outside, hallway/room, public area/private areas, etc.) and they provide privacy or indicate accessibility.

With the simple addition of a lock, they become even more complex: Locks can be one or two-sided, they can be simple or complicated, they can be mundane or mystical. But ultimately, their purpose is to keep things on the correct side of the door unless the correct tool is available to disable the lock, thereby allowing passage.

And they have other properties: How does one go through the door: knob, handle, rope, push; is the door is known, or not? Doors can be concealed, secret, false, or one-sided. And they are made of one or more materials: stone, wood, metal, glass and so on. And sometimes they have a means of indicating that someone is on one side of the door and wishes to make themselves known.

Quickly, that thing which is "just" a door, gains a dizzying combination of potential features. Then, you introduce them to a fantasy world and begin to apply magic to each of those properties.

At the risk of this becoming an entire book, I'll limit it to a few ideas:

Providing Passage
As I said above, every door provides a passage between two areas or states, using a basic formula of "you are here, then go through a door, then you are there" with some reasonable connection between here and there. With magic, that connection is no longer required, nor does the door itself need to be something expected, and even the concept of "go" may not be what is expected. Some examples:

  • You in front of a door; you walk through, and you end up coming into the same room you were just in, facing the same door; looking through the door, you see the back of your own body. (The video game "Portal" illustrates this with its space-bending door creator)
  • A door is free-standing, with no walls supporting it; one can walk around it, but walk through the door and you end up somewhere different than if you walked around the door. (The Movie/TV Show Stargate with its wormhole creation mechanism is an example of this)
  • To extend the Stargate example, there is a cryptographic "handle" on the stargate. Depending on which combination of characters you use, the connection between here and there changes. As one single door creates a passage to thousands of different places.

Locks
Locks exist to keep people from going through without the correct passthrough. In our mundane world, they are mechanical locks. Something that requires a key. They can also be barriers created on one side of the door that keep it from being passed through without someone on the other side letting you in. And they can be as simple as a person standing there and keeping you from passing without permission or a passcode (this is guarded, rather than locked, but it's the same basic family.) When you apply the concept of magic, you get things like:

  • Mystical doors that doesn't exist unless you have the key. The back entrance to Smaug's cave in The Hobbit is an example of this. A specific key must exist at a specific time, or the door just isn't there.
  • Doors that exist, but have no pickable mechanism, such that one can't go through without a very specific key. In Skulduggery Pleasant, there is a critical door that they need to get through. The question is "why not just break through the door" and the answer is that the door and the other side are likely not in the same place...so finding the key is mandatory.)
  • Spells that ignore the requirement of a key, and just open the door. (Which Gandalf tries unsuccessfully for hours in The Hobbit, to pass through a door.)
  • Traps, glyphs, and other mundane and mystical tools for providing negative feedback for attempting to go through a door that one isn't supposed to.
  • Doors where the door itself is a lock, denying access unless someone meets specific criteria: a specific bloodline, a physical description, is carrying a specific item, or convinces the door to let it through.
Physical Form

Basic doors allow passage of a normal person, sized for the expected users and built such that one moves them out of the way to go through. Some doors are built for different cases, to allow through people or items that are especially tall or wide. Gates are often paired doors to allow groups of people or wide vehicles to pass through. There are half doors, which deny access, but allow items to be passed through. Some doors are built exceptionally large: Sometimes for effect; and sometimes for long-forgotten reasons such as "a large passage was needed for construction, and the opening needed a door once the building was finished." Applying magic, this leads to:

  • Doors that change in size, depending on who or what is going through them.
  • Doors that are made of exotic materials, such as "the bones of a long-dead god" which imbue the door with special significance or properties.
  • Doors that don't look like doors. In the Invisible Sun RPG, there is a race called the lacuna. They are doors to somewhere that you can see on their bodies, and you can pass through if you ask nicely. In Gaiman's Neverwhere the character of Door is something between a door and a key, with the ability to just go places.
Ultimately, a fantasy RPG gives the GM the ability to look at literally anything in the world, consider it's properties and tweak those to make them different. In Numenera, the "beyond comprehension" nature of previous civilizations means that objects can have properties that have nothing to do with the object. In magical games, you have trees that don't stand still, and fire that doesn't need oxygen or material in order to burn, and doors which may seem mundane, but which are anything but. And these changes to the world we know keep the world fresh and interesting as either key or background elements in an ongoing story.

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