Friday, August 16, 2013

Thoughts on a Design Example

Jez Gordon recently started up a discussion about design in rpgs by posting this image to G+ as an example of a game doing it right:
It's from the Pathfinder Beginner Box sample adventure.   I love this kind of stuff and wanted to share some thoughts.  I don't own any Pathfinder products and haven't seen this image before so I'm a good proxy for an experienced gamer trying to digest the info here.

I was going to put notes on the image, but thought better of it because I want you to see the original uncluttered.  So, I'll just walk through as my eye travels or paragraph by paragraph.

My Thoughts

The first things I notice are the big black border, the red bar with big number and title, and the two column layout with map inset and text.   I follow what these divisions mean.  I'm hoping the black border denotes a section of a rulebook and isn't just the border all game books seem to include.  I don't know what those standard borders are for but to say "this isn't a readin' book, this is a gamin' book" or something.  I'll give this page the benefit of the doubt and imagine this will help me quickly navigate to the sample dungeon section of a bigger book.  I can easily tell that each dungeon room/section will be getting its own write up with a smaller map.  I imagine that somewhere else there is a larger map that shows the spatial relationship between all these rooms.

This is the fifth room and a spider nest.  This room is worth 400xp, though that seems like information I don't need here, not yet.  The red text is apparently meant to be meta text, aimed directly to the DM reader.  It tells me there is a spider in the room, which I knew from the room name, although new information is that there is only 1 and its size is about that of a human.  Then a direction to read a quote to players.  Okay, that tells this is not meant to just prep me for a game, but to be used while DMing the game.  That's cool.  I like that I can see ahead that the stats for the monster in the room are on this page because I know I'll need that.  But if I'm using this in play I'm wishing I had a map of the entire dungeon visible.  I mean there appear to be two exits from here.  Do they lead to room 4 and room 6?  I suppose that works if the dungeon is linear.  But this set up wouldn't work well if there were stairs or the nearby rooms were not adjacent physical pages in the book (like if the right passage goes to room #12, left passage room #1).

The quote feels odd to me.  I play with lots of non-gamers, brand new to our game and everyone knows webs mean spiders.  And they all know webs probably mean big spiders.  It feels like this is aimed toward standardization more than helping a new DM, that it is important all parties entering hear the same info.  But this reminds me of discussion about room descriptions that happened a while back I know Courtney of Hack n Slash was involved.  When I describe a room to players there are certain things I let them know: Room size, exits, things that stand out.  So if this quote is meant to teach a new DM what players will notice first in a room, it isn't doing a great job.  Looking ahead I see there is a dead goblin which is cool because corpses are signs of immediate danger even to new players.  But why isn't that sooner?  Will they only find the corpse by digging in the webs?  But then wanting to check the corpse is a great bit of bait to draw them in and have them distracted when the spider pops out.  Why not mention it sooner?  If the quote is meant to help the new DM convey information I would suggest something more like this:
"This is a large rectangular room filled with webs.  You see a little body laying on the floor near the center and what looks like a passage leading out the other side."

I would also say, if the quote is meant to help a new DM know what information is important to give to players then, explicitly point that out to them.  Something like "Make sure to let players know the general dimensions, exits, and focal details of a room first.  Then you can always add more details as they ask questions."  But, this book might do that on an earlier room since we are seeing the 5th.

Next we see some sections with headers.  The webs, the creature, the dead goblin.  There is a lot of information in here that I think anyone would know: "webs are sticky" or don't need to know "the spider killed the goblin a few days ago."  I mean I suppose the latter could be important in signifying there is still an active threat here, this isn't an ancient skeleton.  But players will know that from the description of the corpse.  You could amend my quote above to say "a bloated little body."  And again, if this is meant not just to smoothly run a dungeon but to teach about running a dungeon why not point out why the corpse is even here?  It could be a single sentence about corpses as a good way to signpost hidden dangers.

The whole web section seems weird to me.  No one is going to walk into webs on purpose.  The webs don't cover the room.  So, why spend so much priority space describing what happens to players in the webs?  Perhaps pathfinder combat rules, similar to 4e, include sliding and pushing and players will inevitably end up in the webs once combat starts?  What would be cool is if the spider lays down webs to catch players, but I looked ahead and that doesn't seem to be the case.  If this were a room I was running with my simple rules getting caught in a web would merit a footnote, something at the bottom of the page.  Unless I put the little bloated corpse within webs.  That would be an interesting choice for players: "if you want to investigate the corpse you'll have to wade into the webs a few feet.  It does look like it has jewelry."  And again, if that is the case, point it out to the new DM, "this is meant to be a choice for players, dungeon set ups that present tough choices are always interesting."

Next comes the Spider Section.  This all seems well enough, but more important than the webs.  Skipping ahead I see the combat subsection though and I get a bit confused why in the world you would separate that with the dead goblin!?  The spider section tells you how to check if players are surprised, the combat section tells you what it means if they are surprised.  I feel like these bits are much more closely related to each other than the layout portrays.

I see now that this whole room might be meant to teach how to handle surprise.  So my bit up above about teaching how to describe a room, signpost danger, or offer choices could be considered distractions.  Even so, if this spider is the stealthy monster in the dungeon meant to teach how to handle that kind of creature, why not say so?  It could be a single sentence "When players see the webs they will expect a spider and be looking for it.  How do we determine if they see it or not?  That's where stealth rolls come into play . . ."  Some of this explanation might have been done in the rules section on perception checks or stealth.  But if you are using this as the first actual in-game use it would probably be good to tie back to that.  Something like "this room is a perfect spot to see how stealthy creatures that attack from hiding work (see page 12)."  Maybe not.  You might want to just get the new DM playing and then have an afterward that touches on some of these things.  But the way the combat section is set off and focuses on surprise it seems like the authors wanted it to be a teaching moment.

This is running long and I need to get to work but I don't want to split this into two parts, let me try to speed up a bit.

The blown up image of a door(?) on the map is odd.  Why isn't it clear from the map itself that it is a door?  Is there no master key somewhere?  It seems silly to have so much color and digital texture to the map inset and not be able to convey a door.  Also, I'm biased here, but I could not recognize the spider on the map as a spider I think an image that showed more legs would work better, though using the same image on map and next to the creature's stats is a good and necessary design choice.

Treasure is given before the monster.  Again, seems like that along with the xp given earlier should be the last thing on the page.

That statblock is overly messy though.  Two units are given for distance!  If you are going to have a game that uses squares in combat, why not embrace the advantage of using squares as a simple unit?  which of these data points are most important?  Hit points are a different color but sort of shuffled off to the side, I didn't notice them at first.  It seems like from the rest of the page, the first thing we are going to need is the stealth score.  So why is that given the same prominence as the climb skill?  I know the stealth skill was given back in the creature section, but it is harder to find within all the text.  Also there is new info here in the statblock: that score is only when it's in webs.  That makes me wonder, does this mindless creature have some strategy?  Will it always try to stay in webs once combat begins?  I don't want a whole page on spider strategies, but it might be good to have something.  I'm imagining the first thing my players do would be to light the webs on fire, and if it's strategy is to fight from webs this might be a very brief combat.

There is a whole section on poison here and my mind puts on the brakes.  Wait a minute, is this the first creature that uses poison in the dungeon?  If this room is meant to teach how to handle stealthy creatures is dealing with poison going to complicate things?  If the dungeon were more old school with save or die poison I think some discussion of that would be warranted.  Though looking at the fiddly way poison is handled here it might warrant some discussion of how to keep track of it all anyway.

Finally, a picture of two skulls.  Are those kobolds?  I don't see why this is here.  I'd probably cut it, move the treasure section down here and make the map image bigger.

Anyway, those are some of my raw thoughts as I looked through this page.  Thanks to Jez for sharing it as an example that the community can discuss.  I like a lot of what it is trying to do with the single creature, simple map inset, and single room focus.  I think it could be revised to do that even better.  But I'd be interested to hear from all of you.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Serendipity XXIV - Blueprints & Letterhead

Usually I have many pictures for a serendipity post but this find was so cool I thought it was enough on its own.  It's a book from 1903 called Artistic Homes.  It has images of homes with their blueprints right under them.  It seems like it was made for player's handouts for your mystery, Cthulhu, or time travel games:
This is one of the few that could be a shop too.  There is also a city apartment I saw in there.  So, you need house blueprints from ~1900 you got 'em.  Wait . . . there's more.

The book has a testimonial section in the back with a bunch of letter facsimiles you might be able to use as well.  Granted, they are all saying pretty much the same thing "blah blah blah the house you built us is wonderful" which is hardly a clue to a nefarious plot, but for some of them they have interesting letterhead and signatures you could use if you replace the text with something of your own.  Like this one:
And, heck, since I like you so much, have these groups of photos from a different publication, absolutely free:
Obviously conspirators of some sort, or perhaps a time travel hit list.

These images are all in the public domain and you can use them however you wish.  I hope you find them useful.

Monday, August 12, 2013

1000 Posts

For my 1000th post I thought you might find it interesting to see some statistics.  I've never used anything but blogger itself, so the data I have is pretty crude, but here, after a bit over four years of OSR blogging, are my stats :

Traffic Sources
First, I have no idea what the difference is between the two categories "Referring URLs" and "Referring Sites."  Is one coming from a blogroll and one from a link in a post?  No clue.  With my many image posts and silhouettes I get a lot of general Google traffic.  From within our community I get the most from Jeff's Gameblog and D&D with Pornstars.  Underdark Gazette changed names to Dreams of Mythic Fantasy.  Eternal Keep was a blog aggregator that seems to have gone dark.  The Nowhere Collective link is a list of random tables and has a couple entries from my blog.

I used to get a lot of traffic from the Lamentations of the Flame Princess blog, but Mr. Raggi did a blogroll cleanup a while back and I was one of the blogs he removed.  I was never linked at Grognardia.  And finally, there is starting to be more and more traffic, the majority outside of Google actually, from . . . me.  I'm guessing that means people following links from my index.

As for the Search Keywords, not too much exciting there.  The many searches for my name could be an argument for having a unique name, or it could just be me checking my blog for comments from my friends and family's houses.  Turner's Cubes are a practice work for machinists that I did a casual post about.   It shows up again as one of my most viewed posts and I suppose shows that something mildly interesting to our community might be fantastically more interesting to some other community.

# Of Pageviews
Pageviews all time history = 488,448
Top Ten: 

This section is almost worthless to me.  The all time most page views are from old posts that get a lot of hits from outside of our community or at least a steady amount of hit for a long time.  Monthly traffic is more meaningful as a measure of what my audience inside the community finds interesting, but blogger doesn't archive that (as far as I know).

So, for example, #2 is a picture that gets tons of hits around Valentine's Day, and #5 shot up in the ranking I think only because it has the word "hobbit" in it right around when the Hobbit movie came out (that was not intended).

Another reason that these are less interesting to me is because my most popular stuff is not things I made.  The slave angel is a picture from Deviant Art, #3 is a picture of a braided tree that I did not take, etc.  I suppose there is a case to be made for curating content, that folks would find value in seeing links through the lens of my expertise and personality, but those links took little effort and were just something I thought were fairly interesting at the time.

I would be more interested in knowing what people within the gaming community, especially the OSR and DIYers think of my ideas and resources I've made.  The next two categories get a lot closer to that I think.

# Of +1s
  1. My OSR
  2. 83
  3. Fear What You See
  4. 20
  5. Misc VII 
  6. 17
  7. Map Insets
  8. 14
  9. Achievement-Based Level Progression
  10. 13
  11. Trackless Wastes
  12. 11
  13. Vancian Spell Ideas
  14. 11
  15. A PocketMod Portfolio
  16. 10
  17. Complex Monsters II
  18. 9
  19. PlayerHUD
  20. 9
This category is more recent.  If I remember correctly G+ was open to the public in the Fall of 2011.  Before that there was some way for people in Google Reader to "like" a post (like or +1?).  And if you subscribed to your own feed you could see those (that reminds me, before it was killed, Reader showed ~537 people following my blog's feed.  I don't know what people are using now or how I would know).  But for Blogger, +1s are relatively new.

It feels good that the top entry is what it is because it was something I put a lot of time into, concerns the community directly, and that I feel strongly about.  Maybe it's also an example of a blog at its best, meaning a kind of essay incorporating personal history with a viewpoint. 

#2 is curation again so it is hard not to feel a little cheaty about it.  I'm probably most proud of 6, 7 and 9 as examples of me contributing ideas to the community that you turned out liking.  If I were to criticize my own blog it would be for the way I tend to just throw out ideas, ideas I haven't tried, ideas that I won't return to.  But it's hard to separate that from posts that function as drafts, that help me progress my ideas.  #8 is an example of something impractical that I don't use, but that I posted about before Jensan made Telemonster, which I do use all the time.  It was one of several posts that helped lead to Telemonster and so were important for that.

#3 is an example of why +1s as a gauge of audience are problematic.  That post has four ideas in it and I have no idea which people were reacting to or why.  For that reason, comments might be the best indicator of what you think of what I write.

# Of Comments
Total number of comments = 4901
Top Ten: 
  1. Rules That Make You Go Huh?
  2. 33
  3. West Coast Bloggers
  4. 31
  5. Procedural Lockpicking
  6. 25
  7. The Problem with Psionics
  8. 23
  9. Easy D&D Village Maps
  10. 22
  11. My OSR
  12. 22
  13. Fairy Tale Spell Names
  14. 20
  15. Slaves?
  16. 20
  17. Medieval America, Punters, and the D&D Endgame
  18. 20
  19. Creepy Combat Commentary
  20. 19
It takes more effort to post a comment than to press the +1 button, so you could say it means more when people leave a comment.  But people usually only leave comments when they have something more to say than "I like it."  As a blog that posts a lot of images, I probably see fewer comments than I might otherwise because what else can you say about an image you like.  Also, I try to respond to every comment, so you can subtract a lot of these comments as they are not reactions to my post but me.

So what do people have things to say about?  The top entry is a post allowing people to rant about rules they don't like.  #2 is just people saying they are on the West cost of North America and took no creativity on my part. There is a subset of posts that involve community creativity where you ask folks to contribute an idea or table entry (7,10 and several that didn't make the top 10).  Sometimes people get excited about them, sometimes not.  I feel less responsible for those as well, it seems another kind of curating.  #8 and 9 are examples of contentious issues that get people talking.  I think forums are traditionally the venue for these kinds of discussions.  If a person has a lot to say, rather than comment they might go back to their own blog to respond, which can fragment the conversation but also spread it.

Being timely with a post can lead to more comments.  #3 came when people seemed to be interested in talking about the subject.  In fact my post was a response to another and it in turn generated its own responses.  Taking part in those kind conversations is what I love most about this blog and the community.  It is also the hardest to track and record.  Often folks have made response posts that I found only much later.  Even if it's a blog you read, if you get busy with work you might miss someone's response.  And if you stumble upon a cool old post you might miss out on much of the atmosphere and context it was developed in.

As an example of a post on the identical subject of #3 that happened outside of a big community conversation, my post Procedural Lockpicking Revisited only has 188 pageviews and 1 comment.

One other thing that I can say about conversations is that they are the primary fertilizer of new ideas for me, not my own mental capacities.  #10 is an example of a popular table of mine.  It has been linked several times and adapted into a booklet, but if you go back and look, it sprung from someone else's comment to a previous post.  I did not have some Eureka moment in the bathtub.  I saw what someone said that was interesting and then tried to push its implications, develop it into a whole chart.

Well, that's it.  If you have questions feel free to ask, but this is most of what I know about my blog's statistics.  I intend to keep on trucking but have no control over how many other folks are still interested in conversing about Adventure Gaming, D&D, and DIY.  Here's to another 1000 posts.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Visual Dungeon Challenge

Okay, friends, for my 999th post I'm throwing down my glove and offering a challenge to each and every one of you:
Make a one page dungeon that uses only images and visual devices.  No words.  No abbreviations.
This is intended to be given to another DM, not a personal bookkeeping system.  Because of that it can allow for some customization by the other DM.  You can use numbers, roman numerals, or your own invented symbols if you can convey what they mean to someone.

Post your attempt to your blog, link in the comments below, or email me, just share your map with us somehow.

This is not a contest.  You win if you make a damn attempt.  There is no time limit.  You can keep making these.  I think this should be an interesting exercise for any DM, because it will force you to look very closely at what exactly you require to run a dungeon, and how that may or not be different from what other DMs require.

Here is my first attempt:

I tried to indicate elevation with shades of gray and curved steps.  Each step is 10' and the darker it gets the deeper you are.  So, for example, the central area has a 90' drop to the right.  I think numbers might work better but didn't want them confused with room numbers.

I used a number to distinguish similar icons, so you can distinguish the potions, for example.  This will only work for very small dungeons or bare ones.  So I might need to come up with symbols for spells to put beside a scroll or for potion affects beside each potion, etc.  Though, that sounds very challenging.  Rather than use the same technique for the coins symbol, I could just put a number for the amount of coins in the hoard right next to it on the map.  Of course that would assume it was a hoard of one coin type or get very cluttered quickly.  A lot of problems.  But this is all okay, it's why I'm doing this: seeing what the limits are, seeing what is possible.

Now, I'm kind of cheating by telling you all that.  But maybe a sentence or two of explanation is okay-- something you might put in an image caption or email to a fellow DM.  Like "Roman numerals are NPC level" or "Greek letters are for traps."  And certainly we want to hear your thoughts behind your design decisions.  You just can't make something that requires a long explanation to be functional.

Good luck.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

D&D Song

My buddy who plays guitar and recently became really interested in composing surprised me one day by asking if I would collaborate on a D&D song with him.  I hesitated.  I am not a song writer and the only songs I know of about D&D are mocking it and the people that play it.  I told him I would try, but that I would try to make it a serious song, one D&D characters might sing.  I love murder ballads and old blues and country songs so I thought I would try to give it a hardscrabble, melancholy feel if I could.  Anyway, as my 998th post here's what I came up with:

Born in the mud to a crooked-eared sow
She'd cough up a pearl if she saw me now
covered in blood from my sword to my crown
I pulled myself up by travelling down.

   Down, down, till we find us a dragon
   we'll pry off it's scales and haul its loot home in wagons

   Down, down, under the earth
   we'll take what we find till we get what we're worth.

We scoured the ruins looking for thrones
and looted old tombs to find nothing but bones
The bastards I run with are all discontent
but I'll never stop searching till my breath is spent.

   Down, down, till we find us a dragon
   we'll pry off it's scales and haul its loot home in wagons

   Down, down, under the earth
   we'll take what we find till we get what we're worth.

Now, the sheriff is after me and my men
cause for each of his coins we've found us ten
but I stand here before you with this firm belief:
to take what's forgotten doesn't make you a thief.

   Down, down, till we find us a dragon
   we'll pry off it's scales and haul its loot home in wagons

   Down, down, under the earth
   we'll take what we find till we get what we're worth.

I'd love for people to add more verses or do something with it.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Do Not Use?

This silhouette of a powerful, savage woman is from this cover:
While the Burroughs text from 1908 is in the public domain, the Roy Krenkel cover is from 1961.

The problem is Krenkel died in 1983.  You can't ask permission to use this and you can't give him any money.  Maybe his kids have set up some kind of foundation to license art.  Maybe a silhouette is considered transformative and thus a new work you could use without permission.  But I wouldn't bet on it.

Looking here, if 1961 was the first publication of this image (let's assume yes) then it would enter the public domain after 28 years, or 1989.  But, if the copyright was renewed it won't be in the public domain until 2056. 

I'm willing to wager I'll be dead by then.  Someone could have been born on the day of Krenkel's death and die of old age before they could use his art for anything.  Insane. 

Anyway, I'll let you decide if you feel safe using this or not and gamble that my using it to illustrate the absurdity of American copyright length falls under Fair Use (probably doesn't).

New Player Handouts

I had a session on Saturday with two returning players and two players I'd never met.  My buddy told me that when one of these new folks heard he knew of a DM he got really excited and wanted to set up a game asap.

In prepping for that game I looked back through my handouts, some of which haven't changed in years, and re-organized if not revised them.  I thought I would share them with you.

First, there is no perfect character sheet.  Or, the perfect character sheet is probably just an index card players can record info on.  Well, as long as there are a small enough number of players that a DM can tell them what they need to record and what it all means.  But, because you never know how loud it will be or how many questions players might have, you try to design a sheet to convey some information.  I have a fancy character sheet but for new players I figured it would make more sense to use my older, simpler sheet:
You can tell by the size of things that the two most important datapoints for my game are your Life (hp) and your Armor (ac).  You'll also not there isn't even a place to write down xp or money.  This sheet is saying "umm, let's see if you survive this one shot before you get too attached."  Probably the most complicated part is the back:
I've found the single biggest consumer of time in character creation is shopping for gear, so I just wave my mighty DM hand and say you have all this gear already.  I do look longingly at some of the more random quick kit style systems that give each player different things they can work with, but the coolness of players having different toys hasn't outweighed for me the complexity it adds and the extra prep work (I'd need to print, cut out, and keep straight all those different kits).

Here is a pdf of these in case you want to try them out.
To allow for a little choice I then give them this sheet:
Ideally, this would be in a booklet I would hand to players.  I had one years ago (this page is actually formatted with big margins because it was in a digest sized booklet), but the last few years I've been spending more time with the same players who have survived the brutal early game and so i need character creation documents less often.

Because leather armor and a shield is a choice, everyone but magic-users pick them.  There is usually some group banter about what their third choice will be; who will get rope and who will get spikes etc.

Here's a pdf.

It does say choose a weapon and so I show them this sheet:

This is something I've revised several times.  I am really drawn not just to simplify by reducing the number of weapons available, but to make the ones available unique.  In other words if all weapons just do damage, then why not select the one that does the most?  Using the "shields shall be splintered" rule really gives single-handed weapons an attraction over more damaging two-handers.  I'm also still using the "godly people can't use sharp weapons" weird original rule so that gives blunts a reason to exist.  I have some notions for further differentiation.

I understand the impulse of the DM that says "hey if you want to have a bardiche, so be it, whatever you want," I just think that if the kind of weapon they have matters so little mechanically in the game you are actually depriving them of more than you are giving them by letting them play the warrior they imagine in their head.  I also understand the allure of "all weapons do d6 damage," but that is just a bit too abstract for me.  I think limiting things to, at most, 4 damage categories is simple enough for most new players.  Anyway, it's definitely still a work in progress.

You may notice my starting equipment sheet has a place to roll for money yet nothing to buy, but after character creation I let folks have a chance to hire hirelings.  I still use the system from this post.  It needs to be revised seeing as it has armor and weapons available to hirelings that are more 1e equivalents than my own system (no ringmail, for instance).  And we always roll up traits using this chart. Here is the sheet I give them to record their hireling info:
And the back doesn't have gear but just space to record what they will carry for you:
Here is a pdf.

Finally, clerics in my games use a different system of asking for miracles.  Here is the latest handout I use to help them track that:
Players get three glass beads to place where they want, the circles tell them what domino they need to draw from a pool to be successful.

I also have a page of spells for magic users that I haven't changed and a small booklet of possible miracles clerics can ask for which I can never find so I'm linking it here.

What else?  I decided not to let players roll for mental powers this time to keep things streamlined, but that is something I let folks do when they are more experienced with my game.

And Ihave a chart of player relationships that I edited down from one of B/X Blackrazors.  It's okay, I would like to revise that eventually too, though.  Anyway, that is all the documents I use in creating new characters in my games. 
And that pretty much sums up what I need for character creation in my game.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Silhouettes LVII - More Map Symbols

Here are some more icons for use on your campaign maps.  These are mostly taken from very famous buildings, which makes sense if you want something iconic.  These silhouettes are all in the public domain, you are free to use them as you wish.

A few could be mosques or temples:
Some cathedrals:
A tower and castle or keep:
a possible village house and a german forest house:
some pyramids and ruins:
a graveyard:

And a wagon drawn by mules:
That's probably a bit too modern for my games but it might pass for a trade icon on a pseudo-medieval map.

These have all been added as vector graphics to the zip file linked in my sidebar to the right.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Procedural Lockpicking Revisited

A few years back I offered an idea of a way to make lockpicking more engaging and interesting for players.  You can go back and read that post here.  The problem was some of the things I say in the post (like traps at certain points in the flow chart) make it so locks would have to be designed individually, like mini-dungeons.  Way too much work for it to be used by me.  Zak posted a simpler method of guessing using dice and Arkhein did something as well using cards.

Both are sharp mini-game solutions to the problem of needing to make locks.  Unfortunately they don't allow for something else I'd like in a solution, a way that players can get to know locks and feel like they are gaining expertise, not just their characters through abstract level bonuses.  Today I offer another attempt at it.

First, if we limit the number of actions involved to 3 (I'll use Bump, Probe, and Rake) and limit the "tumblers" of each lock to 3, and even further, say that no action is ever used in a row, then we can whittle down the possibilities to something more manageable and discoverable.  If I'm not mistaken the possibilities for these constraints with actions ABC should be:
  1. ABA
  2. ABC
  3. ACA
  4. ACB
  5. BAB
  6. BAC
  7. BCA
  8. BCB
  9. CAB
  10. CAC
  11. CBA
  12. CBC
Now, if we limit the types of locks players encounter we can roll on that table to assign these combinations to give our different campaigns different lock solutions. So you might end up with something like this:
  1. Tin          CAC
  2. Copper   ABA
  3. Brass      BAB
  4. Iron        CBC
  5. Steel       CAB
  6. Strange  ACB
Strange locks are anything weird: crystal, organic, mythril.

The procedure to pick a lock is pretty simple, you try an action and if you get it wrong the lock gets stiff, letting you know that.  If your second attempt is correct you get to go on to the next tumbler.  If your second guess is also wrong the lock jams and will have to be smashed off.  Here is a handout you can use to record the lock solutions for your world and give to players to record their guesses:

As you can see, I've decided that each lock type will have certain number of hit points representing durability; how much damage you have to do to just break them off. I left the action names blank so you can put in what you want (I suppose I should have done the same for the lock types).

The challenge here is to balance the complexity a player will have to encounter in trying to pick a lock and the diversity of locks available in the world.  This depends a lot on how many locks you have in your dungeons and how lucky players get.  They might figure out Tin locks the first time they encounter them and know them ever after.  But they might not.  I think I'll have to just playtest this and see how it works.

I should probably leave it at that until I try it out but I have a few more ideas.

Modifiers could increase lock diversity without increasing the complexity of solutions too much.  Here's what I was thinking:

Lock Modifiers
  1. Cracked – more forgiving, first step, any action works
  2. Worn – more forgiving, first jam doesn't happen
  3. Normal
  4. Banded – Twice as many hit points required to smash it off
  5. Corroded – less forgiving, wrong action goes straight to Jam
  6. Spiked – less forgiving, each wrong action results in 1hp damage to the lock picker
More Locks
Because there are 12 possibile solutions on our chart you could also add 6 more types of locks of just duplicate the default 6 but call them Goblin locks (goblin tin, goblin brass, etc) or Dwarvish locks or whatever.

Character Level
This system doesn't take into account levels at all, you might assign levels to locks by rolling a d10. So, for instance, giving you a 7th level iron lock.  You might assigning penalties and bonuses from the modifiers chart like, locks above the picker's level act as if they are corroded or locks below your level act as if they are worn.  But that might get a bit fiddly.

I like Zak's suggestion that every level you get one get out of a jam free card, but only one.  That might be simpler.  Again I'll have to try this out and see how fast the lock types get solved.  If half the types are still a mystery at 5th level then level might not even be much of an issue-- actual player knowledge standing in for the assumed character's skill increases.