Dead Simple Door Spikes

2022-09-12 • Updated 2022-09-18

A photograph of a dungeon door, partially open to outdoors. A portrait is in the darkness to its left. By Lois Romer.

Not quite big enough to be an AD&D door, but cool nonetheless.

It's pretty common for seasoned old-school D&D players to try and spike doors so they stay open (or shut). Spikes are found on equipment lists in many systems but I haven't seen many systems for how to run them.

In original AD&D, dungeon doors are special by default. They're huge (8' wide) and hard to open (or keep shut) for PCs, whereas the dungeon's denizens manipulate them with ease. If you're running the game by the book, characters need to roll to open every dungeon door by default (PHB 9, DMG 97). So AD&D players may be especially interested in spiking doors.

By the book, dungeon doors are also troublesome to keep open. In my campaign, doors shut the round after being opened unless a character spends the entire round doing nothing but keeping the door open.

Spikes are listed in the PHB for 1 cp, but their use is undefined. As a very gamist DM I dislike when something that regularly occurs is left to DM fiat. Spiking doors is apt to be a recurring event, and I want players to know their chances. Remember, with rules-before-rulings mentality, you're giving players the ability to gauge their chances constantly, not only through rulings.

Here's the system I created for my campaign:

A gamist system for spiking doors

Doors can be spiked open. It takes 1 round to add a spike. At least 1 wandering monster check will be made for every 1-2 spikes used. Spikes are not recoverable.

Wooden doors can be spiked open for d6 2d4+1 rounds (1 spike) or d6 2d4+1 turns (2 spikes). Stone and other very heavy doors require twice as many spikes. Metal and other particularly serious doors require three times as many spikes. Spikes in excess of the amount required for above durations have no effect.

A door which has a tendency to swing open on its own accord can be spiked closed in the same way.

Monsters ignore spikes. If they want a door open or closed, it complies.

I recommend the DM roll privately for spike durations.


What's this "at least" and "1-2" business all about? I thought this was supposed to be gamist?

How many wandering monster checks to make is scenario-based. I would default to one check for every odd number of spikes used. But if players are often doing 2-spike deals, you might want to spice it up on them with a bonus check sometime. Or if there happen to be a lot of monsters in adjacent rooms, you might want to make some extra checks. Players are entitled to know that what they're doing is loud and might attract monsters. They aren't entitled to know exactly how likely the attraction is given their particular situation, a situation in which they lack knowledge of many variables.

Why aren't spikes recoverable?

Because it makes the game better if they're an expendable resource to be managed (especially if you are correctly tracking encumbrance). At 1 cp, you can bet the cost won't be a limiting factor. One-time-use spikes. You buy the spike, you carry the spike, you use the spike. Done. Fast, easy, clean, simple.

Shouldn't heavier doors be held open for less time, rather than requiring more spikes?

You can do something like that too. Maybe d4 1d4+1 for stone doors and d2 1d2+1 for metal doors. Perhaps you might use this shorter duration if you want to allow one of those heavier doors to be spiked for a bit even though the characters didn't spend time to add the the amount of spikes needed for the full effect.

What do you mean, "Monsters ignore spikes?" What's your problem?

Hey man. That's how it goes. It's a rough & tumble world down there.

Update 2022-09-18: Decided to change spike duration from d6 rounds/turns to 2d4+1 rounds/turns. This is a bit more reliable, which I feel is deserved since the PCs are already paying in encumbrance and wandering monster checks. As a bell curve, it's also now more in line with the undead-turning duration, another duration which often ticks down out of the characters' vision causing them to wonder when it will expire.

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