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D&D 5E 5th ed D&D general impressions from a new player and DM.

Looking out at the room I'm in, I'm sitting at a table with a pile of papers, there's a puzzle box, another large flat square box and what looks to be a notebook on some kind of stand. To one side of the room there are chairs in a circle, a curio cabinet filled with knick-knacks, and a circle of chairs with a table in the middle. The table has two layers with various books, papers and miscellaneous items on it. Between the chairs are small end tables with drawers. Along one wall is a kitchen with ... well you get the idea.

So how do I describe where I'm searching? Do I have to start with the kitchen table? With the pile of papers? The notebook? The puzzle box or the large square box (it holds puzzles in progress because cats). That's just the kitchen table. Do I describe searching each of the 4 end tables? The curio cabinet? The table? All the pictures on the wall? Oh, did I forget to mention those, what about the clock on the mantle?

Okay that was exciting. But wait! I haven't even gotten started on the kitchen, what do you mean you don't search the freezer I forgot to mention?

I see no value in saying "I'm searching the dresser". If there's a dresser in the room and I'm doing a thorough search, of course I'll search the dresser. I don't see why going through a checklist of every object and potential hiding place described adds any value.

I mean, you do you. I'd rather give the players an overview, get a general idea of their approach and then focus in on things that matter. So I'd describe a cluttered great room with kitchen table, chairs around a table, a kitchen. If doing a quick search being careful not to disturb anything you'll notice something laying out. Maybe with a decent perception check you'll notice the trap door in the floor for the electrical outlets. If doing a thorough search, it's going to take a while because it's a big room with a lot of potential hiding places. But then I'll do a mini "skill challenge" that focuses on searching the couch cushions with a chance to notice the hidden trap and so on. Basically give flavor for the room, but only focus on details and actions that matter.

Unless your PCs only ever have to search small barren rooms, specifying exactly what their search and how would be tedious at best, boring at worst for me.

P.S. Just to be clear: I'm not the messy one but I've given up.
Careful, you're treading on the "one-true-wayism" path that you so often rail against. "[Your way] would be tedious at best, boring at worst" is not a good look. And, no, adding "for me" at the end does not make the insult ok.

Please stop if you aren't looking to discuss in a way that actually shows you'd like to understand a different way to play or respectfully explain how you play differently.
 

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Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Careful, you're treading on the "one-true-wayism" path that you so often rail against. "[Your way] would be tedious at best, boring at worst" is not a good look. And, no, adding "for me" at the end does not make the insult ok.

Please stop if you aren't looking to discuss in a way that actually shows you'd like to understand a different way to play or respectfully explain how you play differently.
It's been a long week and it's only Wednesday. Sorry.

However, my point stands. If it's a small room and there's 5 things to search, why am I not just going to go down the list? What value does it add? In my real world example there are probably a couple dozen places to search and that's just one room. I didn't even mention the pictures on the wall. How do you describe searching a curio cabinet filled with miscellaneous knick-knacks?

If it works for you, great. I've just never had anyone explain how it would work if a room has anything other than a bed and a dresser ... and if that's all there is why wouldn't I just search the bed and the dresser? If you mentioned a bed, a dresser and a picture on the wall and the safe is in the wall behind the picture, do I just not find the safe because I forgot the picture was there or I missed that in your description? How do you go into enough detail so people actually know what to search?

It's an honest question. How would you have someone search that very simple room much less anything as cluttered as my great room?

But this is also nothing new. Back in ye olden days I had a DM ask me to describe how my rogue was picking the lock. I mean, how the heck would I know? My PC is the rogue (well, thief back then) he's the one who knows how, not me.
 

It's been a long week and it's only Wednesday. Sorry.

However, my point stands. If it's a small room and there's 5 things to search, why am I not just going to go down the list? What value does it add? In my real world example there are probably a couple dozen places to search and that's just one room. I didn't even mention the pictures on the wall. How do you describe searching a curio cabinet filled with miscellaneous knick-knacks?

If it works for you, great. I've just never had anyone explain how it would work if a room has anything other than a bed and a dresser ... and if that's all there is why wouldn't I just search the bed and the dresser? If you mentioned a bed, a dresser and a picture on the wall and the safe is in the wall behind the picture, do I just not find the safe because I forgot the picture was there or I missed that in your description? How do you go into enough detail so people actually know what to search?

It's an honest question. How would you have someone search that very simple room much less anything as cluttered as my great room?

But this is also nothing new. Back in ye olden days I had a DM ask me to describe how my rogue was picking the lock. I mean, how the heck would I know? My PC is the rogue (well, thief back then) he's the one who knows how, not me.

It honestly doesn't get any clearer than the example @Charlaquin provided to you:

With one simple sentence: “I thoroughly search the dresser for anything useful or valuable,” you’ve clearly communicated a goal and approach with a reasonable degree of
specificity. I would have enough information there to resolve that action.

A party of 4 or 5 characters can easily divide and conquer searching a room in this way, if that's really what they want to do. The DM is not going into long soliloquys about complex rooms. A DM should just describe maybe a handful of key features, perhaps telegraphing the most important ones in some manner, and find out what the players want to do. Then resolve the action and we're on to the DM describing the new fiction as a result of the room search activity. Time pressure can be the DM's friend here.

And, no, we don't expect players to describe how to use thieves' tools.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/They)
However, my point stands. If it's a small room and there's 5 things to search, why am I not just going to go down the list?
You certainly can, if that’s what you want to do. That might have different potential consequences than just searching one - if nothing else, it will take longer.
What value does it add?
I’ve mentioned several things. Eliminating the need for “phantom rolls,” as @DM Dave1 put it, was the thing that initially made me bring it up. Players being specific in their action declarations makes it easier for me to adjudicate the results, without needing to make assumptions. I find it helps make the action less abstract. I mentioned earlier, it encourages me to be economical in my description and my players to pay attention to my description. The benefits are many and varied.
In my real world example there are probably a couple dozen places to search and that's just one room. I didn't even mention the pictures on the wall. How do you describe searching a curio cabinet filled with miscellaneous knick-knacks?
“I search the curio cabinet for anything useful or valuable”? It’s pretty simple.
If it works for you, great. I've just never had anyone explain how it would work if a room has anything other than a bed and a dresser ... and if that's all there is why wouldn't I just search the bed and the dresser?
Again, you can if you want to. That will of course take more time than searching just one or the other. You have to weigh the potential costs and benefits of your actions and make decisions about how to proceed.
If you mentioned a bed, a dresser and a picture on the wall and the safe is in the wall behind the picture, do I just not find the safe because I forgot the picture was there or I missed that in your description?
I mean... If you don’t look behind the picture, sure. Again, encouraging the players to pay attention to the description of the environment is one of the benefits of this approach in my opinion. Also remember you’ll likely have 3 or 4 other people in your party, so if you miss a detail, one of them might remember. You can also split the work this way, with each person searching in a different location to save time. That’d be smart play.
How do you go into enough detail so people actually know what to search?
By use of telegraphing. I could probably find you some blog posts and things about how to do so if you really want a detailed breakdown of such narration techniques.
It's an honest question. How would you have someone search that very simple room much less anything as cluttered as my great room?
That’s up to the players. My role is to describe the environment and resolve the players’ actions, not to decide what actions they “should” take.
But this is also nothing new. Back in ye olden days I had a DM ask me to describe how my rogue was picking the lock. I mean, how the heck would I know? My PC is the rogue (well, thief back then) he's the one who knows how, not me.
Look, I’m sorry you’ve had bad gaming experiences in the past, but I’m not your old DM and I don’t ask people to describe how they pick locks. Or to describe how they do any actions really, it’s a matter of reasonable specificity of goal and approach, not detailed description. I don’t know how else I can explain it that will make you understand the difference.
 

My approach is that if you say, specifically, "I look under the bed," and there's something under the bed, no roll. If you say "I search the room," you roll. I feel this rewards clever players without punishing less clever players with good stats.

I have a player who takes a both-and approach. Regardless of the outcome of the roll, he continues asking me increasingly detailed, minute question about every fixture, fully convinced that, despite rolling a 19 on the search and discovering 5 +2 arrows, a gem worth 2000 gp, and the fallen paladin's journal there must still be something yet hidden that requires no less than thirty questions to uncover (spoiler: there's not, nor has there ever been).
 

Asisreo

Fiendish Attorney
If it's a small room and there's 5 things to search, why am I not just going to go down the list? What value does it add?
I apologize if I somehow upset you. But I'll say that my method isn't nearly as tedious as you may be assuming.

For one, I often have both good things and bad things with the stuff I call out. Yeah, that bump could be a hatch but it could also be a trap. That's why I ask, to keep the mystery alive. Its easy for the DM to feel like they're asking for too much but the player would probably appreciate not having the DM assume you trigger a trap out of nowhere.
How do you describe searching a curio cabinet filled with miscellaneous knick-knacks?
"I want to search the curio cabinet." "Alright, you find so-and-so," is enough for me. I don't necessarily need to know every motion, just give me a general rundown so I can accurately tell you how treasures, creatures, traps, and hazards would react to you engaging with them. A monster might have two different reactions depending on how you open its door.
I've just never had anyone explain how it would work if a room has anything other than a bed and a dresser ... and if that's all there is why wouldn't I just search the bed and the dresser?
Traps. Or perhaps you don't want to piss off the princess. I'm sure "I saw a bed and a dresser so I obviously had to rummage through it and see what's underneath it!" isn't going to fly.
If you mentioned a bed, a dresser and a picture on the wall and the safe is in the wall behind the picture, do I just not find the safe because I forgot the picture was there or I missed that in your description?
Yeah. I'm more than happy to repeat the information if you say "Oh, I forgot what you said. Can you repeat what's in the room?" Other than that, I can't really do much more than talk clearly and hope you're taking your own notes. Hopefully, not all 4 of our players forget all of the items at the same time.

Also, I never put anything mandatory behind anything in my games. The safe is always something extra. The player not finding it immediately isn't a big deal. Maybe the princess talks to the party and reveals it herself and the party goes "whoa, was that there the whole time?" "Yep." "No way, that's so cool DM. You're so amazing and prepared DM!"
 

TwoSix

Unserious gamer
However, my point stands. If it's a small room and there's 5 things to search, why am I not just going to go down the list? What value does it add? In my real world example there are probably a couple dozen places to search and that's just one room. I didn't even mention the pictures on the wall. How do you describe searching a curio cabinet filled with miscellaneous knick-knacks?
I agree with you, but I'm primarily coming at it as a DM. I'm a low-prep, high-improv DM, and coming up with interesting room dressing on the fly is hard enough. If I detail something in an environment, it's almost always important.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/They)
My approach is that if you say, specifically, "I look under the bed," and there's something under the bed, no roll. If you say "I search the room," you roll. I feel this rewards clever players without punishing less clever players with good stats.
I think this is a good balance. For my part, if a player in my game says they search the whole room as thoroughly as possible for (whatever they’re looking for), I think that’s pretty reasonably specific. It definitely has a chance of failure, and assuming there’s some kind of time pressure (which in my game there generally is) and the thing they’re looking for is there to be found, I’ll call for a Wisdom check to see if their search turns it up. But as such a search will be time consuming and have a chance of failure, it’s generally a less effective strategy than looking specifically in places you think it’s likely to be. If I’ve done my job well, you should have at least some idea of where specifically to look.
I have a player who takes a both-and approach. Regardless of the outcome of the roll, he continues asking me increasingly detailed, minute question about every fixture, fully convinced that, despite rolling a 19 on the search and discovering 5 +2 arrows, a gem worth 2000 gp, and the fallen paladin's journal there must still be something yet hidden that requires no less than thirty questions to uncover (spoiler: there's not, nor has there ever been).
Oof, that’s rough.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/They)
I agree with you, but I'm primarily coming at it as a DM. I'm a low-prep, high-improv DM, and coming up with interesting room dressing on the fly is hard enough. If I detail something in an environment, it's almost always important.
Emphasis added. That’s a good point. I’m a high-prep DM, and while I’m decent at improv, I prefer not to rely on it unless I have to. I think my strategy would definitely be harder for a low-prep, high-improv DM. For such a style, a more storygame approach where the result of a dice roll determines whether there’s anything to be found rather than whether you find a thing that was planned by the DM to be there might be a more effective strategy.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
So ... I didn't mean to derail the thread on my personal rant and if you get narrative searching to work that's fantastic. :blush:

But I don't like the descriptive narration of searching from both angles. Like @TwoSix, there's a lot of times when I'm basically improvising. If I do descriptive searching, as a DM I now need to come up with details for areas that I just made up on the fly.

Second, if stating that "I look under the bed" means that I automatically find whatever's under the bed, I'd probably be like @fearsomepirate's problematic player and want to specify everything possible. I got a 19 on my investigation check, but maybe, just maybe I had to get a 20 to find that folded up portable hole attached to the bottom of the chair. Because if searching my great room, it's not just the curio cabinet, it's multiple "areas of interest" just on the kitchen table much less the rest of the room. You can divide and conquer and it wouldn't take long in game time but real world time at the table? It would take longer than I want.

I just can't imagine how I would make if fun or better to have a narrative search for something like my house. If it's "I search the great room" then it's going to be a question of how long do you want to take. Quick glance? Roll a check for each room. Then it just depends on how much time and the situation where a more thorough check can be anywhere from passive with disadvantage, passive, passive with advantage all the way up to what we used to call take 20.

Only in cases where something is trapped or for some other reason it's unusual do we pull out the dice for anything but a quick search. Narration, description and obstacles only need to happen in those scenes where the general search has uncovered something that needs that level of detail.

But I think I'd have to watch a video/stream where someone actually did the narrative search well because I don't know how to do it without getting bogged down or feel like I'm potentially playing "gotcha" as a DM. I mean, if the McGuffin is hidden under a loose floorboard how would people know to look there unless they always check the floor in every room? Maybe you missed it when I mentioned multiple paintings on wall and didn't realize I had missed it so don't think to ask what I missed.

If you get it to work, great. If you can point me to something I can watch/listen to that you think is a good example maybe I can learn something. Until then, I'm not telling anyone they're doing it wrong, I just don't see how to do narrative searches well.
 

Asisreo

Fiendish Attorney
Imagine the same scenario with combat and maybe it becomes clear what I mean.

Lets say a new player is going through their first combat. Well, you say the goblins are planning to attack and they say they want to fight back. Now, you could resolve the combat here, but you'd be missing some important details that could help later down the line, like HP and slots used. So you just continue combat.

Its their turn and you ask what they do. "I fight," they say. Okay, well what does that look like? "I poke them with my rapier!" is much better but that still leaves which goblin they're targetting. "I use my rapier to poke the goblin with the green sash." Ah, perfect. Now I know exactly how to resolve the action. Roll the attack and damage roll to see if you hit or do damage.

Now, it certainly took more time going through the whole "I fight. Okay well I attack. Okay, well I attack with my rapier. Okay well, I attack with my rapier at the goblin with the green sash." But over time, the player gets used to it. But they didn't have to say exactly how they swung or how they positioned their elbow.

The same thing with searching a room. You don't have to literally talk about every nook and cranny but you also can't expect a pass just from your declaration being broad. You wouldn't let the players say "I win the adventure." Even though, at the end of the day, that's what they were going to do anyways.
 

Second, if stating that "I look under the bed" means that I automatically find whatever's under the bed, I'd probably be like @fearsomepirate's problematic player and want to specify everything possible. I got a 19 on my investigation check, but maybe, just maybe I had to get a 20 to find that folded up portable hole attached to the bottom of the chair.

At my table, if you make a roll, there are no more chances. The ability check typically represents 10 minutes of due diligence. You've done your best, and if you failed, you failed. There's no trying again with better light, or with help, or switching to detail searching, or whatever. Time to move on. There are also wandering monster checks every 10 minutes. And if you're rolling, you search the whole room; I have too many damn rooms and you bastards just took 90 minutes to kill three goblins to make you roll per armoire.

The mechanics I use are pretty clear-cut, this player just always tries to pull detail out of me after a turn is resolved and I say, "there is nothing interesting here." Like I'll tell him a clay pot is boring and dumb and he'll proceed to ask me whether there are ancient runes carved on it that give him hints about the vampire's ancestry.

There are not.

It's a pot.

It's clay.

I guess it's brown.
 
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Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/They)
Second, if stating that "I look under the bed" means that I automatically find whatever's under the bed, I'd probably be like @fearsomepirate's problematic player and want to specify everything possible. I got a 19 on my investigation check, but maybe, just maybe I had to get a 20 to find that folded up portable hole attached to the bottom of the chair.
Notably, at my table you would know if you needed a 20 to find what you were looking for or not, because I tell my players the DC when I ask for checks.
But I think I'd have to watch a video/stream where someone actually did the narrative search well because I don't know how to do it without getting bogged down or feel like I'm potentially playing "gotcha" as a DM. I mean, if the McGuffin is hidden under a loose floorboard how would people know to look there unless they always check the floor in every room?
Well, the fact that I specifically mentioned there was a loose floorboard when I don’t normally do that would be a pretty good indicator. I also use context cues, which are hard to express in these brief examples, which lack such context.
If you get it to work, great. If you can point me to something I can watch/listen to that you think is a good example maybe I can learn something. Until then, I'm not telling anyone they're doing it wrong, I just don't see how to do narrative searches well.
I don’t know about a video or recording of such play (in my experience, actual plays tend to be more focused on social interaction than exploration), but here’s an excerpt from an angry GM article about telegraphing. It’s focused on traps, but the same basic set of principles applies - intentional placement, foreshadowing, context cues, etc. Spoiler tagging it because it’s a bit long (and it’s just one segment of the whole article, most of which is pretty good, though some bits I think haven’t aged well).

How to Scream “Here There Be Traps”​

Recently, my players were exploring an ancient tomb. As they walked along a hallway, they came to a place where seismic activity had damaged the masonry and exposed the bare rock behind the walls. The hallway was a disjointed ruin. It seemed like just flavor text. And then, an arrow trap! Click! Wham! Ouch!

After the arrow trap went off and healing spells had been administered, the players searched for the trap. And they discovered the trap was a simple trip wire and hand crossbow that been hidden amongst the rubble. It wasn’t part of the original tomb. It had been added and concealed by the damage. The player put it together very quickly. The current tomb robbers (which the players had been sent to deal with) had set up traps so they could plunder undisturbed. And they could only set traps where the damage to the dungeon allowed them to conceal traps.

WHICH IS EXACTLY HOW I PLANNED IT.

Sometimes, it takes players a few tries to figure out the patterns in my trap placement. Sometimes, they never stumble on it. But there is ALWAYS a pattern to my trap placement. And, right off the bat, I try to warn players about the traps. Sometimes, they will encounter a sprung trap and a corpse. And they can examine the trap carefully and figure out the clues. Other times, I will place a trap in a place where I know they can survive the trap and retreat if need be. That tomb trap was literally the first encounter in the tomb. It was basically just inside the door.

You can do this any number of ways.

For example, imagine you have a dungeon that contains traps. When the party walks between certain statues, spears shoot out of the floor and stab them. The trap isn’t in the statues. And the dungeon is full of statues. And many statues don’t have traps nearby. But the traps always come between statues. If the players examine the statues, they will discover that the ones near traps have their swords and shields reversed. They are left-handed. If they don’t ask about that detail, don’t reveal it outright. But they will probably be nervous about walking between ANY pairs of statues for a while.

You want several layers of detail is the point. There should be a detail that warns that there COULD be a trap if they pay attention to the flavor text. And then you want another layer of detail that gives a more specific answer and makes it really easy to guess where the traps are. That layer of detail is the one the players have to ask about. They have to stop and purposely examine things.

And this actually makes logical sense. Remember, when someone builds traps, they need a way around those traps. Even if it is just so they can get out after they finish arming the traps. Visual clues, hidden switches, tiny details that only they know to look for? Those are the equivalent of a password system.

And traps are expensive and time consuming to create. No one puts traps everywhere. They put them where they will do the most good. Or harm. Depending on which side of the swinging blade you’re on. In my tomb, for example, the raiders were kobolds. Classic trap builders. And there were some passages of the tomb where the ceiling had collapsed and they were in bright sunlight. Kobolds hate sunlight and they are dazzled by it. Those are the hallways they couldn’t guard or patrol. And that’s why they set traps along those halls.

See? It’s very deliberate.

If you place traps at random in your game, you teach your players that there’s no art to finding traps. They either have to guess randomly or search everywhere. If your traps are deliberate and telegraphed, and if they reward attentive players, they are interesting. They are fun. They teach the players that you will reward them for being attentive and smart.

I’ll note that I actually disagree with Angry about not telling the players the trapped statues swords and shields are reversed unless they ask. That’s “you didn’t say you were looking up” nonsense if you ask me. But otherwise I agree with the general techniques here.

An example of how I’ve use these techniques with hidden items: in my modified take on Death House from Curse of Strahd, there are several firearms hidden throughout the house. The first time one might be found is in the coat closet in the foyer. If players are exploring thoroughly, they’re likely to open the closet. In the closet is coats, a top hat, a box of gunpowder and ammunition, and a “secret” panel in the wall which has fallen open, with a musket inside. Throughout the rest of the house, there are several more firearms hidden. All in places it would make logical sense to hide a gun (folks from gun-owning families will likely have some basic sense of this), and moreover, there’s always an obvious box of powder and ammo near where a gun is hidden. Players who pay attention may notice this pattern, and when they see a box of powder and ammo, know there’s a firearm hidden somewhere nearby. Even if they don’t know precisely where to look, they should have enough of a general idea where to start looking
 

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