D&D 5E How do you handle secret doors?


Well, first I rub my elf up and down and along the walls that I'm searching. When it beeps, I point my barbarian at the wall and it either opens, or explodes, causing minor damage to my barbarian, and then opens.

Cheers, Al'kelhar

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D&D Playtester for WoTC since 2012
As DM how i run them will depend on their nature. If i determine there is a chance for it to be spot, i will use passive Perception, unless it's concealed and not detectable without research. If player search for one, i will ask for either an active Perception (Wisdom) check or Intelligence (Investigation) check depending if they go about with senses or deduction.

Once a secret door is found, the way to open it may or may not be known. If it's not the case, then i will ask for either an active Perception (Wisdom) check or Intelligence (Investigation) check to see if they find or otherwise deduce the way to open it.

I've read a good article not long ago on it giving all sorts of good exemples on the type of doors, clues to reveal them or triggers to open if it may be of interest to you them. How to Run Secret Doors & Passages in 5e D&D


In 5e, there is no default procedure for secret doors afaik.

I ask my players to describe exactly what they are doing, and if they are doing a thing that might reasonably find the secret door, I'll let them find it and describe how the opening mechanism is hidden (so they could use again if they want). If they are doing something sort of close, then I'll let them roll perception or investigation.

How do you handle?

I give Secret Doors a "Hidden DC" number then compare to PC's Passive Perception. If theirs is higher, I'll mention something like... "As you make your way through the slanted corridor, Bearkiller smells something that reminds him of burnt meat, about half way down". Then it's up to the Players to interpret.

IF they suspect there is a Secret/Hidden door, I will roll a Perception check for them to see if anyone figures out WHERE the Secret/Hidden door is, adjustments based on where on the map and how they go about trying to detect the location.

IF someone figured it out, then they roll an Investigation check to see if they find where and how to open said portal.

Or the Wizard casts Knock, or the Barbarian starts smashing through the door. Whatever works I guess. ;)


Paul L. Ming


If characters are taking the correct specific measures, in my game they'll automatically find it. If they are making a general search in the right area, I'll have them make a roll - Perception to locate, actual trial and error or an Investigation check to get it open.

I never allow passive Perception to find secret doors, rules be damned*. The players at least have to have their mind on the task - though I will allow passive if they're willing to move at half speed to check as they go - but they have to tell me their willing to focus their attention like this.

* unless they have a specific race or class ability that makes note of the ability in some way.


If they are "searching" the area where the door is, a Wisdom (Perception) check to find it, an Intelligence (Investigation) to figure out how open it. If they aren't in the right area, they still roll (for the sake of appearances), but automatically fail.
my groups have fallen into "If the DC is less then the passive perception of a PC they auto see it if they are not rushing" and "Actively looking for one is PC choice of better of Perception or Investigation"


Guide of Modos
I had a similar question a few months ago. You might find that thread useful:

And here are some older threads with more advice:

There is, actually, in the DMG, pp. 103-104.

Secret Doors
A secret door is crafted to blend into the wall that surrounds it. Sometimes faint cracks in the wall or scuff marks on the floor betray the secret door’s presence.

Detecting a Secret Door. Use the characters’ passive Wisdom (Perception) scores to determine whether anyone in the party notices a secret door without actively searching for it. Characters can also find a secret door by actively searching the location where the door is hidden and succeeding on a Wisdom (Perception) check. To set an appropriate DC for the check, see chapter 8.

Opening a Secret Door. Once a secret door is detected, a successful Intelligence (Investigation) check might be required to determine how to open it if the opening mechanism isn’t obvious. Set the DC according to the difficulty guidelines in chapter 8.

If adventurers can’t determine how to open a secret door, breaking it down is always an option. Treat it as a locked door made of the same material as the surrounding wall, and use the guidelines in the Running the Game section to determine appropriate DCs or statistics.
5 editions of D&D, and this is what we get?

Thank gods for ENworld. Now who wants to edit the official ENworld GM Guide, packed with all of our collective wisdom?

Or is that book already the Level Up DMG? Who can quote the secret doors section?

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