D&D (2024) Searching and Safely Triggering Traps and Secret Doors


Crusty Old Meatwad (he/him)
Forget how you think the rules currently handle searching for traps and disarming them, and searching for secret doors and figuring out how to open them.

How do you think the new rules should handle these tasks, and how show they clarify the rules to make it clear that's how it works?

For me, I think Investigation should take more prominence in these tasks than the current clarifications spell out. Perception should be noticing a foe hidden or something else being "off" about something. But once you notice something or have decided to search something, Investigation should take over.

Are there other skills you think should be used for this in some circumstances, and if so what are those circumstances and how should WOTC provide that guidance in the rules?

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He'll flip ya...Flip ya for real...
This is an excellent question, but I'm not sure how to provide guidance. A lot of players just put their head down and punch their way through any situation. I wish exploration was more emphasized. I think this is something for the DMG or even a game mastery guide. However, I have seen it done in game by GMs before. Usually, by having a tag along NPC, that gives advice to players about trying things. There are cons to this, you dont want to have a tag along forever, nor do you want the NPC to do it themselves becoming a DMNPC.


Forget how you think the rules currently handle searching for traps and disarming them, and searching for secret doors and figuring out how to open them.
I don't feature a lot of traps in dungeons for one reason: I do not wish to return to the days where we'd spend a tedious amount of time checking every little nook & cranny for traps. So whatever method we come up with, just avoid the tedium.


He'll flip ya...Flip ya for real...
I don't feature a lot of traps in dungeons for one reason: I do not wish to return to the days where we'd spend a tedious amount of time checking every little nook & cranny for traps. So whatever method we come up with, just avoid the tedium.
I think there are two items to address here. The first is old school skill play where the players must search correctly in tedious detail. "You said search the desk, but not drawers!" The second is the binary nature of find trap or do not find trap. There simply is nothing more interesting to it.

I remember a fun encounter where the PCs got locked in a room with 4 levers. All four had to be turned in round to open the way forward. Mephits would swoop down from the ceiling and flip them back. PCs had to solve the issue to move forward.

I remember another where a chest was at the back of an enclave. If you didnt spot the trap, or disable it, it would destroy the contents. So, you had to work around the trap to save the goods.

Point is, there needs to be more than just spring or don't spring for traps. Also, it shouldn't boil down to an obnoxious level of minutia to encounter either.


IME, some traps are 'hidden' traps and some traps are 'interaction' traps.

The hidden ones are a surprise concealed thing that damages you for not having a good Perception. I don't like these. Not just because of the skill gate punishment, but also because they're the ones that usually get frustrating to the point the players drive a flock of sheep down every call and search every square.

The interaction ones might be hidden too, but they work more like puzzles, taking Investigation to get hints toward or outright solve. These would be prime candidates for a skill challenge.



Investigation should go away. Roll everything into Perception.

However, each time a trap/secret door/whatever is present in an adventure, it should include a statement about what the markers are - the visible (audible, etc) clues that indicate that it is there, and also how these can be detected (a casual glance, a detailed search). A successful check, or a described equivalent, will reveal the markers only. The DM should essentially never say "you find a trap" - it is for the player to realise that that is what they are seeing.

Once the player has determined a secret door or trap is present, they can attempt to trigger or block the mechanism, using a Thieves Tools check as is currently the case. Of course, that may mean they accidentally trigger a trap while trying to open a door, or block a door while trying to disable a trap.


Prince of Dorkness
The difference between using Investigation and Perception should be a case-by-case basis. A secret door along a wall or a trap in the middle of a corridor should be able to be discovered with Perception only (Active or Passive). But that same secret door hidden behind a tapestry, painting, or statue or a trap at the back of a desk drawer that only triggers when the drawer is pulled open should only be able to be found with Investigation.

As for surprise concealed traps, I guess the best way to prevent the players from searching every square inch of each room they enter is to give hints when there is something to be searched for. If the party enters a hallway and sees the charred remains of several humanoids on the floor, that should be a hint to start looking around.

But, I'm only a newbie in the DMing realm, so I haven't yet been able to put most of these suggestions to the test.


5e RAW has a pit-trap as being discovered by a Passive Perception of 10. Now, I don't know about you, but I've never seen a D&D character with a PP under 10, which means (on the surface) that ALL pit traps are discovered ALL THE TIME.

But are they? It was this conundrum that solidified my take on Passive Perception - which is: I use PP to remind me (as DM) to give out hints and details. For example, "A long hall stretches before you. Ten feet ahead, there's an area covered with scattered gravel" (if it's just a tarp concealed by gravel) or "with irregular floor-tiles" (if it's a step-on-the-stone and the floor opens-type pit). What I DON'T do is say, "There's a pit trap in front of you."

THEN, they can choose to ignore and walk forward (which I see quite a lot) or say, "I crouch down and take a look at that gravel/floor tiles".

In this way I actually prefer the DCs to be low, like the designers have made for 5e Pit Traps, because I don't actually WANT to just say "as you walk down the hall the floor opens in a pit - roll a dex save." with no chance for them to find it ahead of time. But I also don't want, "You spot a pit trap." That would suck.

SO... to answer: I'd like all that to be spelled out more explicitly. Or if they have something else in mind, tell us what it is. Because I think as things stand you'd see a lot of: 1) DMs raising the DC; 2) DMs just telling players they spot a trap; 3) DMs not bothering with traps.

I agree with the OP that after you spot the trap's "tell", then most checks involved would be Investigation, not Perception. (Or Thieves' Tools, to disarm).


Count me on the side of not only wanting to keep Perception and Investigation separate skills... but also removing Perception out of the trap/secret door equation altogether.

Granted, whether WotC did or did not do this doesn't actually matter in the long run because I'm going to run it how I want to run it regardless of what the rules say. But I personally think combining finding secret doors and traps into the same skill that is used for finding hidden creatures turns the Perception skill into the uber-skill that every single person will take and be the skill that gets called upon to roll more by the DM than every single other one. Which I think is a bad design decision personally.

For the entirety of 5E for me it has been rolling Perception to spot any living creature that moves around and attempts to become hidden via DEX (Stealth) checks... and rolling Investigation to discover any non-living object that someone else at some point in the past tried to disguise and cover over and make secret-- whether that be doors, traps, compartments, hidden objects, etc. If you are hiding yourself, other creatures use Perception to find you. If you are hiding something else, other creatures use Investigation to find it.

And I don't foresee any point in the future where I wouldn't run things in this way.


I didn't really touch on Secret Doors.


The thing about secret doors is a thing that mostly goes with dungeons. They're there for shortcuts and to conceal treasure, but... they're at best a sometimes food because... most places have no real need of secret doors. Secret compartments? Sure. but not really secret doors.

By nature these are hidden, so Perception could be the brute force way of finding them, but Investigation (to think of the psychology of where someone would put their hidden compartment or latch for a hidden door would be the preferred method.

I'm actually a fan of never letting one skill be the only way to meet a challenge, so magical concealment might allow Arcana to figure things out might be on the menu. Depending on one skill when you can garuntee the party will have it or actually be good at it beyond the ability of a naked 20 roll just poses a 'you can't get there from here' issue.

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