Secret doors - how?

Lorion

Explorer
Hi there,

how do you people handle secret doors? Say your group wanders through a passageway and comes across a secret door. Do you automatically let them make a Perception/Search/whatever check to see if they notice it? Roll in secret behind the dm screen? How do you handle it?
Reading through Keep on the Shadowfell left me with the impression that players only get a chance to notice secret doors if they actively search for them. But how do they know when to search when there are no obvious signs of a secret door?

Cheers, Marcus
 
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frankthedm

First Post
But how do they know when so search when there are no obvious signs of a secret door?
They are not supposed to know! That’s the purpose of it being a “secret” door.

They might find reason to search for secret doors after they notice wandering monsters seem to just appear in a room they thought was empty or by following the trail of a dungeon denizen.

Otherwise I'd assume the players Passive Perception check is compared to the Secret door's DC.
 

Lorion

Explorer
They are not supposed to know! That’s the purpose of it being a “secret” door.

Well, yes. But that on the other hand does imply that (just a guess) 9 out of 10 secret doors will never be found, doesn't it? There may the the rare exception (like the possibility of suddenly vanishing monsters you mention - but that's clearly not always possible) but most of the time the players will never notice the dm's cool secret door?

Edit: I don't really understand why this was moved to the 4E forums, as my questions are not really 4E-specific. I wondered about this in 3E, too :)
 
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baberg

First Post
Well, yes. But that on the other hand does imply that (just a guess) 9 out of 10 secret doors will never be found, doesn't it? There may the the rare exception (like the possibility of suddenly vanishing monsters you mention - but that's clearly not always possible) but most of the time the players will never notice the dm's cool secret door?

Pretty much, yeah. If they're doors that you can identify with Passive Perception (i.e. just glancing around a room) they're not very secret, are they?
 

Pretty much, yeah. If they're doors that you can identify with Passive Perception (i.e. just glancing around a room) they're not very secret, are they?

But only really perceptive people are going to be able to identify them, unless the DC's are really low. But the average person looking around a room is going to have a Passive Perception of 10. No secret door finding there. But a high wisdom ranger(with perception) at level one has a perception of 18. That, could find a hidden door.
 

Lorion

Explorer
Thanks for the answers so far! :)
Huh... is there any special way to encourage players to search for secret doors in a reasonable way, without slowing down the game too much? If there is no other way for the players to notice the possibility of a secret door, what keeps the players from searching every square adjacent to a wall (other than "not being a game slowing fool")? I mean, if they don't check every square, they will definately miss many secret-door-opportunities.

Cheers, Marcus
 

baberg

First Post
Agreed - I've got a rogue with a passive perception of 16 in my game right now. If the door is poorly hidden or there are tracks that vanish into the wall, he'll see it no problem without a search. If he's actively searching the +6 helps him, but it's going to take a 14+ on the d20 to find a well-hidden door at level 1.

Again, the secret is for the DM to give enough hints that there's a secret door somewhere, or to make sure the DCs are low enough that passive perception can pick it up (blood trails or well-defined tracks in the dust leading through a wall, etc)

is there any special way to encourage players to search for secret doors in a reasonable way, without slowing down the game too much?
Plenty of ways. Remember, most secret doors have a secret opening mechanism. An out-of-place book on a bookshelf (or an out-of-place bookshelf itself), tracks in the dust that lead through a wall, tapestries that are more worn out than others, a row of torch sconces where there's one torch missing... Also there's the chase scenario where you're following a goblin deep into their lair only to come upon a dead end. That pretty much screams "hidden door".

Hidden doors are only fun if they're discovered, so it's the DMs job to make sure they can be discovered by PCs who are paying attention.
 
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Saeviomagy

Adventurer
Passive perception to pick it up without searching. Active perception if they search the room. None of this "I want to search the following 5 foot squares, and my rolls are 25, 13, 3, 6,...".

They search the room, they make the check. If they fail it, they don't find it.

Same way I'm not going to require search checks every 5' of corridor: the players say they want to search, they roll perception once.

Possible clues for a secret door can be: Markings on the wall (after all - even if it's a secret door you don't want to look stupid trying to open the wrong bit), tracks, notes (think how many people you know write down their passwords to things: a quick note like "big shelf, 3, 2" can make for a sensible secret door riddle), obvious incongruities (wait - this bookshelf in the moron ogres junked-up den has a book on it! This is the only torch sconce in the dungeon with no torch! etc).

It depends how much you need the players to find the door - plenty of secret doors can remain hidden to no effect. If the players NEED to find it, you should probably make sure that they do.
 

cmrscorpio

Explorer
Personally, I never throw in secret doors unless the PCs have a reason for looking for them. The above mentioned "monsters getting behind PCs without them knowing" technique is one I often use. Secret treasure rooms are used only if the PCs have information that might lead them to search, such as they find a journal mentioning a hidden vault.

I also use the secret doors as a quick escape. Maybe the PCs pass a well hidden door as they make their way through the dungeon, but then the twisting maze turns itself around and the PCs find an obvious door that is the other side of the secret door.
 

Thasmodious

First Post
The way I've been doing it is to just use the passive perception score like you do for any other hidden or concealed features or creatures of the area. For the very perceptive, they might notice a secret door. Sometimes, with a well hidden door or one that involves some work to get open (like a trap or skill challenge), I might place clues in the area with lower DCs, like a faint hint of tracks leading right toward a wall or a scuff mark that could be made from a door swinging open. Secret doors are there to be found, after all.

As far as actively searching, which my old school gamers do in every room in every edition of the game, I tend to use one active search roll for the whole room, whether its to notice a loose floorboard, a secret door, a trap behind a statue, hidden treasure, whatever. One roll to find them all.
 

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