Handling Searches by Diceroll

SEARCHING FOR THINGS can be a pain for both players and game masters alike. As a DM, I really try to leave as much up to the player’s imagination as possible. In the perfect world, I suppose that I would fully dress a room, but to be honest, I just don’t care enough to dress it in anything more then generalities. Not to mention that I play my games during the Victorian era, and those folks loved cluttering every corner of their rooms up with stuff. I simply couldn’t do it! Thus I just describe a room briefly, let the party know what they can safely assume a room is used for, describe the largest pieces of furniture, and maybe one or two things that catch their eyes at a glance. It is up to them to really drag what is in the room out of me.

The worst possible thing that could happen though is that they start searching the place, which gives them a slim chance of finding something, if anything is there. What exactly does this mean? That is what I intend to figure out today.


The biggest factor in searching for stuff like concealed doors, stashes of money, or clues, is the time that is involved in performing this action. Time affects two major aspects of the game. The first is Magic. Most spells are time sensitive, we have to know exactly how much time that the characters are going to spend looking for something, we must not ever forget to subtract this time from either spells or other time sensitive issues that can come up in a game.

The second thing that we should consider is the DM’s dream of “The Living World”. Are the characters snooping around where they don’t belong? Usually, they are! And for instances like this, we need to know the base chance of the person returning to catch the players red-handed. Alternatively, somebody else might spy this action going on as well and interrupt them, be it a guest, servant, or wandering monster.


I am sure that there are grumpy ol Dungeon Masters out there who would say that this whole system is weak. I can’t deny that! A player CAN open drawers and tap on walls, I’m not saying that this system isn’t lazy, however, it IS practical. Players love to pull this one, and they should be able to, after all, it is in the Players Handbook. We should keep to the rules, but, I feel that these rules can be expanded upon.

That said; let’s keep it as simple as possible. Something that we can remember without the need for any new “house rules” written down on paper. We’ll simply turn the search into an action, chopping it up into three different forms of search.

  • Brief Search
  • Regular Search
  • Thorough Search

Depending on how much time and energy a group wants to put forth an effort, determines different factors. This IS an action, and the party will continue doing this action until they are caught or interrupted. If they are caught or interrupted it will change their base chance of finding what they are looking for. It also changes how big of a mess that they are making, and increasing their chances of being discovered, even after the fact.


For every minute searching, the party will gain a 1% chance of finding whatever is hidden in the room. If the party knows exactly what they are looking for, or state specifically what they are searching for, then they get a 2% chance per minute of finding it if it is in the room.

For every two minutes spent searching, there may be a 1% chance of being discovered, depending on if they belong there or not.


To conduct a brief search, first all players involved must state this intention. Brief searches can take between 1 to 10 minutes. For each person in the party who is actively searching, the party gets a bonus of +1 (example: 4 people search a room for 10 minutes, they have a 14% chance of finding something which may be hidden.)

Brief searches are fast and simply looking at objects which are in plain view. They don’t open drawers or ruffle through personal property; they are merely examining the room for surface clues and items which are left out.


A Standard Search can take between 11 to 20 minutes, plus additional 1% bonus per member actively searching. This kind of search is more invasive. It details moving objects around, looking in drawers and chests, looking under beds, tapping walls, and looking through property.

Standard searches can locate objects which are not in plain view, but not hidden very well either. This includes concealed doors, but excludes secret doors.

The owner of the room may realize that someone has gone through his/her stuff, unless the party is taking special care to keep their activities clean; i.e. shutting cabinets and drawers and leaving the place the way that they found it. If they don’t state this, a wisdom check on the part of the victim will result in them being aware that their stuff has been tampered with. If a 1 is rolled, they probably know exactly who it was that did it. If any items are taken as a result of the search, then the victim will always know that they have been robbed and will take appropriate action. They may not know WHO stole from them, but they will know that they were robbed.


The Thorough Search can take anywhere from a half hour to an hour. While it gives better results, the chances of getting away with it are much slimmer. Unlike brief and standard searching, your chances of being interrupted are equal to your finding something.

Thorough searching is making a mess; it involves dumping the contents of drawers to look for false bottoms, upsetting furniture to see if they have any hidden compartments, ruffling up books to see if they are hiding anything within the pages. This is noisy and messy work, but it brings about very good results. Secret items and horded items can be located this way, as can secret doors and passageways.

Those that perform thorough searches don’t care if they are caught or not, only a thief who is employing his Move Silently skill can do this quietly, and only then if he is alone or with a party of others who successfully use this skill.

I am not so sure that I’d actually give out a 60 percent chance to locate objects for trashing a room, I would be really tempted to have anybody's best chances of finding anything in a search be 45%.

I would also be pressed to give negative results to the chances for intelligent targets. A wizard with an intelligence of 17 isn’t going to hide an object where anybody who trashes a room can stumble upon it; in fact, the only thing that you will ever be able to find of his when conducting a search is probably just the stuff that he WANTS you to find.

This system isn’t perfect, but it is better then simply rolling a 1 or a 2 on a d6. If you wish to expand it, there is a lot of room left to be worked on, however I like to keep things as simple as possible, and I’m not above making stuff up on the fly.


The Angry Monk said...

I like this idea. I was trying to come up with my own house rules for searching. There is a table in the Judge Guild's Ready Ref sheets that provides times for searching specific area sizes. What I was thinking of trying is assigning a value to each room for its size and clutter. Then do as you have suggested. Ask the party how thorough a search they wish to perform. Based on their decision and the value of the room, I could say that a basic search will take 10 minutes and a more thorough search will take longer. Then as you do, I can calculate the chances for a random encounter or a timed event. Thank you for sharing.

Ripper X said...

Wow, digging in the archives. I forgot all about this, and honestly could had used it a few games back. Apparently I do need to jot more notes down in my books; I still don't like the 1-2 on a d6 rule, but continue to use it out of habit.

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