Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Most Overlooked Rule(s)

By me anyway:
Secret passages will be located on the roll of a 1 or a 2 (on a six-sided die) by men, dwarves or halflings. Elves will be able to locate them on a roll of 1-4. At the referee's option, Elves may be allowed the chance to sense any secret door they pass, a 1 or 2 indicating that they become aware that something is there.
As the player of Dordagdonar in my Dwimmermount campaign will happily tell you, I keep forgetting that, in OD&D, an elf's simply passing by a secret door merits a roll by the referee to determine if they sense its presence. But I'm even more forgetful of the fact that an elf, if actively looking for such a door, can find one on a roll of 1-4 on 1d6. Indeed, I'm so "forgetful" of this fact that i don't think I've ever used the rule.

I fear this is a case where my having played AD&D for some long in my younger days made me forget something I should have remembered from Holmes (which, as the Blue Book usually does, preserves a rule from LBBs). In AD&D, elven passive perception of secret doors is reduced to 1 in 6, while active perception is reduced to 1-2 in 6 (except for concealed portals, which is 3 in 6 -- can anyone explain how a "portal" differs from a "door" in this case?). Interestingly, Moldvay/Cook does not follow OD&D in its treatment of elves and secret doors, presenting instead something akin to AD&D (1-2 on 1d6 chance) but without any explicit provision for the passive perception of secret doors.

Anyway, I'm going to try very hard to keep these rules in mind in the future. It's one of those things I periodically remember and then forget again and I always feel bad about it afterward, since there is an elf in our campaign and I'm sure the party has missed more than its share of secret doors because I can't seem to get this simple rule through my head.

32 comments:

  1. I always interpreted a concealed door as an ordinary door hidden behind a tapestry or some other object, as opposed to sliding or rotating panels designed too look like a normal part of a wall.

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  2. I think Talysman nailed the secret/concealed distinction, except that it seems odd not to make discovery of that kind of door automatic once you look behind the tapestry.

    As for your forgetfulness, I think it's fair to offload some amount of remembering to your player. If it were of paramount importance to him, he'd remind you about his super-keen elf senses every time he was actively searching and occasionally when just passing through. After long enough, you'd probably just remember.

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  3. Have to "third" Talysman's comment--concealed doors/portals always seemed to me to be an opening that didn't necessarily have a mechanism employed for its use, but which was covered up to keep people from just casually observing it.

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  4. "I think Talysman nailed the secret/concealed distinction, except that it seems odd not to make discovery of that kind of door automatic once you look behind the tapestry."

    I always played it that way: deliberately looking BEHIND the tapestry or curtain or whatever always discovered the concealed door. The lower chance was for when the elf merely looked AT the tapestry; it was the chance to notice that there was probably something behind it.

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  5. Concealed doors could also be covered with plaster and the like; I believe this was done in one or two modules. That made them a little tougher to find than just moving a tapestry.

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  7. My understanding of the Portal/Door differences were: a secret/concealed door had a door or other obstruction that was attached to the wall and needed to be opened, whereas a portal was an open entry. So a concealed portal could be an open archway that someone moved a bookshelf in front of. The higher number was due to things like air flow.

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  8. I think the whole thing needs a lot more thought and explanation at least by the particular DM: The 'roll for secret doors' is a 'perception roll' as we've come to understand them from later games.
    The rule could use explanation on the dividing line between a game solely of player decisions "I use a candle to see if there are air flows" or character abilities "I make my secret doors roll". Even before thieving skills, we had this and the surprise roll that begged the question.
    The rules don't have to say where that line is, but I think one of the distinctions between "game as originated and passed on" and "game as played by those who only read the rules" arose through this rule, and rules like thieving skills.

    I had a militant old school 1E DM who didn't care if you brought a 10' pole or a crowbar, you rolled your thief chances and secret door rolls, and it didn't matter what your character did. On this distinction, I ran a 3.5 game that was more old school than his 1E by requiring appropriate narration before allowing (or obviating) a skill check.

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  9. "Concealed doors could also be covered with plaster and the like"

    I'd call that a secret door, that doesn't stay secret once it's opened. I can't see how anyone would make a door more secret than that.

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  10. Talysman has the AD&D door distinction correct. The "plaster" part is probably the most sketchy IMO. It's on DMG p. 97:

    "Concealed Doors: These are doors which are hidden in some way - behind a curtain, covered with plaster, a trap door under a rug, etc. They differ from a secret door in that once their concealment is uncovered they are obviously doors.

    Secret Doors: These are portals which are made to appear to be a normal part of the surface they are in. They can possibly be sensed or detected by characters who are actively concentrating on such activity, or their possible location may be discovered by tapping..."

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  11. "I'd call that a secret door, that doesn't stay secret once it's opened. I can't see how anyone would make a door more secret than that."

    Once you break off the plaster, the next guy can find the door with no problem. That's why it was merely "concealed" - whereas a "secret" door is basically a false section of wall or a bookcase on a hinge or whatever. Once you close a truly "secret" door behind you, the next guy is going to have to discover it for himself. This could have certain implications if your party is being followed.

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  12. The rule that I can't seem to remember is resting every 6th turn.

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  13. It seems reasonable to require the Elf player, not DM, to remember the rule and to state frequently "I'm trying to sense secret doors" if he wants to use the ability.

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  14. I always forgot that rule too. During 3e, I told elf players so, and offered them at-will cantrips in return for giving up the secret door ability. I think cantrips are more appropriate for elves anyway--unless elven forests have a high concentration of secret doors for some reason...?

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  15. The reason why it is difficult to find elven villages is because the trees themselves have a magical concealing effect. It didn't take long for someone to figure out that a door made from the wood of one of these trees would also be difficult to discover. Except for elves, who are used to the magic.

    Done. ;)

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  16. I tweaked that rule in my old D&D campaign to be an "Elfin Twinge" it might go off because of secret doors, crossing magical boundaries, ley lines, powerful spell cast nearby, being watched by others or being in the area of a detection spell. I'd inform the Elf player, "you feel a twinge" and it was up to them to figure out what it was from.
    It cut down on the drive-by secret door detection.

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  17. The problem with the rule is that it is not only passive, but you also want to keep its "activation" secret from the players. So why not make the roll for passive detection when you are making the dungeon and simply note it down on the map with a symbol?

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  18. I forget the just passing by too. It's too arduous for the DM to remember. I've assumed/interpreted the 1-2 pass by to be whenever elf asks do I notice secret doors but *does not spend* the turn to search. Where non-eleves have to spend the time to have any chance and elves have greatly increased chance when they do.

    So, in a hurry, being chased, an elf may just find a fortuitous escape route. Everyone else has to spend a long light-source burning, wandering monster attracting time searching high and low.

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  19. And this is why I am not a fan of D&D. People discussing what the difference between a secret door and a concealed door is. Rules to determine who can locate a hidden door worked out so the ability is less useful for the player.

    Sorry. I normally don't let out my inner 'pro-story/anti-annoying rule self' so easily. Maybe I'm in a mood since I haven't run any of my regular games this month but is this seriously a major consideration? I tend to put stuff in my adventures I want the PCs to find. If the Elf has a better chance to find it because that's more, I don't know, "Elfy", than so be it.

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  20. The reason why it is difficult to find elven villages is because the trees themselves have a magical concealing effect. It didn't take long for someone to figure out that a door made from the wood of one of these trees would also be difficult to discover. Except for elves, who are used to the magic.

    Ah, so that's why elven forests are endangered! It's a wonder any still exist at all, given the prevalence of secret door-laden dungeons!

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  21. I kind of agree with barking alien, if not in principle, then in practice. In a decent-sized party (6+) odds are someone will find the door, and doing all that secret rolling gets tedious.

    But here's a fun story about playing by the rules:
    "There we were, low-level characters who had just turned the tables on a pirate ship-- their captain was dead, his men were in chains, and we were at the helm. But none of us could figure out how to open the secret door in the captain's cabin. So we started freeing the crew members one-by-one offering them first their freedom and then a share of the loot if they could figure out how to open it. . ."

    I don't need to tell the whole story, but the point is that the DM couldn't have planned it, and it wouldn't have happened if the DM has fudged.

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  22. BA: Agreed that concealed vs. secret door distinction is a bad addition in AD&D. So is the "tap on walls" cheese. I don't use them.

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  23. Personally I rarely use secret/concealed doors, or "tricks" in general. I might have one on a dungeon level, which I gather is pretty low judging from published adventures and comments on blogs like these. They just don't interest me much, and I never really had any players complain about a lack of secret doors, sliding walls, elevator rooms... it just never was an issue.

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  24. That is a problem with all the editions, isn't it? Not just incorrectly implementing one of the scores of rules, but simply forgetting a rule (out of the scores) of rules exist.

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  25. I always use it. It's not that there are so many rules to apply during exploration.

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  26. @GrumpyCelt - Its only a problem if you see it as a problem. I think most games already have way too many rules. You could also see it as a rule that is unnecessary or a rule that could be replaced in favor of something more interestingly.

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  27. @ James: Actually, the Moldvay rules are pretty explicit that one cannot find a secret door unless actively searching (page B21).
    : )

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  28. I don't think it's a bad rule at all, based on how they were playing at the time. Hidden doors were a frequent occurance in early D&D, and it makes sense to simulate the difference in difficulty between spotting a door which has merely been concealed vs. one which has been custom-built to be secret and stay secret. The differing chances on a d6 were really just the equivalent of different DCs for Spot or Search checks in D20.

    That being said, one could judge it as being a "bad rule" in the sense that overall OD&D is generally more abstracted than that, and having this level of differentiation between finding different hidden doors is inconsistent with the rules' general simplicity.

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  29. As a reminder, I mark my maps to show when I need to make an auto-detect roll. I do this by lightly drawing circles around secret doors at the appropriate range.

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  30. I think most games already have way too many rules.

    I doubt many of us round here would disagree with that statement.

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  31. @ James: Actually, the Moldvay rules are pretty explicit that one cannot find a secret door unless actively searching (page B21).
    : )


    There you go: that's a case of a clear deviation from the LBBs, which is unusual, because Moldvay is generally pretty close to them in most cases.

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