I was just reading the LotFP module The Grinding Gear. It has lots of secret doors, and none of them have any mechanisms described. This stuck out after just recently reading this post, OSR Contradiction 2: Player Skill vs. Minimal Dungeons, over at Roles, Rules & Rolls. Further, the Grinding Gear secrets are not “optional” extras; they are required to proceed with the adventure. Both Hammers of the God and Death Frost Doom also have major areas (as in, one third or more of the module content) that can only be accessed if a secret door is found (though some of these secret doors provide specific opening procedures).
When searching for information about how other people have run The Grinding Gear, I came across this LotFP forum post (*). Apparently, Moldvay only allows one try per character per secret door, but no other edition of D&D has a similar rule. This is one of those minor rules variations that has major repercussions on the nature of the game (and module compatibility). Jim goes as far as to say:
My entire style of running (and writing!) adventures just wouldn’t work with a “one chance only” approach, and to repeat again, I had no idea this was a rule in any version of the grand ol’ game, let alone having any idea that people actually played that way.
See also the comments quoted in Zak’s review of The Grinding Gear. (It is worth noting in passing that, unlike B/X D&D, LotFP search is a skill that can be improved, though only by the specialist class.) But then Jeff Rients chimes in:
I use the Moldvay/LL ‘one try only’ rule. It makes elven door-finding and dwarvish sliding wall detection more useful. And since the rule is one try per person, it encourages bringing more people on the mission.
And swords, wands and artifacts that detect secret doors are more valuable if you can’t easily find them.
Also, I like the game to have some roads that are just as real as the one trod by the PCs, but for some reason or another they can never go down them.
And then, how does one handle secret doors that don’t have any description if one wants to support descriptive trap finding? Courtney of Hack & Slash implies that such descriptive trap finding was the way the original wargaming pioneers played. This is, I think, the best statement of his method:
You don’t roll a die to determine if you find and open a secret door, you gather information by asking questions and using your personal smarts to make choices to test the situation to discover the door. Then you make choices about how to open the door.* There is one specific way to open the door. There isn’t a ‘proper’ solution to the encounter because there is no reason you are entitled to find the secret door and no reason it is necessary to find the secret door.
*But what about searching for secret doors, talking with monsters, and bashing doors? Situations that are common but just use some random game system to determine the result? How is that player skill?
Unlike modern systems where there is no consequences for failure, each of those is a choice that must be made. Do we risk one turn searching and increase the chance of running into a monster? Do we give up surprise to attempt to parley with the monsters? Do we risk the chance of monsters hearing us bash this door? Each is a choice, weighed with consequences for the attempt and for failure. That is why those are examples of skill based play.
Sorry for the extended quote, but it seems important to be clear about the various positions. So, the options are:
- Non-Moldvay: 1 in 6, as many times as desired; cost: 1 turn
- Moldvay: 1 in 6, once chance; cost: 1 turn
- Courtney: description; non-Moldvay option available
My general mode of operation recently has been none of these. My rule has been that if a secret door is indicated and no description is provided, then searching the area is sufficient to locate the door without making any roll. Just saying “I search the room” is not enough (but it does give you a d6 throw chance), but saying “I spend three turns searching the 30 foot north wall” is.
This is clearly not one of those oh my god you’re so stupid you’re doing it wrong kind of things. If Mr. Rients, Mr. Raggi, and Mr. Hack & Slash all have different (and incompatible!) approaches, I think the only conclusion to be drawn is that even within the relatively restricted field of traditional D&D (let’s say this set includes TSR D&D prior to Second Edition and the associated retro-clones and simulacra) there are several common methods of play. Learn how they work, pick your favorite, and modify any modules you run to fit your method of choice.