On the Importance of Being Specific

One thing that raised some hackles in the 5e playtest materials was a description of searching checks. In the materials, they described a key hidden under some clothes in a dresser. They then stated that a player who said they search around the room, looking at the furniture and objects in the room for clues, would not find the key (or would not have a chance, so no roll should be made). By comparison they stated that a player who said they search the dresser and drawers would find (or have a chance to find) the key. This predictably lead to much gnashing of teeth over “pixel bitching” and having your read your DM’s mind  to find things.

In general, DMs should never require down to the absolute minutest detail for search descriptions (i.e. someone who says they search a desk should probably be assumed to open drawers and check under the desk) but at the same time, players shouldn’t just be able to say “I search the room” and find all the secrets in the room either.

From the DM standpoint, if something could be found by saying “I search the room” then there was no point to hiding it in the first place, and you might as well have put the item in the open.

Equally, players should never want to leave what their characters do up to the DM. If you tell your DM that you “search the room” and expect to find the key under the clothes in the dresser, then you should equally have no right to complain when the DM decides that you triggered the trap in the desk during your search. Being specific is key to avoiding misunderstandings.

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