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In the Basic Rulebook for D&D, on page B19, it states that characters can move 120' in a dungeon per turn (10 minutes). Later it states that this movement assumes players are mapping carefully, searching, and trying to be quiet.

What is meant by 'searching'? Are characters automatically getting a detect trap and detect secret door roll (every 10' or per trap/door) as part of this movement rate? It seems unclear what searching exactly means in this context.

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up vote 8 down vote accepted

No the 120' per 10 minute movements doesn't include searching for either traps or secret doors. On page B21 of Moldavy's Basic Rules for D&D and page B22 both actions (secret doors, traps) require search of a specific area (specified as a 10' by 10' on B19) and the search takes a turn (10 minutes) to perform.

The searching referred to in the movement rules probably refers to non-obvious details like a grate at the bottom of a wall, bones littering the floor, etc. I got this impression from the reference to a 'dark and dingy' dungeon on B19. And from reading the Dungeon Master information on stocking the dungeon starting on page B51

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"Searching" in that context just means investigating their surroundings. It means that the DM shouldn't add extra time when the party chooses to interact with the environment, unless it ends up taking enough time that the party is prevented from making forward progress during that Turn. It means there's room within that movement speed for quick, narrated interactions, if the party wants to. Also note that a proper secret door or trap search is supposed to take a full turn per 10-foot square, so that precludes thorough searches while moving. Clearly there is a mundane kind of search that can be done on the move, and a more rules-rolling kind of search that can't.

Even while mundanely searching on the move, the PCs still have to declare that they are interacting with the environment at some point, either with a blanket statement ("I'm in the lead, tapping floors and ceilings with my 10' pole while Seermund maps") or with a specific statement ("this is the only lit torch sconce we've seen; I'm going to see if it twists or levers or something").

It's also in contrast to other standard modes of movement described in the rules: combat and fleeing in fear. During these, exploration is impossible, and the DM is justified in giving out only the vaguest of impressions – if even that – and no useful exploration information, including whether they went left or right or how many turns we're made. Exploration movement by contrast allow exploring the environment, inasmuch as it can be done while the party keeps up an average speed.

Some DMs do give PCs some automatic checks for discovering things such as traps, while some don't. I personally follow the somewhat-popular school of thought in the OSR community that such rolls act as "saving throws": when a thief or dwarf says that they do something that reasonably would let them discover a particular trap, success is automatic, but if the don't (say, they declare that they check the keyhole for springs or needles, but fail to check the floor in front of the chest for pressure plates) and they're about to find it the hard way, I'll make a roll to see if they notice anything or if I should proceed straight to adjudicating the trap's consequences. I use this style because it reconciles the old-school tenet that it's on the players to figure out the environment, with the existence of such roll-to-explore rules (or even full skill systems) in some old-school games. Of course, that's a middle way, and the old-school style is nothing if not about making the game suit you: if you want to make automatic rolls for PCs during exploration, or if you want to have players roll for every trap and door and never give them a "saving skill roll" if they miss looking in the right place, that's your prerogative as an old-school DM.

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On page B9 in Moldavy's Basic D&D it explicitly states that the bonus applies when Elves actively search. In general your answer is good advice but I downvoted as the OP was referring to a specific edition of D&D. – RS Conley Oct 11 '12 at 15:58
@RSConley Thank you for the correction, then! I evidently was remembering the AD&D rule for elves. – SevenSidedDie Oct 11 '12 at 19:42

Searching for secret doors is a turn-long action, and searching only covers a single 10' section of wall. So generally, no, exploration rate movement does not include searching. But see Holmes and the Commentary.

Moldvay Basic

The DM should only check for a secret door if a player says that the character is searching for one in the correct area. The search takes one turn. Each character has only one chance to find each secret door.
(page B21)

Mentzer Basic

It takes 10 minutes (1 turn) of searching a 10’ x 10’ area to find a secret door. Less time will mean automatic failure.
(PRB page 57)

Any character may search for secret doors. The player must describe the exact area being searched. This takes about 1 turn for each 10’ x 10’ area searched. If a player says “My character will look for secret doors,” roll 1d6. You should always roll, whether a secret door is there or not, to keep the players guessing. If there is a secret door and the result is a 1, the secret door has been found. Elves find secret doors with a roll of 1 or 2. Once a secret door has been found and its exact location noted on a map, anyone reading that map can find the secret door later (no roll necessary). A secret or hidden door may not be opened until it has been found.
(DMRB page 16)

D&D Cyclopedia (Alston)

Secret Doors Any character may search for secret doors. The player must describe the exact area being searched. This takes about one turn for each 10'x 10' area searched. If a player says "My character will look for secret doors," roll 1d6. You should always roll, whether a secret door is there or not, to keep the players guessing. If there is a secret door and the result is a 1, the character has found the secret door. Elves find secret doors with a roll of 1 or 2.
(page 147.)

Denning Basic

When PCs want to search for secret doors, they must tell you what area they are searching. (Each character can search one 10’ x 10 area per turn.) Roll 1d6 for each PC searching (even if there are no secret doors in the area). On a result of 1 (1-2 for elves), the character finds the secret door. The DM should roll dice even if there is no secret door to be found, just to keep the players guessing.
(1994 color cover, page 36)

Holmes Basic

Holmes notes that elves have a 1-2 chance just passing by a secret door; elves searching a 10' section of wall have a 1-4, and everyone else has a 1-2 chance on 1d6. (page 10.) Earlier, it provides a weak guideline of one turn per 10' section of wall. (Page 9.)


Note that Holmes Basic is the outlier - in a Holmes game, elves don't even need to search to have a chance. So, in Holmes, and its OSR derivatives, Elves (and only Elves) get a chance to detect while moving at exploration rates.

In Moldvay, Mentzer, Denning, and Alston, to find secret doors requires active searching, at 1 turn per 10' section of wall.

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