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I play a lot of AD&D 2nd edition, and it recently occurred to me that there isn't a spot check or other mechanic for finding hidden items/objects. Later editions have the spot check, but should I use a similar mechanic for 2nd edition? If so, what would you recommend?

Currently, I simply roll to see if the PCs find hidden doors, or let them describe their search and see whether they check wherever I placed something hidden. However, it takes quite some time and gets a little boring by the tenth room they check.

Am I missing a rule or ability of some sort? What do you use, and why?

Please only valid rule quotes from 2nd edition or examples of actual play - I'm planning on sticking with AD&D 2e, and don't need any system recommendation.

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I read an article online a few weeks back, probably linked to (directly or indirectly) from an answer here on the site, that talked about the lack of Spot/Search mechanics in OD&D, and why that was a good thing. I can't find it now, though. :( – lisardggY Nov 13 '12 at 6:06
@lisardggY It's just a different philosophy—not having an easy roll to rely on means that the players have to actively engage with the details of the scene. It produces a focus of play that is definitely a matter of taste either way though, so it's "good" for some and not others. If you can't find that article, similar reasoning can probably be found in the (easily searched-for) Old School Primer. – SevenSidedDie Nov 13 '12 at 6:41

10 Answers 10

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Ability checks sort of fill this role – a Wisdom check, in the case of noticing something. I say "sort of" because the way you describe where the characters interact with the environment and directly uncover information is the default assumption about how searches and such are to be conducted in AD&D and earlier, but it doesn't always serve the group's needs.

In your case where it's becoming tedious, a Wisdom check (with any modifiers the DM deems appropriate) can be used to skip past the details. Other situations where detailed interactions just don't make sense are well-served by a Wisdom ability check: noticing a strange symbol on the sultan's necklace, for example, is something that might be done by a character, but you can't very well ask the players "do you visually search the sultan's outfit while he speaks?" without it being artificial and tipping them off that there's something to find.

The origin of this rule/ruling is mostly in the rules for Non-Weapon Proficiencies and the (easily-overlooked) Glossary on page 11 of the PHB. The ability check is defined in the Glossary:

Ability check – a 1d20 roll against one of your character's ability scores (modifiers may be added to or subtracted from the die roll). A result that is equal to or less than your character's ability score indicates that the attempted action succeeds.

NWPs (PHB p. 52) give a framework for using character stats to accomplish tasks, and works just like ability checks. Proficiency checks are required for things that require training though: what about things that just anyone could do? And, notice the rules on PHB p. 101 for using ability checks in place of saving throws, the example being dodging a falling-block trap.

Hence our group for years very naturally used ability checks for things like spotting things out of place (Wis), crossing slippery ice bridges or evading a rockslide (Dex), clearing fallen debris after a tunnel collapse (Str), deciphering a lost dialect of a language they know (Int), turning on the charm when trying to get a free drink (Cha), or withstanding a frigid wind during night watch (Con). Though the book never says "Use Wisdom ability checks to notice details", it just organically arose during play, and in retrospect accords perfectly well with what few rules are written about how ability scores can be used during play.

The ability check served us very well for years, and adequately filled the role for those moments where we wanted to determine if something succeeded randomly but there wasn't already an existing rule to use.

The biggest drawback of the ability check is that it relies heavily on DM judgement to set appropriate modifiers (or decide that none at all is best), and those modifiers are non-intuitive: a +X to the roll makes the check harder, while a -X makes it easier. NWPs have this problem, and we just imported it. We eventually found that it was more sensible to apply a modifier to the ability before rolling, which made positive modifiers good and negative bad, like they are in combat rolls. Having used them for so long, too, I eventually just got a feeling for what bonuses and penalties were well-suited to the task at hand. As a rule of thumb, I kept them in the +2 to -4 range, with anything worse than -2 being reserved for serious challenges. Anything greater than a +2 bonus begged the question of why we were rolling for it, but we did sometimes, when I figured it was easy but there needed to be an outside chance of failure.

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The reason we decided the existing stats weren't sufficient is that it makes your usual low-WIS thief the least perceptive and the cleric super perceptive, which didn't really track well. But otherwise, yes, that's how ability checks work... – mxyzplk Nov 14 '12 at 14:43
@mxyzplk That's a fair point. We actually didn't run into that because the party were all fighters and rangers (yay not needing niche protection). Not sure how we would have fixed that problem; maybe a class-based bias on the modifiers. – SevenSidedDie Nov 14 '12 at 17:59
Oh, yeah, I used the stat over like 10 years of playing 2e with various parties. It's still my favorite edition, with just a couple house rules it gets you all you need without all the bloat. – mxyzplk Nov 14 '12 at 19:30

As far as I can remember, there were no official rules for spot/search like checks in (the core?) AD&D 2nd edition.

Having encountered this problem, DMs improvised - and some solutions are still available online, such as the introduction of an extra, derived ability called Perception that can be summed up like this:

Perception is worked out by ((INT+WIS+CHR)/3)-3. The perception check is rolled against on a d20.

Please visit the link above for a more thorough rule explanation.

(Mind you, this is not exactly what our group(s) used, but 1. it's been--gosh--almost decades :), 2. as far as I can remember, we came up with something rather similar.)


As an alternative, you may want to use the Saving Throw vs. Spells. (It is used to detect invisible enemies based on scents, noises and other similar traces, see the DMG, p120. Of course, spotting is not really related to magic and spells, but this saving throw is rather a "catch all" for non-specific saves, as far as I can remember... it might prove useful here as well.)

Coming to think of it, yet another option is to simply introduce a proficiency and/or a secondary skill for it, base it on Wisdom or IQ (as you prefer) and assign bonuses/penalties whenever needed.)

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No, there's nothing in stock 2e (probably there is in Skills & Powers, but that doesn't really count as 2e). There's the usual Light & Vision chapter and "Hide in Shadows," but that's way insufficient and doesn't do all that Spot does.

I ran 2e for a long, long time and this was a major pain point for me - the two consistent house rules I used were a Perception stat and Luck stat. You rolled them and used them just like the other ability scores (well, you could ablate Luck points like they were hero/fate points, but then you got less lucky over time). Just a seventh stat, roll it up and roll against it like all the others. (The only wrinkle is if you use point buy character creation, but in 2e days that was still heretical munchkinism anyway).

The 2e retroclone, Myth & Magic, has added a Perception stat in this vein as well. The PDF is free if you can navigate their abomination of a Web site to find it.

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The original way that this was meant to work, is that the player was meant to ask. If you did not ask or search you did not find. The player game world interaction was via game master description and player response. If you did not say you where looking and in most cases looking in the correct way then you just did not find it. For example if you search a desk and did not say you looked under a draw then you did not find a map. When you search a desk you don't normally take out the draws and look at there bottoms so hence you would never find it. This is why things like the Elfs find hidden doors and the spells where there, for when you just could not figure it out. A lot of player and referees did not like this and introduced house rules like Perception (I think that there was one in an early White Dwarf).

I can think of several examples over my gaming history where this has both added and subtracted from gaming. One of the best was when in a vampire hunters game (ok not AD&D) where we where given gun with bugs and tracker on them by the vampires and hence they always knew where we were, even though we where extremely paranoid, we never thought to check the guns out. One of the worsted, and I think a common reason for wanting a Perception skill, is wandering around a tower looking for a secret door for what seams now like several games session of tedium.

Spot, Search, Perception or Notice etal has become a bit of a crutch for the modern player. Can't think of something then roll a search. Can think of something then it should not matter how good my characters skills are and I find it anyway, as I as a player can figure it, then so can my character ...

Bushido had an interesting separation of this, the character as smart as the player but the Wit Attribute was the characters interface to the game reality. The character might know that there should be a secret latch on this wall to open the door but if the player can't roll there Wit then they can't figure it out. Re-rolls where allowed and each fail just made it take longer which could matter if your trying to escape though it from some ninja, say.

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I actually surfed in here looking for an answer to the same question. I did find a table in the DMs guide under A DM's Miscellany which was a hearing chart; based on race, it was a simple (and low) chance to hear a noise. Still searching for a Vision check. Oddly enough, Dex Check, Vision Check and Hearing Check appear on the character sheets I use, so someone somewhere had a rule, lol.

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Welcome to the site! I didn't find a Vision check over there, either. Thank you for posting to an existing question instead of asking a duplicate - that's the preferred method of 'reviving' questions here. – LitheOhm Mar 29 '13 at 5:38

The stats for perception checks are the better of Int/Wis depending on how it's used much like the stats for intimidation are Str/Cha depending on how it's used. Like most of Second Edition, this info is spread out over several books. Int based checks are covered in the Complete Thief's handbook [TSR 2111] (pg. 19) and detailed in the observation skill. This covers finding hidden or concealed objects and doors as well as noticing fine detail. The potion of perception also applies a +4 bonus to intelligence checks when the DM allows them. (ct pg. 109) Wisdom checks are for avoiding ambushes and the like. You can find details under the alertness skill in Shaman [TSR 9507] and the awareness skill in Arabian Adventures [TSR 2126] for more information.

These are the official (and note optional!) rules. It seems overlooked that perception is primarily Int-based. Personally, I let my players use Int or Wis for either check and use untrained without penalty because perception is so important and proficiency slots are so precious. I also allow untrained checks of all types at -4, and increase the extra slot bonus to +4 to allow more diversity in character builds.

I've heard of luck/perception/comeliness optional rules, but I haven't been able to find them in the official books. However, the white Warfu stones increase comeliness by one point so at least that one has to exist somewhere.

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In chapter 2 of the PHB are the rules on elves/half elves finding hidden doors. I use a modified version of that for other races (since they lack elven ability, they have to actively search for it and at less of a chance of spotting it as elves).

For other sorts of hidden objects, I either us an appropriate d20 roll against an ability score- are you noticing a strange symbol or something arcane? Int or Wis. Something like a tight passageway you miiiight be able to squeeze through? Dex.

I've seen the Luck/Perception/Comeliness system before, I don't remember where it came from- maybe one of the players option books or something out of an old issue of Dragon. Its another way to do it, and one I like, except that I found that some of my players who rolled high often stopped trying to come up with creative solutions, relying too much on dice rolls.

But an active search for a hidden object, even if its not a door- I use the hidden door rules.

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I use a crazy hybrid rule for my Perception Check keeping Wisdom as the primary aspect.

It's ((1/2 Dex) + (1/2 Int) + (Wisdom)) / 3 + (1/2 level)

Then I use it passively and actively.

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I'm guessing this is a house rule - Could you describe how well it's worked in practice? Are there any pitfalls to look out for when using it? And what are the advantages of using this method? – GMJoe Jan 21 at 0:06

We use a system called "LPC" which is Luck, Perception, Comeliness. When creating a character, the player rolls 3d6 three times, and assigns them in the order they were rolled to Luck, Perception, and Comeliness. Then, whenever the player is looking for something, such as hidden doors, they must roll against(d20 under) Perception.

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is this a printed rule from 2e? If it's a house rule, can you tell us how adding it has changed your play experience? – Jessa Jan 30 '15 at 19:37

In short, no. But the catch is, the DM is the one who rolls your chance to hide check, and doesn't tell you if it succeeded or not (same for moving silently), but you always assume it worked. On the other hand, it doesn't work at all if a target is aware of you or can see you.

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I'm not talking about seeing hidden foes, I mean things like a hidden key in a room. – Dakeyras Dec 23 '12 at 22:48

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