I'm DMing using the 5E Starter Kit and, after DMing the first few encounters, the players aren't exploring the environment sufficiently to learn all the actions they can take. Before our next session I plan to explain the nature of exploration in TTRPGs and that they can and should actively search their environment at regular intervals, but I'm not sure such a lecture will stick.

I've 5 players. Two are experienced PC gamers, and one of those plays RPGs predominantly. Two others have minor gaming experience on consoles (mostly casual), and one hasn't played much of anything beyond the occasional boardgame.

During the session, short of just telling them what to do or exposing an environments' secrets, is there a good way to prompt the players to ask questions about their surroundings?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Two of the players are experienced PC gamers, one of whom plays RPGs predominantly. \$\endgroup\$
    – DickNixon
    Apr 20, 2015 at 14:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ O, yes, welcome to the site! Take the tour. Thanks for an interesting first question. I fear that it might teeter toward too broad and risk closure, so I tried to narrow it enough to avoid that ("during the session in this game for these players"), but if it is closed, don't despair: You can always come back and edit it. (And, if you don't like what I did, you can totally switch it back to how it was.) Thank you for helping strangers. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 20, 2015 at 15:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ I appreciate the edit, I tend to be a bit verbose at times. =P \$\endgroup\$
    – DickNixon
    Apr 20, 2015 at 15:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ Why do you think the players need to actively search their environment more? Has this been a problem in the past? Is the problem that the players aren't aware of their character's surroundings? Or just a feeling that they don't care about the environment? Or that there are hidden traps/treasures in the surroundings that they're intended to search for? \$\endgroup\$ Apr 20, 2015 at 18:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ The biggest issue is that they missed an obvious environment clue that should've led them to the next encounter, but instead they proceeded onto another objective. They also missed some loot, treasure, and some minor quests. It's not really a big deal, but the few times I've played a TTRPG as a player, my party (different than the above party) has always searched everything and looted all we could. You raise a valid point, maybe its just a different play-style than I'm used to. They also haven't hit any traps yet, so maybe that'll get them to start searching ahead. \$\endgroup\$
    – DickNixon
    Apr 20, 2015 at 19:11

5 Answers 5


Give them a reason to explore

You are most likely correct that a mini-lecture on the benefits of exploring in game will not get your players to explore more (and may annoy them, as well). You telling them that exploring is a good thing will never be as good as them realizing that they need to explore on their own. But what you can do is provide opportunities.

Think about the reasons that exploring is important to a fun, successful game, and then make those reasons super-obvious in front of your players. Some examples:

  • Exploring reveals nifty loot: When the players are fighting in a dungeon, have one of the adversaries pull a weapon or other equipment out of that chest that the players are supposed to search.
  • Exploring saves your neck: Spring traps on your players. At the beginning, avoid causing serious harm, because you don't want to run the risk of seeming adversarial and making your players resent you for it. But once it's known that traps are a thing to watch out for, it's your players' fault for not keeping an eye out.
  • Exploring reveals story: Plant clues in the dungeon. This one is a little more difficult to signpost. Maybe the players stumble upon the Evil Lieutenant packing up some plans into his desk. Maybe the Old Man in the Tavern literally tells the players they should be looking for something in the ruins.

This advice may or may not mesh perfectly into the published adventure you're running. Don't be afraid to tweak the details of the adventure to suit your purposes at the table, though. If that means adding some things into the environments for the players to find, go for it. If it means installing some extra traps, go for it. Pretty soon, you'll find them checking for secret doors in every room, and spending ten minutes disassembling all of the furniture when no one's looking.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Related: reward good behavior. If a player does a search, have something be there. It can be any arbitrary footprint/mark/painting/rug/history/mouse/child's-toy. (Be clear about the relevance though, or players may fixate on them) \$\endgroup\$ Apr 20, 2015 at 18:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ For experienced players, you can troll them with meaningless stuff though. :-) \$\endgroup\$ Apr 20, 2015 at 18:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks! I'll definitely work on incentivizing exploration a bit more. It's my first-time DMing, so any advice is greatly appreciated. Thanks! \$\endgroup\$
    – DickNixon
    Apr 20, 2015 at 19:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ Honestly, I've found that just mentioning they missed loot and clues after they're no longer relevant does wonders for encouraging players to search. "You did pretty well, given you missed the +2 sword of secret door detection that was hidden in the first room. Too bad the demiplane collapsed and you can't go back for it, eh?" \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    May 12, 2016 at 0:59

I would simply tell them — out of game — that a big part of the game is exploring and looking for hidden stuff, just like searching fallen foes. This holds true in any RPG, even the video game ones. One of the big differences is that in the table top RPGs you don't get anything given to you (hints or other information) unless you ask.

  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie: Thanks for the edit. Generally, in the business world, when your talking to somebody in a meeting and need further details, you mention that you'll talk to them offline, but I understand the ambiguity. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 20, 2015 at 18:52
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Ah! Yeah, in this context that's just confusing. Some of us are going to recognise business jargon and understand the meaning, but enough won't that it should be considered off-domain jargon. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 20, 2015 at 18:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ I was thinking about doing something along these lines, as I feel that this issue is just inexperience with tabletop gaming. \$\endgroup\$
    – DickNixon
    Apr 20, 2015 at 19:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ From your question, I got the same feeling. They just don't understand the importance of blocking the door in a cleared room and exploring it completely. I'm sure that they do this without even thinking about it in the video RPGs by waving the pointer around and looking for things that are highlighted. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 20, 2015 at 19:22

Have you considered that exploration is not their thing, just your thing and you are trying to force it upon them? In any case the best approach, as is always in TTRPG's is to communicate with all of the involved. Start by asking what they expect from your game, after having listened to them explain your view. Then discuss any differences, like are they open to the idea of exploring more? Or are they more the run the dungeon murderhobo's. Everything is fine, but if you are not compatible either comprise or move on. If you, or others, are not having fun at the table due to group dynamics then don't try to change it because it won't work. You can't reasonably expect someone to change who they are for a game/hobby, instead find more like-minded people if it turns out you are incompatible.


I can't read the answers as I am currently playing (very slowly) the starter game lost mines, and I spotted some spoilers so sorry if i repeat people.

If there is someone they really need to talk to, describe them in a little more detail, make them someone of note.

Make a joke "remember this isn't a computer game the people don't have question marks over their heads/ important stuff doesn't sparkle you need to remember to explore"

  • \$\begingroup\$ Good catch; I've fixed that post by hiding all its spoilers behind spoiler blocks. \$\endgroup\$ May 11, 2016 at 15:13

I have refereed the Lost Mine of Phandelver twice. The essential trick is to think of what you would be seeing if you were actually there and then roleplay that as the referee. Since you are presenting a situation that leads to adventure this will provide a natural way to hook into the information that the player need to proceed.

There two broad ways for the player characters to become involved. One is that their background has some elements that propel that character's roleplaying. If it result in a lead for an adventure then it often leads to the entire party going on that adventure. The other is that the players encounter something that provides a lead for an adventure.

In your case, there are a number of hooks in Phandalin that branch out to the rest of adventure. Now the background element in play is that they were hired by Gundren Rockseer to escort a bunch of supplies to Phandalin. They will be

ambushed by goblins outside of the village. From there they will get into Cragmaw Hideout and find Sildar Hallwinter and learned that Gundren Rockseer has been taken away to the goblin's main lair.

This should be the primary driver of the player's actions. The problem is where in the wide wilderness is

the Cragmaw's hideout?

For that they need to explore. They could aimlessly wander around but a smart player would know to start asking questions about the area from the locals.

The problem that could arise from this.

  • The players lost sight of the fact their employer, Gundren Rockseer is missing.
  • The players for whatever reason don't bother talking to anybody and thus not getting the clues they need.

Now I have ran campaign with what I call the really clueless party. Although I being a bit sarcastic, I always want my players to have fun. So I found ways to accommodate this and run an interesting campaign. Usually it is a result of the group being focused on killing things and taking their stuff. Which is fine, it just needs to be accounted for.

Specifically for Phandelver you have a way to deal with a clueless party.

It sounds like they have rescued Sildar Hallwinter. After transporting Sildar to the village he will be working with the Townmaster, Harbin Wester as part of trying to find out what happened to Iarno Allbek. For a clueless party, Sildar will come to the party with Harbin in tow. The two will offer the Orc Trouble quest and the Cragmaw Castle Quest. This is plausible because the party rescued Sildar, proving themselves to be competent.

Next is

the attack of the Redbrand Ruffian if this hasn't occurred.

You really need to piss off the players in-game with this encounter. The best way to do this is give them a scare combat wise. They will want vengeance. Also the villagers want

the Redbrand gone. So they will be actively telling the party where they are as the party shown that they are willing to stand up to the Redbrands.

There is a hook with

Carp the sone of Qelline Alderlead showing the party the secret entrance.

Do not give this to them unless it comes out naturally in the roleplaying. To keep things fun, there a minimum amount of information that is needed but beyond that the group has to earn it. If they get it

they will use the secret entrances into the Redbrand lair, if not they will use the upper entrance.

Once they deal with

the Redbrand, they will now know that Glasstaff has the backing of the Black Spider which establishes the primary villain. However they have no clue as to where he is.

Which is OK because they will have also rescued

Mirna Dendrar and her children. She will give them the tip about her heirloom and the Ruins of Thundertree.

Going to

Thundertree will lead them to the druid Reidoth, which lead them to Cragmaw Castle and the rescue of Gundren Rockseer, which will lead them finally to Wind Echo Cavern. They should want to ask Reidoth about Cragmaw Castle because of the reward promised by Sildar.

If you want to get them on the side adventures along the

Triboar Trail, then have the villager throw the group a heroes celebration after vanquishing the Redbrands.

Roleplay each villager with a hook in a natural way. Come off as everybody want the heroes to help them with something which will sound natural and unforced. In fact the player may wind up feeling overwhelmed.

But if you don't want to do that then the above with

Townmaster quests and Mirna's quest

is the minimum to propel the party to complete the adventure in a way that feels natural and not forced.


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