Secret doors are so common in classic gaming that I'm surprised when see a dungeon map without one. Players regularly search for them, assuming they'll find one at some point in the crawl. Which is odd, when you think about it. Do you normally assume there are hidden stairs or tunnels in or out of rooms when you walk into them? Of course not, but we're not real-life murder hoboes, we just play them at the table.
"A secret door is any door that is hidden or concealed. A secret door usually does not look like a door; it may be a sliding panel or hidden under a rug. Any character has a 1 in 6 chance of finding a secret door; any elf has a 2 in 6 chance. The DM should only check for finding a secret door if a player says that the character is searching for one and searching for one in the correct area. The search takes one turn. Each character has only one chance to find each secret door."Whenever I think of secret doors, the default in my mind's eye is a sliding panel or door that's fashioned to blend with the wall. Surely that's a classic, but it behooves the dungeon designing DM to think about the other ways that a portal may be hidden.
Secret doors might like the images above, or they could be concealed by a tapestry. They could simply be a tunnel with loose bricks or stones stacked in the opening. Perhaps a panel that isn't nailed down or loose planks? A cave entrance could be camouflaged by brush or rocks. Maybe it's even a magical or cunning optical illusion masking an otherwise open passage? The point is, you should feel free to mix it up a bit.
So what's the point of elaborately designing such a thing if the players are just going to roll their search and find it (or not)? Well, two things:
- Which is cooler in play? "We go back to that secret door in the last room." or "We go back through the revolving fireplace."?
- Remember the second part of the above rule citation. "The DM should only check for finding a secret door if a player says that the character is searching for one and searching for one in the correct area."
"The search takes one turn."
If you're doing your job as an old-school DM, you should at least consider tracking things like wandering monsters, needs for rest, and torches. Also, the PCs might be on the clock for other reasons. Maybe they need to find the hidden temple before midnight in order to stop the sacrifice or some such. The point is that time is a resource that shouldn't always be unlimited.