Fourth edition Dungeons & Dragons emphasized combat encounters at the expense of role playing and exploration. The Dungeon Master’s Guide encouraged, “Move the PCs quickly from encounter to encounter and on to the fun!” (p.105) Not-fun aspects of the 4E game included overlooking treasure the PCs needed to keep pace with the game’s math, and failing to spot clues leading to the next encounter. In 4E, no one needed to find the fun because adventures put everything in plain sight, or at least within reach of a group perception check. As I wrote in “Is it noticed? How to run alertness,” if everyone can attempt a perception check, someone invariably succeeds.
This approach trained players to chase obvious leads without examining anything. Meanwhile, DMs wind up hinting that someone might want to check the bodies because apparently the loot doesn’t just drop from your kills video-game style.
The fifth edition designers recognized that exploration makes as big a part of D&D as combat. Clues and treasure may be hidden. You have to look for them, and you must tell the DM where you look. The basic rules say, “In most cases, you need describe where you are looking in order for the DM to determine your chance of success. For example, a key is hidden beneath a set of folded clothes in the top drawer of a bureau. If you tell the DM that you pace around the room, looking at the walls and furniture for clues, you have no chance of finding the key, regardless of your Wisdom (Perception) check result. You would have to specify that you were opening the drawers or searching the bureau in order to have any chance of success.” Do not step into a room, make a great perception roll, and assume you found everything. Instead, look for interesting features, and tell the DM that you want to examine them.
Hidden traps make a return too.
Back in “Fourth edition gives traps a new design,” I described how 4E attempted to replace old-school traps with battlefield traps that worked like monsters—immobile, indiscriminate monsters. Although a few hidden traps slipped into the 4E game, they dealt inconsequential damage. As you move from fourth to fifth, you may be surprised, and killed, by the deadly snares hidden in fifth-edition adventures. Forget about blundering from room to room until the dungeon master launches a skill challenge or drops a battlemap. Start by checking for traps in obvious places such as doors, chests, and the jewel eyes of demon idols. Hint: In adventures published so far, kobolds and goblins favor trapped passageways and stairs.