Poor back alley mugger. If he’d only put his talents to use as an adventurer rather than a petty criminal, he might have learned some very important life lessons. Although Summoner and Rouge are doing an excellent job illustrating the importance of looking up specifically, I’d like to talk about the importance of actively investigating your environment in a more general sense. And in order to illustrate the point, I shall related to you the tale of the luckiest little crypt breaker to ever grace my table.

So no shit, there they were. Having faced down giant scorpions, goblins ambushes, bat swarms, and all the thousand-and-one indignities of 1st level adventuring, my megadungeon PCs had finally found their way to the first treasure chamber of the campaign. The only thing was, they didn’t realize it. As per Monte Cook:

Two massive, square pillars, almost ten feet to a side, support the center of the ceiling in this wide chamber. Beautiful silken curtains drape from the walls, and equally lavish woven carpets of red and gold adorn the floor. Throughout the chamber, old but still serviceable wooden furniture can be found: a divan here, a bureau there, a wardrobe, a credenza, a few tables of varying sizes, and a massive, sumptuous bed. Even a marble bathtub hides behind a folding wooden screen next to a silver-plated rack for hanging towels. The place seems clean and well- kept, and yet does not feel lived-in.

A tiny creature, like a lumpy potato with wings, holds a feather duster and flits about the room cleaning and humming to itself. It seems to notice you, but is not alarmed—or even particularly interested.

Now there’s a lot going on there. Any normal group of PCs might have interacted with the flying creature first (it happened to be a harmless homunculus). The fancy furniture might have drawn their attention. Phrases like “silver-plated” or “lavish carpets” could be expected to prompt Appraise checks. But that’s not what my players did.

Alchemist: “Massive pillars? How massive?”

Me: “It says ‘almost ten feet to a side.'”

Alchemist: “Anything interesting about ’em?”

Me, improvising: “There are some empty wall sconces, but most of the chamber’s light comes from—”

Alchemist: “I examine the sconce.”

Me: “Which sconce?”

Alchemist: “The one on the western column.”

Me: “My west or your west?”

Alchemist: “Very funny. I pull on the sconce.”

At that point I was in disbelief. I double-checked the module. I tripled-checked my notes. Then I said, “The western pillar is hollow, accessed via a round secret door on its eastern side. The same side you’ve been randomly fiddling with. You know what? No Search check necessary. As you pull the sconce, a round door pops open on a hidden hinge, revealing the telltale sparkle of—”

The rest of my speech was inaudible thanks to my players losing their collective shit. They’d lucked out, and they’d struck gold. All it took was a little fiddling with the environment. And for me, the lesson is clear. When it comes to exploration, it pays to get specific. Rolling your Notice Stuff check at the dungeon is always a solid first step, but if you want to get the goods you’ve got to experiment a little. You never know when it might pay off.

Question of the day then! When have you lucked into a random secret? Was it a good guess on a riddle? Stepping on the right grid square? Or did you just pull on a fateful sconce? Tell us your tale of blind good fortune and environmental exploration down in the comments!


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