It's been a few weeks since that OD&D game that seems to have caused a huge, albeit temporary, flush of traffic to my oft-neglected blog. I don't doubt that RPGBloggers and an apparent link in a OD&D forum helped as well. Anyway, this post is an exploration of something that caused a bit of confusion for me, as DM, in that OD&D game: searching and traps.
The problem, stemming no doubt from my D&D 3.0 roots, is the matter of searching and the efficacy of such. I get that in OD&D, having a room with traps that exist as part of the room is important. Rather than "roll to disarm", the party should have to figure out a more physical and 'real' way to disarm the trap based on logic and reason. That's fine and dandy. The issue is thus: In 3.x, 4e, and possibly other earlier editions, you roll to search for traps. Rogues in particular, and others to a much lesser extent, can search a room for traps by rolling a die. "I search for traps, I get a 18+8 for skill, so 26". Then, you compare 26 to some DC, and there you go. They found it or didn't.
In OD&D, there is no such mechanic. How then to respond to "I search for traps"? The primer, linked in the previous post I believe, suggests requiring very specific things to look for. "I search for traps" is then insufficient, requiring something more akin to "I search for a tripwire across the hall" or "I look for cracks in the floor which might be indicative of a pit trap". The problem that arises from that is twofold: One, the players, if sufficiently paranoid/trained to expect traps everywhere, will spend hours in each room, checking every brick and cobble to be certain that flaming death doesn't await them. The second is that players will feel cheated if they search a room and miss something that they feel should be obvious. "What? How could I miss a tripwire? I said I searched!"
How to remedy this issue? Well, firstly, it might not actually be an issue that isn't already solved. Part of my reasoning for writing this post is to hear other people's rules on such things. Do you just list traps as part of a room's decor? Do you accept "I search for traps" and list them then? Require ever more specific phrases to be able to find better traps? Improvise/houserule/steal a mechanic to handle it by a die roll? I'm curious to hear your ideas.
For me, sans any exterior input, I think I will continue making traps effectively invisible unless a player specifically searches for that type of trap, or is searching a sufficiently small object, such as a chest. Searching an entire room "for traps" is laughably difficult, with a clever enough trap inventor. Hell, there could just be a poisoned barb on the back of the door handle to the next room, that a casual adventurer would grasp and pierce his hand on. Who would even think to look for it? A chest, however, is small enough and simply operated enough that one can search for trigger mechanisms at the least. Trapped chests, of course, are almost reason enough to devise some alternate method of opening them than just standing in front and kicking them open like one is Link.
The issue is that, from a 3.x/4e/videogame aspect, these sorts of decisions seem like DM arbitrary damage. Those rules effectively only exist so that the DM can't just "Rocks fall, everyone dies". If there are search and disarm rules, then it's less based on the DM's fiat, so that players don't take umbrage when they are injured. In OD&D, by design, the DM is the final arbiter on everything, superseding rules when desired. How do you avoid looking like you are just smacking the players around? If they search for tripwires, and you decide that they miss one, or miss another kind of trap, how is it not just you smacking the players around?
Anyway, sorry for the post with fewer answers than questions, but it's something I'm curious about and would like to hear the gaming community's opinion on.