Searching, scouting, et al

Potential spoilers for players in this thread. In particular Gert, Tarrick, and Amarie***

So now with a massive two whole sessions (one was PC creation) under my belt I have some queries about searching (e.g. searching rooms for secret doors, traps, etc)

After reading this thread Traps & Secret Doors
and discussing it briefly in this thread GM new to Torchbearer, some questions
I thought I was comfortable with things: if a player says they search a room, you tell them their search turns up nothing if there was nothing to find (no test needed), or if there is something you give them a Scout ob which determines whether they find anything.


  1. The above seems to ignore the loot rules - except in unusual circumstances the players can search any room and roll on the Loot Table 2. So does this negate part of the system/method above?
    (There’ll never be situations where you tell them they found nothing and they don’t roll)

  2. Does a roll on the Loot Table 2 in an area where the GM hasn’t placed loot first require a successful Scout test?

  3. There is some boundary between “I glance at the table, what do I see?” where no test is required, and “I thoroughly search all the bookshelves in the room looking for levers or valuables” where a test is required. My players, intentionally or not, seem to be probing the grey area between these extremes, and I’m sometimes in two minds as to whether I should have them roll a Scout test or not. How do I decide where the boundary between test and no test is?

  4. Am I correct in thinking that a player cannot just say “I search the room” and cover every possible discovery in the room with a single test? Luke’s post in the first link above and the fact that Skogenby has at least one room with multiple hidden items with different Scout obs to find seems to confirm what I already think: doing that isn’t possible, players instead need to specifically say “I search through the junk in the barrel” or “I inspect the walls for cracks and seams” and then I handle their interaction with those specific areas separately. Correct?

  5. If 4 is correct how and when do I let the players roll on Loot Table 2 for random loot? Can they say “I search this room for loot”? This seems at odds with #4 above, but I can’t see how they can take the more targeted approach from #4 seeing as we’re talking about loot that I haven’t placed but is just generated by the system…a little confused.

Also a totally unrelated one I’ll just slip in: PCs rolling disposition get +1D for help, monsters/NPCs rolling disposition get +1s for help. Is this a bug or a feature?

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The GM only rolls on Loot Table 1 if the players resolve a planned encounter (like killing a monster) or if the GM planned Loot in a specific location they search but did not plan what it is. The GM only rolls on Loot Table 2 if the players resolve an unplanned encounter (like killing a monster that emerged as the result of a twist).

If the GM didn’t plan Loot, and there was no encounter, there is no Loot. The players can’t just roll on Table 2 in every room.

Always ask 'how are you searching?" or “what are you looking for?”. This will either prompt players toward a Good Idea or give clear terms to set an ob. I personally wouldn’t call for a scout test to look through the contents of a barrel (stakes aren’t high and it doesn’t require skill). If players said “I inspect the wall for cracks and seams” and I know there is a hidden door, that seems like a Good Idea to me. The read the cues to look for this very specific thing, so I’d say they earned it.

Monsters gain an extra disposition for each helper in their listed conflict types. Otherwise, they get +1D per helper toward the roll (which is symmetrical to players). All the more reason to get monsters into a conflict that isn’t within their Nature.

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It wouldn’t be the first time I misunderstood something in the rules, but the loot thing was from where it says

“When the characters are victorious in an unplanned encounter, or simply search an area that you hadn’t placed anything in, roll on Loot Table 2 to see what they find”

which really sounds like it’s possible for loot to be found anywhere.

My examples for searching may have been poor ones…what would cause you to call for a Scout roll to find something? It certainly happens, it’s in the factors, and adventures list obs for it, what what determines whether I do or don’t call for a test?

Oh yeah, that quote makes it pretty clear. I could see having an idea that there should be something in a room but not having loot in mind, so the GM rolls on the table. In that instance, I would roll on Table 2, without calling for a test (they are not scouting for anything, they are just looking around). In practice, I’m not inclined to flip through the book for this table when they might just end up with a bit of lint or a strange idol. I generally just describe what might plausibly be in the room based on its function.

When to call for a test is a tougher call, and I find it hard to evaluate examples out of context. My general procedure would be: if there is a particular obstacle to finding it (time pressure, hidden, very small) and the party’s approach to searching is general rather than targeted (‘I look for the key’ rather than ‘I check the drawers in the desk for a key’) then call for a test to resolve it. If there is little in their way, or their approach is clever/ efficient, no test.

My preferred way to run Torchbearer (not to say this is the only way) is to resolve as much as possible in the conversation/ description by asking questions and listening to answers. When the stakes are clear and meaningful, call for a roll. The handling time of a test is Torchbearer can be significant (figuring out ob, tools, rewards, help, traits, etc) so I think it’s important that what the roll resolves is similarly significant.

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If I let my players roll on the loot table without a test they’ll do it in every room they ever enter, forever and ever, amen :wink:

I imagine searches will nearly always be for: loot, traps, secret doors, or information.

Should I use time spent as a basis for determining whether or not to call for a test?

Or their intent?

Or purely their description of what they do?

Right now I’m thinking relying purely on the latter is ripe for miscommunication, and that perhaps intent (in conjunction with description of course) is the best thing to base the decision on?

The big thing is that an area must be clear to search for treasure. If the room is full of monsters, a character searching for secrets could wander into an ambush or trap. If, however, they have cleared the obstacle in the room, then they are due some loot (but all that glitters is not gold).

There is really no such thing as too much loot. The limited inventory slots or the difficulty of a laborer test makes it so the party has to make some decisions. Those decisions are an important part of the survival aspect of the game:

  • Now that my inventory is full, do I ditch these torches for a bag of silver?
  • Do I spend the time searching when there could only be some copper coins, rocks, and spider webs here?

If the party wants to spend all their precious time searching in every room, let them. The players are driving and grinding. They are telling you what they want to do (get treasure). If it is fun for them to thoroughly explore each and every room and then go running back to camp, then they are burning torchlight and resources. Sooner or later they might find out that they don’t have enough food and light to sustain that strategy.

If you are placing treasure, they won’t find much cash in the first few rooms. Usually the good stuff is behind an obstacle deep in the dungeon. Also, as soon as they fail, you get to throw a wrench in that loot train plan. Have a good twist ready. Give them choices between loot and their goals or beliefs. Make them work for it.

If they have an instinct to search a room, that can be dangerous because a twist could put them in a situation where they are alone and face to face with a nasty monster.

Also, check out the trick in Heroes in the Wrong World, this is a good way to keep players on their toes:

When they fail tests, give them conditions. And use an occasional twist to ensure there’s
no time or place to make camp. Combine that with the turn count and they’ll be ground down and begging for relief in short order.

But, because the pre-made adventures will have placed loot in most rooms, or because you get to place loot, you don’t have to roll for it. Sometimes the loot is nothing much: some leaves, twine, pieces of bone.

Another thing I highly recommend is that you take the time to make custom loot tables for your own adventures. The loot of a dungeon can become a part of the story you create with the players, and it helps make the whole thing feel more authentic. Players will remember the unique items you create, even if the loot has little to no value in the market.

The pre-made adventures will often have a section describing searching too. In the first area of Skogenby, the “Searching the Area” box tells you there is a trail the party can find. Let that be your guide.

You can use the listed factors as a guideline and add an evil GM factor of one (at your discretion), but, alternatively, you can set it appropriately given your judgement.

Use the Scout factors as a guideline. If the party starts searching and there is a hidden door to a treasure room on the other side of this room they have never been in before, that test could be an Ob 5 (door-sized and over there) or Ob 6 (plus evil GM factor). If they use a spell or piece of equipment cleverly, it might even be a Good Idea.



Thanks very much moconnor8, Koch, I really appreciate the time and effort you guys take to help a newb like me (hopefully others benefit in the future also). There ought to be a compendium of good threads collected and compiled for new players to look at…


I have seen things in published adventures like:

“If the players make a cursory inspection of the table they notice X. If they inspect it and pass an ob 3 scout test they discover Y.”
The boundary between these can be hard to define, especially once players become aware that there is such a boundary…


I’ve also seen published:
This room contains X , which can be found with an ob 3 scout test. It also contains Y which can be found with an ob 4 scout test. It also contains Z which can be discovered with an ob 5 scout test. Area 6 of Skogenby springs to mind (I have players who come to this forum, hence the spoiler warning above), where on top of that Y and Z are essentially located in the same place!

If they search the spot that has the two items to find, with two different obs, is the intent that the first time they look I give then the low ob, and after they’ve discovered the respective item if they look again I give them the high ob for the other item?

I assume it would be wrong to give them the high ob, and if they pass tell then about all items that have that on or lower?


It seems to me that there is no “I search this room” action like may often be played in a DnD game. Instead you have to take each part of a room in isolation? Eg they can’t search the whole room with one test, they have to specify that they search the bookshelf, and if they do that there’s no possibility that they can also at the same time discover the secret hidden under the carpet…yes?

I think that’s probably correct, but there are boundaries there that my players are going to try to push too:

“I’ll search the walls” (in a room that’s 200x200 feet - do I allow that in a single test?)

“I’ll search the floor and the walls and the bed and the cupboard” (trying to see how much they can get from me for the price of a single test - I can see sticky situations for me arising…)


As for loot table 2, if they search an area with the intention of finding traps or secret doors, but there are none, should I then give then an ob anyway that lets them find loot to roll on the loot table?
Or would I only do that if they specifically say “I search around for any useful or valuable items”

If the former it breaks what I learnt from my previous thread and the first link in the OP here (nothing to find means no test)…but is the latter not slightly unfair? If they search an area can they only find loot if loot was their intent?

Glad to help. Know that you’re exactly where you need to be after 2 sessions. You have burning questions. Yes! Keep asking! You still have about 10-20 more sessions to go before it all snaps together.

Torchbearer is a different than a lot of games where there is only one way or one test for doing something.

Instead, Torchbearer gives you systems or various component mechanics so that you, as the GM, can do what is needed. Torchbearer gives you the tools and just enough instructions to use it. Only you know what is right given the situation. The rest comes from experience, making mistakes, learning, and playing.

So, yes, you will see variation in how to handle searching a room because each of the situations is unique. Depending upon what is there, how the players describe, and the circumstances of the test, you could get different results. But, all of them follow the same principles of obstacle-to-obstacle, failing forward, describe to live, and making a test when there is a challenge.

In the published adventures, you will see different suggestions for tests.

These obstacles should not be considered hard, fixed, prescriptive numbers. Instead, the adventure designer is helping you out a little by giving you some of the common tests that might be made and an approximation of obstacle. There are too many variables for any given situation, and there is no way an adventure designer can (or should) account for them all. That’s why you, the GM, are there. You are empowered to set the obstacles.

Also, you will see a slight evolution or different attempts to present obstacles to the GM in the published adventures. For example, in the Middarmark adventure “In the Shadow of the Horns,” there are less listed obstacles than usual. Instead, it employs a less prescriptive method of listing different factors or approaches to how you as the GM might calculate your factors…

#1. There is always more to be found in a room beyond the initial description. The boundary should be clear. There is stuff you can see for free because it is immediate and obvious. If you want to know more, then that is a test. Roll some dice.

It seems like if you look around you see X without a roll. Sure, no test/no roll. That makes sense because what you can see is not obscured.

Also, you might give more information if a character has a wise or a nature that would make sense for them to know. Usually, that falls onto the character to weave into their description, such as the Remembering nature of an elf, but you can tease out a little bit more if the players are new or missed a detail that the character would certainly know.

If they spend time and really inspect it, however, the designer is suggesting an Scout Ob 3 test will give even more information. Remember, if they fail and you give a condition, they learn everything they were seeking (for the price of the condition).

#2. Here the adventure lists out all the various types of things that might happen in this area. These are just suggestions for the typical actions in the room. Players will always think of crazy things to do that neither you nor the adventure designer can plan.

Having two different scout rolls for two different purposes is fine because the cost is turns on the grind. However, you shouldn’t be rolling Scout ten times. This is not GURPS. If you read between the lines in the rule book, you will get a sense for when to sensibly call for a test and what really is the obstacle.

Now, if the description of the character somehow encompassed both tests, then it is conceivable (within the realm of possibility) to settle it with one test. That’s rare but fine as well. Again, only you the GM know what is the right balance. The adventure designer typically tries to equip you with all the information you will need to make that decision.

#3. No, there is no “I search this room” action defined in the rules. In fact, the rule book says that is not allowed.

You gotta get more description from the players. Ask them “how.” Take it from there. Once they hit a test, roll some dice. Then, update the situation, let the players react, and head toward the next obstacle. Keep it moving. Keep the pressure.

However, depending upon the situation, it could be conceivable that they do some test to search the entire room. For example, they cast a spell that gives them some clue (an aura of deception) that there is something here. Then, they describe how they stand shoulder to shoulder proceeding step-by-step through the chamber. At that point, you have to decide if it is still challenging to find, give them an Ob 6 Scout test, otherwise, give them a Good Idea and the loot.

#4. Yes, no test/no roll. You keep describing and updating the situation until you get to a test.

In this case, there are things for them to find in this room. So, they search, and you update the situation.

You might say something like, “You’re quite certain that there’s no secret doors along the wall (no roll yet), but as you finish your sweep, you notice some piles of rags in the corner and a mound of dirt. (still no roll)”

You are not assuming they care or will continue the search. You have not called for a test yet. You are, however, giving them “more rope” so to speak. If they check the rags, there’s nothing there. At that point, if they want to search the mound, it could be a scout test to find the buried treasure or it could be a laborer test to dig it all out without damage.

Sorry if this is too long. These are deep questions, and I tried to be as concise as possible.

Game on,


It looks like Koch has you covered, but I want to emphasize one point that I think is important: Torchbearer is not intended to be a solipsistic exercise.

By that I mean your players are not intended to create things out of nothing with rolls. Which means I need to explain that bit you quoted:

“When the characters are victorious in an unplanned encounter, or simply search an area that you hadn’t placed anything in, roll on Loot Table 2 to see what they find”

So here’s the thing, which could probably stand to be explained better in the book: There is a difference between your players describing searching a room you described as completely bare and looking for loot you didn’t place, and your players describing searching a treasure room looking for loot that you didn’t place. In the former, a roll won’t magically create loot that you didn’t place in what you intended to be a bare room. In the latter, even though you didn’t specifically place it, there’s treasure there. They should be able to find something.


Thanks Koch. Please never shorten a post on my account, the more I read the better off I am!

Perhaps it’s handling my players’ expectations that is the hardest part right now.
If they search and find a door, and then get hit by the trap it has, I predict “but we already searched there, that’s how we found the door! Why didn’t we find the trap?”

They’re already dancing around the boundary between roll and no roll for gathering information: “I look at the floor. No, no, I don’t inspect it carefully, I just look at it, to see if there any track or drag marks there…”

If a player decides to search 800 feet of wall “I inspect ALL the walls carefully, step by step, for any cracks that might indicate a secret entrance” I can’t see any reasonable way to deny them. Perhaps I shouldn’t be thinking of denying them? Maybe here it’s me who’s being influenced by his DnD past, not the player?

Thanks Thor, that’s extremely useful to know, and does make at least one of my dilemmas disappear.

I’ll throw in another thing I’m worried about, if I may: I’m dreading the moment when my players try to loot fallen foes for their weapons/armour, only to be told they can’t. With some ancient skeletons, or even kobolds, I may be able to get away with it, but if they defeat some well equipped bandits and can’t take the bandit leader’s hammer after they kill him, I may have a mutiny on my hands…but the rules seen quite specific?

You can always choose to place the bandit leader’s hammer as a piece of loot. Weapons aren’t actually worth anything anyway, so unless someone has lost theirs in a compromise or twist it’s fairly unlikely your players will ever be keen on looting them. When I roll weapons as random loot, unless it’s elf/dwarf/magic, it’s as good as junk to my players.

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Well their armour, helmets, the coins in their pockets, etc, not specifically a weapon. This isn’t a case of my players trying to gain advantage anyway, more about breaking their suspension of disbelief.

But in any case this is actually a relatively minor concern. I should have saved it for another thread.

What’s really occupying my mind, and really making me sweat, is searching.

From my previous post:
two searches to find two things in the same spot?
Players pushing the boundary between free and testable searches/inspections.
Players bundling search actions together into single rolls.

Are you still in the middle of Skogenby?

Maybe you could post an actual play report in The Tavern forum and talk specifics there.

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Yes, they’re underground at Skogenby. l used Skogenby as examples of what I mean here, but I’m hoping to understand things in general rather than specifically for Skogenby.

The players have already been pushing the boundaries to see what information they can get without a test, but the other things I’ve asked about haven’t yet occurred, they’re likely to occur next session, and I’m hoping to be prepared to handle them.

The players have told me that one thing that concerns/confuses them in Torchbearer is searching, and they’re looking to me to make it all ok…but I’m still not entirely clear on dealing with it myself, so I can see area 6 potentially playing out pretty poorly for us…

If there are multiple hidden things in a location, especially if two or more are essentially in the same spot, I can see players getting frustrated and feeling hard done by.

two searches to find two things in the same spot?
Players pushing the boundary between free and testable searches/inspections.
Players bundling search actions together into single rolls.

The answer to all these concerns is Describe to Live. Remember, players never get to say what skill they’re using. Nor do they decide whether there is a roll or not. That is solely at the discretion of the GM based on what the players describe.

Does the way they describe their search suggest that they might find both a secret door AND a trap? Then the test could uncover them both.

Do you think the description they gave would absolutely uncover them both? Then it’s a Good Idea. They find them and no roll necessary.

Would the description give a possibility of finding the secret door but not the trap? Then they get to roll to find the secret door but not the trap. Etc.

Everything must start with the description.


Yes, I think I’m beginning to see that I’m searching for a set of instructions, and there may not be a universal set. The core principles like Describe to Live, etc, should be enough…

But I don’t have enough experience with the system, so I’m nervous about how it will pan out. My players are too, and some of them are quite “gamey” - they will push as hard as the rules allow for good outcomes -so I’m looking for hard and fast rules.

If for example they found that I allowed a brilliantly detailed description of their search to discover secret doors without a test, first id be swamped with epic monologues about searching, then they’d tire of that and ask the equivalent of “can we just say I delivered an epic monologue and skip to the reveal?”

Possibly it all boils down to inexpeience and nerves though. Perhaps if I simply keep the main principles in mind everything will be ok…

Sure, that’s natural. You’re all learning the game at the same time.

So, everyone has to expect to make some mistakes. Failing forward applies to us in real life too.

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