Whether you enter an ancient tomb, slip through the back alleys of Waterdeep, or hack a fresh trail through the thick jungles of the Isle of Dread, much of D&D revolves around exploration. Part of the fun in the game is uncovering the secrets, monsters, and treasures that the DM has placed throughout the campaign world. You never know what might lurk around the corner in a D&D game.
There are a few game mechanics used frequently while exploring: movement, stealth, and perception. The movement rules determine how far you can travel. They also cover how to swim, climb, jump, and so on. The stealth rules outline how you can hide from creatures, while the perception rules govern how to spot hidden objects and creatures. Embracing all of these rules are the rules for time.
When you explore an area, the DM tracks your progress and describes what you see and encounter. Hours and days pass as you delve under the earth and travel through the countryside. When time is of the essence, the DM tracks minutes. Also, the game uses rounds as a unit of time in combat and other situations when each character's actions are important moment by moment.
Days: Days are usually tracked by counting the number of long rests adventurers take. The DM might track days if counting down to a festival or other calendar event. Sometimes a group decides to take a break from adventures, and the DM tracks how many days of downtime accrue. The location of a temple, tower, or tomb of interest could lie at the far end of several days of travel.
Hours: The DM broadly tracks the number of hours that pass during the course of active adventuring. Some magical rituals take an hour to complete. Research in a library takes at least a couple of hours. Reaching the next village might require 4 or 5 hours of hard riding.
Minutes: It might take 10 minutes to clear the sand from a tomb entrance, or 5 minutes to work your way from one end of a crowded market to the other.
Rounds: Rounds come into play when it is important to track action on a small scale. Each round lasts about 6 seconds, meaning that 10 rounds fit into a minute.
Rounds come into play during combat, when each step or sword blow can spell the difference between victory and defeat, and in other situations when the DM must track each action you take.
The Combat section has more information on how rounds are used in battle.
Each character has a speed value, which is the distance in feet that the character can move in 1 round. To determine how far you can move in a minute, multiply your speed by 10. When precision is important, such as during a battle, you spend your speed in segments of 5 feet, unless told otherwise.
While exploring and fighting, you are bound to move into areas of rubble, have to climb ropes and walls, and swim across rivers or subterranean lakes. When you encounter terrain you cannot move across normally, the DM adjudicates what happens. Most often, you encounter difficult terrain, which costs 5 extra feet of movement for every 5 feet of the terrain that you traverse.
Modes of Movement
There are a number of different ways you can move, from simply walking across an empty room to struggling up a steep slope. These different modes of movement can be combined when you move. Simply deduct the distance of each segment of your move from your speed until it is spent or until you are done moving.
Walk: Your speed determines how far in feet you can walk during a round.
Outside combat, you can double your speed by hustling. Doing so in combat typically requires you to forgo making an attack, casting a spell, or taking another action (see the Combat section).
Jump: With a jump, you leap into the air to clear an obstacle or reach up to grab an object above you.
Long Jump: If you walk at least 10 feet and then make a long jump, you leap a number of feet up to your Strength score. Otherwise, you can leap only half that distance.
High Jump: If you walk at least 10 feet and then make a high jump, you rise a number of feet into the air up to 3 + your Strength modifier. Otherwise, you can rise only a number of feet up to your Strength modifier (minimum 1). In either case, you can extend your arms half your height above you.
Climb: When you climb a vertical surface that has sufficient handholds, every 5 feet you climb costs 5 extra feet of movement. A slippery vertical surface or one with few handholds usually requires a check to climb. You cannot climb across a ceiling or similar surface without a special ability.
Swim: When you swim through water or another liquid, every 5 feet you swim costs 5 extra feet of movement. Rough waters usually require a check to swim through.
Stand Up: When you are prone, you can stand up as part of a move. Doing so costs 5 feet of movement.
Crawl: Unless you stand up, crawling is your only option for movement while you remain prone. Every 5 feet you crawl costs 5 extra feet of movement.
When a creature tries to hide, it must rely on its Dexterity to remain unnoticed. A creature can attempt a Dexterity check to sneak around, moving quietly and relying on cover and heavily obscured areas to avoid detection.
There are two ways you can hide. If a creature can't possibly see you, you need only move silently to avoid detection. If the creature might see you, you need to keep behind cover or stay in heavily obscured areas to remain hidden.
When you attempt to hide from one or more creatures, your Dexterity check is opposed by the Wisdom check of any creature who might notice you or the Intelligence check of a creature that is actively searching for signs of your presence. You make one Dexterity check for this contest. Note your result, and use it as your check for all contests until you are discovered or stop hiding.
Ties are a special case in this contest. If a creature is already aware of you before the contest, you fail to hide. If was not aware of you before the contest, you remain hidden in the case of a tie.
Conditions for Stealth
In order to avoid detection, you need some way to hide. You can't simply stand in the middle of an empty, lit room and hope to avoid notice. Something must conceal you, perhaps a large object, a piece of terrain, or an immobile creature of an appropriate size, such as a slumbering dragon. Regardless of what obscures you, the thing must cover at least half your body for you to hide.
Obscured Areas: An environmental phenomenon that heavily obscures you can also provide a means to hide. A heavily obscured area typically contains darkness, opaque fog, or dense foliage. Some monsters and characters, such as rogues, have special abilities that allow them to try to hide even in areas that are lightly obscured. A lightly obscured area typically contains heavy shadows, fog, or moderate foliage.
Staying Quiet: It's assumed that you try to avoid making noise while hiding, and your Dexterity check includes your ability to keep quiet. If you make a noise, such as yelling a warning to an ally or knocking over a vase, you give away your position and are thus no longer hidden.
Being Detected: If you lose the conditions needed to remain hidden, you are automatically spotted, as long as a creature is looking in your direction. You might hide around a corner, and then creep past a guard who is looking the other way.
Benefits of Being Hidden
In addition to the obvious benefit - your enemies don't know where you are - being hidden grants a few special benefits:
Cannot Be Targeted: A creature from which you are hidden cannot target you with attacks or spell effects that require it to pick a specific target. You can still be affected by area effects.
Advantage on Attacks: When you attack a creature from which you are hidden, you have advantage on that attack roll. Usually attacking reveals your position.
As you move through a dungeon, walk along a forest trail, or search a sage's study, you rely on your senses to spot hidden clues, lurking monsters, and other surprises. The DM describes the scene to you, but sometimes you want your character to search for something that the DM might be omitting from the description. The perception rules help determine whether your character spots a hidden object or creature.
Noticing and Finding
As a general rule, your Wisdom serves as a measure of your general awareness of your surroundings, whether you notice creatures lurking in ambush, hear the stealthy tread of an approaching assassin, or catch the telltale whiff of troglodyte in the air.
Your Intelligence measures your ability to find something you're looking for, whether it's the faint outline of a secret door in a wall, the hollow sound of a hidden compartment in the bottom of a chest, clues to a murder, or the footsteps of an invisible creature in the dust.
Sherlock Holmes, renowned for his Intelligence, is the undisputed master of finding clues and determining their significance. Tarzan, on the other hand, who unfailingly hears the rustle of leaves or the snap of a twig, or sees a stalking tiger or lurking snake, relies on his Wisdom.
The line between using Wisdom or Intelligence gets a little blurry if you try to actively extend your senses in an effort to notice something around you. Making an effort to notice something sounds much like finding, but it still relies on Wisdom. If you stop and spend a moment to scan the surrounding trees, or press your ear to a door to hear what might lurk beyond, you're still relying on Wisdom.
The Search skill, mostly relevant to finding, typically modifies an Intelligence check. The Listen and Spot skills, however, are all about noticing, and they typically modify Wisdom checks.
Finding a Hidden Object
When your character searches for a hidden object, such as a secret door or a trap, the DM typically asks you to make an Intelligence check. Such a check can be used to find hidden details or other information and clues that you might otherwise overlook. The DM sets the DC, as usual.
In most cases, you need to tell the DM where you are looking in order for him or her 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 Intelligence check result. You would have to specify that you were opening the drawers or searching the bureau in order to have even a small chance of success.
Since traps and other dangers might protect hidden objects, this specificity is important for the game to remain fair. Just as the DM should never dictate your character's actions, so too should you be sure to make your intentions clear to the DM when searching for clues and other hidden things.
Noticing or Finding a Hidden Creature
When a creature is hiding from your character, you normally oppose that creature's Dexterity check with either a Wisdom check or an Intelligence check. The DM usually asks you for a Wisdom check if you have no idea a creature is present and thus no reason to be actively searching, or if you're taking a moment to scan your surroundings or listen for movement. In this case, your search is a mix of looking and listening, so you don't normally need to be too specific in your description of where you're searching. A lurking foe might give itself away with a muffled cough, a trail of disturbed dust, or any number of other signs.
The DM generally asks for an Intelligence check if you're specifically searching for clues to the creature's location. Here the guidelines for finding a hidden object apply; you need to tell the DM if you're looking at the curtains for a telltale bulge, checking the floor for footprints, or taking some other action to find a creature.
Listening at a Door
As your character explores a dungeon or similar environment, one way to be prepared for dangers ahead is to press your ear to a door in an effort to hear signs of activity beyond. If humanoid creatures lair in the area, you might hear the casual conversation of bored sentries or a fierce argument between two rival would be chieftains. If a dragon sleeps on its treasure pile, you might hear the slow rhythm of its breathing, perhaps punctuated by fiery snorts or the crackle of electricity around its nostrils. When you listen at a door or otherwise try to hear noise in an area, the DM typically asks you to make a Wisdom check, setting the DC based on the volume of whatever you might hear.