10 Suspiciously Detailed Secret Door Red Herrings

Every good dungeon has secret doors. Villains need a secret escape route, cleverly hidden treasure cache or even a secret laboratory to work upon their diabolical schemes.

By William McAusland (Outland Arts)

By William McAusland (Outland Arts)


Adventurers know this and seem to spend an inordinate amount of time looking for secret doors. However, while dungeons often feature secret doors few modules actually describe a secret door’s trigger mechanism. Of course, sometimes the PCs search for a secret door where no secret door is to be found.

Use the 10 triggers below to breathe life into–well–nothing:

  1. A torch sconce is affixed to wall at a slight angle. It looks like it could be twisted in its fixings. It can’t.
  2. The floor in the area is uneven and one of the flagstones is particularly raised. Stepping on it does nothing.
  3. Smudges on the wall show where someone has pressed their hand. Pressing the same spot does nothing.
  4. Brightly painted tiles decorate the wall. They hang on crude hooks and can be rearranged easily. Doing so achieves nothing.
  5. One of the stones set into the wall is loose; small crumbs of mortar dust the floor below. The stone cannot be pushed in, but can be removed with a sharp blade.
  6. Six small—almost imperceptible—dots are painted onto the wall at shoulder height. Pressing them in any order does nothing.
  7. Two small holes pierce the wall just below knee height. Both are large enough to fit a slender hand inside. The PCs might think switches or levers lurk within; they don’t.
  8. A small slot between two stones looks just large enough to insert a coin. Doing so does nothing; the hole is simply where mortar has crumbled away—it serves no purpose.
  9. A crudely painted fist-sized star daubed in whitewash decorates the wall. A PC touching the star discovers it is still wet.
  10. A slender hole, wide enough to take a spear butt or similar item, pierces the ceiling near the wall. The hole is three-foot deep.

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This article will appear in GM’s Miscellany: 20 Things II, available in March 2016. For more, check out our Free Resources page.

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6 thoughts on “10 Suspiciously Detailed Secret Door Red Herrings

    • The PCs could be at it for ages–particularly if overtime they come back through the room someone else has rearranged the tiles!

      • The tiles are a color-coded watch rotation schedule for the guards.
        They’re checked several times per day by the assorted denizens. Leaving the tiles in any configuration other than the order they were found in throws the usual rotation off, and is sure to be noticed by someone, alerting them to the players’ presence, and putting the whole place on high alert.