20 Triggers for a Secret Door

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

Spider Hall by Matt Morrow

Spider Hall by Matt Morrow


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.

Use the 20 triggers below to breathe life into the secret doors in your dungeon:

  1. A torch sconce on the dungeon wall holds a burnt out torch. A small basket nearby holds a supply of new torches. Replacing the burnt down torch with a fresh torch triggers the secret door by depressing a switch hidden in the bottom of the sconce.
  2. Two slightly raised stones set into the floor roughly three feet apart must be pushed down at the same time to activate the secret door.
  3. A wall carving depicts a battle between orcs and humans. The centrepiece of the carving is a heroic human standing triumphant over a slain orc chieftain. Pushing the carving of the slain orc into the wall opens the secret door. The door remains open for one minute before automatically shutting—which returns the slain orc to his proper position in the carving.
  4. A small hole in the ceiling roughly eight inches deep holds a small switch, which can be activated by mage hand or the haft of a long weapon such as a spear. The hole is too narrow for a human hand to fit.
  5. Three identical carvings—perhaps dragons, blazing suns or other thematically fitting object—decorate the wall. Pushing in the carvings in the following order—left, right, centre—opens (or closes) a nearby secret door.
  6. One of the flagstones near the secret door is loose. Prying it up reveals a lever which operates the secret door.
  7. Niches in the wall hold small statues of various fantastical creatures—manticores, wyverns, dragons and so on. Pushing down the tail of one of the dragons opens the secret door.
  8. A wooden chair stands against the wall. Leaning it forward on its front legs depresses a switch in the floor, which opens the secret door.
  9. Whistling a certain tune opens the secret door. Whistling it backwards shuts the door.
  10. Knocking three times on a certain stone operates the door.
  11. Standing on a sequence on flagstones in a specific order opens the door. A handle on the inside of the door enables it to be pulled shut.
  12. A niche in the wall acts as the door’s trigger. When a certain amount of weight is placed in the niche—the same as a nearby, ornate candlestick—the door opens. Removing the item, causes the door to close one minute later.
  13. Turning a nearby statue of a beautiful elf maid clockwise causes the secret door to open Turning it back, shuts the door.
  14. A small bowl rests on a thin, narrow waist-high column near the wall. The bowl radiates faint necromantic magic (DC 18 Knowledge [arcana] identifies). Dripping blood into the bowl causes the nearby secret door to open.
  15. One of the stones or bricks in the wall hiding the secret door is slightly concave (DC 25 Perception check spots). Pushing the stone inwards, opens the door.
  16. One of the stones or bricks at the base of the wall stands slightly proud. Kicking it twice in rapid succession opens the door.
  17. To operate this secret door, two stones set in the wall at roughly waist height for a human must be pushed inwards simultaneously.
  18. A battered chest stands next to the secret door. Opening the chest reveals mundane, near valueless items such as blankets, old clothes and so on. A small catch (DC 20 Perception spots) hidden behind the chest operates the secret door.
  19. A lever hidden in the frame of a nearby normal door operates the secret door. The secret door shuts automatically after 30 seconds.
  20. Magical, but heatless, flames fill an ornate ten-foot wide fireplace is flanked by two lidless chests full of coal, one of which also contains a small iron shovel. The secret door lies at the back of the fireplace and is operated by taking a shovel full of coal from the left chest and placing it in the right chest. Doing so releases a counterweight that operates the door.

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

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3 thoughts on “20 Triggers for a Secret Door

  1. Oh goody, I’ve been trying to come up with new and different trap triggers. Tripwires and click plates get old real quick, LoL.