Search Action 5e Explained (12 Items and Spells to Help!)

Last Updated on September 25, 2023

What is the Search Action in DnD 5e?

From the Rulebook:

When you take the Search action, you devote your attention to finding something. Depending on the nature of your search, the GM might have you make a Wisdom (Perception) check or an Intelligence (Investigation) check.

  • The search action allows you to make a Wisdom (Perception) or Intelligence (Investigation) check to search a space.
  • This action is a quick utility you can use to find traps, clues, MacGuffins, NPCs, or random treasure.  

Search Action: Perception or Investigation?  

The Search Action is one of the Actions in DnD 5e that you can use in or out of combat.

There are two ways to make a search check in DnD 5e. One is by using your Intelligence (Investigation) roll, and the other is with Wisdom (Perception).

In simple terms, this is the difference between trying to logically reason something out versus intuiting something by instinct.

Investigation checks rely upon reasoning; meaning you look for clues and then rationalize a conclusion. Investigation checks happen after you search for details and try to recreate what you know about the lead you are investigating based on the details before you in this space. Make an investigation check after you’ve been in the room looking around to see if you can connect the dots of what you are seeing. 

In contrast, Perception checks rely on inductive reasoning, in which you take in the whole of the environment and then look for something that is out of place. Perception checks are made to notice something with your five senses that might be out of place; a visual detail, a sound, a smell, the texture of a wall or the hollowness behind it. When you first walk into a room, make a perception check to first impressions. 

Examples of Perception Checks on a Search

  • Hearing anxiety in someone’s voice that betrays a lie
  • Seeing a rug that is out of symmetry and may have been hastily thrown over a trap door
  • Smelling a recently snuffed candle
  • Seeing a shadow furtively move or a curtain twitch
  • Tasting sulfur on the air
  • Feeling a smooth spot on an otherwise rough floor where a secret door may have worn down the stone

Examples of Investigation Checks on Search

  • Knowing the villain used a specific time for a cipher in the past and searching their room for it
  • Analyzing the structure of a building or a structure to find its weak or strong points
  • Discerning the type of damage done to a creature
  • Solving a riddle by collecting clues
  • Searching a chest, drawers, or a room

What Can Help with Search?  Bonus Actions, Casting Spells, Help

Helping with a search action is usually the best way to get a successful one. If the party is not in combat, choose the character with the highest Intelligence modifier and Investigation check (hereafter referred to as The Big Brain) and have them toss the die for the party’s search action.

Meanwhile, every other player at the table uses the Help Action and offers Aid, thus giving them a +2 for every player in the party. 

Some characters will have other abilities that can help, such as a guidance spell or Bardic Inspiration.

Below is a list of magic items, spells, and feats that can help you with a search check.

While this list is heavy on the Wisdom (Perception) side, don’t forget that the easiest way to homebrew something is to simply change the name and make it apply to a different skill!

Magic Items

Sentinel Shield

While holding this shield, you have advantage on initiative rolls and Wisdom (Perception) checks.

Ring of Truth Telling

While wearing this ring, you have advantage on Wisdom (Insight) checks to determine whether someone is lying to you.

Eyes of the Eagle

While wearing them, you have advantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on sight.

Robe of Eyes

The robe lets you see in all directions, and you have advantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on sight.

Rod of Alertness

While holding the rod, you have advantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks and on rolls for initiative.


While carrying the stone, you can gain advantage on ability checks of your choice.


As long as these temporary hit points last and you keep Blackrazor in hand, you have advantage on attack rolls, saving throws, and ability checks.


Dungeon Delver 

Gain advantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks to find secret doors.


Gain an extra die on attack rolls, ability checks, or saving throws three times a day.

Magic Initiate 

Possibly gain access to the Guidance cantrip.


Enhance Ability: Owl’s Wisdom (2nd level)

Gain advantage on Wisdom checks for one hour. Available for Bards, Clerics, Druids, and Sorcerers

Guidance (cantrip)

Gain +1d4 to ability checks. Available for Clerics and Druids.  (Note from Rich, Guidance is awesome in D&D 5e and I find myself using it constantly playing Baldur’s Gate 3 as well)

Can I Use the Search Action in Combat?

Possibly, depending on what you are searching and how.

If, for example, you are researching an ancient tome in a library of ancient tomes, a search action could reasonably take minutes or hours. During combat, that kind of time simply isn’t available.

However, if you are trying to ransack a wardrobe to look for a hidden portal to another plane, that could be done quickly.

This relies heavily on DM discretion and on your ability to convince your DM that you can do what you want to do.

Returning to our ancient tome example, there is a way you can do long, complicated research projects while in the middle of combat.

Complex research in combat example:

Tim, who is playing Fizard the Lizard Wizard is searching an ancient lizardfolk temple library for specific information about a legendary monster that destroyed his ancestor’s civilization.

While in the library, the party is attacked by the undead. While the barbarian and the paladin gamely throw themselves into the fray, Tim the Lizard Wizard decides to search the shelves upon shelves of tablets to find what they came for so they can get out quickly.

Tim realizes that normally this search would take hours of poring over tablet after table to translate and decide if they have the right one. To shorten this time, he asks the DM for a Search check to discern an organization system. He rolls and finds one.

On his next turn, asks for a search check to use the organization system to look in the right spot. He rolls and finds what he believes to be the correct tablet and then begins his retreat, hoping the party will follow.

For more information on all the Actions in 5e, check out the main article or have a look at the Ready Action, or Use an Object Action.

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