Perception to find treasure?

I once had a player suggest that Perception checks to find treasure were a waste of time. After all, if the DM placed the treasure, isn’t it treasure he wants to be found? If a player rolls too low, what happens to the treasure? Does it get “moved” to another room, is it given to the character anyway, or is it just lost forever?

Isn’t the roll really an illusion? Personally, when I place treasure, it’s because I want it to be found. I like to see the players succeed, and having cool magic items raises the level of fun in a game. So if they roll 1 or 5 or 10 below the DC, I typically find that I’m still going to give it to them somehow.

I’ve talked with other DM’s who have a different take on treasure discovery; they place it to see if it will be found, not because it should be found. While I respect this way of DMing, I don’t totally agree with it. I spend a great deal of time prepping for game sessions. Between putting together adventure notes, selecting music for the session, building carstock models for encounters, setting up lighting, and shooing away the missus, I guess you could say the time I spend working on D&D has to count because I only have so much of it. Additionally, with the advent of the Treasure Parcel System, never before have we had such a clear direction on how much treasure a character should have at his given level. Missed treasure just means treasure the’ll need to find later to make up the deficiency. With all that said, if something isn’t found, I don’t want to waste my time with going back to the well to choose new treasure; I either “move” the treasure they missed and put it in a new location or just let them find it anyway.

Of course, this method of treasure discovery can put a damper on certain types of classic situations. For example, hidden compartments, false bottom chests, secret treasure rooms, and magic disguised as mundane. These become difficult to dole out if they’re “meant to be found.” In these cases, it’s easier to see them as a bonus. If the players are smart enough to keep looking or paid attention to clues given out during the description of the area, then the characters receive a little something extra. Nothing too huge, of course; otherwise following the Treasure Parcel System would be a moot point.

Now, this entire argument is predicated on a specific assumption: DM’s place treasure for player’s to find.

I realize there are probably many DM’s out there that design their entire world first, and then let the characters adventure in it. A great example of this sort of play would be status quo games: if a dragon is in a specific cave, then that dragon is in the cave whether the PC’s are 1st or 20th level. Same for treasure. It’s not there for the characters, it’s there because such and such person in the past put it there and that has nothing to do with anyone who might find is.

I find that level of campaign design exhausting. Personally, I run games centered on the PC’s. In the grand scheme of things, the world is there for them; nothing exists behind the door unless it’s there for the player’s to find through their characters. If they go off in a direction I don’t anticipate, then I create stuff as I go—all for them to find. I just don’t have the time to create more than I need to.

In the end, if I took the time to place it, it’s for them to find.

For more discussion on this topic, visit the thread I made on EN World.