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5E Automatic Success on Passive Perception and the like; your thoughts?

ParanoydStyle

Peace Among Worlds
So, one of my very favorite features of my favorite RPG to come out in the last few years (Delta Green) was automatic success or failure. If a character has Biology 80%, he is going to automatically succeed at knowing virtually anything about biology that is relevant to the moment. If a character has Law 15% or less they aren't going to be coming up with any useful legal information. I was pleased with this because it saved so much time on unnecessary dice rolls. In Delta Green if you're in combat, you always have to roll for anything, even skills that would ordinarily be automatic success, because bullets and/or tentacles are flying and everything has become violently distracting, more unpredictable and suddenly deadly, which I also think is a good rule.

I was pleased to see that D&D 5E had left at least a few areas where this could easily be installed into the game.

In my current 9th level Greyhawk campaign, the Barbarian, an absurdly powerful character in a wide variety of ways (all of his physical stats are 20s; we rolled for stats and when you roll for stats, weird stuff can happen), has a Passive Perception of 21 (!) due to a feat or two he took that also gave him a whopping +10 Initiative Bonus. (He's also got an AC of around 20 buck naked.) Anyway, my interpretation of how a Passive Perception of 21 should work is that if there is something secret, concealed, or hiding, or any relevant sound or smell in his general vicinity, I just tell him about it. Usually in some detail, too, like "down the hall through the door at the end of it on the right you can hear what sounds like four humanoids moving around".

I virtually never ask him to roll a Perception check. The only situation I would was if he was up against a Stealth or Sleight of Hand roll with a bonus in the neighborhood of +11 (so, a well-specced rogue of his level, for instance). But even then, I usually don't call for a Perception check either, since even if he fails the whole party will know something's up. If he thinks there's something he didn't notice, of course he can take the initiative (no pun) and roll his own Perception check, but this also rarely comes up since I give him so much information up front automatically.

Instead, if it's actually possible for something to escape his notice, I basically treat his Passive Perception as his "AC". If I meet or beat it with an NPC's "Attack" (Stealth roll), he has failed to perceive that NPC, and so has the rest of the party. In a sense, in these scenarios he has "automatically" failed, although there's nothing automatic about it as the opposition needed to roll well to beat his obscene Passive Perception.

Does this seem reasonable to y'all? Does anyone else treat very high Passive Perception this way? Same question with "Passive Insight". If not, how do you treat it?

Does anyone make even further use of automatic success/failure in D&D?
 

ad_hoc

Adventurer
Yes, these are the default game mechanics at play.

Note that disadvantage translates to -5 to passive checks and sometimes PP can't be used at all such as when performing distracting tasks during travel.

In order for an ability check to be called for in 5e 3 things must be true.

#1 The outcome is in doubt
#2 There is a meaningful consequence for failure
#3 It is interesting

The DM decides if the character succeeds at a task or fails. If the DM has determined that the outcome is in doubt then an ability check is called for.

#2 and #3 go hand in hand. At our table rolls only occur when they are exciting, as I believe was part of the design of the game. There should be tension over the outcome. It should be important. Picking the lock on a door isn't exciting, unless the monsters are coming and they need to get to the other side...or there are monsters on the other side and they might hear the attempt...or the door is trapped and a check is being made to avoid triggering the trap.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Passive checks in D&D 5e are the average result for a task done repeatedly, or for when the DM wants to secretly determine whether the PC succeeds at something without rolling dice. Like any other ability check, it is used to determine the result of a task the player has described that the DM judges to have an uncertain outcome and a meaningful consequence for failure.

Passive Perception in particular applies when the character is staying alert for hidden dangers such as monsters and traps. It is used in part to determine surprise and sets the DC for any monsters attempting to hide from the character. This is provided that the character is not distracted in some way, such as by performing an activity while traveling like navigating, foraging, drawing a map, tracking, or any other task the DM judges to be distracting. These sorts of activities mean that the character is automatically surprised by lurking monsters and does not notice any traps. An exception to this is the ranger in favored terrain, who can both stay alert for hidden dangers while performing one of these other tasks. The character's position in the marching order may also determine whether or not passive Perception can be applied.

In general, as DM I do not change my description of the environment because a character has a high passive Perception score. They get the same description as everyone else and then may act to notice additional details in that environment. After they describe what they want to do (which we'll assume here is something related to spotting, hearing, or otherwise detecting the presence of something), I determine if the task is successful, not successful, or if there's an uncertain outcome. If there's an uncertain outcome and a meaningful consequence for failure, I call for a Wisdom (Perception) check with an appropriate DC.

Automatic success and failure happen regularly in D&D 5e. Only tasks with an uncertain outcome and a meaningful consequence for failure have an ability check. And only the DM may call for ability checks, passive or otherwise, based on what the player has described as wanting to do. The smart play in this paradigm in my view is to pay attention to what the DM says about the environment and then describe a well-conceived task in a way that attempts to remove uncertainty as to the outcome and/or take any meaningful consequence for failure out of the equation. With at least one of those two criteria gone, a DM following the rules will thus declare the effort as an automatic success and there is no ability check. (Again, assuming the task isn't impossible.) This is better than relying on dice, if the goal of the player is to succeed more often than not.

Passive Insight is by definition when the player has described a task to determine the true intentions of a creature by gleaning clues from body language, speech habits, and changes in mannerisms - performed repeatedly - when there is an uncertain outcome and a meaningful consequence for failure. As a result, it may come up only in very specific circumstances such as an extended social interaction challenge. Some DMs may use it to set the DC for an NPC's or monster's Charisma (Deception) check, but I do not believe that is a good use of the mechanic. I would prefer to simply have the NPC or monster speak and an incredulous player declare the appropriate task to discern lies or otherwise try to uncover the NPC's ideal, bond, flaw, or agenda, at which point I may or may not call for a Wisdom (Insight check) or grant automatic success or failure as with any other ability check.
 

ParanoydStyle

Peace Among Worlds
In order for an ability check to be called for in 5e 3 things must be true.

#1 The outcome is in doubt
#2 There is a meaningful consequence for failure
#3 It is interesting
This is an excellent rule 0 and I'm proud of WotC for putting it in 5E. In practice, I imagine most tables play in a way more consistent with calling for rolls if "ANY OF" those three things are true. That has been my experience. (And there are still plenty of GMs making the rookie mistake of calling for Perception checks or whatever for information that characters NEED in order to advance the plot/quest, so when they come up fail the GM is like "oh s-word crap" because now how the hell do we proceed with this adventure?)

The character's position in the marching order may also determine whether or not passive Perception can be applied.
This may well be in RAW, but whether it is or not, I'm not a fan of it. Penalizing Passive Perception due to marching order is fine. Disallowing it entirely just because you're in the back or the middle or whatever is a bridge too far however. If you are exceptionally perceptive, that isn't going to be entirely neutralized by the fact that one of your five senses that make up your overall perception (sight) is partially restricted by a few guys ahead of you.

In general, as DM I do not change my description of the environment because a character has a high passive Perception score. They get the same description as everyone else and then may act to notice additional details in that environment. After they describe what they want to do (which we'll assume here is something related to spotting, hearing, or otherwise detecting the presence of something), I determine if the task is successful, not successful, or if there's an uncertain outcome. If there's an uncertain outcome and a meaningful consequence for failure, I call for a Wisdom (Perception) check with an appropriate DC.
See, I'm really not a fan of this approach because the PC(s) with high passive perception kind of get screwed if they "may act to notice additional details in the environment". For starters, "may act" indicates active perception indicates the precise mathematical opposite of PASSIVE perception. But secondly, I feel like with no clue as to what actions to take to notice additional details, this foments a very "mother may I" style of play. Their characters would and should know what these actions are due to their high Passive Perception, so it's a case of denying players knowledge their characters would have, and then, well, when push comes to shove, if they should know what actions to take to notice additional details because of a high PP (which I believe they should), then simply letting them automatically take and succeed at those actions is much more efficient and faster.

As a DM, an upside I think I should find with this approach is that if Thornir the Barbarian doesn't notice something, the party will never see it coming. After receiving a few smacks on the nose this way, the party should realize they can't rely entirely on Thornir's PP of 21.
 

ad_hoc

Adventurer
This is an excellent rule 0 and I'm proud of WotC for putting it in 5E. In practice, I imagine most tables play in a way more consistent with calling for rolls if "ANY OF" those three things are true. That has been my experience. (And there are still plenty of GMs making the rookie mistake of calling for Perception checks or whatever for information that characters NEED in order to advance the plot/quest, so when they come up fail the GM is like "oh s-word crap" because now how the hell do we proceed with this adventure?)
One thing I think is common is that those coming from 3e apply that framework to other games including 5e.

In 3e skill checks were used for simulation. Whereas in 5e the rules are designed with the narrative in mind. If it isn't fun don't do it sort of thing. Don't get bogged down in the minutiae. Unfortunately like you say, some people just skip right over those parts in the rules.

One thing to note that is commonly misunderstood because the wording is confusing is about passive vs active checks.

The passive/active is in relation to the player not the character. The player rolling a die is an active check. The player not rolling is a passive one.

The character actively engaged in being the lookout will still use a passive check to represent their efforts for example.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
This may well be in RAW, but whether it is or not, I'm not a fan of it. Penalizing Passive Perception due to marching order is fine. Disallowing it entirely just because you're in the back or the middle or whatever is a bridge too far however. If you are exceptionally perceptive, that isn't going to be entirely neutralized by the fact that one of your five senses that make up your overall perception (sight) is partially restricted by a few guys ahead of you.
The key word in what you quoted is "may." Or as the rules say "The DM might decide that a threat can be noticed only by characters in a particular rank..." (emphasis mine). An example is then given as to why that might be so. So it's up to the DM. I choose to use it chiefly because it makes marching order a more meaningful choice and I think games benefit by having more meaningful choices for the players to make.

See, I'm really not a fan of this approach because the PC(s) with high passive perception kind of get screwed if they "may act to notice additional details in the environment". For starters, "may act" indicates active perception indicates the precise mathematical opposite of PASSIVE perception. But secondly, I feel like with no clue as to what actions to take to notice additional details, this foments a very "mother may I" style of play. Their characters would and should know what these actions are due to their high Passive Perception, so it's a case of denying players knowledge their characters would have, and then, well, when push comes to shove, if they should know what actions to take to notice additional details because of a high PP (which I believe they should), then simply letting them automatically take and succeed at those actions is much more efficient and faster.

As a DM, an upside I think I should find with this approach is that if Thornir the Barbarian doesn't notice something, the party will never see it coming. After receiving a few smacks on the nose this way, the party should realize they can't rely entirely on Thornir's PP of 21.
There is no "active" perception. "Passive" does not mean that you're not actively doing something as it did in the previous edition of the game. The rules for passive checks say nothing like that in D&D 5e. Passive refers to there being no dice rolled; the task is being performed repeatedly.

I'm not sure how acting in the game world to notice stuff "screws" the character with high passive Perception. Such a character, provided he or she is not distracted enough to no longer be able to notice threats, is more likely to avoid being surprised and to notice traps before stumbling into them than characters with lower passive Perception scores. And if they have to make an ability check as a result of undertaking a task to notice things which has an uncertain outcome and a meaningful consequence for failure, more likely than not, the character with the higher passive Perception will also have a higher bonus to the ability check.

When the DM describes the environment, this necessarily includes the basic scope of options that present themselves. When the DM is done describing the environment, the players describe what they want to do and the DM narrates the results. Then that cycle repeats. There is nothing "Mother May I" about that. It's how the game is played per the rules.
 

5ekyu

Adventurer
So, one of my very favorite features of my favorite RPG to come out in the last few years (Delta Green) was automatic success or failure. If a character has Biology 80%, he is going to automatically succeed at knowing virtually anything about biology that is relevant to the moment. If a character has Law 15% or less they aren't going to be coming up with any useful legal information. I was pleased with this because it saved so much time on unnecessary dice rolls. In Delta Green if you're in combat, you always have to roll for anything, even skills that would ordinarily be automatic success, because bullets and/or tentacles are flying and everything has become violently distracting, more unpredictable and suddenly deadly, which I also think is a good rule.

I was pleased to see that D&D 5E had left at least a few areas where this could easily be installed into the game.

In my current 9th level Greyhawk campaign, the Barbarian, an absurdly powerful character in a wide variety of ways (all of his physical stats are 20s; we rolled for stats and when you roll for stats, weird stuff can happen), has a Passive Perception of 21 (!) due to a feat or two he took that also gave him a whopping +10 Initiative Bonus. (He's also got an AC of around 20 buck naked.) Anyway, my interpretation of how a Passive Perception of 21 should work is that if there is something secret, concealed, or hiding, or any relevant sound or smell in his general vicinity, I just tell him about it. Usually in some detail, too, like "down the hall through the door at the end of it on the right you can hear what sounds like four humanoids moving around".

I virtually never ask him to roll a Perception check. The only situation I would was if he was up against a Stealth or Sleight of Hand roll with a bonus in the neighborhood of +11 (so, a well-specced rogue of his level, for instance). But even then, I usually don't call for a Perception check either, since even if he fails the whole party will know something's up. If he thinks there's something he didn't notice, of course he can take the initiative (no pun) and roll his own Perception check, but this also rarely comes up since I give him so much information up front automatically.

Instead, if it's actually possible for something to escape his notice, I basically treat his Passive Perception as his "AC". If I meet or beat it with an NPC's "Attack" (Stealth roll), he has failed to perceive that NPC, and so has the rest of the party. In a sense, in these scenarios he has "automatically" failed, although there's nothing automatic about it as the opposition needed to roll well to beat his obscene Passive Perception.

Does this seem reasonable to y'all? Does anyone else treat very high Passive Perception this way? Same question with "Passive Insight". If not, how do you treat it?

Does anyone make even further use of automatic success/failure in D&D?
In general, for me, I rarely have "secret or hidden" be just a matter of passive perception.

In 5e hiding for a person requires more than just trying to hide, you have to have something to hide behind or some obscuring circumstance or some special ability.

So, in my games, when something is "secret or hidden" then discovering it is more than just looking in a room.

The most bog simple ones require a certain DC perception and close proximity.

Others may require a search, not just look - investigation.

Others may require moving stuff or otherwise interacting and changing - then usually an Investigation check.

Now, the key is, the DCs may not be high. Even DC 10 might be fine. But the circumstance must be met.

That said, what may be visible just by observing are some clues - with a high enough Per roll.

BTW I tend to use DMG auto-success so proficiency will auto a DC 10 without disad.
 

aco175

Explorer
I do not have any problems giving PCs greater knowledge on things like this. A +11 Perception and +10 initiative is absurd in my game, but the player took the feats and items and such to get his PC there, so I would likely grant him some benefits that would go with it. There should be some situations that this PC suffers in and the other PCs get to shine since they put feats and such into other things so it spreads around with each PC getting some cool shine time.

The other thing is that the game/campaign lasts only for a year or so and the PCs will change in the next game.
 

Shiroiken

Adventurer
I'll admit I'm an outlier on the topic. I hate automatic success from passive checks, because it affects my adventure design. Instead I use a Mike Mearls rule where I roll against the passive score. This keeps the benefit for the player investing in something, because the odds are still greatly in their favor, but it gives a chance of failure. Interestingly, since I use a macro that rolls against each player's passive score, rarely a high skill character will fail while a lower one gets lucky. It's only happened once so far, but it created some hilarious RP.
 

robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
In my current 9th level Greyhawk campaign, the Barbarian, an absurdly powerful character in a wide variety of ways (all of his physical stats are 20s; we rolled for stats and when you roll for stats, weird stuff can happen), has a Passive Perception of 21 (!) due to a feat or two he took that also gave him a whopping +10 Initiative Bonus. (He's also got an AC of around 20 buck naked.) Anyway, my interpretation of how a Passive Perception of 21 should work is that if there is something secret, concealed, or hiding, or any relevant sound or smell in his general vicinity, I just tell him about it. Usually in some detail, too, like "down the hall through the door at the end of it on the right you can hear what sounds like four humanoids moving around".
Paging: @Parmandur :p
 

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