D&D 5E Beast master wants to use pet to get +5 to passive perception

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
In a situation like this, I think it's important to consider whether the way passive Perception is being used at the table is leading to it being overvalued in a way the game doesn't intend. Same goes for the Observant feat. If that's seen as a must-have, then it could be the trade-offs and risks associated with the tasks being taken and resolved are not in line with what the game says. Often this happens when the DM treats passive Perception like an always-on radar outside of combat, pinging traps and secret doors and other hidden objects without any meaningful choice by the player during play.

Observant is taken in my games almost never. This isn't because passive Perception is unimportant, but because if you want to have a chance for your passive Perception to apply, certain criteria must be met including being in the front rank of the marching order and/or engaging in keeping watch (or trying to notice traps or searching for secret doors) at the cost of not doing other things that may be useful in context. Being in the front rank exposes the character to risk. Plus, there's pressure from making the investment in the feat or whatever that you can't focus on any other tasks the character might otherwise be good at. These trade-offs and risks make it a meaningful choice during play, not just a choice to be made during character creation.
I think Perception is overused in general. I'm not sure where I saw it exactly, but I remember something in the rules about the DM using Arcana instead of Perception to find magical traps, and Investigation checks when searching for clues, and Survival for finding tracks, etc. But I think a lot of DMs just default to Perception. Players love this, of course, because it's everything they want to optimize, in one easy-to-optimize stat.
 

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Vaalingrade

Legend
See, I would get myself into this mess with the best of intentions: yes, that is what pets are for, I would tell myself. Yes, a dog is always watchful. Sure, go ahead, I would tell my player. And then every player at the table would narrow their eyes and smirk as they exchange knowing looks.

Then two weeks later, there would be a whole entourage of pet dogs in the party, and they would be helping the wizard scribe her scrolls, and helping the rogue with stealth and lockpicking, and helping the fighter's attack rolls, and helping everyone use first aid kits, and helping convince the emperor to withdraw troops, and helping the cleric with his Demonology research, and...
I dunno. I've got a whole different experience.

My players constantly collect pets and never, ever, ever ask them to do anything more strenuous than cuddle. It's not even that they forget them like familiars, they just pick critters they like, then refuse to fight or leave them.

I honestly wish they would use them because half their pets have powers and they don't get used unless it's a passive like how the Mousin Orm goes out and steals small objects and gets you in trouble that I get to activate.
 

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
Relevant to the thread:



Point #1 about choosing your battles is solid gold.
"Our pets have plot armor so long as we aren't trying to use them as anything but pets."

Point #2 is a great reminder for the "convenient pets" issue.
 
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Kurotowa

Legend
In general he wants to use his wolf to stand sentry most of the time, “use the help action” to give him advantage on perception checks (which then translates to a +5 to passive perception).
I would draw the line between active and passive Perception, and also when a wolf's assistance is actually helpful in that situation. Which is to say, if the two of them are taking their turn on night watch while the party camps, then sure. The two of them are both actively devoting their attention to staying aware of incoming threats. Just walking around town, or traversing a dungeon? That's more a case for individual Passive Perceptions. Noticing things outside a wolf's sensory or cognitive range? Not a valid case for the Help action to apply.

In other words, yes in some circumstances, but not as a blanket passive effective.
 


doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
See, I would get myself into this mess with the best of intentions: yes, that is what pets are for, I would tell myself. Yes, a dog is always watchful. Sure, go ahead, I would tell my player. And then every player at the table would narrow their eyes and smirk as they exchange knowing looks.

Then two weeks later, there would be a whole entourage of pet dogs in the party, and they would be helping the wizard scribe her scrolls, and helping the rogue with stealth and lockpicking, and helping the fighter's attack rolls, and helping everyone use first aid kits, and helping convince the emperor to withdraw troops, and helping the cleric with his Demonology research, and...
Yeah it’s a playstyle thing. In my group, I can just say, “Folks, let’s not do the thing where you try to ‘win’ D&D, shall we?” And then they’d drop it. Firs time someone says their car is helping them pick locks and I ask them how they’re helping with that, I doubt I’d even have to explain that helping being possible is up to the DM based on whether the helper…could physically contribute to the task.

I know other groups have a more “skilled play” style where using the rules and what the DM will allow to get the best advantage possible is just how the game works, fundamentally.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
I do wanna say, I think familiars should be more helpful outside of combat. A familiar should help make potions and magic items, and help you cast rituals faster, and help you figure out what magical effects are, stuff like that.
 

Asisreo

Patron Badass
I can go either way. It doesn't really matter if the Ranger is getting +5 to passive Perceptions during those times. If I want an ambush encounter, I'm fine with someone's specialty being very useful.

On the other hand, I don't want to map up scenarios where other players might want to "think together with their familiars" or "get help from their cute pet to charisma checks." If I go case-by-case, it could seem arbitrary and maybe even like favoritism, though.

If I rule no, it's not like the wolf is useless for scouting. You can have them far enough apart that the wolf might notice something the Ranger wouldn't out of pure distance.
 

Then two weeks later, there would be a whole entourage of pet dogs in the party, and they would be helping the wizard scribe her scrolls, and helping the rogue with stealth and lockpicking, and helping the fighter's attack rolls, and helping everyone use first aid kits, and helping convince the emperor to withdraw troops, and helping the cleric with his Demonology research, and...
Are you sure these are dogs, and not human followers in dog suits?
 

Li Shenron

Legend
So here’s the scenario. I have a player who is a beast master ranger (knowing that they tend to be a bit weak).

In general he wants to use his wolf to stand sentry most of the time, “use the help action” to give him advantage on perception checks (which then translates to a +5 to passive perception).

he already has a very high passive perception (observant) so this would definately push him into the “very high” territory.

what do you think, is that a reasonable way to use an animal companion?

I rather see a problem with the Observant feat than with letting the wolf pet help...

Normally, using passive perception means to Take 10, and it is meant to represent the average result of a task done repeatedly. It can cause a DM some problem when setting the DC of hidden things because then a passive check means to compare two static numbers (not so much with hiding creatures who can always roll their stealth check, maintaining some randomness), and this can lead to the situation where the DM is implicitly deciding in advance everything that will or won't be found. If it had been for me, I would have completely avoided passive checks when designing the 5e ruleset. But there are still a couple of aces in the DM's sleeves: first of all even a passive check is still subject to rule zero, meaning that the DM can always choose you don't get to make the check at all (whether it is resolved with an active roll of the dice, or using a static number) if the circumstances aren't right; second, because a passive check represent a task done repeatedly, the DM doesn't (and probably shouldn't) grant an active check when the PC "misses" the passive check, at least not unless the player actively asks for it.

[perhaps a bit more explanation on the latter part: if you tell me your PC will "keep looking for hidden stuff all the time", I will use your passive perception score but I will NOT jump up and grant you an active Perception check on my own initiative when there is indeed something to find and you missed it with your passive score! It will have to be you telling me that you think there is something to find here and now and want to actively stop and search better than your "keep looking". I interpret that routine task of a passive score as "going through the motion", meaning doing an average job at best]

Add the advantage from the pet aiding the Ranger (or whatever other source of advantage) and passive perception becomes Take 15. This is still not a problem for me, you're not automatically getting your best result all the time, and there is still a reason for a player to take the initiative of stopping somewhere and searching better with an active perception check.

Note that in general I don't have much problems with a very high chance of avoiding surprise, after all there are other abilities in the game (like the Alert feat) which make you completely immune to surprise! But I do have issues with noticing hidden objects, traps, secret doors, hazards... everything that itself is passive doesn't work well with a character being passive in looking for it.

However, enter the Observant feat, and I feel we're in Houston... because the damn feat grants you a +5 bonus ONLY on passive scores, and not in the form of advantage, so it will stack with it, and make using passive perception the equivalent of Take 20. And I do not like this at all, because then it means the PC will get the best result every single time. There is also no more reason to ever asking for an active roll, meaning that a player is not encouraged to think in-character and guess where there might be something hidden, it can be completely on auto-pilot. If the Observant feat had granted advantage instead of flat +5, it would not have stacked and it would still be Take 15. If the Observant feat had granted +5 on ANY perception check (not only passive perception) then it would have also been ok for me because an active roll would have still been beneficial, again passive would have been still Take 15.

I still have the first ace in my hand, rule zero allowing me not to always grant you even the passive check, I can definitely rule for example that a pet simply has no capacity in aiding you to find a hidden door or object (a concept it may even struggle to grasp in the first place) unless it smells interesting, but it feels a bit sour to use rule zero often... it feels like now I have to punish the player where the guilty is whoever designed the Observant feat without realizing this possible situation. To get out of this mess, if I had this situation in my group, I would tell the player to swap the Observant feat with something else if they want me to allow the pet helping all the time.
 

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