5E How far away can a person make perception checks?

coolAlias

Explorer
Doesnt help that the DC system is pretty arbitrary at best. I still have trouble picking a DCm while improvising.
The difficulty with 5e DCs is that there is such a wide disparity in bonuses from the Expertise Rogue to the ability-dumping non-proficient fighter, there is simpy not a DC that is interesting for both ends of the spectrum to roll. It's either "Why bother, I succeed even on a 1" (unless your DM plays as 1 auto-fails... ugh) or "Why bother, I can't succeed" (unless your DM plays as 20 is auto-success... ugh).

That's why when I DM a lot of DCs tend to be around 15, and a lot of things you're not going to have to roll unless there's a meaningful reason to do so.

Big beefy barbarian wants to smash a door down? Sure thing, no check.

Same guy wants to do the same thing but in one hit so the party can get the drop on the enemies on the other side? Now we've got a reason to roll!
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
This is one of my biggest points of contention with 5e - I don't know why, but it seems more than one DM is all about having me roll to see what I can see... so I take Observant, thinking that will send the message. Nope, passive of 20+ isn't enough or doesn't apply because reasons, but maybe you'll roll well! Aaaaah, slay me now.
That's not really a D&D 5e problem, but yes, common in my experience, too.
 

R_J_K75

Explorer
Im trying to remember what we did before 3E introduced the skill system. Was it if your players didnt actually say what they were doing they failed?
 

Celebrim

Legend
Im trying to remember what we did before 3E introduced the skill system. Was it if your players didnt actually say what they were doing they failed?
1e AD&D randomly generated an encounter distance based on terrain type, and randomly determined which side(s) were surprised based on a methodology that seems simple but in practice was fantastically and obscurely complicated.

Likewise, it had a simple random system to decide whether if one side wanted to break off combat, whether they successfully fled.
 

5ekyu

Adventurer
If we assume nice open conditions, good weather, pretty flat, at what range would you allow players to start making perception checks to notice things?

Example: An enemy orc is on the horizon, lets say at what distances would you allow a player to check to see if they see something, and can identify it as an Orc:

DC 30 (almost impossible)
DC 20 (tough but a fair amount of people could see it)
DC 10 (you would have to have diminished senses not to notice)

As a follow up to this, there are a few abilities that give some extraordinary sight ranges. For example, the Eagle Totem Warrior, Eyes of the Eagle magic item, and a wildshaped druid as an eagle. So if you go with the 1 mile as the "extreme distance" noted for the eagle totem specifically, would you use DC 30 to start at the 1 mile marker for these types, or a smaller DC?
Maybe already covered hut in 5e - maybe DMG, maybe PotA, I saw references to like 10 miles out spotting groups on the move from elevated position. It emphasized cover and obscurement rather than distance.
 

R_J_K75

Explorer
1e AD&D randomly generated an encounter distance based on terrain type, and randomly determined which side(s) were surprised based on a methodology that seems simple but in practice was fantastically and obscurely complicated.

Likewise, it had a simple random system to decide whether if one side wanted to break off combat, whether they successfully fled.
Yeah I vaguely remember that. 2E was about the same. I was referring mostly what was the equivalent of the skill system before 3E?
 

Hriston

Explorer
If we assume nice open conditions, good weather, pretty flat, at what range would you allow players to start making perception checks to notice things?

Example: An enemy orc is on the horizon, lets say at what distances would you allow a player to check to see if they see something, and can identify it as an Orc:
For me, what you call “the horizon” is going to be a specific distance that I determine. For the conditions you’ve described, that distance is going to equal a roll of 6d6 x 10 feet, so anywhere between 60 and 360 feet, but most likely around 210 feet. Depending on how much noise the orc is making (I generally assume a moderate amount of noise unless there’s a reason the orc is making a loud noise, like if it’s part of a group of a hundred orcs marching in iron boots) the party might have already noticed it approaching or it might not have, but that’s the distance at which there will be line of sight between the party and the orc, unless the orc is trying to be stealthy. In that case, the orc will be unseen at that distance.

Now if that distance is only 60 feet (because I rolled all 1’s), then conditions just might be conducive for hearing the orc’s quiet noises from that distance, and I’ll check the passive Perception scores of anyone who declared they were keeping watch for hidden threats to see if they notice the orc. But at any greater distance, the orc won’t be noticed, and if the party’s out in the open, the orc gets to decide if it wants to encounter the party or not.
 

Celebrim

Legend
Yeah I vaguely remember that. 2E was about the same. I was referring mostly what was the equivalent of the skill system before 3E?
The answer to that is extremely complicated, because there was no unified system and so the things that we think of now as skill checks were either not handled at all and left up to improvisation, or where handled by a vast hodge podge of individual subsystems each with their own rules. A lot of published extensions to the rules followed the Thief module where skills were siloed off as abilities of a class. Often in modules you'd see subsystems created on the fly, and a lot of common 'house rules' originated in published modules - such as roll under your ability score as a sort of skill test. By 2e they were starting to have NWP's, but they'd never really turned that into a skill system per se, and the system as a whole wasn't very functional.
 

R_J_K75

Explorer
The answer to that is extremely complicated, because there was no unified system and so the things that we think of now as skill checks were either not handled at all and left up to improvisation, or where handled by a vast hodge podge of individual subsystems each with their own rules. A lot of published extensions to the rules followed the Thief module where skills were siloed off as abilities of a class. Often in modules you'd see subsystems created on the fly, and a lot of common 'house rules' originated in published modules - such as roll under your ability score as a sort of skill test. By 2e they were starting to have NWP's, but they'd never really turned that into a skill system per se, and the system as a whole wasn't very functional.
You pretty much put into words what I had forgotten. Secondary Skills too...no skill of measurable worth. LMAO.
 

Wiseblood

Adventurer
I am in agreement with Campbell. I would add that perception is a terrible design. It is way past abstract. Grossly overused and ubiquitous in it’s proficiency. It is so ingrained in the game that it is inescapable.

With that said. So much goes into seeing you have more considerations that you can evaluate and decide if rolling is necessary at all.
For example.

Contrast: someone wearing a red outfit in a field of snow will stick out

silhouetting: a well lit background can give you away.

Movement: attracts attention.

Environmental clues. Obvious tracks, smell or sight of smoke, noise, litter also disturbed and now airborne dust.

Or other creatures indicating. Like birds being startled or circling overhead.

There are a lot more but you get the idea.

Perhaps a more pertinent question might be at what distance do you think “this is an encounter”?
 

Shiroiken

Adventurer
I think it's probably better to reverse engineer this. Taking the information from @coolAlias, I'd tell the players about the moving humanoid figure at the far range, then have the party make Perception checks if they want to determine what it is. The distance this is determined would be related to the result of the highest check (barring special abilities, like Eyes of the Eagle), with about quarter mile equal to DC 10, half mile DC 15, etc. Having a significant viewpoint (such as from higher ground) would grant advantage.

Edit: for clarification, these wouldn't be actual DCs, but simple marking points. Somone who rolls a 14 would recognize them at just under half a mile.
 

R_J_K75

Explorer
Wouldnt ecology come into play at some point? Hypothetically say a PC is at a higher vantage point looking at a group approaching making a perception check, could they possibly tell the difference between bugbears, shambling undead vs an unorganized group of goblins? Their formations, speed, etc might give them an indication of whats coming possibly? Some would be wearing armor carrying standards where an unorganized group wouldnt.
 

Celebrim

Legend
@Wiseblood : To a large extent I agree and I think that there is a lot of value in just rolling a random encounter distance based on the sort of terrain you are in - the very old school method of 1e AD&D - and not worrying about the particulars that set up that situation. Instead, you can just post hoc justify the encounter distance by inventing the particulars, a methodology that D&D normally avoids, but is formally called 'Fortune at the Beginning'.

That said, handily, D&D helpfully abstracts away a lot of those details by summarizing them in the character's 'Stealth' skill. A character with high stealth will naturally avoid contrasting colors, giving themselves away by silhouetting themselves against the horizon, and offering environmental clues to their presence. So again, we could just test perception against stealth, and use that to determine an encounter distance.

One thing we ought to avoid though in all of this is every encounter beginning at close range, with an easily identified being, and often every encounter beginning with an ambush. There are so many other ways to run an encounter than the hidden monster leaping out at close range, and especially if we are running wilderness encounters or a sandbox we are going to want to vary a lot the terms of the encounter.
 

Celebrim

Legend
Wouldnt ecology come into play at some point? Hypothetically say a PC is at a higher vantage point looking at a group approaching making a perception check, could they possibly tell the difference between bugbears, shambling undead vs an unorganized group of goblins? Their formations, speed, etc might give them an indication of whats coming possibly? Some would be wearing armor carrying standards where an unorganized group wouldnt.
Certainly knowledge/lore checks would be appropriate to determine whether the person who has perceived a distant target can properly identify it. I think too often we give away too quickly whether an encounter is intended to be hostile or intended to be friendly, and in doing so we are also eliminating the possibility of being surprised by how things play out.
 

R_J_K75

Explorer
Certainly knowledge/lore checks would be appropriate to determine whether the person who has perceived a distant target can properly identify it. I think too often we give away too quickly whether an encounter is intended to be hostile or intended to be friendly, and in doing so we are also eliminating the possibility of being surprised by how things play out.
I agree. I like the way the surprise used to work. Totally random but it worked better. My post might not have been 100% accurate to what Im thinking but I think people should understand what Im getting at. Certain creatures will act in certain ways will act in a certain way to give away indicators to the trained observer, given the observer has encountered them before.

Elminsters Ecologies was a good example of of this.
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
This is one of my biggest points of contention with 5e - I don't know why, but it seems more than one DM is all about having me roll to see what I can see... so I take Observant, thinking that will send the message. Nope, passive of 20+ isn't enough or doesn't apply because reasons, but maybe you'll roll well! Aaaaah, slay me now.
Here's a reason why I use occasional Perception checks to "see what you can see":

It is a way of splitting up what players can act.

If I just gave everybody the same opportunity to act on information they saw... almost always the same players would move to act based on how the players themselves react to information. My more "active" players would immediately shout "I do X, Y, and Z!" and "While they're doing that, I do A, B, and C!"... and and a result my more "reactive" players now have even more reason to just remain reactive because all the "good ideas" have been shouted out by the others.

But if I ask for Perception checks... which to be honest are probably really more like "comprehension" checks... not everybody will "see" or "understand" what is happening, and thus it focuses the action down to just one or two players at a time (whomever it was that succeeded on the check.) THEY are the ones with complete information and THEY are the ones who have to decide how to act and react. And my more vocal players have to just wait their turn.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Here's a reason why I use occasional Perception checks to "see what you can see":

It is a way of splitting up what players can act.

If I just gave everybody the same opportunity to act on information they saw... almost always the same players would move to act based on how the players themselves react to information. My more "active" players would immediately shout "I do X, Y, and Z!" and "While they're doing that, I do A, B, and C!"... and and a result my more "reactive" players now have even more reason to just remain reactive because all the "good ideas" have been shouted out by the others.

But if I ask for Perception checks... which to be honest are probably really more like "comprehension" checks... not everybody will "see" or "understand" what is happening, and thus it focuses the action down to just one or two players at a time (whomever it was that succeeded on the check.) THEY are the ones with complete information and THEY are the ones who have to decide how to act and react. And my more vocal players have to just wait their turn.
You can do that without ability checks. This is just spotlight management. If certain players have not had enough spotlight relative to the others so far in the session, the DM describes the environment and then directly asks those certain players what they do instead of leaving it open to the entire group. This approach achieves the goal of equitable spotlight sharing better than randomness, since it's possible your more "active" players will succeed on the check.
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
You can do that without ability checks. This is just spotlight management. If certain players have not had enough spotlight relative to the others so far in the session, the DM describes the environment and then directly asks those certain players what they do instead of leaving it open to the entire group. This approach achieves the goal of equitable spotlight sharing better than randomness, since it's possible your more "active" players will succeed on the check.
I could. But I don't. I have them roll Perception checks instead.
 

Xetheral

Three-Headed Sirrush
I don't understand the perception check thing. Perception is for hidden threats. Things which are obscured, concealed, hiding, or otherwise blocked from your vision. If it's out in the open and within your field of vision, then you see it. No check.
I think I will try a different tactic here.

Let's say a party of orcs is in the distance, pursuing the party. The party will want to know when they can see them, so they know what direction they're coming from, whether the party has time for a short or long rest, whether setting up an ambush is practical, whether they can outrun them to the next town, time to lay a trap or cast a lengthy spell, etc..

So I guess the real question is for the DM: Do you want the party to be able to see them at that distance so they can do something lengthy in reaction, or not?

I don't think that's a silly question. If you want the party to be able to get in something lengthy before the encounter, then just let them. If you don't then don't. When an encounter "can" start is firmly in the DMs realm of control.

I am not really seeing what anyone gains from making this a random chance issue dependant on a die roll. I'd say just make the call rather than fretting over real-world science simulation issues with this one.
Calling for a perception check is relevant in styles of play where the parameters of a possible encounter are determined by the strategic choices of the party (and the strategic decisions of potential antagonists, as roleplayed by the DM) rather than by what the DM "wants". In this style, the value of the perception check is specifically that it shows the players that the game world operates organically and the DM is not doing what you suggest and simply deciding whether or not the orcs are far enough away that the PCs have ample prep time.

My advice to @Stalker0 is to rely on the core mechanic of 5e: if the distance (and weather and intervening terrain, etc.) is such that you're sure the party notices the other creature(s), great, no check needed. If they're obviously out of line of sight, also great, no check needed. If you're on the fence, that's when you call for a roll, because there is uncertainty and a meaningful consequence for failure (i.e. if the check is failed the party has a worse strategic position than if the check succeeded, and the party's strategic position is always relevant in this style of play). You can set the DC based on your intuitive feeling of whether you were closer to ruling an automatic success or automatic failure. This advice assumes, of course, that you're running a campaign in a style that values such strategic play. If you're not, then I'm entirely on board with @Mistwell : just decide at what distance someone is seen based on your preferred design for the upcoming encounter.

Because there are strong differences of opinion regarding how 5e's core mechanic should be applied, I would like to clarify that from my perspective, such a check is still being called for in response to the PCs' action declarations. The party declared this particular route to travel, and calling for a perception check to resolve the distance at which a particular creature is noticed as a result of that choice is simply part of adjudicating the results of that (strategic) action declaration. I acknowledge that in other styles of play the check may not be tied closely enough to the action declaration to qualify as a valid use of the core mechanic.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
You can do that without ability checks. This is just spotlight management. If certain players have not had enough spotlight relative to the others so far in the session, the DM describes the environment and then directly asks those certain players what they do instead of leaving it open to the entire group. This approach achieves the goal of equitable spotlight sharing better than randomness, since it's possible your more "active" players will succeed on the check.
I don't want to get into another "how do you play the game" other than to say I think using people's skills or lack therein rewards people for their builds and is an important part of games I run. Yes, I try to set up scenarios where different people shine*, but I would not make this one of them.

*Also remember that some people simply don't like the spotlight. Some people are uncomfortable being the center of attention, even when it's with fellow gamers and friends.
 

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