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

Bacon Bits

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?
From my memory, the only characters that got a roll were those that had thief skills. Namely: Detect Noise. Otherwise, the DM just winged it. I remember having to tell the DM what kind of helmet your fighter or cleric was wearing, for example. I remember some games having great helms give extra protection for the head while also making it harder to see or hear. But it was just what the DM said. Everyone just kind of stopped doing that in 3e.

I remember DMing and just rolling a die like flipping a coin. I used to just roll dice from time to time, too. I was more interested in making the PCs feel threatened back then.
 

Mistwell

Hero
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".
Sure, that's fair. None of which involves a random chance die roll. If the party makes a strategic choice such that you, as the DM, think they can see the orcs at that distance, then they see the orcs at that distance. Nothing you just said requires random chance to play any role. In fact introducing randomness when none is called for decreases their ability to enjoy good strategy choices.

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.
I disagree. With or without a die roll, the DM is in fact making a decision as to whether the players can see them from that distance or not. It's not artificial - the die roll in fact is far more artificial than the DM deciding the distance they can be seen. Because it's not a random issue - either your eyes can see them from that distance or they cannot, and there isn't luck or skill involved.
 

Xetheral

Three-Headed Sirrush
Sure, that's fair. None of which involves a random chance die roll. If the party makes a strategic choice such that you, as the DM, think they can see the orcs at that distance, then they see the orcs at that distance. Nothing you just said requires random chance to play any role. In fact introducing randomness when none is called for decreases their ability to enjoy good strategy choices.



I disagree. With or without a die roll, the DM is in fact making a decision as to whether the players can see them from that distance or not. It's not artificial - the die roll in fact is far more artificial than the DM deciding the distance they can be seen. Because it's not a random issue - either your eyes can see them from that distance or they cannot, and there isn't luck or skill involved.
The die roll for the perception check exists as a tool to resolve uncertainty. If the DM feels that there is no uncertainty as to whether the creature is seen, then I agree with you that there is no purpose in adding an unnecessary die roll.

But I can't agree that there will never be uncertainty. There isn't always some clearly-defined threshold before which the creature is certainly unseen by everyone and after that is certainly seen by everyone. If the creature is at a distance where it is not obvious to me as the DM whether or not the PCs see the creature, then under this particular style of play that uncertainty should be resolved by a die roll.

And I'd additionally argue that skill and luck are absolutely involved--Perception is literally a defined skill in the system, and there is luck in terms of when exactly each creature passes over uneven terrain that might inconsistently provide line of sight.
 

Krachek

Explorer
We see stars hundred light years away, so ....
A rogue with expertise might read a newspaper in another galaxy!
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
The die roll for the perception check exists as a tool to resolve uncertainty. If the DM feels that there is no uncertainty as to whether the creature is seen, then I agree with you that there is no purpose in adding an unnecessary die roll.

But I can't agree that there will never be uncertainty. There isn't always some clearly-defined threshold before which the creature is certainly unseen by everyone and after that is certainly seen by everyone. If the creature is at a distance where it is not obvious to me as the DM whether or not the PCs see the creature, then under this particular style of play that uncertainty should be resolved by a die roll.

And I'd additionally argue that skill and luck are absolutely involved--Perception is literally a defined skill in the system, and there is luck in terms of when exactly each creature passes over uneven terrain that might inconsistently provide line of sight.
I agree that there could be a reason to make an ability check. I just don't think we have enough information to say one way or the other if that's the right call in the fictional situation.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
I agree that there could be a reason to make an ability check. I just don't think we have enough information to say one way or the other if that's the right call in the fictional situation.
Which, as described in the DMG under Role of the Dice is a DM call. There is no one right answer for every group.
 

Mistwell

Hero
The die roll for the perception check exists as a tool to resolve uncertainty. If the DM feels that there is no uncertainty as to whether the creature is seen, then I agree with you that there is no purpose in adding an unnecessary die roll.

But I can't agree that there will never be uncertainty. There isn't always some clearly-defined threshold before which the creature is certainly unseen by everyone and after that is certainly seen by everyone. If the creature is at a distance where it is not obvious to me as the DM whether or not the PCs see the creature, then under this particular style of play that uncertainty should be resolved by a die roll.

And I'd additionally argue that skill and luck are absolutely involved--Perception is literally a defined skill in the system, and there is luck in terms of when exactly each creature passes over uneven terrain that might inconsistently provide line of sight.
I wish you'd stop with the "style of play" part of this, because it's a dismissive tool that doesn't further discussion in this context. The way you're using it, it's like you're saying, "you can have any opinion you want, but if your opinion doesn't match the style of play I am specifying then it doesn't count. Only opinions which match the style of play are valid." There is no "style of play" at issue here, just opinions on how to decide on a specific scenario. You can disagree with my opinion, but my opinion is just as valid as yours for any style of play concerned with "how far can you see X." And if you disagree with that part - ask yourself what you hope to gain by continuing to frame this as a style of play issue rather than a simple difference of opinion? Is it going to inform or persuade anyone of anything, given you know now it's coming off as dismissive?

Yes, perception is a skill - and the skill doesn't cover "how far can I see X". If it did, we wouldn't be having this conversation. It's specifically for things ATTEMPTING TO NOT BE SEEN. In fact, as it's based on Wisdom (a mental statistic), I think it's actually a really bad measurement for the physical ability to see further than others. And if you're asking "can they identify X" then it's again not a good stat to use as Intelligence is usually used for identification of things. You might even say Investigation is a more appropriate skill, as you're putting together clues based on shape and how they're moving and the path they're taking to identify what kind of creature it might be.

As for luck for when they pass over uneven terrain - that's definitely a DM call. The DM determines the path the NPC chooses to take. And if they wanted to introduce luck into that path, the DM would be rolling some die, not the player rolling on a skill. Their skill result is not altering the path the NPC is taking. We're not talking quantum mechanics here where seeing it changes the course or speed.
 

Xetheral

Three-Headed Sirrush
I wish you'd stop with the "style of play" part of this, because it's a dismissive tool that doesn't further discussion in this context. The way you're using it, it's like you're saying, "you can have any opinion you want, but if your opinion doesn't match the style of play I am specifying then it doesn't count. Only opinions which match the style of play are valid." There is no "style of play" at issue here, just opinions on how to decide on a specific scenario. You can disagree with my opinion, but my opinion is just as valid as yours for any style of play concerned with "how far can you see X." And if you disagree with that part - ask yourself what you hope to gain by continuing to frame this as a style of play issue rather than a simple difference of opinion? Is it going to inform or persuade anyone of anything, given you know now it's coming off as dismissive?
Thank you for letting me know that my posts are coming across as dismissive. That's helpful information. My intention in emphasizing different styles of play is to be as inclusive as possible by recognizing that the utility of calling for a perception check will vary from table to table, so knowing that I'm achieving the opposite result is important (and disconcerting).

To answer your questions, I don't see style of play as merely a framing device: I see it as the central factor determining whether it is a useful tool for the DM to call for a perception check to determine the distance at which a creature is seen. So I have to disagree with you--I think there is indeed a style of play issue here (and an outcome-determinitive one at that).

Am I correct in understanding that you disagree with me on whether the utility of calling for a perception check will vary from table to table based on play style? If so, and you'd like to explore that disagreement further, please let me know. If you'd rather not pursue that line of discussion, I'm fine with that too.

Yes, perception is a skill - and the skill doesn't cover "how far can I see X". If it did, we wouldn't be having this conversation. It's specifically for things ATTEMPTING TO NOT BE SEEN. In fact, as it's based on Wisdom (a mental statistic), I think it's actually a really bad measurement for the physical ability to see further than others. And if you're asking "can they identify X" then it's again not a good stat to use as Intelligence is usually used for identification of things. You might even say Investigation is a more appropriate skill, as you're putting together clues based on shape and how they're moving and the path they're taking to identify what kind of creature it might be.

As for luck for when they pass over uneven terrain - that's definitely a DM call. The DM determines the path the NPC chooses to take. And if they wanted to introduce luck into that path, the DM would be rolling some die, not the player rolling on a skill. Their skill result is not altering the path the NPC is taking. We're not talking quantum mechanics here where seeing it changes the course or speed.
It appears we also disagree on the scope of the Perception skill. I would note that the description of the skill in the PHB 178 says that "[Perception] measures your general awareness of your surroundings and the keenness of your senses." Both general awareness and keenness would seem to me to be highly relevent to determining how far away a creature is detected, so Wisdom (Perception) checks would appear to me to be an appropriate tool to use if a check is to be called for.

I see luck as involved (in certain circumstances) as part of the abstraction of the ability check. If the players and the creature(s) are both moving over uneven terrain, for example, the DM isn't likely to have exact details on line-of-sight distances between particular locations. Instead, the DM might only be able to determine that the PCs would only have intermittent line of sight to the creature. Resolving whether a PC is generally aware enough (and has keen enough senses) to detect the creature(s) in those intermittent moments would seem to me to be part of the abstraction of an ability check, just as an attack roll is an abstraction of whether a character is skilled enough and happens to be in the right position to take advantage of intermittent openings in a foe's defenses.

That's my personal perspective anyway--I recognize that the role of ability checks is entirely up to the DM and that other posters will have different equally-valid opinions.
 

Leatherhead

Possibly a Idiot.
We actually have a way to figure this out.

According to the Eagle totem Barbarian, we have a limit for fine details:
Aspect of the Beast said:
You gain the eyesight of an eagle. You can see up to 1 mile away with no difficulty, able to discern even fine details as though looking at something no more than 100 feet away from you. Additionally, dim light doesn’t impose disadvantage on your Wisdom (Perception) checks.
Firstly, that means basically anyone with normal vision is expected to see stuff as far as a mile a way. This is a figure that nicely ties into the maximum range of targeted spells and abilities that aren't "You can target anyone on the planet"

Secondly, this means the Visual Acuity 1.0 ratio for D&D is 100'/100', or 20 squares. Which makes the math as easy as possible if you are trying to tie it to the perception skill! +/- 1 point of passive perception would be just 5', or one square.
 

Sword of Spirit

Adventurer
(I’m going into more detail than the OP needs, because I figure clarifying all of the relevant rules and guidelines will be useful to new players who might come across this thread.)

Relevant rules include:

-Visibility rules (including distance) in the DMG on pages 117, 119, and 243.
-Tables on the DM Screen Reincarnated for visual encounter distance based on terrain, and hearing range based on whether creatures are making normal noise, trying to be quiet, or being very loud. Based on the language on page 243 of the DMG, these were probably meant to be in the DMG but cut for space.

The encounter distance tables appear to assume uneven terrain or potential obstructions, because none of them can generate results greater than a few hundred feet. The DMG visibility distances tables, OTOH are explicitly maximum distances to see in open, unobstructed terrain.

Within visual range (limited to the encounter distance tables on the screen when not completely open and unobscured) you automatically notice someone if you are alert (not distracted or occupied in another task—and based on the general rules presentation and adventures with examples of lazy guards not even getting a chance to notice you, you have to be choosing to be alert, it shouldn’t be assumed everyone always has the benefit of their Passive Perception* up outside of combat) and they are not attempting Stealth.

That frames the relevant context. As to the actual question about discerning detail of these creatures that have been detected, the only rules are the general guidance on setting DCs for tasks where you judge success to be uncertain.

In this specific kind of situation, I’d consider the size of the creatures, how much their appearance differs from other races, and any other potentially identifying factors. Then, I’d either rule auto success or failure, or go with a gut feeling on a DC. I very much like the suggestion of using Intelligence rather than Wisdom for the Perception check in this case (alternate abilities with skills is a suggested variant/option right in the PHB / Basic Rules). I recognize that whether or not someone is comfortable with 5e’s encouraged manner of setting DCs more or less on the fly is a personality thing as well as an experience thing. The most experienced and intelligent DMs don’t always find that method fits them. Since it does fit my personality style it is a big plus for the game to me. I’d encourage deciding whether you like doing it that way or not. If so, go with it. If not, go with a more detailed table like one of the ones suggested on this thread. I’d just encourage you to keep it within the bounds—and meaning—of 5e DCs. For instance, DC 30 is “nearly impossible”. If single number increments are too granular, you might stick with increments of 5, or even just five options: Automatic Success, DC 10 (Easy challenge), DC 15 (Moderate challenge), DC 20 (Hard challenge), Automatic Failure.

* Jeremy Crawford said your Passive Perception is always active. However, if he was not referring specifically to combat (or referencing situations where you are allowed to make an active check and clarifying that your PP is the minimum, which if I recall was the context), he was mistaken as far as the rules he published. It happens. The actual rules are better and make it so that the typical person doesn’t automatically notice every typical pit trap they come across and every typical concealed door in a hallway they walk down, while allowing PP to be automatically up causes both scenarios to be true.
 
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?
In your ideal circumstance it's about 3 miles for very big things (structures and gargantuan creatures).

For finer details, like identifying a humanoid by species/race, well, it's ball of "it depends."

I do recall one night when I was bleary-eyed prepping a session with the PCs at an aarakocra cliffside monastery (some 500-feet elevation) serving as evening lookouts against gargoyles that I ended up on some webpage related to naval sighting distances. There was an equation that had to do with how high off the ground you were, time of day, lumens of the light source (if any) you were looking at, and all these factors, though I never wrote down the website.

I ended up going with a night visibility of 300 feet, or 600 feet for creatures with 60’ darkvision (though only in black and white). While I ruled that the PC with an obscenely high Perception and Eldritch Sight could see out to 1,200 ft. What this meant was that from the moment the high perception PC spotted the gargoyles, the party had 10 rounds (1 minute) before the gargoyles were in melee. Thus informed, I counted down, ok they're at 1,000 feet now...anyone doing anything? OK, now they're at 800 feet, anyone? And now, at 600 feet? And so on. It worked well as a tension building mechanic.
 

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