D&D 5E Is "Passive" (for Passive Perception) really the right term??

DND_Reborn

The High Aldwin
Ok, so "passive", as in passive perception (or other "passive" scores) has always bothered me a bit because the mechanic is 10 + your total modifier.

Why 10?

Well, my understanding is that the designers chose 10 because it was supposed to represent your "typical" effort (roughly average on the d20).

Then they chose the term "passive" for it... And, yeah, that is what bugs me.

"Routine" would be better, because passive (to me) represents "non-active", as where doing a task over and over would be "active" or "routine".

I mean, think about it, something that is "passive" is better than nearly half of your active attempts?

So, someone is trying to stealth past you, against your Passive Perception. But, you aren't really trying to perceive---you're just there. But your score is based on your average result if you were trying to perceive. Now, to be clear, when you are trying to perceive you are actively looking for something/ listening/ searching/ etc. In this case, you aren't. But, still using the 10 + modifier...

Anyway, it seems to me if a passive perception score was actually passive, it should be 5 + modifier or something. Then we could also just have the whole "Take 10" for routine tasks or have a "Routine/ Typical/ Whatever? Score" of 10 + modifier.

Just throwing this out as I am working on other stuff...
 

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Like a lot of other terms, it's a carryover from an older edition. In 4E, your Passive Perception was basically the minimal you could have, since it was literally just what you had without trying. This is part of the reason why people keep thinking this in 5E (including Jeremy Crawford), despite it not existing anywhere in a rulebook.
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
Like a lot of other terms, it's a carryover from an older edition. In 4E, your Passive Perception was basically the minimal you could have, since it was literally just what you had without trying. This is part of the reason why people keep thinking this in 5E (including Jeremy Crawford), despite it not existing anywhere in a rulebook.
Yeah, see Crawfords comments about passive Perception being a "floor" on Perception checks (ie, you can't do worse on a Perception check than your passive score), making me wonder if that's intended, why we don't roll d10+10 for Ability check instead of d20.
 

Yeah, see Crawfords comments about passive Perception being a "floor" on Perception checks (ie, you can't do worse on a Perception check than your passive score), making me wonder if that's intended, why we don't roll d10+10 for Ability check instead of d20.
I know that this wasn't necessarily designer intent. Back on the old WotC forums when 5E first came out, people had questions about Passive checks. Mike Mearls offered up several suggestions, including the "floor" model of 4E, and I took his preferred method for my own. Basically the DM makes a roll against the Passive skill of the players, using the modifier +(DC-11) that has to beat the Passive Score. I've actually expanded on the idea, making Passive knowledge checks for the characters whenever they meet a new creature to see if they already have knowledge of it. Since we play on Roll20, I created an easy macro to roll all at once; I'd only roll once if playing IRL.
 


It is passive in the way that passive learning is passive.

It doesn't mean you take no actions whatsoever. It means you are simply not being overt or focused on the activity of perceiving things. Humans necessarily perceive things at all times while they are conscious, this is not an intentional act, it simply happens as a consequence of being aware of our surroundings. It is in fact almost exactly the same sense as what we use for things like "passive [solar] heating," where there are no moving parts or electronic systems that create or collect heat, and instead the heating system is based on being good at collecting the ambient heat in winter and reflecting it away during the summer. Or consider "passive income," which refers to income sources that do not require direct engagement to continue providing returns, e.g. if you rent out your property to others, that is a form of passive income even though you are technically "doing" something. Royalties would be another example of passive income, since you don't need to do any further work to earn money from them (ensuring the enforcement of copyright being separate from actually making new works that can have copyright.)

"Passive" does not exclusively mean "inert." It also means "not having intentional effort." "Passive observation," for example, is a formal term in science for collecting data purely through looking at things (or in other ways just observing them) rather than doing any form of experiment or prediction per se. It is usually contrasted against active experiment, but could also be contrasted against predictive modeling, which lies somewhere between the two. Passive observation still requires you to take actions, like recording video or audio or making detailed notes. It just doesn't involve the observer actively participating in the physical situation themselves. Most of astronomy and cosmology, for example, consists of passive observation and predictive modeling, because we cannot construct new proto-stars and wait out the formation of planetary accretion disks and such. Yet to do that we have to take a great many complex actions, like designing, building, and launching the JWST.
 

Horwath

Hero
Yeah, see Crawfords comments about passive Perception being a "floor" on Perception checks (ie, you can't do worse on a Perception check than your passive score), making me wonder if that's intended, why we don't roll d10+10 for Ability check instead of d20.
because how much chance you get to roll higher number.
if you roll d10+10 then you have 10% chance for max score while for d20 you have only 5%

there should be a d20 die with 10 sides numbered with a 10 and then rest normal from 11 to 20

Edit:
in addition: if you use d20 with 10 floor, you get 12,75 average roll, with d10+10 you got to 15,5 average.
 
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delericho

Legend
With 5e I've found it's generally best to assume that anything that isn't directly related to combat has been half-assed and doesn't really work. That's not entirely true, but it cuts down on a lot of frustration to think of it that way.

With regard to Passive Perception in particular, I recommend treating it like Armor Class, but against things like sneaky assassins, hidden traps, and the like - it's a shorthand to cut out a load of opposed rolls, nothing more. For anything else, I recommend using 'active' Perception (and using the full d20 range of results).
 

DND_Reborn

The High Aldwin
First, thanks for the responses... I really wasn't expecting much on this as it was just something bugging me. ;)

To be clear, I am quoting certain posts to make my points, not necessarily challenge the posts themselves.

Passive Perception is like Passive Sonar.
Yeah, see Crawfords comments about passive Perception being a "floor" on Perception checks (ie, you can't do worse on a Perception check than your passive score), making me wonder if that's intended, why we don't roll d10+10 for Ability check instead of d20.
It isn't passive, it is routine, something you are doing over and over, or something you are doing where the DM doesn't want you to know the result. So, it is, in fact, "active", just a short-hand way of not having to roll several repeated checks or when the DM wants to use the typical result:

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When people say passive they think more something "in the background", as in the quotes below:
It means you are simply not being overt or focused on the activity of perceiving things. Humans necessarily perceive things at all times while they are conscious, this is not an intentional act, it simply happens as a consequence of being aware of our surroundings
It also means "not having intentional effort."

Then there is the "floor" issue. The following doesn't surprise me:
Like a lot of other terms, it's a carryover from an older edition. In 4E, your Passive Perception was basically the minimal you could have, since it was literally just what you had without trying. This is part of the reason why people keep thinking this in 5E (including Jeremy Crawford), despite it not existing anywhere in a rulebook.

Does anyone realize that passive scores are sort of Reliable Talent in half the cases?

"Standard" Scores (or formerly "passive") should be 10 + total modifier to represent repeated tasks or DM secret rolls.
"Passive" Scores (with the intent of being not active) should be 5 + total modifier. The same as their rule for adding disadvantage, since the effort is basically in the background.

That's all I go for now. Off to work! :)
 

Hriston

Dungeon Master of Middle-earth
It’s just another way to make a check. You can make a check passively by using the score instead of rolling. It doesn’t represent anything different in the fiction in terms of effort.

Passive modifies something mechanical: an ability check. I don’t think there’s a good word for what it correlates to in the fiction because a passive check can be used anytime the DM wants to keep the check hidden from the players.
 
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DEFCON 1

Legend
Supporter
Does anyone realize that passive scores are sort of Reliable Talent in half the cases?

"Standard" Scores (or formerly "passive") should be 10 + total modifier to represent repeated tasks or DM secret rolls.
"Passive" Scores (with the intent of being not active) should be 5 + total modifier. The same as their rule for adding disadvantage, since the effort is basically in the background.
Yep, I've always considered PP to be a Reliable talent, and I don't have a problem with that. Some people get bothered that it "steps on the Rogue's toes"... but the Rogue has the entire rest of the skill list to apply it to as well, so everyone having a Reliable perception is fine by me.

As far as your second point... this is one of those times where trying to make the rules "realistic" butts up against the need or point of having the rule in the first place in my view. If the only time most DMs ever use a passive roll is for Perception... you're only ever going to need one or the other you created-- "standard" or "passive". Perception won't ever be both (at least in the way I'm reading your definitions). So you've made two levels unnecessarily where only one will do.

Now if you just want to lower all PPs by 5 just because you think PP as it currently stands is "too good" for a character's standard all-around and unthinking perceptiveness... I can understand that. But the question you have to then ask yourself is whether you ever have anything hidden wherein having a PP down in the 5 to 8s would actually have a chance to work? Because if that's such a rare occurrence, then even bothering with PP at all is kind of a waste. But if you do things like Hiding In Combat and you find that your monsters are being noticed too often due to the PC's passive perceptions and you want to give the monsters more of a fighting chance to succeed in hiding in combat (even if their DEX (Stealth) checks are down in the 8s, 9s, or 10s)... then sure, lowering everyone's PP would be a reasonable solution. Those Stealth checks to hide would work much more often.
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
Just don't forget that advantage and disadvantage affect passive scores b +/- 5. A lot of people miss that rule, and I still remember the shouts of dismay when I invoked it for an all-darkvision party who thought they were super stealthy, creeping around in darkness.

I think it was around the third trap that someone cast dancing lights...
 

Passive Perception has almost nothing to do with what the character is doing. It has to do with the player.

1. The character has to be actively doing something to use Passive Perception. A guard on duty or an adventurer carefully watching out for danger as they venture through a dungeon. Otherwise they are distracted.

2. The DM rolls against the Player Character's PP. It's Passive because the PLAYER isn't rolling. It has nothing to do whether the character is being active or passive.

This has always been the reason I hate the terminology. People think, "oh, my character is being lazy or is asleep so I use PP." Not true. It's the DM saying, "I don't want the Player to know what they're rolling against so I'll use PP." The player is passively using a character ability.

And it's 10 because it represents your 'average effort' or 'average roll' on a d20.

I also use it as the minimum a character can get on a check as long as the player announces their character is expending effort. So, if the rogue says, "I search for traps" I use their passive investigation for finding traps. I don't use their passive perception for noticing enemies because they're too distracted to notice an ambush.
 

billd91

Not your screen monkey (he/him)
With regard to Passive Perception in particular, I recommend treating it like Armor Class, but against things like sneaky assassins, hidden traps, and the like - it's a shorthand to cut out a load of opposed rolls, nothing more. For anything else, I recommend using 'active' Perception (and using the full d20 range of results).
That's my general take on it too.
 

GMMichael

Guide of Modos
It’s just another way to make a check. You can make a check passively by using the score instead of rolling. It doesn’t represent anything different in the fiction in terms of effort.
It's intended to represent something in the fiction. Searching is different from walking. Defending is different from reacting.
Passive modifies something mechanical: an ability check. I don’t think there’s a good word for what it correlates to in the fiction because a passive check can be used anytime the DM wants to keep the check hidden from the players.
Ability checks are procedural, but anyway...

The existence of the "passive check" does more than just confuse people; it indicates confusion in the design of D&D. "The DM says what happens." "The rules say what happens." That's the bigger fish to fry.
 

DND_Reborn

The High Aldwin
Yep, I've always considered PP to be a Reliable talent, and I don't have a problem with that. Some people get bothered that it "steps on the Rogue's toes"... but the Rogue has the entire rest of the skill list to apply it to as well, so everyone having a Reliable perception is fine by me.
Actually, although similar to RT, PP is still different (as written) because you have to take the 10; with RT you are still rolling and can get results of 11 or higher as well.

What bothers me is calling something "passive" when it isn't "passive" by any definition I know of. "Standard, typical, or routine" would all be better choices for the terminology.

As far as your second point... this is one of those times where trying to make the rules "realistic" butts up against the need or point of having the rule in the first place in my view. If the only time most DMs ever use a passive roll is for Perception... you're only ever going to need one or the other you created-- "standard" or "passive". Perception won't ever be both (at least in the way I'm reading your definitions). So you've made two levels unnecessarily where only one will do.
But one "won't do" IMO.

What "passive perception" should be: You notice something when you aren't looking for it.

So, how can your perception when you aren't looking (or sensing in any fashion) be as good as your average roll if you ARE looking for something???

Just don't forget that advantage and disadvantage affect passive scores b +/- 5. A lot of people miss that rule, and I still remember the shouts of dismay when I invoked it for an all-darkvision party who thought they were super stealthy, creeping around in darkness.

I think it was around the third trap that someone cast dancing lights...
Yeah, SO many people over look this! When I was just running the Vecna battle, the rogue's passive scores were 5 lower until the paladin with the sunblade shed some more light on the area.

Passive Perception has almost nothing to do with what the character is doing. It has to do with the player.

1. The character has to be actively doing something to use Passive Perception. A guard on duty or an adventurer carefully watching out for danger as they venture through a dungeon. Otherwise they are distracted.

2. The DM rolls against the Player Character's PP. It's Passive because the PLAYER isn't rolling. It has nothing to do whether the character is being active or passive.
#1 I agree with. This is the character doing a routine task repeatedly, so the DM assigns a value of 10, the (close to) average result. It is the first reason for a "passive" score.

However, I disagree with your #2. The DM should only be using passive in this case when they want the result to be secret, but even then the character still has to be doing something to warrant the check.
 

Actually, although similar to RT, PP is still different (as written) because you have to take the 10; with RT you are still rolling and can get results of 11 or higher as well.

What bothers me is calling something "passive" when it isn't "passive" by any definition I know of. "Standard, typical, or routine" would all be better choices for the terminology.


But one "won't do" IMO.

What "passive perception" should be: You notice something when you aren't looking for it.

So, how can your perception when you aren't looking (or sensing in any fashion) be as good as your average roll if you ARE looking for something???


Yeah, SO many people over look this! When I was just running the Vecna battle, the rogue's passive scores were 5 lower until the paladin with the sunblade shed some more light on the area.


#1 I agree with. This is the character doing a routine task repeatedly, so the DM assigns a value of 10, the (close to) average result. It is the first reason for a "passive" score.

However, I disagree with your #2. The DM should only be using passive in this case when they want the result to be secret, but even then the character still has to be doing something to warrant the check.
My #2 point is just pointing out that the word ‘passive’ has to do with the fact that the player is using a character ability passively (in the sense that it’s the dm doing it not the player themselves). The word passive has nothing to do with the character. The character, in fact, must be actively doing something. I was just qualifying the word ‘passive’ and how it gets misinterpreted.
 

DND_Reborn

The High Aldwin
Let's consider an example:

Your PCs have made camp during in a place you believe to be relatively safe, but still knowing how the game works you set watches.

During the 1st watch (a hour before sunset, so still bright light), a PC with darkvision is "keeping watch" using Perception repeatedly during the next couple hours. This character is actively looking around, scanning shadows, listening for unusual sounds, etc. The PC has a perception modifier of +5 due to Wisdom and proficiency bonus, making his Passive Perception 15.

The rest of the party is doing other things. Preparing food, cleaning weapons, studying spells, or whatever light activity they want after the firewood has been gathered. None of these PCs is "on watch", but given the environment they are still weary of danger, so might pick up on an unusual noise or movement in some nearby bushes. Using the current rules, their Passive Perception scores are 10, 13, and 16, and all have darkvision either racially or due to magic (spells or items).

Some bandits approach in the shadows of trees and bushes, to scout out the party and decide if they want to return under the cover of dark later...

First, the DM will not ask the player of the character on watch to roll hundreds of Wisdom (Perception) checks for his watch, so elects to use the character's passive perception score of 15.

Next, the DM doesn't want to alert the party to the presence of the bandits, so is using the passive scores for the other three as well. Yet, those other three are busy doing other things, while also sometimes keeping a weary eye and ear out, while the first one is actively scanning and looking/listening for anything suspicious.

This is my issue...

I am perfectly happy with the DM using the typical results in lieu of asking for numerous rolls. But this terminology is not "passive" since the PC is actively using their skill repeatedly. As suggested, "standard", or "routine" or "typical" would be better suited to this.

I am also fine with the idea that the DM wants to use a roll of 10 when they want the result to be secret. Again, not "passive", but "secret or hidden" would be better terms IMO. The DM wouldn't want to "roll in secret" unless the PC was actually doing something relevant to the need for a roll at all.

Now, consider the three PCs at the camp. Doing other things actively while just being cautious of their surroundings. IMO these PCs are being "passive" in their perception. If they happen to pick up on something it is a bit of luck or chance. Now, that isn't to say they shouldn't have better chances if their Wisdom (Perception) is better!

I've long since played that the three PCs would have disadvantage on their scores due to the fact they are doing other things and not employing their perception in any sort of active or constant fashion. Their efforts are truly "passive".

In the above scenario the DM would want to keep the results secret (possibly?) and so could resort to only passive scores, but I would rule the three in camp have -5 to their scores. Does this make it less likely they will notice anything? Of course, they aren't on watch! However, there would still be a chance, it just shouldn't be as good as if they were actively on watch.
 

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