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

Bill Zebub

“It’s probably Matt Mercer’s fault.”
I think it's a mistake to base something like this off an attempt at verisimilitude. Not only because, as is obvious from this discussion, there are differing opinions of what is most realistic, but primarily because what matters most is the affect on gameplay.

If the goal of passives is to prevent players from saying, "I search for secret doors" every 5', then 5+Wis isn't going to work. It doesn't take much brainpower (or reading internet forums) to realize that statistically it's much worse than rolling dice every 5'.
 

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Didn’t read the whole thread so likely someone has already said this, but even if they have worth repeating and seconding or sixthing, passive perception is a useless stat for players. My players, when not looking for it, notice what I find interesting for them to notice and don’t notice what I don’t what I don’t want them to see unless they try. I’m always going to know my players passive perception so it’s impossible for me to set up a situation where passive perception would matter. Same even for published adventures, even if they state what a passive perception would notice, I will still make the decision about what will be noticed, even if I chose to follow adventure as written, still a DM choice.

All that said, it IS useful for enemies and monsters and NPCs. Just seems pointless for players. Am I missing something?
 

billd91

Not your screen monkey (he/him)
Didn’t read the whole thread so likely someone has already said this, but even if they have worth repeating and seconding or sixthing, passive perception is a useless stat for players. My players, when not looking for it, notice what I find interesting for them to notice and don’t notice what I don’t what I don’t want them to see unless they try. I’m always going to know my players passive perception so it’s impossible for me to set up a situation where passive perception would matter. Same even for published adventures, even if they state what a passive perception would notice, I will still make the decision about what will be noticed, even if I chose to follow adventure as written, still a DM choice.

All that said, it IS useful for enemies and monsters and NPCs. Just seems pointless for players. Am I missing something?
If it's pointless... it's because you're making it pointless. Do none of your NPCs/Monster ever try sneaking up or ambushing the PCs? Do you never roll for their stealth checks and compare them with the PCs' passive perceptions?
 

If it's pointless... it's because you're making it pointless. Do none of your NPCs/Monster ever try sneaking up or ambushing the PCs? Do you never roll for their stealth checks and compare them with the PCs' passive perceptions?
Maybe? Sure, active sneaking of enemies checking against PCs passive perception could be a thing and I guess others do that, but that would be a secret roll and meaningless to the PCs. I’m ok with random encounters, but we roll public for them so there’s drama around it, so it’s part of the game. Rolling in secret for if something happens or not is meaningless to the players. Since the PCs would never know about successful sneaking enemies, it’s just a game a DM could play with themselves, the DM just deciding when and where sneaking enemies show up w/o pointless behind screen rolls is all the same to the PCs.
 

DND_Reborn

The High Aldwin
If the goal of passives is to prevent players from saying, "I search for secret doors" every 5', then 5+Wis isn't going to work. It doesn't take much brainpower (or reading internet forums) to realize that statistically it's much worse than rolling dice every 5'.
If the goal is to model repeated rolls as a single entity, I agree with you. 10+modifiers is the average roll and should be used. But, this is why I feel the terminology should be changed to "Routine Checks" and not "Passive Checks".

If the goal is to represent a "passive" use of a skill, like Perception, which is in the background but always on, then a lower number, like 5+modifiers, would be better because your baseline should not be the same as your typical performance IMO. It is basically the same as the routine check, but with the disadvantage qualifier added (or more appropriately, subtracted LOL!).
 

Bill Zebub

“It’s probably Matt Mercer’s fault.”
If the goal is to model repeated rolls as a single entity, I agree with you. 10+modifiers is the average roll and should be used. But, this is why I feel the terminology should be changed to "Routine Checks" and not "Passive Checks".

If the goal is to represent a "passive" use of a skill, like Perception, which is in the background but always on, then a lower number, like 5+modifiers, would be better because your baseline should not be the same as your typical performance IMO. It is basically the same as the routine check, but with the disadvantage qualifier added (or more appropriately, subtracted LOL!).

Without even addressing whether your logic makes sense, what would such a rule be used for? If it’s my chance of succeeding when I don’t state an action declaration, I’m going to be making a ton of unnecessary action declarations, and rolling a whole lot of dice.
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
Supporter
Frankly, I don't know of anyone who complains of "rules bloat" in 5E!!! Quite the opposite IME. Most people want clearer, more defined rules to avoid confusion.
Yeah... right up until the time the "clearer", "more defined" rule isn't how they want the rule to be. Then they get all bent out of shape that they can't "play RAW" anymore and have to houserule it because the WotC designers "don't know what the hell they are doing."

Precision in the rules is great, just up until they define the game in ways a person doesn't like. ;)
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
Supporter
If the goal is to model repeated rolls as a single entity, I agree with you. 10+modifiers is the average roll and should be used. But, this is why I feel the terminology should be changed to "Routine Checks" and not "Passive Checks".

If the goal is to represent a "passive" use of a skill, like Perception, which is in the background but always on, then a lower number, like 5+modifiers, would be better because your baseline should not be the same as your typical performance IMO. It is basically the same as the routine check, but with the disadvantage qualifier added (or more appropriately, subtracted LOL!).
Well, best of luck trying to get WotC to change their terminology. Hopefully it works out for you. If not, you'll just have to be comfortable re-naming these mechanics yourself at your table.
 

Hriston

Dungeon Master of Middle-earth
No worries, glad you chimed in!

I also like passive scores for Animal Handling. PCs often ride horses all the time and no check is really needed, but even if they decide to gallop over difficult terrain, a 10+ modifier for repeated checks might be enough for some PCs, but not enough for others.
Yeah, I'd say keeping your mount under control while repeatedly performing risky maneuvers is a another place where a passive check could be used. It's not anything I've seen in play, personally.

Yeah, I recently listened to that this last week, part of what spawned the thread LOL!


IMO they shouldn't, though. JC comments in that podcast about rolling once for Stealth and not rerolling IIRC (I was only listening "passively" so I might have missed it or misunderstood. ;) ). If the PCs are entering an area where the DM wants to determine how well they are paying attention to their surroundings, they should roll once and that is their roll for the scene unless they use their action to reroll maybe?
That's basically what the passive Perception score is though. It just doesn't tip off the players that there's something to notice the way asking for a roll would.

Like other contested rolls, Hide vs. Perception should be a contested roll when the time comes. Using the default 10 is not something that is sitting well with me anymore, personally.
You're free to use a rolled check. The passive check is just another tool for the DM to use.

The longer this discussion goes, the more I am convinced with "passive" (not active) should be 5+ or not even an option. In regards to the Passive (repeated/secret), I don't do "secret" in the manner of not allowing players to roll, and repeated really only matters at that moment, so I might as well have them roll...
That would be using a passive score with disadvantage, which is totally an option. Disadvantage imposed by the DM, however, is generally circumstantial. The game doesn't have a lower level of awareness other than your "not even an option" above. That's what I go with if the character isn't paying attention.
 

DND_Reborn

The High Aldwin
Without even addressing whether your logic makes sense, what would such a rule be used for? If it’s my chance of succeeding when I don’t state an action declaration, I’m going to be making a ton of unnecessary action declarations, and rolling a whole lot of dice.
There's no need to address it, of course it makes sense! ;)

It would be used precisely what it says it would be used for: passive perception.

For example, your PC is walking down a street in a town. You aren't suspecting attack, you have no reason to think there is any danger. But, you are sill looking around, hearing noises, etc.

Now, using passive perception as it is, the DM gives you a 10+mods versus the assassin's Hide check result because the DM wants a secret roll to see if you notice the assassin or if you will end up being surprised. This means you chance of noticing the assassin is just as good (on average) as if you were trying to be wary of danger. But, you aren't...

Of course, the DM can use disadvantage, dropping you to 5+mods, which is basically what I am saying actual "passive" (not actively trying) perception should be.

This uses the term passive in the sense you aren't actively doing something, but it is happening anyway, you just aren't focused on it. It's like breathing. You can actively breath, controlling your breath, holding it, breathing deeply. Or you breath passively and just let your body does what it does. If you were suddenly submerged and at risk of drowning, controlling your breath is necessary! This is the same as when a PC is actually alert for danger and using Perception that way. Without that conscious control, your perception is passive, just like breathing.

When players I met see passive on their character sheet, this is the meaning of the word they immediately interpret it as. Once the idea of "passive" in that you, as the player, don't roll, it makes some sense of course. Then they wonder if it is a DM tool, why the heck is it on their character sheet when they aren't using it??? But they get it that there is a definite difference between passive perception and active perception.

So, my original point was the term passive here leads to confusion. I've seen it more often than not. Routine and Secret Checks would be a better heading for that section, and Passive Perception could then be what many people take it as up front--your ability to notice something when you aren't looking for it.

Then, you walk down a hallway and pass a secret door, which your (new) Passive Perception picks up on. You weren't looking for secret doors, but it was there.

Having Observant apply to this sort of passive score also makes more sense. You are likely to pick up on things when not even trying--you are observant. :)

Yeah... right up until the time the "clearer", "more defined" rule isn't how they want the rule to be. Then they get all bent out of shape that they can't "play RAW" anymore and have to houserule it because the WotC designers "don't know what the hell they are doing."

Precision in the rules is great, just up until they define the game in ways a person doesn't like. ;)
FWIW, I'm not actually suggesting any changes in the rules, just in the terminology, and then adding how I see passive perception typically interpreted.

Well, best of luck trying to get WotC to change their terminology. Hopefully it works out for you. If not, you'll just have to be comfortable re-naming these mechanics yourself at your table.
Yeah, I'm not holding my breath... :)

Once I explain to new players what WotC means passive scores to be used as, it makes enough sense, and then they agree it should be called something else. 🤷‍♂️
 

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