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

DND_Reborn

The High Aldwin
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.
Ah, got it. No issues then. :)
 

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Let's consider an example:



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.
In the scenario you quoted, I would rule that all PCs not on watch are at disadvantage to PP or, at worse, do not get an opportunity to get a check. I just compare to the highest PP of the people actively on watch and leave it at that. If the person on watch discovers bandit scouts and they warn the others, I’ll let the others (activey)roll perception. Otherwise, they might be surprised if the bandits choose to ambush.
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
Supporter
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???
As I said, you're trying to put the "realism" of the "in-game narrative" onto the game mechanic. And this is one of those times when we shouldn't do that. This is a game mechanic for the game's sake... to make the game work as a game.

If we did as you are aiming it-- have the Passive Perception be the number that is the in-world equivalent of not actively looking at all... you would need to add the modifier to the lowest die roll, a 1. It's the least work done on Perception-- a 1 + the modifier. That's putting the "in-game realism" of the wording into the game mechanics. But what would be the point? We now a game mechanic that is completely useless. A mechanic that'll never be used and never come up. So why even bother making a rule for it in the first place?

The 10 + modifier is there purely as a game construct. It is to allow players and DMs to not roll dice for Perception checks all the time, but still have an opportunity to discover someone on the off-chance there are creatures out there that are hiding. But there has to be some chance to notice them-- otherwise there's no reason to have PP in the game. So using 10 is the middle ground-- a mechanic that will work sometimes, but not always. Which is exactly what we would want from a mechanic as a mechanic. And that's why it is what it is.

Now if you don't like that mechanic as a mechanic, you certainly aren't alone... there are tons of DMs out there who don't even use Passive Perception because they just don't even like the concept. So I would say that if it is the mechanic of 10 + modifier you don't like... then sure, drop it to 5 + modifier so the party can find less creatures hiding, or just don't even use Passive Perception at all. But if it's purely the name you don't like because it doesn't align to what you think the mechanic with that name should be... then either rename it or just accept it as a purely a mechanic for mechanic's sake and not worry about it. Because this game is FILLED with mechanics that are given fluffy narrative-like names but which don't make any sense if you took them at face value within the world of the game, so picking this one out amongst all the others seems unnecessary. If you can accept the idea that 'Cure Wounds' more often than not do not cure any wounds and instead are giving back a character's endurance, luck, and stamina... you should be able to accept Passive Perception. :)
 

DND_Reborn

The High Aldwin
The 10 + modifier is there purely as a game construct. It is to allow players and DMs to not roll dice for Perception checks all the time, but still have an opportunity to discover someone on the off-chance there are creatures out there that are hiding. But there has to be some chance to notice them-- otherwise there's no reason to have PP in the game. So using 10 is the middle ground-- a mechanic that will work sometimes, but not always. Which is exactly what we would want from a mechanic as a mechanic. And that's why it is what it is.
As I said, you need two separate things. Even with 5+ there is still a chance because the "stealther" can roll below it.

Riddle me this: Observant, +5 to PASSIVE perception, giving you a base 15. Odds are, you are better off NOT rolling now... :rolleyes:
 

GMMichael

Guide of Modos
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.
Is the PC being approached by hundreds of individual, scouting bandits/bands?

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.
Then there's no need for passive scores, since the "first one" is going to notice something first.

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.
"Passive," as someone has surely noted earlier, refers to the player not taking an active part in an ability check. It's not a reference to the character.

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.
Isn't this why they invented DM screens?

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.
More specifically, they're being passive with regards to their efforts to perceive danger. Does this require a "passive check?" It shouldn't: the DM can just ask them for Wisdom (perception) checks with disadvantage.

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.
They have a watchman. Why do they need to notice anything? Further, the bandits aren't even planning on fighting. Is this an encounter or not? Or just an example that didn't come out right?
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Yes, "passive" refers to there being no roll, per the rules you posted upthread. It does not refer to the character's activities at all, though many people believe that it does (and the designers don't help dispel this notion). That the DM is calling for a check of any kind (passive or otherwise), means the DM is saying whatever the PC is doing has an uncertain outcome and a meaningful consequence for failure. What makes the check passive is that the character is doing the action repeatedly and/or the DM wants to keep the check result hidden from the player, so there's no roll.
 

Riddle me this: Observant, +5 to PASSIVE perception, giving you a base 15. Odds are, you are better off NOT rolling now... :rolleyes:
Especially considering that passive checks are completely optional, I feel that things like this should grant advantage (which is +5 to passive). It'd work out exactly the same, allowing it to be useful even if the DM never uses passive checks.
 

DND_Reborn

The High Aldwin
Is the PC being approached by hundreds of individual, scouting bandits/bands?
It doesn't matter to passive scores.

Then there's no need for passive scores, since the "first one" is going to notice something first.
Or they won't depending on the bandit's stealth rolls.

"Passive," as someone has surely noted earlier, refers to the player not taking an active part in an ability check. It's not a reference to the character.
Which is not the way hardly anybody reads or understands it until that is explained to them... The reason why a better term would make that clearer.

Isn't this why they invented DM screens?
Apparently not. 🤷‍♂️

Although I do use mine for that. ;)

More specifically, they're being passive with regards to their efforts to perceive danger. Does this require a "passive check?" It shouldn't: the DM can just ask them for Wisdom (perception) checks with disadvantage.
It just goes back to the DM wanting some measure of knowledge without the players knowing.

They have a watchman. Why do they need to notice anything?
Because people notice odd things all the time without looking for them, but are more likely to notice when they ARE looking for them.

Further, the bandits aren't even planning on fighting. Is this an encounter or not? Or just an example that didn't come out right?
The example came out perfectly. If the PCs notice the bandits, they can choose to react immediately or gain knowledge of them and can do something else, such as tracking the bandits back to their hideout or prepare their camp for an ambush later. If they fail to notice the bandits, they gain no knowledge and the DM can have the bandits return to attack later.

Frankly, your snide-ness provokes me to reply in kind. Please don't do that in the future and thank you.
 

DND_Reborn

The High Aldwin
Especially considering that passive checks are completely optional, I feel that things like this should grant advantage (which is +5 to passive). It'd work out exactly the same, allowing it to be useful even if the DM never uses passive checks.
I don't know how "optional" they are since they aren't presented as a variant system or rule. But I get your point.

I agree, advantage would be better since the benefit could apply to active rolls but still offer the same benefit to passive checks when/if the DM wants to use them.
 

I don't know how "optional" they are since they aren't presented as a variant system or rule. But I get your point.
It's "optional" in the same way that Inspiration is, since the DM can always ignore it, calling for a roll instead. JC tweeted at one point that it was intended to be optional, but didn't come across that way in the book.
 

DND_Reborn

The High Aldwin
It's "optional" in the same way that Inspiration is, since the DM can always ignore it, calling for a roll instead. JC tweeted at one point that it was intended to be optional, but didn't come across that way in the book.
Yep, like I said, I get your point. Too bad it wasn't written up better in the book... oh wait, that is a lot of it actually.

Too bad also intent doesn't come out in the text.
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
I probably wouldn't have ever used passive perception at all if someone hadn't taken Observant at a table I was running for. To me, Perception should be invoked any time there is something to notice, it should never require an action- could you imagine if you walked into your apartment and died because you didn't take an action to smell natural gas buildup due to a pilot light going out?

I liked the idea of passive perception when I ran 4e, but in reality, saying "oh sorry mate, you missed detecting that guy sneaking up on you because your passive perception is 12 and he rolled a 13 on Stealth..." no, Perception and Stealth should always be opposed rolls, there shouldn't be a "take an action to notice a guy sneaking up on you". Or trying to pick your pocket, for that matter.

And you can have bonuses to die rolls like guidance or even a Bardic Inspiration that don't apply to a passive check, because they aren't die rolls*. It's all kind of messy and murky. If I don't want players to "know", I can just roll behind a screen for them if I want to, but honestly, I always roll openly, and I don't care if the players know what they rolled.

If they want to act cautious after seeing a low roll for no reason, hey that's fine- I have a tendency to use "fake rolls" from time to time anyways, a trick I picked up from one of my first DM's.

*There is the argument that you shouldn't be able to use these because you don't know you'd need the bonus, but the game has plenty of bonuses a player can apply to things you probably shouldn't be aware of, and if you fall down this rabbit hole, then justifying spending a Bardic die on a saving throw or casting shield (or heaven forbid, silvery barbs starts to become suspect, let alone using Inspiration to gain advantage).
 

Hriston

Dungeon Master of Middle-earth
It's intended to represent something in the fiction. Searching is different from walking. Defending is different from reacting.
Let's stick with searching. How is your character searching differently when you roll a check compared to when you make a passive check?

Ability checks are procedural, but anyway...
Okay, so I misused mechanical. Sheesh!

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.
I don't know how you're getting from point A to point B here. Care to connect the dots?
 

As I said, you need two separate things. Even with 5+ there is still a chance because the "stealther" can roll below it.

Riddle me this: Observant, +5 to PASSIVE perception, giving you a base 15. Odds are, you are better off NOT rolling now... :rolleyes:
I think observant would have been better worded if they said you get advantage on PP checks. I wonder, too, if they should have given advantage to rolled perception checks as well
 

delericho

Legend
Riddle me this: Observant, +5 to PASSIVE perception, giving you a base 15. Odds are, you are better off NOT rolling now... :rolleyes:
The simple, but unfortunate, answer: they screwed up. There shouldn't be anything in the game that only affects passive (or active) checks. The feat should really give advantage on the relevant checks. (Though expertise might be better anyway...)
 

delericho

Legend
Let's stick with searching. How is your character searching differently when you roll a check compared to when you make a passive check?
Surely it's fairly situational. Certainly, there's a difference between walking down a hall with pictures on the wall versus when that hall is in the Louvre and you're carefully observing the detail of those pictures. And that's different again if you're carefully tapping the floor with your 10-foot-pole, or running hands along the wall to find a secret door latch, or...
 

Hriston

Dungeon Master of Middle-earth
Surely it's fairly situational. Certainly, there's a difference between walking down a hall with pictures on the wall
This doesn't tell me anything about how the character is searching. For instance, is the character looking at the pictures for hidden clues as they walk? If so, a Perception check might be in order. Because the character is doing this repeatedly while walking, I'd probably use their passive Perception score in this case. That doesn't mean that using a passive check necessarily represents doing something repeatedly while walking.

versus when that hall is in the Louvre and you're carefully observing the detail of those pictures. And that's different again if you're carefully tapping the floor with your 10-foot-pole, or running hands along the wall to find a secret door latch, or...
I'd use passive Perception for all of these too, for the same reason as above. How is this meant to illustrate a difference in the fiction between a rolled ability check and a passive ability check?
 


DEFCON 1

Legend
Supporter
Riddle me this: Observant, +5 to PASSIVE perception, giving you a base 15. Odds are, you are better off NOT rolling now... :rolleyes:
Heh... well, I'm one of the DMs who agrees with JC about Passive Perception being a "floor", so once I've checked every character's PP and none of them have noticed the hiding creature... any player who says they are going to actively look will get to then roll as well... in hopes of rolling a 16-20 on the die and thus getting their Perception check even higher. If they roll between 1-15? Then no new information is discovered beyond what their instinctual general awareness from Passive Perception picked up.

But not everyone agrees with my rulings on this, which is fine and to be expected. Those DMs can run it however they want (if at all).
 


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