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Passive vs Active Perception...

i_dont_meta

Explorer
I'm currently DM'ing the 1st Chapter of TftYP. Made a conscious decision to do away with Passive Perception and just have the PC's roll a Perception Check every time they might be Surprised. Hated to see Bardic Inspiration, Halflings Lucky Trait, the Lucky Feat, and/or any other dice-altering abilities Nerfed...Am I too reactionary??

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DEFCON 1

Legend
Supporter
I'm currently DM'ing the 1st Chapter of TftYP. Made a conscious decision to do away with Passive Perception and just have the PC's roll a Perception Check every time they might be Surprised. Hated to see Bardic Inspiration, Halflings Lucky Trait, the Lucky Feat, and/or any other dice-altering abilities Nerfed...Am I too reactionary??
Is your concern that it is too easy for a Stealthing creature to beat another creature's Passive Perception? And thus people who might get a chance to see the stealthers because they have "roll helping" dice abilities don't get to use them to help spot them?

If that's the case, then I can understand your issue... but I would actually say you don't need to remove Passive Perception, you can just add onto it. The way I've always read how it's supposed to work (and indeed, Jeremy Crawford's Sage Advice says this is how it's supposed to be done)... is that all creatures have Passive Perception up all the time. But all this does is essentially give a floor to the hiding creatures that they HAVE to beat with their Dexterity (Stleath) checks to even be considered to be hiding. If you roll your Dexterity (Stealth) check and get a '7'... you're pretty much seen by everybody. You did a horrible job hiding. Your butt's probably sticking out, or the bush you are behind keeps jiggling back and forth, etc. But if you roll higher on your check... say maybe a '13'... then some of the other creatures might still notice you due to higher PPs, but others might not. Were you to jump up and start combat at that point... you and the folks with a PP 13 or higher would get to act, but the others would not. They were Surprised and did not get to act in that first round.

But... there is also no rule that says creatures can't make Active Perception checks too... in addition to their "always on" Passive Perception. This is where you as the DM have to interpret what the characters are doing as they move around, and whether some are "keeping watch" while others are doing other things (like keeping a map of the travel, or foraging for food, or searching for traps and so forth). Those creatures who are using their time while they move to "keep watch"... you can allow them to make Active Perception checks too, in order to possibly notice the hidden targets. And all that's really important is whether that creature rolls ABOVE a '10' on their Active Perception d20 die-- because their Passive Perception of 10 + WIS + prof bonus (if applicable) still counts even if they make an Active roll. So if their Active Perception check rolled a '4', it doesn't matter... because that creature still has their Passive Perception number to fall back on. The Active check is there just to see if the creature can get ABOVE their already-established Passive Perception check, in order to hopefully find those creatures whose Dexterity (Stealth) check was higher than it.

This is what was clarified by Sage Advice-- if someone is hidden, everyone in the area who might notice that creature checks their Passive Perception number first. If anyone's PP is higher than the Stealth check, then those specific creatures see the hidden target and are not Surprised (and would get to act in the first round should combat begin). If their PPs are lower, they don't get to notice the hidden target and wouldn't get to act in the first round... but the DM can allow some of those creatures to make Active Perception checks if they weren't already doing some other activity and said they were keeping an eye out. And if any of those Active checks are also higher than the Stealth check, then those creatures sees the hidden target too and are not Surprised (and can also act in the first round.)

It's the PCs that have low Passive Perception and who tend to do other activities while they move that usually end up Surprised and can't act in the first round of combat.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Something to examine closely is how often surprise is coming up in your games. I know in my games it isn't very common. In such a condition, it might not be seen as a "nerf" to the feats and race/class features you're concerned about. Perhaps one-third of my random encounter charts are "lurker" creatures where I will try to determine surprise. Very few of the location-based encounters involve lurkers.

It seems more cumbersome to me as well to have to compare all those die rolls - all the monsters' Stealth check results versus all the PCs' Perception check results to determine who is surprised. Passive Perception helps sort this out which is maybe why it's part of the rules for determining surprise.
 

aco175

Hero
I find the problem with active perception is that if there is a group of monsters rolling, at least one with succeed. If 20 goblins are in a room, one of them should roll a 20 on the check and most likely notice. Now, I tend to just roll a couple dice and think a few may be alert and watching out, but most are hanging out doing something else.

I also think the PCs are not active all the time even if the player says so. I let them roll and if it is low, they are not paying good attention. I'm not sure how I feel on passive checks and PCs. I tend to give them advantage on things like seeing a goblin hiding. It may add up to the same thing.

Also, is there a distance penalty to perception? If the goblin is hiding 60ft away and is going to shoot a bow, would the passive score help, or is there a +1 to the DC for each 10ft or 20ft.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Also, is there a distance penalty to perception? If the goblin is hiding 60ft away and is going to shoot a bow, would the passive score help, or is there a +1 to the DC for each 10ft or 20ft.
No, but the DM can apply advantage or disadvantage if the circumstances warrant it.
 

jaelis

Oh this is where the title goes?
I'm currently DM'ing the 1st Chapter of TftYP. Made a conscious decision to do away with Passive Perception and just have the PC's roll a Perception Check every time they might be Surprised. Hated to see Bardic Inspiration, Halflings Lucky Trait, the Lucky Feat, and/or any other dice-altering abilities Nerfed...Am I too reactionary??
A big issue here is that every time you ask for a perception check, the players will know something is up even if they roll badly. To fix that, you have to request perception checks all the time, even when there is nothing to see. If that sounds fine, then go for it.

But DEFCON's point is correct, passive perception is not supposed to work against active perception in any way. If the characters come to a suspicious location but don't see anything, they are free to make an active check, and it can't hurt them.
 

jaelis

Oh this is where the title goes?
Also, is there a distance penalty to perception? If the goblin is hiding 60ft away and is going to shoot a bow, would the passive score help, or is there a +1 to the DC for each 10ft or 20ft.
There is no set penalty. If you think the goblin is far enough away to make it hard to spot, you can assign disadvantage to the perception checks.

Like iserith said ;)
 
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jgsugden

Legend
The simplest way to explain and utilize active and passive perception:

Passive perception is always on and requires no actions. If you'd apply disadvantage (perhaps because they're asleep or distracted), it has a 5 penalty. If they'd have advantage (because they're suspicious, perhaps), it will be at a +5 bonus. Advantage and disadvantage are generally added at the discretion of the DM for these passive uses. Those +5/-5 are directly from the PHB, btw.

If they wish to elect to use an action to look around, it is active perception, but they effectively have their passive perception as a floor on this check because passive is always 'on'. As a result, the 'range' on active perception is really only 11 values wide (effectively (10 + perception) to (20 + perception)) with 50% of the time it being the floor value.

One approach to consider: The PCs are the heroes of the story. They're supposed to detect dangers and counter them most of the time. Failing to detect an enemy should be a rarity, not the norm, if you want them to feel like heroes rather than zeroes.
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
Supporter
There is no set penalty. If you think the goblin is far enough away to make it hard to spot, you can assign disadvantage to the perception checks.
And make sure to subtract 5 from the Passive Perceptions of the characters too.
 


robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
Supporter
Passive perception is always on and requires no actions. If you'd apply disadvantage (perhaps because they're asleep or distracted), it has a 5 penalty. If they'd have advantage (because they're suspicious, perhaps), it will be at a +5 bonus. Advantage and disadvantage are generally added at the discretion of the DM for these passive uses. Those +5/-5 are directly from the PHB, btw.
You can certainly play that way, but to my mind it takes away some of the choices the players might want to make for their characters. The rules say that passive checks are used for a character performing an ongoing activity: keeping watch, searching for secret doors, traps etc. If a player hasn't declared an ongoing action for their character then there is no passive check required (or it can be done at disadvantage to give them some chance of accidentally noticing something).
 


jaelis

Oh this is where the title goes?
"Active Perception" sets off my facial tick. There's no such thing as "active perception." :)
Yes, but its useful and clear enough, no? It is nice to have a term to mean you're going to take an action to roll a check.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
You can certainly play that way, but to my mind it takes away some of the choices the players might want to make for their characters. The rules say that passive checks are used for a character performing an ongoing activity: keeping watch, searching for secret doors, traps etc. If a player hasn't declared an ongoing action for their character then there is no passive check required (or it can be done at disadvantage to give them some chance of accidentally noticing something).
In general, it's probably safe to assume that the characters are Keeping Watch if they haven't declared any other activity while adventuring. Still, I don't like to assume. I make sure the players declare the activities they are doing while adventuring because in many cases you're either Keeping Watch or you're doing Something Else and if you're doing Something Else, you are automatically surprised if the monsters are trying to be stealthy. I then try to make Something Else a valuable trade-off so that players aren't always choosing to Keep Watch, plus I make sure a consistent portion of my random encounters are a fairly even distribution of monsters, monsters trying to be stealthy, traps, and hazards.
 
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iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Yes, but its useful and clear enough, no? It is nice to have a term to mean you're going to take an action to roll a check.
I think it's a little misleading, thanks in part to "passive" in "passive check" being thought to mean the characters are necessarily acting in a passive manner when that isn't the case. By referring to an ability check as an "active check," it reinforces this misconception in my view. As well, I try to be very precise in my language when discussing the rules and "active perception" isn't a thing.

It also gets tangled up in the idea that players are asking to make checks instead of, or in addition to, describing what they want to do. This blurs the line between the DM and player roles as I see it. I might take an action in combat to do the Search action and have an expectation of rolling since an enemy is hiding. Outside of combat, it's not an action and there's no particular expectation. My character might be Keeping Watch in which case my passive Perception applies when the DM determines surprise.
 

jgsugden

Legend
Active perception is using an action to use the skill perception. It now has a definition. Congrats.

I allow an active perception roll, as a chance to improve upon their passive perception, whenever a situation arises where the PCs are being somewhat attentive - which is basically anytime they are not using their actions for something else and are not enthusiastically discussing something.

Examples:

* 2 PCs are on watch and the rest of the party is asleep. A monster approaches stealthily. The two PCs get perception rolls, the others use passive perception with a -5 penalty (asleep). The floor for the two active perception rolls is the passive perception of those PCs.
* 6 PCs are adventuring in a dungeon. They're lined up in three rows of two. The front rank generally gets active perception checks, the rest of the party only gets an active perception check if sound is involved in the check (otherwise a passive check). However, if one of the front ranks is tracking, then only the other PC gets an active check (with the tracking PC having a passive check). If the two front folks are talking back and forth about something, they will only get a passive check (everyone is passive checking). If they're having a heated discussion, they'd get disadvantage (meaning -5 to their passive check).

PCs in my games are surprised when they do not perceive or expect the threat. A PC that doesn't see a threat coming, but is expecting it to come, will generally not be surprised - but only if they're expecting that threat. If the threat comes from an unexpected direction, or it is a different type of threat than expected, then a failure to perceive it will mean surprise.

I find these rules are easy to implement and work really well. They follow the guidance in the book and subsequent clarifications, as well.
 

jgsugden

Legend
I think it's a little misleading, thanks in part to "passive" in "passive check" being thought to mean the characters are necessarily acting in a passive manner when that isn't the case. By referring to an ability check as an "active check," it reinforces this misconception in my view. As well, I try to be very precise in my language when discussing the rules and "active perception" isn't a thing.
Passive refers to the lack of a die roll - tis true. However, you use the passive check in most situations in which the characters are not 'actively' (as in using an action) doing something. So you use passive checks in passive situations a lot, even if that is not what the passive references explicitly.
It also gets tangled up in the idea that players are asking to make checks instead of, or in addition to, describing what they want to do. This blurs the line between the DM and player roles as I see it. I might take an action in combat to do the Search action and have an expectation of rolling since an enemy is hiding. Outside of combat, it's not an action and there's no particular expectation. My character might be Keeping Watch in which case my passive Perception applies when the DM determines surprise.
That last bit I disagree on. You are keeping watch. You are taking proactive efforts to be on watch. To me, this gives you an active roll, with a floor of your passive perception, whenever there is something noteworthy to be perceived.

Let's say that the party was in combat with a fairly weak force, but they expect a menacing monster to come join the battle - one that uses stealth. Knowing when they arrive is critical. Accordingly, while the majority of the PCs are mopping up the minor threats, one PC is using their combat action to look for the threat - an active use of perception, and a skill check with a die roll.

How is that PC's activity different than the PC standing on watch while the rest of the party rests?
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Passive refers to the lack of a die roll - tis true. However, you use the passive check in most situations in which the characters are not 'actively' (as in using an action) doing something. So you use passive checks in passive situations a lot, even if that is not what the passive references explicitly.That last bit I disagree on. You are keeping watch. You are taking proactive efforts to be on watch. To me, this gives you an active roll, with a floor of your passive perception, whenever there is something noteworthy to be perceived.

Let's say that the party was in combat with a fairly weak force, but they expect a menacing monster to come join the battle - one that uses stealth. Knowing when they arrive is critical. Accordingly, while the majority of the PCs are mopping up the minor threats, one PC is using their combat action to look for the threat - an active use of perception, and a skill check with a die roll.

How is that PC's activity different than the PC standing on watch while the rest of the party rests?
There's really nothing about passive checks in the rules that indicates the characters are necessarily doing anything passively though. It means they're doing a thing over and over again and those tasks have an uncertain outcome. That's not passive in the fictional sense. "Taking proactive efforts to be on watch" is an ability check when it's a one-off task with an uncertain outcome and a passive check when you're doing the same take with an uncertain outcome repeatedly over time. The latter tends to be the case when you're traveling, exploring, delving, etc. Which explains why passive Perception is used to determine surprise. If you do anything other than be on watch and said task is sufficiently distracting, then you don't get a chance to avoid being surprised. If the monsters act stealthily, you are automatically surprised. Hopefully, the task you chose instead is beneficial enough to offset whatever punishment you may take for not keeping watch.

As to your example, if the PCs are in combat, the characters are assumed to be Keeping Watch. This is what makes the passive Perception the "floor" when the outcome of whether or not the PCs can spot a hidden creature is in doubt. If the player chooses to take the Search action, he or she might make a Wisdom (Perception) check if the DM asks for one.

Embedded in your last two posts, especially post #17, seems to be an assumption that the players are trying to roll the dice. That is not the default expectation in the rules so far as I can tell, though that is a common way to play. The player describes what he or she wants to do. The DM then decides if the outcome is uncertain and there's a meaningful consequence of failure. Only then do you roll and, in my opinion, a player shouldn't want to if he or she can avoid it.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
A big issue here is that every time you ask for a perception check, the players will know something is up even if they roll badly. To fix that, you have to request perception checks all the time, even when there is nothing to see. If that sounds fine, then go for it.
That, or just don't sweat the players knowing there's something to be found that they didn't find.
 

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