D&D 5e: High Passive Perception Issues

Basically I think it’s bad mechanics. Almost every other part of 5e is rolling against a DC, or two rolls Vs each other. Here it’s DC vs DC – the passive perception level against the DC of the trap or whatever. And that doesn’t work – the DM is just deciding if the person spots the trap or doesn’t. Maybe that sort of dramatic DM fiat resolution would work for a system based around it. But I don’t think it works here – it’s a bad mechanic.

My suggestion for a patch is to stop using DCs in regards to this. Take the DC you’d have used, then subtract ten then use the remainder as a modifier added to a D20.

For example if the trap had a DC of 12 to find it, then subtract 10 from 12 and you are left with a +2 modifier. Add that to a D20. 1D20+2.

You roll for the trap or whatever to see if it remains hidden from their passive perception, trying to beat the players passive perception. So you roll, not the player. This also makes sense in regards to one main thing passive perception is supposed to be for – to determine if PCs see things without raising the attention of the player.

If a player has a passive perception of 22 and the bonus is +1, then they can always find it – that’s the players reward. But that’s an edge case that isn’t going to happen very often. Most traps I’ve seen in printed material have a DC around 12 to 20.

The short version: My suggestion for a patch is to stop using DCs – take the DC, subtract ten then use the remainder as a modifier added to a D20. You roll for the trap or whatever to see if it remains hidden from their PP.

4 thoughts on “D&D 5e: High Passive Perception Issues

  1. Yes, I do such in my home game from time to time. The Observant feat makes me irritated!

    I think passive Perception works best for handling hiding (stealth checks), which has a single roll. You get strange probabilities once opposed rolls come into being, so I avoid them where possible. For many traps, I don’t allow passive Perception to discover them – perhaps that there is something amiss, but Investigation needs to be used at times.

  2. What kind of information would, in your model, be given out on a successful (passive) perception check?

    I would say, for example:
    “One of the flagstones is a bit higher than the others and of slightly darker shade.” (DC 20 or thereabouts, I think, assuming typical dungeon conditions.)
    “There are definite scorchmarks on the walls and the floor.” (DC 10 or 15 depending on their size, I would say.)
    “There is some kind of big and quite deep footprint on the path in front of you. It is in a puddle of mud.” (DC 5 or 10)

    Looking around would give an active perception test (and is often a good idea), while more careful investigation would give details and maybe rolls to investigate the elevated stone or tracking tests to see if one recognizes the footprint and so on. If the scorch marks are due to burning oil trap, that has to come from somewhere and something has to trigger it, so those mechanisms might be detected with an additional roll, even if they are less obvious than the scorching. But maybe it was due to dragonfire and what one learns is that it was hot enough to melt the stones a little bit and there is a silhoutte of a human here, but that is it.

    The assumption is that interacting with the fictional world and figuring out whether the situation is dangerous and what do about it are interesting.

    1. I was just wondering why you’re still using DCs in your examples, when it hit me that it’s another example of ‘distort the game world to compensate for the game mechanics’. You’re trying to make it that the fixed perception will just give little hints to stuff….basically trying to minimize the effect of PP, but distorting the game world to do so. In a game system with no PP and it’s always a roll to spot the trap, on a pass you’d say the trap is there rather than giving little hints.

      Of course I can’t confirm that as being the case. It’s just uncanny whether the system has rolls for for perception or it’s a system that uses using a static number for perception, you’d give little hints in both cases on a pass – something which would help stop static PP from just auto solving traps. I have to say, it just seems too convenient to me.

      I mean to clarify, the question about what information I’d give doesn’t make sense when using static DCs – I’m not going to use static DCs against a static passive perception score. You’re asking about what I’d do in a situation I’m not going to choose to be in.

      1. I make a sandbox world. I do not which players will be going to which location. Even if I would know, since they often have several characters or they might lose a character or create a new one, I do not which characters would be going there. Even if I knew this, I would not know their marching order, and certainly those not walking in the front would have disadvantage or more difficult check to detect most traps before they get close, and then those going first might already have triggered them. Or the character with the highest perception might die, be blinded or deafened, or whatever, before they reach the trap. And the group might be running or moving carelessly, getting disadvantage, or moving very slowly and cautiously, getting advantage.

        That is: I have no idea what the passive perception of anyone is before it happens in play. Hence, when preparing a location or encounter for D&D 5, I would include the difficulties. How could I otherwise determine whether something is detected or not?

        From the description of perception, in the SRD: “Your Wisdom (Perception) check lets you spot, hear, or otherwise detect the presence of something. … Or you might try to spot things that are obscured or easy to miss, whether they are orcs lying in ambush on a road, thugs hiding in the shadows of an alley, or candlelight under a closed secret door.”

        The “vague things” are things that are obscured or easy to miss, much like the examples in the text. This is completely by-the-book. Perception is used to determine what you sense.

        Contrast this with investigation: “When you look around for clues and make deductions based on those clues, you make an Intelligence (Investigation) check.”
        Was it dragonfire or napalm from the ceiling? Look around for clues and make deductions, so roll investigation. Is the part of wall with different construction a sealed corridor, a secret door, a trap, or just a repaired portion of the wall? Again investigation.


        And none of this “solves” a trap. Sometimes you can step over a tripwire (do you let it remain there or trigger it safely? might be relevant later), but sometimes the pit does cover the entire corridor’s width and you need to figure out how to bypass it.

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