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Passive Perception Checks
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Thread: Passive Perception Checks

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    Passive Perception Checks

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    So game went pretty well last night, the dungeon crawl, so far, is going interestingly.

    However the other issue that came up, that came up before in my game, Passive Perception checks.

    Essentially, from level 1, a character gets an automatic +10 to their Perception and Insight checks, meaning there is hardly any reason to ever roll a perception or insight check unless you are trying to beat a higher DC.

    Example; the 2nd level Ranger character in my game has a passive perception of 20. Meaning he could walk into every dungeon room that I had planned for this floor of the dungeon and instantly spot all the trigger plates for the traps, they had a DC of 20.

    What brought this up is that he walked up to a room and said I want to search for traps but use my Passive Perception. As a matter of semantics he was taking 10, which is fine, but really this means why would anyone ever roll a perception check if they can automatically have a 10 except in the off chance they want to try to make a higher DC? And what happens if they roll lower than 10? Are they assumed to then be using their Passive check? Cause how could one be MORE perceptive when they are being Passive as opposed to being less perceptive when they are actively looking?

    This also has the problem of making me, the DM, create encounters that are metagamingly over the PCs Passive checks so that they have to make a check which increases the difficulty and poses at leaset somewhat of a challenge. Now yes, some things are just going to be easier to spot than others, but a DC 20 at second level I expect to be at the very least a challenge for players. That is negated by a player who can walk into a room and instantly see where every trap is, that seems a bit much for 2nd level!

    One of my players last night said that it was having a DM vs. the Players mentality, and that by increasing the DCs over the PCs passive checks meant that I was punishing the player for having a high score, whereas allowing the player to spot everything is rewarding the player. I can understand this to a point because it is similar to Star Wars Saga and the way skills are handled in that system.

    Maybe it is a matter of semantics really, but the idea of a character instantly spotting things that should normally be at least challenging for a second level character bugs me.
    Last edited by Inquisitor Tremayne; 11-14-2008 at 10:49 AM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Inquisitor Tremayne View Post
    However the other issue that came up, that came up before in my game, Passive Perception checks.

    Essentially, from level 1, a character gets an automatic +10 to their Perception and Insight checks, meaning there is hardly any reason to ever roll a perception or insight check unless you are trying to beat a higher DC.

    Example; the 2nd level Ranger character in my game has a passive perception of 20. Meaning he could walk into every dungeon room that I had planned for this floor of the dungeon and instantly spot all the trigger plates for the traps, they had a DC of 20.
    I think the person who wrote that section of the DMG didn't quite think things through. The way I see it, passive checks are for if the NPC or effect is rolling dice- basically, someone rolls an action (be it attack, perception, stealth, bluff, or some other skill) and someone has a static defense, be it AC, Fort, Ref, Will, Passive Perception, or Passive Insight- this is the basic mechanic for the entire game. Comparing passive perception to a fixed DC isn't the way the rest of the game works, since it only has one possible result- similarly, a "contest" where both sides roll and add their bonuses, and compare the results, is also not the way the game works, since D&D doesn't have bell probability curves for determining success.

    Since traps are essentially custom encounters, doing away with the passive vs. passive isn't even really a house-rule- just decide if you want the trap or the character to roll (depending on your impression of how likely your player is to metagame), and give the character or the trap the passive score accordingly.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Inquisitor Tremayne View Post
    So game went pretty well last night, the dungeon crawl, so far, is going interestingly.

    However the other issue that came up, that came up before in my game, Passive Perception checks.

    Essentially, from level 1, a character gets an automatic +10 to their Perception and Insight checks, meaning there is hardly any reason to ever roll a perception or insight check unless you are trying to beat a higher DC.
    Since they removed the Take a 10 / 20 option from the game I am rather strict on Passive checks. Passive Perception and Passive insight are meant for when the person is just not trying. I.E., they walk down the hallway and happen to catch light out of the corner of their eye which reveals the secret door (Perception). The judge is talking to them and his tone sends chills down the players spine, giving them the impression that the judge is lying (Insight).

    I don't give the players the choice to use Passive anything. When writing the next adventure I set the Perception and Insight DC's without any notes of the players Passive scores. At the beginning of the session I get the Passives and compare them any time a Perception or Insight check comes up. That allows me to avoid the Meta-game a bit, although its not perfect. Destroy the notes on the passives after the session and you should be good to go.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kalanth View Post
    Since they removed the Take a 10 / 20 option from the game I am rather strict on Passive checks. Passive Perception and Passive insight are meant for when the person is just not trying. I.E., they walk down the hallway and happen to catch light out of the corner of their eye which reveals the secret door (Perception). The judge is talking to them and his tone sends chills down the players spine, giving them the impression that the judge is lying (Insight).

    I don't give the players the choice to use Passive anything. When writing the next adventure I set the Perception and Insight DC's without any notes of the players Passive scores. At the beginning of the session I get the Passives and compare them any time a Perception or Insight check comes up. That allows me to avoid the Meta-game a bit, although its not perfect. Destroy the notes on the passives after the session and you should be good to go.
    So it doesn't bother you (or anyone else) that they are just strolling along and all of a sudden (passively); "Hey! There is a secret door there!"?

    Why even bother making it a secret door if a character can Passively percieve it in the first place?
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    Quote Originally Posted by Inquisitor Tremayne View Post
    So it doesn't bother you (or anyone else) that they are just strolling along and all of a sudden (passively); "Hey! There is a secret door there!"?
    I don't think its "heh a secret door is there" its more of a "anyone else notice this stonework is off?" then you investigate and there is a secret door.
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    I've moved this off from the "A brief critique of 4e so far..." thread, as this is a seperate topic.
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    Quote Originally Posted by MortonStromgal View Post
    I don't think its "heh a secret door is there" its more of a "anyone else notice this stonework is off?" then you investigate and there is a secret door.
    This is how I prefer to use passive checks (in any system). They catch your eye and tell you something is different or unusual, but they don't give you a total understanding of it. Just enough to draw your attention and offer you the opportunity to roll a real check to determine how much info you can glean about this passively noticed thing.

    A totally real life example that sorta works:

    You are walking down the street and notice a green dollar bill shaped paper on the ground as you are passing by. Your brain registers "GREEN" "RECTANGLE" "MONEY!!" and forces your active conscious to doubletake on it. So you stop and look, and perhaps pick it up. Only then do you know if it's real money or some childs plaything; let alone the dollar amount it's for.

    The passive check does not allow someone to pick up on something like "Hey, there is a fifty down there, but it's Monopoly money... forget it." it just says "Was that really money down there?"

    The active check sorts the difference.
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    There's something about passive perception that puzzles me. The PCs have fixed scores for these perceptions. As a GM you're the one deciding what difficulty it is to perceive some clue. As a GM you use these clues probably with the intention to lead the PCs in a new direction and/or reveal new elements of the story. So you kind of want them to find the clue right ? Or at least you'd like them to realize that's something is hidden/forgotten there. So why bother with this passive attribute thing ?

    I'm not talking of the case of determining if a group of PCs spot an ambush about to happen. In this case passive perception has an obvious use for the tactical situation to come. And the fight will happen whether the PCs spotted the sneaky orcs or not. It's really about those "optional" type of clues that I find the concept lame.
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    If the DM really wants the party to succeed at something, have everybody roll against the DC. Somebody will succeed. If they all fail, give them a chance to roll against a different skill.

    If you want it to be a challenge, and have the game branch on success/failure, restrict it to one player- either the best or worst, depending on if one success means success or one failure means failure. If it's an arcana question, give the character with the highest arcana a shot. If the whole party is trying to sneak, hand the dice to the player with the lowest stealth. And so on.

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    Quote Originally Posted by grimwell View Post
    This is how I prefer to use passive checks (in any system). They catch your eye and tell you something is different or unusual, but they don't give you a total understanding of it. Just enough to draw your attention and offer you the opportunity to roll a real check to determine how much info you can glean about this passively noticed thing.

    A totally real life example that sorta works:

    You are walking down the street and notice a green dollar bill shaped paper on the ground as you are passing by. Your brain registers "GREEN" "RECTANGLE" "MONEY!!" and forces your active conscious to doubletake on it. So you stop and look, and perhaps pick it up. Only then do you know if it's real money or some childs plaything; let alone the dollar amount it's for.

    The passive check does not allow someone to pick up on something like "Hey, there is a fifty down there, but it's Monopoly money... forget it." it just says "Was that really money down there?"

    The active check sorts the difference.
    I am quoting you Grimwell not to pick on but because you are more descriptive with what the last few folks have been saying.

    Regardless, the above scenario you present works like this game mechanics-wise...

    Your Passive Perception allows you to spot the bill lying there, then either you must make another Perception check to determine what kind of bill it is or the DM simply tells you what it is. If another perception check is required, what happens when the player rolls less than 10? Do they suddenly not see the bill? Can they not make out what kind of bill it is? If the DM is going to tell you what it is, why even bother with requiring a DC to spot the thing in the first place?

    I understand how Passive Perception checks should work, BUT they are very problematic and frankly nonsensical.
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    Here's my take:

    Passive perception checks are "Passive." In most cases, having the players roll skill checks as they describe they are doing something is preferable, as it makes it a role playing game rather than a story.

    There are two situations where Passive checks improve the story:

    1) The situations where you don't want the players to know something is amiss. If you have them roll, they automatically become suspicious, and have to metagame to keep their characters doing what they were doing, knowing something nasty might happen. The passive checks prevent that... only those that have the invested ability to notice something will, while the others will suffer the consequences of not being as insightful or perceptive.

    2) To speed things up. Common things like small clues or ajar doors or overheard voices can be done without a roll to keep the action moving. Simple as that. This is another way 4e keeps the action moving.

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    To me it's just pure masochism. You planned clues and new details of your story, you spent probably a few hours figuring out cool scenes, creating new NPCs and a dynamic set of events ready to be unfold. And now you'd throw it out the window because something on a character sheet has value of x instead of x+2 ? OK you could recycle it but my point remains. You're the one who is deciding what DC is going to be the check. You know the values of the PCs passive perceptions. In the end you're the one who decide if it succeeds or not. Why would you choose the PCs fail ? To punish yourself ?
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    Quote Originally Posted by boulet View Post
    You're the one who is deciding what DC is going to be the check. You know the values of the PCs passive perceptions.
    But why plan with the PC's perception checks in mind? You set the DC based on the difficulty and the level of the players, and let it shake out who notices. Those with invested perception/insight get rewarded, and those without it don't.

    Same principle applies when they will roll... the liklihood that the low wisdom fighter will notice a hidden nook is very low whether you make it a passive or active check, while the cunning rouge would have a difficult time failing to spot it.

    It sounds like overplanning to me.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Maelstrom View Post
    Here's my take:

    Passive perception checks are "Passive." In most cases, having the players roll skill checks as they describe they are doing something is preferable, as it makes it a role playing game rather than a story.

    There are two situations where Passive checks improve the story:

    1) The situations where you don't want the players to know something is amiss. If you have them roll, they automatically become suspicious, and have to metagame to keep their characters doing what they were doing, knowing something nasty might happen. The passive checks prevent that... only those that have the invested ability to notice something will, while the others will suffer the consequences of not being as insightful or perceptive.
    Problematic because once one players knows the whole party usually ends up knowing.

    PLUS, what if the PCs roll lower than their Passive Perception? Are they suddenly now less Perceptive?


    Quote Originally Posted by Maelstrom View Post
    2) To speed things up. Common things like small clues or ajar doors or overheard voices can be done without a roll to keep the action moving. Simple as that. This is another way 4e keeps the action moving.
    Then why even include DCs or Passive Perception checks if the DM is going to tell the PCs the info they see and hear? Whats the point of having a secret door with a DC of 20 if a second level character can spot it passively? Why even bother? Why not just tell the PCs, "You see a door."?


    Quote Originally Posted by boulet View Post
    To me it's just pure masochism. You planned clues and new details of your story, you spent probably a few hours figuring out cool scenes, creating new NPCs and a dynamic set of events ready to be unfold. And now you'd throw it out the window because something on a character sheet has value of x instead of x+2 ?
    Yes. Because that stat on a character sheet negates any potential obstacle that has a DC equal to or less than the static number on the character sheet.

    Quote Originally Posted by boulet View Post
    OK you could recycle it but my point remains. You're the one who is deciding what DC is going to be the check. You know the values of the PCs passive perceptions. In the end you're the one who decide if it succeeds or not.
    Then you end up with a DM vs. player sort of game, where the DM is intentionally trying to make things difficult for the PCs. A DC 20 for 2nd level characters SHOULD be challenging. It should mean the PCs have to roll well/high in order to make that DC. I take issue with a 2nd level character that can instantly negate that DC 20 by simply walking into a room, or walking down the street, etc...

    Quote Originally Posted by boulet View Post
    Why would you choose the PCs fail? To punish yourself?
    Because failure is realistic. No one is all powerful 100% of the time. Granted at higher levels things become second nature to the PCs, and things with DCs of 10, 15, or 20 begin to become very easy. But that should be reserved for higher levels, not for 2nd level characters.

    There is a big difference between a character taking 10 on a spot or search check vs. a PC simply walking into an area and being instantly aware of anything amiss.

    Unless I can be convinced otherwise.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Maelstrom View Post
    But why plan with the PC's perception checks in mind? You set the DC based on the difficulty and the level of the players, and let it shake out who notices. Those with invested perception/insight get rewarded, and those without it don't.
    But why even set a DC if a player can easily see it without a roll? Then it simply becomes added descriptive text.

    And lets face it, when one PC knows something the whole party does as well.

    Quote Originally Posted by Maelstrom View Post
    Same principle applies when they will roll... the liklihood that the low wisdom fighter will notice a hidden nook is very low whether you make it a passive or active check, while the cunning rogue would have a difficult time failing to spot it.
    True but your above statement implies there is still a chance for failure, having a high Passive Perception means that the DC to notice something then becomes moot, there is no chance for failure.

    The chance for failure keeps the game interesting. It is very boring to be able to simply walk around and notice everything and never have any surprises.

    Quote Originally Posted by Maelstrom View Post
    It sounds like overplanning to me.
    It is overplanning. Why plan DCs that are lower than the Players Passive scores? It makes no sense. You would be better off to include anything with low DCs in the descriptions of the areas the PCs are in. And that is boring.
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