There are many terms and concepts you need to get your head around when you first start playing Dungeons and Dragons. They have a range of uses within the game, and so it is necessary to understand them all thoroughly so that you know how to play properly. The Player’s Handbook covers a lot of these in depth, which is useful for referring to whenever you’re unsure.

The most recent 5th edition of the game has changed certain things regarding how gameplay works, so it can be confusing even if you’re used to earlier versions. Don’t worry, though – we’re here to give you a rundown of some key concepts that you will come across on a regular basis.

The one we will be discussing in this article is passive perception, including passive checks, active perception checks and proficiency in perception. Each player has a passive perception score that is written on their character sheet during character creation, along with a perception modifier.

We’ll run you through everything you need to know for your player characters to make passive skill checks and use their perceptive abilities.

What Does Passive Perception Mean?

Passive perception (or percipience) is the ability to sense things around you without being actively aware of them. This skill allows your adept senses to notice details in your environment, such as where sounds come from or whether someone is watching you. It can be useful in all sorts of situations, not just when you might be at risk of attack.

Passive perception lets you detect threats before they become dangerous. For example, if a hidden monster is waiting to creep up on you, passive perception may tell you about it. You might be able to avoid an attack by moving out of range or using Deflect Arrows. If you are stealthy, you can use stealth checks to hide yourself until the danger passes.

The passive perception check for each type of sensory input varies depending on the source. The DCs for hearing, smelling, tasting, seeing, and touching vary between 10 and 20. A passive perception check also has an ability modifier based on how much information you want to perceive.

For example, if you want to hear something but don’t know what kind of sound it is, you have advantage on perception checks. If you’re trying to determine something about a specific object, like whether it’s a trap or not, you have disadvantage on ability checks of this kind.

Success On Perception Rolls

If you make a successful passive perception check, you learn two things: first, what was sensed; second, whether it was perceived as positive (good), negative (bad), neutral (neither good nor bad), or unknown (not sure). A bad perception might be the presence of traps, hidden doors, hidden creatures, or something else that could bring your character into harm’s way.

The passive-perception skill does not work perfectly all the time. It only works when you are awake, alert, and looking around. You need line of sight to see anything, so you won’t get any clues while hiding behind cover.

Similarly, you cannot passively notice things that are blocked from view by other objects. For instance, you might be able to hear footsteps coming from a hallway, but you won’t know which direction they came from unless you turn your head to look into the room.

You must concentrate to use this skill. When distracted, you lose concentration. Concentration ends early if you take damage or fall unconscious. In addition, you can’t concentrate if you are incapacitated (for example, restrained, unconscious, paralyzed, petrified, charmed or dominated, stunned, grappled, or knocked prone.)

Frequently Asked Questions

How Do I Improve My Passive Perception?

The best way of increasing your passive score is by factoring in your proficiency bonus, which gets added every time you make an active check. When your character level goes up, your proficiency bonus increases separately from your wisdom score, which means that a 4th-level character will have a greater bonus than a 1st-level character.

You may also be able to improve your perception and chance of success depending on your character class. For instance, a rogue could double their proficiency bonus by studying for efficiency in this common ability check, allowing them to sense things that other characters wouldn’t.

Can I Choose To Ignore Certain Types Of Passive Perceptions?

Yes! Whenever you attempt a passive perception check, there are five possible results:

  • Positive Perception — Your passive perception check is a success . You learn both what was sensed and whether the sensation was positive.
  • Negative Perception — Your passive perception is a failure. You learn both what you sensed and whether it was negative.
  • Unknown Perception — You don’t know what you sensed, because you didn’t successfully make a passive perception check.
  • Good Perception — You sense something positive, but couldn’t tell whether it was good or bad.
  • Bad Perception — You sense something negative, but couldn’t tell whether it was good or bad.

This doesn’t mean that you’ve failed completely. You still receive the benefits of failing a passive perception check, so there aren’t exactly harsh penalties for failure.

Even though you may not know what you sensed, you still reduce the amount of damage an attacker deals against you by 1d10. That means you take no damage from such attacks, but you suffer their effects. This reduction lasts until the end of your next short rest.

What Is A “Critical Hit” On A Passive Perception Check?

Passive perception checks come with two different kinds of results: successes and failures. A critical hit occurs when you roll a natural 20 on a passive perception check. As with most rolls, the higher the result, the better. If you roll a natural 20, you automatically succeed on the passive perception check, regardless of what you learned.

Unlike most rolls, however, you also automatically learn something about whatever you sensed. The effect depends on how many dice you rolled.

If you roll more than 10, you learn that you saw either something good or something bad, depending on the total. Roll less than 10, and you learn that you did not detect anything. Anything higher than this may be seen as successful, although it will still depend on the total as to exactly how much more information you are given.

High rolls don’t necessarily mean you will have noticed something positive, but it is definitely a good thing to get the chance to escape immediate danger.

For example, suppose you were trying to determine whether someone had moved something recently. You roll 3d20. You get 4 successes (a natural 20 plus 2 others). You learn that you detected movement. It could be a person walking away from you, or a container being carried out of sight.

You also learn if the movement was good or bad. Since you only got three successes, you can’t tell if the object was heavy or light.

On the other hand, suppose you were trying to determine whether a door was locked. You roll a d20. You get 3 successes (a natural 20 + 2 others). You don’t learn anything new, since you already knew that the door was closed. But you do know that you failed to notice any movement inside the room.

Final Thoughts

Although passive perception can seem like a complex topic at first, hopefully we have made it a little clearer for you. It doesn’t work the same as a common type of active ability check, so you might not be used to using a passive score to affect what happens in the narrative.

You can make it a house rule that you don’t roll for passive perception scores, as it is not an active skill check; it just is what it is and you can’t change it.

You will have a greater chance of success if you take into account the above information, i.e. try and make sure your character is facing where they want to check, and isn’t blocked by objects in their line of sight or otherwise incapacitated.

Passive checks speed up the gameplay by limiting the number of active rolls – making your characters roll perception checks would cause a lot of unnecessary stopping, since noticing things happens frequently. It also lets a particularly perceptive character bring something extra to the table, as they have a higher passive perception score than the rest of the party.

Like with almost everything else in the game, it is largely up to the Dungeon Master how much emphasis they place on your passive score and how it is used in the game.

They may, for example, recognize that some of your group have heightened passive skills and describe information scenes according to how much certain characters would generally perceive. You will soon find that your passive score is one of the most useful tools you could have to survive and increase your character level.