What is Passive Wisdom (Perception) DnD 5e


Passive Wisdom, also commonly known as Perception is one of those mechanics in Dungeons and Dragons that are there to streamline the entire process. DnD can be a very cumbersome game with all the math you must calculate. Passive Wisdom just serves to be able to alleviate some of that.

But what is it? Well, that is what we will find out in today’s article. We’ll be looking at what it is, how it compares to Active Perception, and when to use passive perception – and when to use active perception. Let’s get right into it, shall we?

What is Passive Wisdom or Perception

Passive perception in 5e is a Perception check, or, a roll that a player must perform if they successfully want to reveal something that they have a hunch is there – but just can’t see it. It can be a hidden enemy, a recent event that has transpired, or even a hidden object and area.

To calculate the passive perception of a character, the base amount you have to take is always 10 + your Wisdom modifier + Bonuses that you have. The base number for a passive check will always be a 10, no matter what. The things that can change are the Wisdom modifier and the bonuses that you have.

How this works is as follows. You calculate your Perception check based on your current Wisdom modifiers and bonuses thanks to skills and or feats and you use that number you have gotten in any future Passive Perception checks. Until you become more proficient or unlock new skills that is.

But, you may be wondering.
“How does this differ from Active Perception checks and why should I even bother with using it at all?”

Before I can answer that, let me tell you a bit about Active Perception checks.

What are Active Perception Checks?

On paper, Active Perception checks serve the same function as their passive counterpart. They can both be used to uncover a hidden element as I’ve mentioned in the introduction of this article.

The difference between them is how they are calculated – and along with that, how they are used.

Active Perception checks are calculated by rolling a d20 + your Wisdom modifier + Bonuses that you may have. In theory, this could allow you to get a higher number for the DC. But in the same theory, there is also a risk that you may get a lower number than your Passive Wisdom number. What’s more, you use up a turn each time you try to calculate a new Active Perception check; why waste precious time?

Now that we have a solid grasp of what Active Perception is. Let’s get back to answering the question that I brought up earlier.

The Difference Between the Two, and Why You Should Use Both

I won’t try to convince you which one is better. The truth is that it comes down to personal preference and circumstances. One may work better in one circumstance, and the other in another circumstance.

How I see it. Passive Perception is a mechanic that is similar to an auto-resolve button in RTS games. Yes, you can do everything manually; but why waste the time?
That’s why I tend to use Passive Perception in most cases if the number is sufficiently high enough.

Of course, sometimes you don’t have a choice. Say your Passive Perception number is 17, and a DC for a certain check is 18. Then you have no choice but to roll an Active Perception check and hope for the best.

Types of Scenarios Where You’ll Encounter These Checks

For the last part, I’d like to list some scenarios where these kinds of checks can be used, so as to allow newer players to better understand the mechanic.

  • You walk into a room with torches still lit, you know someone’s been here recently but you just can’t put your finger on it.
  • A tile ahead of you on the floor you are walking on is strange. You can choose to investigate it from afar.
  • You’re walking through the forest and you can sense eyes are gazing at you. Do you dare gaze back?

Those are just some examples of scenarios where this mechanic can come into play. Of course, all of this relies on your dungeon master. As he may require you to roll a different Ability Score rather than Wisdom.

Finishing Comments on Passive Perception

Those were the basics as to how to calculate passive perception, how passive perception is used in most cases, and the benefits of passive perception in regards to active perception. We even briefly mentioned the ways by which players can add to their passive perception scores, by increasing the relevant perception modifier.

And that’s all there is to a character’s passive perception, be it if a player uses it, or if you are using it as a dm to calculate for another creature. Go out and have fun!

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