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The basic rules 0.1 state on p61:

When your character searches for a hidden object such as a secret door or a trap, the DM typically asks you to make a Wisdom (Perception) check. Such a check can be used to find hidden details or other information and clues that you might otherwise overlook.

But they also state on p59:

Passive checks [...] Such a check can represent the average result for a task done repeatedly, such as searching for secret doors over and over again, or can be used when the DM wants to secretly determine whether the characters succeed at something without rolling dice, such as noticing a hidden monster.

Which seems like a contradiction: "you use a passive check for secret doors" and "you roll a check to find secret doors".

  1. If a PC isn't actively looking for a secret door or monsters does it mean they don't get a chance to spotting them at all? (eg: interrupt an ambush)
  2. When a PC is actively looking for hidden objects or secret doors are they supposed to roll or not?

I like the version where they don't roll because that way they have no idea if they flunked the check or not. On the other hand I like the version where you roll a die because it adds randomness to the game. In any case, before house ruling this I would like to know if anyone knows the intent of the rules as they are now.

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Can whoever downvoted the question please explain why? – Juan Alonso Aug 5 '14 at 16:03
I see a contradiction in the text quoted as I stated above and I had been thinking about it for days. You should downvote almost every question then because you can always say "you didn't think read or think hard enough" for every question that has an answer. – Juan Alonso Aug 5 '14 at 22:50
Forget I explained the downvote then. – SevenSidedDie Aug 6 '14 at 0:09
up vote 10 down vote accepted

Passive skills (especially perception, but anything really), are representative of a sort of "always on" ability. So, for instance, if you're walking in a forest and there is a goblin ambush, you see them if your passive perception beats their stealth score. However, if you're specifically looking for ambushes, you'll roll it actively.

So in the secret doors case, when you walk into a room, if your passive perception is high enough to spot the secret door, you notice it. If you're specifically looking for a secret door, then you roll an active check to try to notice (naturally, if you roll less than 10, you don't learn anything new).

Generally, the only time to roll an active perception check is if you are looking for something that your passive perception did not pick up. Naturally, in the course of play this happens fairly regularly. But the passive skills are designed to reflect a characters natural competence and should be used when they are sufficient, or there is no particular rush.

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So, in essence, you never do worse than your passive perception, and sometimes do better, with regards to noticing hidden "things"? – GamerJosh Aug 5 '14 at 17:52
@GamerJosh Yeah. There may be times where passive perception is not applicable, but they are (and should be) quite rare. – wax eagle Aug 5 '14 at 17:53
@GamerJosh: I could imagine that if you are in a hurry, and rush through the room, since not only you are passing quickly but you also probably have something on your mind (else why the hurry ?), then either passive perception does not apply at all or it applies but with significant circumstance penalties. – Matthieu M. Aug 8 '14 at 6:33
@Matthieu M.: Under the RAW if you have advantage on a passive check you get a plus 5 and if you have disadvantage you get a minus 5 – HESH Sep 15 '14 at 23:41

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