I recently noticed how crazy high your passive perception can get.

Assuming you are a druid or cleric (i.e. Wisdom being your main stat) with one level in rogue, you can get expertise in perception (2*6 prof bonus). At level 20, with +5 WIS modifier, and with the Observant feat (another +5), that equals to

10 + 5 (WIS) + 12 (prof) + 5 (Observant) = 32 passive perception (+17 to checks)

As a DM, I can hardly make every perception check a DC35 (and shouldn't, since the player would have to invest quite the amount of resources to get such a high passive perception, which should be rewarded).

However, I still might want to add some traps or sneaking enemies without them being immediately spotted. How could I do this, aside from separating the master of perception from the rest of the group every time?

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    \$\begingroup\$ [Related] Overpowered perception \$\endgroup\$ Feb 3, 2018 at 22:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ I am trying to understand how this question is not along the lines of "DM versus Players" ... it takes a choice/cost for the player to make that choice to boost passive perception versus something else. Why is that a problem in your game, and are your players playing at level 20? Some traps may require an Investigation check versus a Perception check, for example. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 4, 2018 at 1:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ Don't forget the Ioun Stone of Mastery, increasing the maximum proficiency bonus from +6 to +7. Or the Wisdom books that can increase your Wisdom to a maximum of 24 (if you find and use two). \$\endgroup\$
    – VHS
    Feb 4, 2018 at 7:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ related: rpg.stackexchange.com/q/71340/23970 \$\endgroup\$
    – nitsua60
    Sep 18, 2018 at 1:59

6 Answers 6


Don't nerf the player's resources

As you rightly say, to get this good has taken a significant investment and it would be a vindictive DM who would invalidate that investment. Feel free to be as vindictive if you like - no moral judgement from me.

Perceiving is not the same as Overcoming

For all sorts of reasons but just limiting to the circumstances you describe:

  • Traps: DM: "You see a long corridor, the walls have a bas relief with hideous demons, their mouths are dark holes. Super Eyes notices old blood on the floor and that the entire floor of the corridor is disconnected from the wall and the floor you are standing on". The super perception has shown them the spear trap and the trigger - they still have to get down the corridor or go home: perception doesn't help here. Finding out how the trap works is an Intelligence (investigation) check, disarming it is a Dexterity (Thieves Tools) check.
  • Ambushes: So Super Eyes is rarely surprised (if they took the Alert feat this would be never surprised): that doesn't help anyone else. The rest of his companions have not noticed a threat so are surprised until the end of their first turn of the combat.

By level 20, PCs should be pretty amazing, but so should their enemies. A character who has spec'd heavily into noticing everything should under normal circumstances. However traps could have static illusions/invisibility placed over them, so passive Perception would be less useful, but Detect Magic/True Sight would be more useful.

You could also use multiple hidden opponents - the PC can see all 8 of the hidden archers around the room, but as soon as they tell their party members they loose their shots.
There could be decoys - they spot and attack the first hidden enemy, allowing the second to pass by behind them.
Casters could use darkness and silence to make things harder, or go the opposite way and blind or deafen using bright lights and loud noises. (There must be an alchemical or spell version of a flashbang somewhere!)

Although these seem to be trying to negate the power that a PC has built their character towards, it could make sense as they would be famous for their amazing abilities, especially at level cap. If opposing the same enemies they were at level 5-10, then being able to ride roughshod over their traps is reasonable. When opposing enemies who are the most powerful beings/organisations in existence, then they should know that any single tactic is liable to be foiled.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I mean, even at level 12 (two ASIs for 16->20 WIS, 1x feat) you would have 28 PP. Still very high \$\endgroup\$ Feb 3, 2018 at 22:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ Human Variant could do this at 9th level. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 3, 2018 at 23:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ To clarify the first point, Illusions typically can only be detected by physical interaction or by an Investigation check (or Detect Magic, of course), making passive Perception useless. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 4, 2018 at 2:19

The short answer is "don't"

If you just so happen to have a very perceptive PC in the party then let them be that. There is literally nothing wrong with it, you could run the game as normal and have no problems. The fact that 1 or even a number of the party could have high perception is a good thing as far as the PC's are concerned, they will probably be happy having someone who can keep an eye out for trouble.

That being the case consider some more convoluted traps. For example have some traps that don't do anything on their own but arm other traps in a dungeon. Even have some "unavoidable" traps such as a long corridor with a 20 foot long pressure plate on it.

It may seem unavoidable but actually if 2 people stand on just the first 2 tiles for 6 full seconds, a secret door opens up, offering an alternate route. Just because you see it, doesn't mean you understand everything it does/how it works.

These are extreme cases, I'd suggest only putting them in very specific areas/dungeons that are designed to be a significant challenge. It's a great idea to offer specific challenges to a PC which will be hard but will line up with their skill set as well as give them problems to solve that push the boundaries of their abilities.


Don't make it JUST about Perception

Perception is a useful skill, Many games (Pathfinder esp) made Perception the king of skills that creates live-or-die situations based on such checks. As was stated by others: do not nerf the player for building his character as a Perception-Monkey. He SHOULD get benefits from it. But that does not mean he should always benefit from it.

Personally I do three things to go around this: change the situation with conditions, encourage the use of OTHER skills, and have the "surprise round" be the creatures revealing themselves.

Change the situation: Use fog/ smoke, complete cover/ line of sight. At level 20, the PCs should not be fighting basic goblins or orcs. They are taking on world-spanning horrors and dangers. So most of their enemies will vary their tactics. Since the PCs are level 20, their enemies will have access to some of these high-levels spells that allow them to hide or distort reality, heck they might even teleport or plane shift in!

If the PCs keep running into the same situation where Perception is king, then yes, there is very little you can do.

Use of other skills (all of which I've seen used with Perception)

  • You look for tracks: That's Survival

  • How was the guy killed? That's Medicine

  • You look for a book in the library: That's Investigation

  • Find if that gambler has a tell: That's Insight

Finally, by having a reveal as a surprise round, you give the PC their bonus. I hate when my GM drops a surprise round with an initiative-monster so you take 2 monster attacks before you can do anything (that may have been worse in other edition, but the distaste still remains). So I do not write surprises in my stuff anymore. Or I do so very rarely.

Part of this, I will have reinforcements arrive from another location. The PCs engage the orcs from the front, well two rounds later, another band appears from the side. I tell the PCs "you hear noises coming from here," and let them decide if the concentrate or ignore the side group.

The trick is to change things without negating their ability. Changing things up will challenge them in more ways then one.


You could use fog or If it's like a cursed dungeon, it could be covered in magical darkness. If you also have enemies hiding in the ground or walls they could very well be undetectable. Also this set up only works for one PC at a time, if others don't have it set up like this then they could forget seeing the enemy like the theoretical druid can and they will be just as vulnerable anyway. Throw a few distractions in the mix and you got the PC with a +5 instead of a +10 on the check. Level 20 in the peak existence of the PC's and it should be the case for the enemies too, you can pretty much throw in anything to set up an ambush.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Is the gist of this answer, "make some situations where high perception isn't enough" followed by a list of examples? If so, consider reworking the answer into a succinct answer followed by set of examples in list format. \$\endgroup\$
    – GcL
    Sep 17, 2018 at 15:35

Fog of delirium? A a delusion causing fog could turn their heightened perception against them. They would be even more effected by the fog than the other players. Perhaps their heightened perception causes them to make fortitude checks or flee the scene more often than not. Something like that could be a constant harassment to a gifted plays characterism. Seems like a fun workaround to me. Happy gaming~

  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already, and check out the help center for more guidance. Is this a house-rule/homebrew? How has it worked, in your experience? Also, "Fortitude checks" are not a thing in D&D 5e; do you mean Constitution saving throws? \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    May 19, 2019 at 22:17

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