I've been trying to figure out whether a character needs to actively be looking for traps (i.e. spending a move action) in order to be able to find them or she simply gets a reactive check when she comes close. I remember that in D&D 3.5, you'd get Spot and Search as skills, and you needed Search to find traps, which was an active looking for. But in Pathfinder both things are conflated in Perception, which can be reactive or active.

The skill description lists the action as "Find a hidden trap," as opposed to "Notice a hidden trap." Does using the verb "find" mean that it must be done through active searching?

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3 Answers 3


Usually, yes - an active search effort is required.

The rules seem to presume that characters do not notice traps unless they are actively looking for them, though some characters may have abilities which change this rule. For instance, the text of the Find Traps spell states:

You receive a check to notice traps within 10 feet of you, even if you are not actively searching for them.

This implies that if you are not actively searching, you do not get an automatic check to notice a trap. The Rogue Talent Trap Spotter is similar:

Whenever a rogue with this talent comes within 10 feet of a trap, she receives an immediate Perception skill check to notice the trap. This check should be made in secret by the GM.

And the Dwarven racial feature Stonecunning grants the same thing to all dwarves in relation to unusual stonework:

Dwarves gain a +2 bonus on Perception checks to notice unusual stonework, such as traps and hidden doors located in stone walls or floors. They receive a check to notice such features whenever they pass within 10 feet of them, whether or not they are actively looking.

None of these abilities would be worth much if you could already always make a reactive perception check to spot a trap.

However, a GM might sometimes rule that a trap is obvious enough that anyone can make a reactive perception check to spot it; some traps just are not particularly hidden. You could imagine, for instance, a swinging spiked log that is just attached to the ceiling of a corridor; the characters might not notice it, because it's dark and they'd have to look up to the ceiling, but it is not really so hidden that it requires active searching effort to be able to spot.


Yes, you do

You have to be actively searching for things that are hidden in order to actually create the stimulus that will allow you to find them, such as traps, hidden doors, or another creature. Unless (a creature) it's using stealth to move, in which it creates the necessary stimuli for a "passive" Perception check.

This has been clarified on Ultimate Intrigue, when discussing Perception versus Stealth (page 187):

Active and Automatic Perception: There are two ways Perception checks happen in the game. The first way is automatic and reactive. Certain stimuli automatically call for a Perception check, such as a creature using Stealth (which calls for an opposed Perception check), or the sounds of combat or talking in the distance. The flip side is when a player actively calls for a Perception check because her PC is intentionally searching for something. This always takes at least a move action, but often takes significantly longer. The Core Rulebook doesn’t specify what area a PC can actively search, but for a given Perception check it should be no larger than a 10-foot-by-10-foot area, and often a smaller space if that area is cluttered. For instance, in an intrigue-based game, it is fairly common to look through a filing cabinet full of files. Though the cabinet itself might fill only a 5-foot-by-5-foot area, the number of files present could cause a search to take a particularly long time.


Pathfinder doesn't have inherent passive perception so you do indeed need to spend an action to trigger the skill generally. Carcer has noted some abilities which give passive perception. There's also the find traps spell.


You gain intuitive insight into the workings of traps. You gain an insight bonus equal to 1/2 your caster level (maximum +10) on Perception checks made to find traps while the spell is in effect. You receive a check to notice traps within 10 feet of you, even if you are not actively searching for them. Note that find traps grants no ability to disable the traps that you may find.

And the truth seeker feat which grants passive perception of secret doors.


Completion Benefit(s): Whenever you pass within 10 feet of a secret door, you receive an immediate Perception check to notice the passage. This check should be made in secret by the GM. In addition, whenever you attempt a Will save to disbelieve an illusion, you may roll twice and take the better result.

So, in general, passive perception of traps or objects costs a feat or a spell.


Action: Most Perception checks are reactive, made in response to observable stimulus. Intentionally searching for stimulus is a move action.

If part of a trap is visible, you can spend a move action to search for it.

Adding in passive perception is a common house rule, and you can ask your DM for it.


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