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I am DM in a campaign and recently my players reached level 3. The Rogue chose to take the Inquisitive archetype.

I am looking at the Eye for Detail feature, which allows the rogue to make a Perception check to look for hidden things or an Investigation check to uncover or decipher clues as a bonus action. At first glance I interpret this as an extension of the Cunning Action feature (similar to the Thief's Fast Hands or Mastermind's Master of Tactics), by giving the rogue more things to do with their bonus action.

The Eye for Detail feature definitely has uses in combat. Bonus action Perception checks are an excellent counter against foes which like to hide (which my players face semi-regularly). Investigation is more situational, but not useless.

However, outside combat the action economy is not so important. If you are acting on the timescale of minutes rather than seconds it is not practical to track individual actions. But on the same timescale of minutes (rather than hours) you can, in principle, track things by individual actions.

By this reasoning, an Inquisitive Rogue can make twice as many Perception or Investigation checks in a given time-frame as any other character (assuming that is the only activity they are doing, and that the checks fall under the specifications for the Eye for Detail feature). They are able to search faster so, given a fixed time-frame, can search more thoroughly, or search a wider area.

Of course, I don't actually want to track actions round by round for a search which would take a few minutes. That would involve a stupid amount of die rolling and completely skews the statistics. But I was wondering whether the Inquisitive's Eye for Detail should still provide some benefit.

Would it be reasonable, under appropriate circumstances, to grant an Inquisitive Rogue advantage on Perception and Investigation checks outside combat? Or would this be unbalanced?

'Appropriate circumstances' being cases where simply searching more would plausibly improve chances of success (e.g. hide and seek), the timescale of the activity is short enough to make an intensive effort practical (but long enough to not be measured in rounds), the check pertains to the activities described in Eye for Detail, and the rogue is not dividing their attention between other actions.

My rationale behind this is that, in combat, a rogue can roll twice as many checks as someone else, so rolling advantage is essentially equivalent to that. I figure that a small circumstantial non-combat buff which emphasises the archetype's strengths is acceptable.

My concern is that this might be too advantageous. This greatly extends the usefulness of the feature by allowing it to be useful outside combat, and advantage is a large bonus. If this makes the archetype far more powerful than it should be, or has unintended interactions, then I should be wary about granting such regular advantage. I have not had much experience with Inquisitive Rogues; if they are a powerful archetype then such a buff would be unneeded, although if they are a weak archetype then this buff might be beneficial.

Note that I am not planning to explicitly modify the Eye for Detail feature. Rather, I will use my latitude as DM to grant advantage based solely on the implied usefulness of the Eye for Detail feature. But I wish to discern whether such a ruling is wise or unbalanced before setting a precedent.

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This is crazily overpowered

Perception is the most common check made in most games, by far, and is used for uncovering clues, spotting danger and more generally gives the player information which allows them to overcome challenges more easily (i.e. you see a trap, now you don't take HP damage, life is easier).

Advantage works out to around +5, and also adds roughly +5 to any passive checks if you use those, because despite your saying 'under appropriate circumstances', it seems to me that it will almost always apply.

A +5 bonus to passive Perception is one of the key benefits of the Observant feat, so some people take an entire feat to gain the benefit you are proposing to grant for free. And if the feat granted +5 to active Perception checks as well, I think it would be even more popular because active Perception is amazing.

On top of this rogues already get Expertise, so if they care about Perception, they will already have a good Perception modifier, and adding advantage means they will notice pretty much everything.

It is important for the party to have someone good at Perception, but often this can be the cleric or a class with a good Wisdom score; what you are doing it making the rogue by far the best at spotting things, on top of all the other things the rogue is amazing at.

Other options

In a comment on the question, LizWeir suggested that this feature allows the rogue to multitask rather than making them better at searching. This could be represented by letting the rogue do something else at the same time as searching. I would go down that route if you want to provide a buff. And for what it is worth, I would not bother buffing this power; the player obviously liked the class enough to pick it in the first place.

You could do something like the ranger's Natural Explorer feature, which lets them keep watch while engaged in another activity while traveling for an hour or more in their favored terrain (the UA revised ranger's version of the feature works in any terrain). This would let the character keep watch while hunting for food or following tracks.

A word of warning

Giving a player a buff because of how they can use a combat ability out of combat may potentially make your other players get jealous (I would), and they might then try to find ways for their features to give them equally massive buffs. You would be opening up a can of worms.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ @Szega "your saying 'when it applies' it seems to me that it will almost always apply" \$\endgroup\$ – SeriousBri Apr 30 at 15:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ Oh, I missed that half-sentence. Could you elaborate on why you think so? I do not agree. eg. it will not help with spotting far away things (like an Eagle Barb could) or with investigations based on eyewitness reports. \$\endgroup\$ – Szega Apr 30 at 16:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'd say yes to investigation, no to perception, and extra double special no to the passive checks -- "inquisitive" implies a tendency to take extra time looking over details and shouldn't apply when you don't have time to rubberneck. \$\endgroup\$ – Shadur May 1 at 8:36
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It is probably not a good idea

Would it be reasonable, under appropriate circumstances, to grant an Inquisitive Rogue advantage on Perception and Investigation checks outside combat?

Depends on how often the "appropriate circumstances" are going to occur, this can become either very powerful or almost unneeded. If this occurs quite often, it is close on the heels of a 9th-level Inquisitive Rogue feature named "Steady Eye" (XGtE, p. 46):

Starting at 9th level, you have advantage on any Wisdom (Perception) or Intelligence (Investigation) check if you move no more than half your speed on the same turn.

In the same time, for giving rare sporadic advantage, you don't need a feature at all — a DM is supposed to give situational advantage for every character, according to the rules:

The DM can also decide that circumstances influence a roll in one direction or the other and grant advantage or impose disadvantage as a result.

So the very "out of combat use for Eye for Detail" idea becomes a moot point.

You could approach this from another angle

The Eye for Detail feature states (XGtE, p. 46):

Starting at 3rd level, you can use a bonus action to make a Wisdom (Perception) check to spot a hidden creature or object or to make an Intelligence (Investigation) check to uncover or decipher clues.

So it explicitly allows the Rogue to do these things:

  • make a Wisdom (Perception) check to spot a hidden creature
  • make an Intelligence (Investigation) check to uncover or decipher clues

But any creature can spot a hidden creature or try to uncover clues. A player says "I'm searching for X", the DM asks for an ability check and describes the outcome. That's how the game works, right?

Of course it does. A character can freely search, investigate, look for things. Out of combat, that kind of action usually takes a reasonable amount of time and then becomes resolved with an ability check.

The key difference is, Eye for Detail allows you to do that instantly. Instead of searching the room for a couple of hours, the Rogue just steps in and momentarily spots the key detail, like Sherlock Holmes does. This can be crucial when thorough searching is impossible, like when you go through the sultan's palace and discern his true intentions by noticing small but important details in the surroundings.

How "balanced" it is? This actually depends on the game you play. It can be quite more useful than a mere advantage, and might be overpowered for a game incorporating detective elements, but it's also totally useless for a hack-and-slash type of game. Out-of-combat balance is a moot point — you, the DM, control the spotlight for these features, making them shine or rendering superfluous.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Love this answer. You've brought up when this feature is useful and built your answer around making that feature useful. +1 \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Apr 30 at 13:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yep. It lets you search for clues just by walking into the room. What this says about the character is far more powerful than giving a bonus to ability checks. \$\endgroup\$ – Mark Wells Apr 30 at 16:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ I am not sure that this is the intent behind the feature. I believe they meant to change the required effort from Action to bonus action and not from 10 minutes to bonus action. For example trying to spot a hiding creature normally takes an Action and not a minute. \$\endgroup\$ – Szega Apr 30 at 16:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ Giving advantage wasn't the intent behind the feature either. But OP didn't ask for the intent behind the Eye for Detail feature, he asked for possibilities of making sense out of it in non-combat situation. Reading it only as "now things that requires action are possible for you as a bonus action" leaves us with combat-only applications, since difference between action and bonus action is non-existent out of combat. But if we narrow applications of the feature to combat only, it becomes half as useless, since almost no one asks for Intelligence (Investigation) checks in combat. @Szega \$\endgroup\$ – enkryptor Apr 30 at 22:05
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At level 9 the Inquisitive Rogue does get Advantage on both Perception and Investigation checks if they move no more than 1/2 their speed.

Steady Eye

Starting at 9th level, you have advantage on any Wisdom (Perception) or Intelligence (Investigation) check if you move no more than half your speed on the same turn.

If you give them this at level 3, then their level 9 feature is (nearly) entirely pointless!

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    \$\begingroup\$ Good catch! This feature does overlap sufficiently strongly with what I was thinking of doing, such that it puts it in perspective. \$\endgroup\$ – BBeast Apr 30 at 23:55
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A DM can always choose to grant advantage on a roll

In Chapter 7 of both the Player's Handbook and The Basic Rules, you can find the following line about advantage and disadvantage:

The DM can also decide that circumstances influence a roll in one direction or the other and grant advantage or impose disadvantage as a result.

So if you think think the increased pace at which your rogue can investigate and search for things matters to how successful they are going to be, it might be appropriate to give them advantage. There's no hard and fast rule, it's up to you as DM to decide if the situation is one where their special ability gives them a leg up on other PCs.

It doesn't need to be an always on or always off thing either, you can decide each time whether it makes sense. It seems most relevant to me when they want to investigate or perceive something in a hurry, or if they are also doing something else at the same time. So looking around for a hidden door in the library while simultaneously having a conversation about some boring research with the librarian? Sure, have advantage (a stealth check to avoid being noticed peering around might also be appropriate). Hunting for a secret door to escape the flooding pit before you all need to be treading water? Sure, have advantage for being quick about it (though rolling initiative and having everybody do stuff in their turn might also make sense, even though this is not a combat situation). But these are just a few ideas I've had, you might feel other criteria make more sense.

You can also decide how you'd feel about your player asking if they can get advantage, or whether they should let you decide without any prompting. Depending on the size of your group, it might be nice to have them ask since reduces your cognitive load as DM to not need to remember all the details of every PC's abilities all the time. But on the other hand, they may always ask, which could get frustrating if you often have to say no, or tedious for everyone if you always have an argument about each time.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think this answer would be improved by talking about how powerful advantage on perception actually is in most games. \$\endgroup\$ – SeriousBri Apr 30 at 10:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think this answer does not answer the question as currently stated. The question does not ask if the DM would be allowed to ask this. The question asks if it would be reasonable/balanced. \$\endgroup\$ – findusl Apr 30 at 14:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ @findusl Saying "You could do this anyway" does address the question of whether it is reasonable. \$\endgroup\$ – Szega Apr 30 at 14:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Szega I don't want to seem stubborn but to me "you could do this" and "it is reasonable" are two completely different things. \$\endgroup\$ – findusl May 1 at 0:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ @findusl I have to concede that. However I still feel that this information is relevant/important in this context. \$\endgroup\$ – Szega May 1 at 9:56
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Granting the Inquisitive advantage on non-combat Perception/Investigation skill checks is unbalanced, even disregarding the relative frequency and importance of those checks (as pointed out by other answers).

Let's compare this proposal to another ability that all Rogues get. Expertise lets Rogues choose two skills (and an additional two at level 6) they are proficient in and double their proficiency bonus. You are giving the Inquisitive something that's even better than two additional Expertise skills. This non-combat advantage is better because it starts fully power-scaled (Advantage being roughly equal to +5, starting Expertise bonus being an additional +2) and can even stack with the existing Expertise.

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An alternative, which would be more distinct from the 9th level feature, is to halve the time that those checks take. For instance, if it would normally take half an hour to search a house, this rogue can do it in 15 minutes. That's niche, but it would come in handy sometimes.

If the check in question is retry-able, this effectively does give you advantage, because you can roll twice in the time it takes someone else to roll once. If it's retry-able enough to "take 20", you can do so in only 10x the time instead of 20x.

It's also pretty clear when it applies or not - is there a time limit and/or can the task be retried?

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    \$\begingroup\$ If there's no time limit then what's the benefit of doing it in half the time? \$\endgroup\$ – Mark Wells Apr 30 at 21:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ There isn't one, that's what makes it niche. \$\endgroup\$ – Errorsatz Apr 30 at 22:06

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