I've started DMing a one-on-one D&D 5e adventure. The PC took the Observant feat and as a result, has really high Passive Perception and Investigation (20 and 18 at level 1!).

If I use the rules from this question ("if passive perception is higher than the DC, the PC doesn't have to make a roll to succeed"), then essentially every single perception and investigation check in the scenario I'm running is an automatic success.

In a group setting, that'd be OK: this makes the PC better at scouting, which is rewarding and fun, and it's generally nice to be the only/first one in the group noticing things. In a solo adventure, however, I'm afraid that it's going to be somewhat boring. There's less of a "wow" effect to noticing small, hidden details when there aren't people around to be impressed by it.

Should I just stop worrying about it, and simply be OK with my player basically automatically succeeding in every perception/investigation check without thinking twice about it? Or is there a way to tweak the mechanics somehow to make it cooler or more interesting?

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    \$\begingroup\$ If I understood, right now there is no problem for your player. What about you, are unhappy with the status quo, knowing that he most likely succeeded those checks? \$\endgroup\$
    – Chepelink
    Jun 14, 2020 at 22:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ It's a player who's new to D&D and we only played one session so far, so it's not really a problem yet, and it's a bit soon to know their style. They're playing a rogue, with an emphasis on skills related to their Noble background (History, Persuasion). \$\endgroup\$
    – Ted
    Jun 15, 2020 at 10:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Fivesideddice Please expand that into a full answer and put it below. Otherwise, please don't answer the question (ie. suggest solution to the problem) in comments. \$\endgroup\$
    – Someone_Evil
    Jun 16, 2020 at 9:46

2 Answers 2


+5 isn't that much, there is plenty the PC won't notice (for example, in dim light you have disadvantage on perception checks, that means that in dim light the PC will only have normal perception). The real "wow" factor for a player is that their active perception checks could roll nicely, or cook up a plan that involves lipreading.

I find many people pick Observant, not because they want to be super observant and awesome at spotting things, but because they dislike not being able to spot things, and observant is an insurance policy against that. You could try asking your player "how does observant tie into your character?"

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    \$\begingroup\$ Second para. is spot-on. Sometimes picking Observant is a player saying "I love the 'what do we notice' game and want to play it all the time!" Other times it's a player saying "I'll give up all the other feats to have a ticket out of that stupid stuff." The discerning GM will ask which it is =) \$\endgroup\$
    – nitsua60
    Jun 14, 2020 at 23:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ @nitsua60: And sometimes picking Observant is a player saying "My Wisdom score is odd and I have nothing better to do with my other +1 to an ability score" :P \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Jun 17, 2020 at 6:19

Perception is an opportunity for the GM to introduce new challenges

Spotting an object is a hook to a new challenge. If your player can trivially spot many fine details, don't bother rolling. Just tell them what they find. However, don't give away the farm - only tell them things the character is capable of finding out. Everything else is part of the story and succession of challenges you are building.

For example, imagine a character that is investigating a scene where a wagon or caravan was attacked. Perhaps they find arrows or arrow heads at the scene. Instead of saying "you find some goblin-made arrowheads, they probably came from the northern goblin tribe you heard about", tell them they have arrow heads and let them do the follow-up work.

Sure they found some arrows, but are they capable of telling the difference between goblin-made arrows and any other? Can they tell whether they were fired by the attackers or defenders? Can they surmise which tribe of goblins would create these particular arrows? Do they have enough social knowledge to understand why goblins would attack a caravan? Do they know enough about business or wayfinding to know why the caravan was there in the first place?

A successful perception check is just an opportunity to learn more about the world. Run with it.

Solo Adventures are more tailored

Although you explicitly asked about the challenges with the Observant feat, I suspect some part of this problem is also about the unique challenge of solo adventures. With an ensemble party, you create challenges that will challenge or intrigue the party as a whole and only occasionally focus on an individual character. That's part of sharing the lime light.

In a solo adventure the entire adventure is tailored to the experience of a single character. It's okay to tailor the plot, challenges, and specific details to exactly what that player is interested in and that character can support.

In this case: be a fan of the character. Let them observe all kinds of details. And create fun adventures that utilize this skill as an opportunity to further challenge. Instead of fighting their strengths, play to them.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think you can also draw from video games somewhat. Many games give the player "special sense" ability that basically highlights every interact-able object in the vicinity, which might be similar to the practical result of having a passive perception of 20 in D&D 5e. And those are still interesting and fun games, since as you say, the challenge becomes what to do with the information that you get. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 14, 2020 at 23:30

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