Other threads have (more or less) established that the passive versions of skills (there are only three in RAW) define a baseline result. RAW says that advantage grants a +5 to passive skills. The Help action grants advantage.

Can a Help action (say from a friend or a familiar) provide advantage to a passive skill? This is relevant both to notice things when walking (traditional use of a passive skill) as well as to affect the baseline when actively using the skill.

Obviously, performing such a help action would mean that no check (passive or otherwise) would be made for the person/creature that is helping.


3 Answers 3


RAW, yes

RAW, from the 5e Basic Rules

A passive check is a special kind of ability check that doesn’t involve any die rolls. 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.

(Emphasis mine)

This means any sort of action, if you're just trying over and over and over, if someone is helping you, you can add that +5.

This may also work for a hidden passive in the same sense; if the players are actively keeping watch, a passive perception with help would apply if they're actively informing each other. However, this could still be considered a repeated action average passive. In general, hidden passives, as in those used when the players aren't actively doing something, shouldn't gain the help bonus

Sometimes two or more characters team up to attempt a task. The character who’s leading the effort—or the one with the highest ability modifier—can make an ability check with advantage, reflecting the help provided by the other characters. ... a character can help only when two or more individuals working together would actually be productive.

So if you're just walking through the forest and the DM wants you to notice something, no, you can't get help, but if you're actively searching a trail for any signs of a missing girl, maybe, depending. If you're walking or camping and you and the ranger are keeping an eye out for ambushes, yes.

What may be better fitting, depending on the situation, is Group Checks.

When a number of individuals are trying to accomplish something as a group, the DM might ask for a group ability check. ... To make a group ability check, everyone in the group makes the ability check. If at least half the group succeeds, the whole group succeeds. Otherwise, the group fails.

You can have the group looking for something over a long period and use everyone's passives. Or just do it the normal way, having everyone roll.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure a group check makes sense. For the passives (perception/investigation/insight), in an RP sense, all that is usually required is for one person to succeed in order to get a meaningful result. Hence the desire to maximize the passive value. So, with a passive of 14, getting help, would make the passive 19...which sets the minimum value for a 'roll', and is a much better result (mostly) than just taking two rolls. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 18, 2022 at 1:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ Tracking is a good example, bwt, the experienced tracker probably doesn't want everyone stomping over the ground but would benefit often from an inflated passive. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 18, 2022 at 1:57
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @RabidMutant the difference being, if you're using passive, the goal is to be secret or to show an average for a low-pressure thing. A group check where everyone's rolling might not be successful unless at least 2 succeed. The example in the book is noticing quicksand as you're stepping in it. If everyone is rolling, unless there's enough that notice to stop the rest from going in, just one won't cut it \$\endgroup\$
    – Korpse
    Feb 18, 2022 at 2:21
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ "This, however, doesn't work for passive use as a hidden check." - not sure about that, for example one person could be designated lookout and another person might be helping them. DM can then use hidden checks to see if they spot hiding goblins in the bushes. I think that's acceptable. \$\endgroup\$
    – user73918
    Feb 18, 2022 at 3:22
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ RabidMutant, most passive perception checks used while just walking around are more about threshold or who has highest than about success. If it's a passive from just walking around, either an ambush is incoming, or the DM wants to reveal info. See modules (mind spoilers) for such examples. My point being unless players actively say they're keeping an eye out, and you want to allow a passive check for that rather than a rolled check, I don't see how help would be applicable. There are situations, as @Non-humanPerson points out, but in general, no, it won't apply to hidden passive checks. \$\endgroup\$
    – Korpse
    Feb 18, 2022 at 6:40

RAW, yes, but really depends on the scenario (and the DM)

While sometimes agreed to, and even remarked in unofficial Tweets, most of the DM's I've been with only use passive as passive and not as a baseline. It sucks, because I have a character with a passive 21 perception. Yet when asked to roll, he is not always that successful.

Are you working together, or are you splitting up the work?

Part of the rules on helping someone states,

Moreover, a character can help only when two or more individuals working together would actually be productive. Some tasks, such as threading a needle, are no easier with help.

For someone to help in a search, it would typically be something like, "I"ll watch the left, you watch the right." But that doesn't make my looking to the right any easier or better. I have less to look at, but I'm only searching half of the possibilities. This is like, "I'll search the dresser, you search the bed." You're not helping me search the bed, you're just limiting the job I need to do. And if you're giving me advantage, that means you're not rolling to look for your half of the job.

So in cases like that, Help doesn't help. To help a search, you'd have to keep double checking someone's work; "Did you look in that tree? Along that branch? Behind that bush? Under those leaves?..."

Are you repeatedly doing the skill, or just once thoroughly?

Under passive checks, it lists out when to use them:

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.

When a DM asks for a roll to see if you find a secret door, you're going to search the room one time to the best of your ability. Why would you search "over and over" if you don't know what you're looking for, or if it even exists. Now, on the other hand, if you say, "I know the villain escaped from this locked, windowless room. There has to be a secret door and I'm not going to stop until I find it," then maybe a passive check would be better (so long as you actually have a good passive score and they weren't teleported out). This is more akin to older editions, "take 10" or "take 20".

Even then, no DM I know uses passive that way. They let the player make multiple rolls (with possible advantage), but increase the DC each time.

For instance, walking through a forest, you are not repeatedly checking the same bit of path over and over, you are watching your current area until you walk past and then searching the next.

A place where "over and over" might get the Help action would be something like the Rubik's Cube. You keep trying to solve it, and over time, you learn patterns. Someone else could be over your shoulder saying, "Hey, did you notice that no matter how much you twist the cube, the color combinations of the corners never change? And that in the center, yellow is always opposite blue? That means we only really need to line up edges."

So again, yes, but it really depends on if what you're doing is "passive"

  • Tracking is not passive. You're actively looking for clues, but in walking you may passively notice blood on a leaf.
  • Looking for secret doors is not passive. You're actively looking, but in looking under the bed for loot you may passively find a secret door.
  • Picking a lock is not passive. You're trying once to the best of your ability to get the tumblers just right. Someone over your shoulder is not going to help "feel out" the lock.
  • Remembering history and be active or passive. Player one reads a passage and muses, "I recall there was some legend about the lighthouse on the hill," and player two can Help (if they are also proficient in History) and say, "Yeah, I heard stories about it as a kid." Then they compare notes and gain advantage.

RAW yes, most DM's likely won't, and technically I think so

Lets break this down

RAW: Yes

In terms of RAW Korpse has it right at the top of their answer so I won't repeat it here and steal their thunder.

Most DM's likely won't

The difficulty is in actually using the help action is that it is an active thing on your part, and as an action it only really lasts 6 seconds. That doesn't stack with how passive skills are intended to be used. You have to actively take the help action, which means whenever you call it out the DM is very likely to ask someone to make an active check.

You would have to get very lucky to call the help action at the same time as the DM was about to check a passive score against something.

Technically I think so

I saw technically, because I don't think the help action is useful, but if you say something like "I know Dave is on watch but I will spend the next few hours helping them" then you are not actually using the help action, but you are providing help. This to me would be passive help in the same way that a passive check might be called for, and I believe would qualify for advantage in the way I think you are looking for.


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .