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Inspired by this question: Can the Help action raise a passive skill?

and to grab the relevant section for Passive Skills

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.

If multiple party members (at least 2) are performing the same passive skill, is one helping the other, and should that warrant a +5 to their passive check?

(The answers on the linked question cover if the player states that their character is helping another do the passive skill)

Brief Example: The party walks through a foggy glade while Sash'gar and Harold keep a look out. Sash'gar has a Passive Perception of 15, while Harold's is 11. How perceptive are they together, 15, or 20?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Otherwise known as is SeriousBri right? rpg.stackexchange.com/a/196190/40101 \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Feb 18 at 17:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SeriousBri you're right, the "if no" section is clarified in that answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – goodguy5
    Feb 18 at 18:03

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RAW: No.

Expanding on MivaScott's answer...

The Help action explanation states that

You...lend aid in completion of a task... Alternatively, you aid a friendly creature attacking a creature within 5 feet of you.

Passive Checks explanation states (emphasis mine) that

Such a check can represent the average result for a task done repeatedly, or can be used when the DM wants to secretly determine...something without rolling dice.

One confusion here is that a Passive check can incur advantage or disadvantage, & the Help action confers advantage to a friend. So a black bear's keen smell trait confers advantage to detecting a hidden foe by smell, which would become a +5 on its passive perception to notice the unfamiliar smell of a hidden hunter, alerting it to danger where it was previously unaware. If there was a fire nearby, or some other olfactory camouflage, that advantage would be negated. So the advantage here is conferred by an innate ability. Equally one could confer advantage on a passive check by a spell that heightens awareness: if it confers advantage on a skill check it should confer advantage on a passive check.

Another confusion is, as MivaScott pointed out, that people are focusing on the "taking 10" mechanic & ignoring the "determine without a dice roll" mechanic. Chapter 7 of the PHB give those two examples of how to use a passive check in the Passive Checks section & this is expanded somewhat in Chapter 8. My point is that Passive Perception is not "taking 10", but rather secret resolution without a dice roll: a tool to allow the DM to determine whether of not the players perceive something or are perceived without alerting them to the possibility. After all, a roll is a signal to the players that something is afoot, so having a tool to resolve the success of hiding (player or adversary) without the spoiler of a roll is a boon to story telling.

Finally, addressing the example from goodguy5.

The party walks through a foggy glade while Sash'gar and Harold keep a look out.

This confuses active & passive checks, because Sash'gar & Harold are actively attentive to threats. Now i would allow the PC with lower perception to grant advantage to the more perceptive PC's perception roll (YMMV), but it's a rolled perception check because the PCs are on the lookout. So in the example, using my (favourable) interpretation, the pair would be as perceptive as the higher of 2d20 + Sash'gar's perception bonus. (Now, if it's dog's watch & the PCs aren't very hardy i might rule disadvantage for fatigue, which would cancel out the advantage from Harold's help.) Alternatively, one could use a group check in this instance.

A final thought, perception is an opposed check: your perception against the DC of the adversary's ability to not be detected. Should any but the most exceptional characters be able to detect the assassin who dolled a dirty 20 on their hide if they weren't looking out for threats? I think not.

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Help is not passive

To help someone you have to be working on a specific goal.

You can lend your aid to another creature in the completion of a task. When you take the Help action, the creature you aid gains advantage on the next ability check it makes to perform the task you are helping with, provided that it makes the check before the start of your next turn.

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. In combat, this requires the Help action (see chapter 9, “Combat”).

So you cannot "automatically" help someone. One character takes the lead, and another will assist that specific character.

If you have a party of 5, Able can help Baker, Charlie can help Dave, and Edward is on their own. You will have up to three rolls. But they have to be trying to complete a task.

Now, you can say that since Dave has the best passive perception, you always "help" them. But as I pointed out in my answer to the original question, not everything can be "helped". So it's still up to the DM to decide if you're helping, or just doing the same task.

The problem is the rules use "passive" incorrectly; probably in an effort to streamline things. Passive means, you're not working towards a goal. You're just letting nature happen. But WotC is also lumping in doing something "over and over again." That's not passive, that's taking your time. In older editions it was known as "taking 10" or "taking 20".

But as I also brought up in the other answer, are you doing that task over and over, or are you doing it once to the best of your ability? To me, and to the players I've talked to, most of the time you're just doing something once to the best of your ability. You can try to accomplish the same thing on more tries, but each would require a new roll and a possibly higher DC.

My take

You can roll with someone giving you advantage and that is your score. Or, if you play that way, you can also use your passive score as a baseline, then take the higher of the two.

There may be very specific situations where adding advantage makes sense to a passive score, but they will be few and far between.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm getting a few down votes, but no comments why, and no opposing answers. \$\endgroup\$
    – MivaScott
    Feb 19 at 21:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ You got my downvote simply because I disagree with you. Not sure about the other one. Haven't had time to sit and craft my own version of an answer, and doubt I will for a few days at least \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Feb 20 at 9:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ Agreed @MivaScott , passive perception is not an action & the downvotes seem a bit rough. & why should 2 characters with passive perception of 12 be able to detect a DC14 hidden door without looking for it? \$\endgroup\$ Feb 22 at 5:20
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RAW, DM decides.

On page 175 of the 5e PHB, adjacent to the section on passive skills, there is a section called 'Working Together'. This states that you can grant advantage to someone by aiding them, and calls out the 'Help' action as the in-combat version of this. However, it adds a caveat that this can only be the case if someone helping you is.. helpful, giving the example of threading a needle as something where you need to be able to do it alone (although someone could thread the needle for you, assuming normal needle-threading conditions additional pairs of hands do not make the job easier).

I would say that someone else looking for enemies, traps, or other points of interest does not make it appreciably easier to spot enemies, traps, or other points of interest. It makes it easier if they already know where one is, and you are having trouble spotting it still - they can point it out, for example. But two people looking for enemies is just two people looking for enemies - they are not meaningfully aiding each other, they are both attempting to complete the same task (such as two people trying to thread a needle each). However some people will almost certainly feel differently ('I look left, you look right') - whichever way the DM decides, it is pretty clear from the text, is how it goes - it's explicitly a judgement call.

Mathematically, it shouldn't.

Passive perceptions are a bit of an awkward kludge as it is, removing the randomness from the game for a very important thing (stealth mechanics). Bob the Eagle Eyed Ranger is ALWAYS going to spot enemies and Bib the Halfling Thief is NEVER going to spot enemies, with their +6 and +1 scores respectively. While you can and should have people just notice things if they've got time to look around ('you didn't SAY you were looking for treasure, so you left that staff of the archmagi on the ground' is garbage DMing) always having Bob notice things and get to interact with them first etc and never Bib is lame. For important things, rolling your own dice to determine who sees what is usually far superior, as then Bob will be rewarded for his eagle eyes (usually being the one to spot things), but occasionally Bib will still get a turn with a lucky roll. Which is one of the many reasons dice are in the game, so things have that element of randomness.

Adding advantage to perception tests (or passive perception) means that whoever has the lower modifier shouldn't ever be doing anything but assisting. It might mean the party spots things better, but it will make sure that Bib never, ever, gets a turn to see something and it is always and only Bob who does so. It doubles down on the 'biggest modifier wins' dynamic and promotes the 'everyone goes everywhere together and only whoever has the highest modifier rolls for anything' style of play, which is one of the most boring.

It will also nuke the expected stealth values of the game completely out of the water (unless stealthing creatures are somehow receiving their own assistance) making ambushes, traps, and other key parts of D&D a thing of the past.

Overall, it should not be allowed, for many reasons. Making the game procedural rather than random, spotlight hogging, destroying the basic math assumptions of the game, removing parts of D&D by making them extremely mathematically unlikely, etc.

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I'm going to steal a guideline from Dungeon World.

Begin and End with the Fiction

Ask the player, "How exactly is your character, while walking next to that character, helping their vision?"

If they have a good answer then the helped character gets advantage. If they don't, they don't.

Personally, I can't think of a justification, but players sometimes come up with cunning plans.

If their justification is, "If character 2 misses it then character 1 has a chance to spot it" then apply the group check rule, not the help rule.

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