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According to noticing threats,

While traveling at a fast pace, characters take a –5 penalty to their passive Wisdom (Perception) scores to notice hidden threats.

And according to vision and light,

In a lightly obscured area, such as dim light, patchy fog, or moderate foliage, creatures have disadvantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on sight.

According to advantage and disadvantage,

If multiple situations affect a roll and each one grants advantage or imposes disadvantage on it, you don’t roll more than one additional d20.

According to passive checks,

If the character has advantage on the check, add 5. For disadvantage, subtract 5.

So it seems there are two sources of -5, one for moving at a fast pace, and one for being in light obscurity, and since the penalty for moving at a fast pace is not disadvantage, then the penalty is -10 for passive Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on sight.

Or would it only be -5 since multiple situations affect [this] roll?

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1 Answer 1

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The penalties stack

Multiple instances of Disadvantage do not stack. If you consider the -5 to passive Perception of travel pace to be caused by Disadvantage, then it would not stack, and you only would get the -5 once. The rationalization for this is that you do not have time to look around, scout, and be careful because you are traveling fast. These are the kind of circumstances that can cause disadvantage, and because the -5 looks exactly like the penalty from Disadvantage, it must be, even if the rules do not explicitly call that out. If it quacks like a duck, it is a duck.

The other view is that the section does not say that the -5 penalty is from Disadvantage, therefore it is not. If you conclude this is just a fixed penalty, then the -5 passive modifier from Disadvantage to Perception, for example from dim light, will stack with it, for a total of -10. The sentence about "If multiple situations affect a roll..." does not apply here, as it is only talking about when "each one grants advantage or imposes disadvantage", and here, the situation of traveling fast has not been established to impose disadvantage.

I think, because the rules do not say it is Disadvantage causing the -5 for fast travel pace, technically the two effects will stack, rules as written. Yes, you can rationalize it should be disadvantage, but it does not say so.

I think you also can narratively defend that -- you are traveling fast and in darkness, you have an even harder time to make out an ambush. The abstraction that multiple instances of Disadvantage do not stack is motivated entirely by playability -- it was one of the changes to get away from the endless summing up and tracking of various bonuses and penalties that could make 3.5e fights grind to a screeching halt of administrative overhead. From the perspective of what is happening in-game, the no-stacking rule of Disadvantage often makes little sense, and here you have a case where the technical reading of the rules actually matches up better to real-life experience.

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    \$\begingroup\$ c.f. The Observant feat which gives a +5 bonus, not advantage. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dale M
    Jun 27, 2023 at 23:06

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