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In the comments for another question, I was asked to pose a question on how to achieve a passive Perception of 28, while having a Perception modifier significantly lower than 18, which is impossible to achieve.

So, here's the question:
How do you achieve a passive Perception of 28, with a bonus to active Perception of less than 10?

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Using a combination of feats and magic items, it is possible to achieve a passive perception that is incredibly high. I will use the build my player of a dwarven cleric made as my example.

First off, he had a wisdom score of 20, giving a +5 to both active and passive perception.

Secondly, he was proficient in perception, and was level 5, giving a further +3 to both active and passive perception, for a total of +8.

Thirdly, he had the Observant feat, which grants a +5 bonus to passive perception and investigation rolls, totalling a +13 to passive perception, which would be a passive perception of 23.

Fourthly, he had a magic item, namely the Sentinel Shield, which gives you advantage on initiative rolls and perception checks. Having advantage on passive checks confers a +5 to the passive score, bringing it up to a total of 28.

The only way his active perception could ever match his passive is if he rolled a natural 20, or had disadvantage on the roll, cancelling out the advantage, and requiring he roll a 15 or higher.

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    \$\begingroup\$ So your character is better at finding things when he's not looking for them? \$\endgroup\$ – Oblivious Sage Aug 8 '15 at 12:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ Pretty much, yeah. That's how it works, RAW. In effect, this meant that he always saw traps before he activated them (and gave other people advantage on their checks by warning them before they activated the traps) and almost always saw people sneaking around (or the rogue stealing stuff), but he had to actively search for secret doors and stuff like that. Active and Passive was usually used for different things, but for the ones they weren't, he never asked for a check, relying on his passive score \$\endgroup\$ – xanderh Aug 8 '15 at 12:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ Quote from page 175 of the PHB, specifically the Passive Checks section: "If the character has advantage on the check, add 5. For disadvantage, subtract 5". It's not by any means an optional rule, but part of the core advantage/disadvantage mechanic. \$\endgroup\$ – xanderh Aug 8 '15 at 16:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ I love that he could actually push this to 30 as his proficiency bonus increased. Doesn't miss a thing :) \$\endgroup\$ – Gates VP Aug 10 '15 at 5:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ I know this is waaaaaaay too late (this question is 3 years old at time of writing), but a level in Rogue (or 3 levels in Bard) would allow you to double your proficiency bonus using the Expertise class feature, which would bring the +8 mentioned in the "Secondly..." paragraph to +11, for a grand total of 31 including the rest of the magic items and feats mentioned. \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS May 31 '17 at 12:13
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When utilizing Customized Ability Scores (point buy, standard array, etc) the earliest level you could get a 28 to your passive perception is 6:

Customized rules make it so that you can only put 15 in a starting stat before racial abilities, so the most you can have in Wisdom is 16 at level 1 (no races give a +2).

Human variant, Fighter level 1 - This allows for a starting stat of 16 in Wisdom, as well as picking up the Observant feat right off the bat to increase passive perception by +5. You obviously take Perception as your skill for the proficiency bonus.

Level 1 Current passive perception: 10 + Prof + Wis + Observant = 10 + 2 + 3 + 5 = 20

Now you need to wait until level 6 to get both ASI's to move your Wisdom up to the required 20 to get the +5 from Wisdom.

Level 6 Current passive perception: 10 + Prof + Wis + Observant = 10 + 3 + 5 + 5 = 23

Then, if your DM permits the wording on Sentinel Shield to grant you +5 passive perception bonus, you add that as well. This item is of relatively low level and shouldn't be too hard to obtain.

If using rolls for stats, you can reach this goal slightly faster.

A roll of 18 will get you the +4 right away, and taking human variant will get you Observant as well. Take whatever class you like, and the first ASI level gets your Wisdom up to 20 to maximize the passive perception your character can have without magical assistance. Add in the Sentinel Shield and proficiency bonus again, and your character is set at 28 before level 5.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The +5 and -5 for advantage/disadvantage is not an optional rule. It's in the PHB (page 175 specifically), and is right in the middle of the section of the Passive Checks section. What makes you believe it is an optional rule? \$\endgroup\$ – xanderh Aug 8 '15 at 16:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also, a Hill Dwarf with a roll of 18 can achieve 20 wisdom at level 4 as well. \$\endgroup\$ – xanderh Aug 8 '15 at 16:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ Not if you roll an 18. With rolled scores, you could achieve it with 18 (rolled), +1 (hill dwarf), +1 (feat). \$\endgroup\$ – xanderh Aug 8 '15 at 17:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ Also, Sentinel Shield grants advantage on initiative rolls and perception CHECKS, indicating that passive checks would count as well. A passive check is still a check. I'd argue that this is pretty unambiguously in favour of granting advantage on passive perception checks as well. \$\endgroup\$ – xanderh Aug 8 '15 at 18:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ This doesn't meet OP's criteria, which specifically asks about achieving a higher passive Perception than [the character's Perception mod + 10]. You may want to more clearly point out that you're challenging OP's assumption that a Perception modifier of +18 is impossible and thus showing that it's not necessary to "achieve a significantly higher total passive Perception than the sum of your Perception bonus + 10" to have that high a passive Perception. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Apr 13 at 6:55
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Using point buy put 15 into Wisdom, take Human Variant to get Wis +1, starting is Wisdom 16 (+3), take proficiency in Perception and then a class that gives Expertise, such as 1 level of Rogue or 3 levels of Bard (giving starting proficiency of +4). Your active perception modifier is +7.

To get a higher passive perception, for your Human Variant feat take Observant, which gives +5 passive.

Next get advantage, either by having someone cast Enhance Ability - Owl's Wisdom on you or get your hands on a magic item such as Sentinel Shield, Eyes of the Eagle, Robe of Eyes, or Candle of Invocation. The highest you can roll as an active check is still 27, but you get two chances. Having advantage grants another +5 passive.

It is the combination of the Observant feat and Advantage that give the +10 boost to passive perception.

At first level a Rogue can have a passive perception of 27.

To get to 28 passive you need a +8 active modifier, which at first level will require a Wisdom of 18 either through a magic item boost such as a Tome of Understanding, or an Ioun Stone of Insight (or, if rolling ability scores a rolled 18 would give this), or wait until you can get an ability increase at level 4.

If you increase Wisdom to 18, so your active is +8, then you can get a passive of 28.

Note that a Human Variant Bard can achieve passive perception of 28 at level 4 without any magic items, as they get Expertise at level 3, and can also cast Enhance Ability on themselves.

At 5th level, your proficiency (doubled by Expertise) increases, adding another +2 to both.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This doesn't meet OP's criteria, which specifically asks about achieving a higher passive Perception than [the character's Perception mod + 10]. You may want to more clearly point out that you're challenging OP's assumption that a Perception modifier of +18 is impossible and thus showing that it's not necessary to "achieve a significantly higher total passive Perception than the sum of your Perception bonus + 10" to have that high a passive Perception. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Apr 13 at 6:55
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For this, I actually figured this out.

  • Human variant (any class), level 16 (which has a proficiency bonus of +6)
  • Have your Wisdom score be a 20.
  • Have the feats Prodigy and Observant. Make Perception your expertise for the Prodigy feat.
  • Find a Tome of Understanding, which gives you a +2 to Wisdom, making your Wisdom score a 22 now.
  • Have a Sentinel Shield. Advantage grants a plus 5 to passive skills.
  • A Luckstone grants a plus 1 to ability checks.

All total, the formula will look like this:

10 (base)
+ 12 (proficiency bonus)
+ 6 (Wisdom modifier)
+ 5 (Observant)
+ 5 (advantage)
+ 1 (Luckstone)
= 39

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This doesn't meet OP's criteria, which specifically asks about achieving a higher passive Perception than [the character's Perception mod + 10]. That said, it might be possible to reword it to more clearly answer it by challenging OP's assumption that a Perception modifier of +18 is impossible and thus showing that it's not necessary to "achieve a significantly higher total passive Perception than the sum of your Perception bonus + 10" to have that high a passive Perception. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Apr 13 at 6:47

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