The observant feat is one of the most solid choices of all the feats in D&D. While certain classes are going to be more inclined to take this feat than others, it’s a useful feat that gives a substantial bonus to important passive traits, a stat boost, and a pretty major potential boost for any heavy linguist player or player with the spell comprehend languages.
This is not a combat feat, but one that is a great supplement to characters in the party who scout, spy, or otherwise are responsible for being the face of the party to make sure the abysmal charisma scores don’t get your party into hot water. But is it worth if for your character to take? Is observant any good?
Observant is an excellent feat to support skill-based or scouting-based characters. It is very good as a stand alone feat and is also incredibly powerful when teamed up with feats like Keen Mind or Dungeon Delver.
How does this work with a full breakdown? Well good news is we have that right ahead…
Breaking Down the Observant Feat
The observant feat does several things well on its own, but its clearly designed to be teamed with the comprehend languages spell or the helm of comprehend languages. The ability to read lips of anyone…that’s a nice way to throw a wrench in the plans when the DM is using Sylvan or Undercommon or Terran…because thinking Draconic will work is for first time DM chumps 🙂
Directly from the Player’s Handbook:
Quick to notice details of your environment, you gain the following benefits:
- Increase your Intelligence or Wisdom score by 1, to a maximum of 20
- If you can see a creature’s mouth while it is speaking a language you understand, you can interpret what it’s saying by reading its lips.
- You have a +5 bonus to your passive Wisdom (Perception) and passive Intelligence (Investigation) scores.
Player’s Handbook, p. 168
So that’s the book definition but let’s actually break down how the Observant feat works in 5E.
Benefit #1: Increase your INT or WIS by 1.
Hey a stat boost is always a good thing. As I’ve discussed in other feat guides, it’s not nearly enough since you are either giving up a +1/+1 or a +2 for the feat, but it does give you some of that boost back which is doubly important if you have an odd number for an ability score since in that case a +1 gets you to the next bonus.
In this case since it’s an either-or it does raise this a bit in my eyes since you have the choice between upping wisdom or intelligence and the skills attached to those ability scores as a result.
Benefit #2: Read lips of any creature speaking a language you know if you can see their face.
This is super important in campaigns where there’s intrigue, political themes, or a lot of story where knowing what other characters know makes a big difference in how the game progresses.
Even beyond that, in a world where the DM has a living world – where actions or inactions lead to different consequences or life changes in places they don’t visit, being able to read lips could give a LOT of important information that otherwise they would have no access to.
Benefit #3: Get a +5 bonus to passive perception and passive investigation
This is a HUGE boon. Any time one of these checks comes up getting a +5 is huge and considering that perception and investigation are incredibly important skills. No matter what DM you talk to they are always in the top five if not numbers one and two.
At tables where the DM doesn’t differentiate between passive perception and active perception this is still an excellent feat because 99.9% of the time that means they’ll just amend this to it applying to all investigation and perception checks. So it is still useful to have that boost.
5E Classes That Should Take the Observant Feat
There are certain classes that will find the observant feat useful most of the time, and a lot of the classes that fall under the “should consider” get bumped up to here if they find themselves the linguist, the scout, the perception/investigation skill monkey of the group.
Rangers are one class that should consider this feat. Rangers are often used in wilderness settings as scouts, as the “wilderness rogues” so to speak. You want them to have high perception and investigation, and if they’re scouting out a camp the ability to read lips is absolutely huge. Especially with those +5 bonuses.
Since Wisdom is one of the two main stats for a ranger, the stat ability score bonus is in line with what they want.
Rogues are another class that should consider this. Parties with rogues often rely on them heavily for scouting. There’s that perception/investigation need again.
Add in the lip reading and the rogue may be able to get some seriously valuable info from in town. While the stat boost doesn’t matter as much for the rogue, rogues are a class that can put intelligence to very good use because of their skillset.
Monks are another class that should consider this. Wisdom is an important stat for the class, and if you find yourself in that (I’m told – though our group is weird so I’ve seen this multiple times) “rare” party with no ranger or rogue, monk is often one of the best defaults for scouting.
The high movement speed and naturally stronger perception thanks to the wisdom score means that passive wisdom bonus can help monks do some serious work as scouts if need be.
5th Ed Classes that should always consider taking the Observant feat: Rangers, Rogues, Monks
5E Classes That Should Consider Taking the Observant Feat
There are multiple classes that should at least consider the observant feat. This is usually in games that have high secrecy, political intrigue, a lot of characters, etc, where characters with charisma or who are the “wise men” of the group may find themselves in positions where getting this information matters.
On the “intelligent brains who may want this for flavor as much as use” the Artificer and Wizard both make sense. Intelligence is a major ability score, and they are classes where you think about characters who know their stuff. They’re not likely to be forward scouts but if the party gets split or everyone is in a castle or city setting where someone who is not normally front line needs to be able to notice or observe.
Bards are a skill-heavy class and if you don’t have a rogue, having an Observant-charged bard to search for panels or rooms or treasures will do just fine in those scenarios.
I’ve seen clerics do the same role in small parties without any of the others, in part because of the need for a high wisdom score. Many cleric builds have high perception scores, as well.
5th Ed Classes that should consider taking the Observant Feat: Artificers, Bards, Clerics, Wizards
5E Classes That Should NEVER Take the Observant Feat
Some classes don’t need to be observant. That’s what other party members are for. These are classes that aren’t going to be the scouts, they are going to serve other purposes, or they just should be focusing on other abilities.
I suppose an argument could be made for the druid to be one section higher, but most of the time there are other party members that make more sense.
The druid can tank once they are high enough level, they can give magical support, or animal form can help them support the scouting member of the party if he/she gets into trouble.
But generally they’re better off building differently. For the other classes it’s pretty obvious. Wisdom or intelligence doesn’t hit either major needed ability score, and these classes aren’t going to be out scouting or out searching the others.
5th Ed classes that should never take the Observant Feat: Barbarians, Druids, Fighters, Paladins, Sorcerers, Warlocks
Combine Observant Feat with Keen Mind Feat
One great way to get even more out of observant is to take keen mind with your next feat. In fact, the Keen Mind + Observant feat combo made our list of the most powerful feat combos in 5E D&D. Especially if you have a story telling DM who really likes stories, plot twists, details, and intrigue.
This combo depends a lot for a DM, but with the right type of DM this combo is devastating.
Final Feat Grade for 5E Observant
Observant Feat Grade: B+
Is the 5E Observant Feat Worth It?
The Observant feat is an excellent overall feat in 5E. While it’s not going to be right for every class, and it won’t be overpowering by itself, this is a solid feat that does a lot, is versatile, and can be stunningly strong in the right campaign or when combined with the right other feats.
Unless you’re going through a classic dungeon hack and slash, you almost certainly want someone in your party to have this as it’s a rare feat that can be important for scouting, for intelligence gathering in social settings, and for noticing hidden doors, traps, treasures, or even ambushes.
Yeah, that’s a lot of work for one feat.
This is a rock solid feat and one that most players aren’t going to regret picking up.
Observant Feat FAQ
Does the observant feat help with spotting enemies?
The +5 passive perception from the observant feat makes it easier to spot enemies assuming they are hiding, in ambush, or simply around.
Do you need the 5E observant feat to get the highest passive perception possible?
In 5E the observant feat is necessary if a player wants to build a PC with the highest possible perception in the game.
Does the observant feat prevent surprise attacks?
The observant feat does not prevent surprise attacks in 5E unless the DM is allowing a perception check to see if you can spot the ambush before it happens. The Alert Feat is what most players are looking for to prevent surprise attacks.
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Proud to embrace the locally created moniker of “Corrupt Overlord” from one of the all time great Lords of Waterdeep runs, Shane is one member of the Assorted Meeples crew and will be hard at work creating awesome content for the website. He is a long-time player of board games, one time semi-professional poker player, and tends to run to the quirky or RPG side of things when it comes to playing video games. He loves tabletop roleplaying systems like Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder, Werewolf, Fate, and others, and not only has been a player but has run games as DM for years. You can find his other work in publications like Level Skip or Hobby Lark.