July 9, 2016

[D&D RAW] Hiding, Invisibility & Other Sneaky Business, Part 6: DM Considerations

This is the 6th part of a running series on Hiding in my new column for 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons rules. You can read the previous post here. I will post a complete index of all the posts of the series at the end of the series.

In the previous post of this series, I looked into some ways that a monster can detect a hiding character (and vice versa) and how their senses could work within the Hiding and Unseen Attackers and Targets rules.

For this post, I'm going to compile all that I've discovered about hiding and give a few notes on what should a DM think about when designing encounters or when handling scenarios when characters want to hide. To go further in this post, I would assume that you have read each prior posts to this one.

Why does a DM need to have these considerations? Well, for starters, the DM's role when it comes to hiding is imperative, as mentioned in the Hiding rules itself:

The DM decides when circumstances are appropriate for hiding. Also, the question isn't whether a creature can see you when you're hiding. The question is whether it can see you clearly (Errata V1.1).
Read the emphasis as mine, but it highlights the importance of the DM when it comes to hiding. While most DMs could easily make their own rulings with a hand wave (they are the DM afterall), but hopefully what this series has helped you to think is that hiding can be a complex thing that needs some thought put into it.

So what does a DM need to consider when it comes to hiding? Here are some of my considerations.

Appropriate Hiding

The first thing that I think a DM should consider is whether there are any appropriate circumstances for any character to hide at any given location that the party finds themselves in. That might sound like a simply saying 'yes' or 'no' when a player assumes his character can make a Dexterity (Stealth) to hide, but I think there should be more to it than that when it comes to some of the rules.

If you remember your Hiding rules, the first main condition of whether a character can hide is if they are seen or not. One important thing to note also in the first condition is that the character cannot be seen by the creature he is hiding from, not everyone in the location. It is highly possible to allow a character to hide from someone who can't see the character, but could be seen by someone else.

Therefore, hiding is relative. When a player says they want their character to hide, it's best to ask the player who does the character want to hide from, and taking their perspective to determine if the creature can see the character or not.

Other than that, what else can give appropriate circumstances for hiding?


One of the first ways a character cannot be seen is if they are obscured by the lighting of the location. An example of this can be found in the Vision and Light rules (Page 65 in the Basic Rules or Page 183 in the Player's Handbook), but this is derived from the Invisible condition (Appendix A of the Basic Rules and Player's Handbook).

From the Invisible condition:

  • An Invisible creature is impossible to see without the aid of magic or a special sense. For the purpose of Hiding, the creature is Heavily Obscured. The creature's location can be detected by any noise it makes or any tracks it leaves. 
From the Vision and Light rules on Heavily Obscured:
A heavily obscured area - such as darkness, opaque fog, or dense foliage - blocks vision entirely. A creature in a heavily obscured area effectively suffers from the blinded condition. A heavily obscured area doesn't blind you, but you are effectively blinded when you try to see something obscured by it (Errata V1.1).
Which leads you to the Blinded condition (also in Appendix A of the Basic Rules and Player's Handbook):
  • Blinded creature can't see and automatically fails any Ability Checks that requires sight.

So you can see how these rules and conditions are interrelated and make for appropriate circumstances that lets you hide. So the available lighting of a location where the the party are can help inform whether there are any circumstances for hiding. You can find the different types of lighting that determine the obscurity of an area in the rest of the Vision and Light rules.

Do remember there are features (Mask of the Wild) and feats (Skulker) that doesn't require a character to be heavily obscured in order to hide.

One exception to this I would say is for monsters with Blindsight. They should not be affected by the obscurity of the hiding character, but a character can still hide from them behind another element...


You might think that obscurity is the only way a character needs to hide (since it has all the rule correlation that comes with it), but it's easy to forget that characters can hide simply just behind Cover (page . 

Although there are no official association that I can find in the Basic Rules and the Player's Handbook between cover and hiding, but if you remember in the previous post, you can see that cover comes into play when it comes to hiding from a monster with Blindsight.  

So this makes another consideration of a DM. If you are trying to encourage or allow hiding in a location, you should be aware of the cover that are available. The question that you will need to decide for yourself is in what degree of cover would you allow a character to make a hide.

Personally, I would only allow a character with Total Cover to try to hide, since they can't be targeted by an attack or spell, but anything less the cover confers bonus to AC and saving throws so that means they can be seen.  

Now that I have pointed out some of the notes that a DM should consider, hopefully it would help you to design better encounters or make better rulings on hiding in your game. Of course, the ones that I mentioned in this post are just those found in the rules, and as a DM you are open to other circumstances to allow a character to hide. If in doubt, remember that the guiding principle of deciding whether there is an appropriate circumstance can be simply asked with one question: "Can the character be seen?"

We're almost there. I think I have covered pretty much the bases when it comes to hiding and how it works out for players and DMs. For my last post of this series, I will be compiling all that I've mentioned in the series thus far into a summary to give you the whole picture for DMs and players about Hiding.

[D&D RAW] Hiding, Invisibility & Other Sneaky Business, Part 7: Summary

Last updated: 9/7/2016   

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