July 5, 2016

[D&D RAW] Hiding, Invisibility & Other Sneaky Business, Part 2: Unseen Attacker and Target

This is the 2nd 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 specifically dealt with he Hiding rules and break it down a little. While it is the main rule that needs to be referred to when it comes to Hiding, it is not the only rules in play when trying to understand it fully.

For this second part, I will introduce the second rule that is often associated with Hiding and where players would pay attention to it; Unseen Attackers and Targets.

Found on Page 73 of the Basic Rules and Page 194-195 of the Player's Handbook, the rules states:
Unseen Attackers and Targets 
Combatants often try to escape their foes’ notice by hiding, casting the invisibility spell, or lurking in darkness. 
When you attack a target that you can’t see, you have disadvantage on the attack roll. This is true whether you’re guessing the target’s location or you’re targeting a creature you can hear but not see. If the target isn’t in the location you targeted, you automatically miss, but the DM typically just says that the attack missed, not whether you guessed the target’s location correctly. 
When a creature can’t see you, you have advantage on attack rolls against it.
If you are hidden—both unseen and unheard—when you make an attack, you give away your location when the attack hits or misses.
You can see how this rule is related to Hiding because it mentions 'hiding' in its first paragraph, but I found its mechanical relation in the Hide action under Combat in Page 72 of the Basic Rules or Page 192 of the Player's Handbook, which states:

When you take the Hide action, you make a Dexterity (Stealth) check in an attempt to hide, following the rules in chapter 7 for hiding. If you succeed, you gain certain benefits, as described in the “Unseen Attackers and Targets” section later in this chapter.

Becoming Unseen

Based on the Hide action description, you must succeed on the Dexterity (Stealth) check before you can be considered Unseen, and get its benefits. Therefore, before taking the Hide action, I think it should meet to the conditions that were mentioned in my previous post on when can a character try to hide in the first place.

The benefits of being Unseen is found in the second and third paragraph, but the wording is a little muddled, so to make it clearer, I reorgansied it here:

  1. The attacker of an Unseen has Disadvantage on their Attack Rolls.
  2. An Unseen has Advantage on their Attack Rolls on targets that can't see them (i.e., those that failed their Wisdom (Perception) against the Unseen's Dexterity (Stealth) but that can change as explained later).
The first benefit is always good when being attacked, but the second benefit of granting an Advantage to Attack Rolls is where defining how one becomes Unseen is vital to understand, because this opens up class features that might rely on this condition, most commonly the Rogue's Sneak Attack.

Another important aspect of being unseen from a rules' perspective is also explained in the second paragraph, which is a creature that is attacking an unseen target must guess the location of the unseen, and could automatically miss if this is guess wrongly. This places an importance of knowing the rules of when an Unseen reveals their location at any given point, but can still be unseen. This is where I mentioned in my previous post that if you made noise or are just Invisible, you are not (yet) discovered, but you revealed your location through noise.

Adding on to that, the third paragraph mentions that if you attacked from being unseen (and unheard), you also reveal your location, which still means that you remain unseen (if your Dexterity (Stealth) still beats their Wisdom (Perception), but they would know your location with a Disadvantage to your Attack Roll.

Becoming Hidden

Many could argue that there is a distinction between being simply Unseen, and Unseen and Unheard, otherwise known as being Hidden. I think it's a DM's choice to make it a distinction, but in my case, I do think there can be another layer added on being Unseen and being Hidden.

While I don't think it should grant any additional benefit of being Unseen, but it could help to distinguish an Unseen as being unheard, and this would mean it would not reveal their location through sound (whether invisible or not).

By default, I would say that once a character has successfully won the first Dexterity (Stealth) and Wisdom (Perception) contest, the character can be considered Hidden (unseen and unheard). But I would think it would be fair to call for another Dexterity (Stealth) check from the character if they would want to stay unheard (most likely when trying to tread from spot to another), and depending if their spotter is actively searching for them or not, to use their passive Wisdom (Perception) or make a contest roll.

A likely scenario is when a Hidden character is trying to approach an enemy in combat, where they would ordinarily be spotted immediately (as stated in the last paragraph of the Unseen Attackers and Targets rule), but if they succeeded on their Dexterity (Stealth) check, a DM may reward them by giving them the benefits of being Unseen (i.e., Advantage to Attack Rolls) until the character makes their attack.  

Should that require another Hide action in combat? Mike Mearls seem to think so, but you are free to rule otherwise. By ruling that it requires a Hide action, it benefits class features like the Rogue's Cunning Action to be able to Hide as a bonus action, and still have a spare action to use in the same turn. 

For me, understanding the Hiding and Unseen Attackers and Targets rules together builds the foundation of sneaking around in 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons. Next, I'll look into the exceptions to these rules, and see how they work within the framework I've established.

[D&D RAW] Hiding, Invisibility & Other Sneaky Business, Part 3: Invisibility.

Last updated: 5/7/2016  

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