July 7, 2016

[D&D RAW] Hiding, Invisibility & Other Sneaky Business, Part 4: Exceptions

This is the 4th 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 addressed how Invisibility works within the framework of the Hiding and Unseen Attackers and Targets rules.

Invisibility, however, is by far not the only exception to the rules. There are many ways that a character could bypass some limitations of the Hiding rules, in one way or another. This could be done through a racial trait, a class feature, or spells and magic items. While I didn't scour for every exception there is, especially for spells and magic items, but I have managed to scout out a few exceptions made through races, classes and feats.

These aren't necessarily difficult to adjudicate once you've got the basics down, but this post is intended to help DMs have some ideas on how they could possibly make their own rulings.

Naturally Stealthy

Let's start with something easy. This racial trait for Lightfoot Halflings can be found in Page 17 of the Basic Rules and Page 28 of the Player's Handbook, which reads:
Naturally Stealthy. You can attempt to hide even when you are obscured only by a creature that is at least one size larger than you. 
This just adds a new condition of when a Lightfoot Halfling can hide, which can be behind a creature of Medium size or larger, if the halfling's size remains at Small. This is supported by Mike Mearls.

While it may sound that Mike Mearls is trying to say that all prior conditions in addition to having a creature one size larger must be met (e.g, cannot be seen by the creature you are hiding from), this has been clarified in the Sage Advie Compendium. This trait is an exception to the rule that you cannot be seen first in order to hide, so you are allowed to hide behind a larger creature even when seen.

From the Sage Advice Compendium (Page 2-3 under Racial Traits):
Normally, you can’t hide from someone if you’re in full view. A lightfoot halfling, though, can try to vanish behind a creature that is at least one size larger...

Mask of the Wild

Now onto something a little more challenging. This Wood Elf trait is on Page 15 of the Basic Rules and Page 24 of the Player's Handbook, which says:
Mask of the Wild. You can attempt to hide even when you are only lightly obscured by foliage, heavy rain, falling snow, mist, and other natural phenomena.
Similar to the Lightfoot Halfling's Naturally Stealthy, it gives another condition as to when the Wood Elf can try to hide, as also clarified in the Sage Advice Compendium that this can happen even when the Wood Elf is seen.

From the Sage Advice Compendium (Page 3 under Racial Traits):
...a wood elf can try to hide simply by being in heavy rain, mist, falling snow, foliage, or similar natural phenomena. It’s as if nature itself cloaks a wood elf from prying eyes—even eyes staring right at the elf!

The confusion for this racial trait comes when it comes to reading 'lightly obscured' and the mentioned examples, which includes other 'natural phenomena'. Many have asked does it mean that the condition is only 'lightly obscured' or the source of the obscurity must come from a 'natural' source such as fog or foliage.

If you remember your Vision and Light rules (Page 65 of the Basic Rules and Page 183 of the Player's Handbook) , an obscurity isn't always caused by the brightness of a light source in the surroundings, but can be from other factors as well.

Based on this answer from Jeremy Crawford and the Sage Advice excerpt above, it seems to be the latter.

Is that important to distinguish? Yes, because this brings us to the next exception...


Unlike the racial traits above, Skulker is a feat that cannot be found in the Basic Rules, so I cannot put the complete text here. You will find it at Page 170 of the Player's Handbook.

Firstly, the feat lets you hide when you are lightly obscured without mentioning any specific examples (unlike Naturally Stealthy or Mask of the Wild), which could mean that as long as you are lightly obscured by anything, you can attempt to hide. However, this feat hasn't been clarified in the Sage Advice Compendium that it bypasses other conditions for hiding, so it would be safe to say that it needs to meet those conditions as well, in addition to being lightly obscured.  

Although the Skulker feat is still technically better than either of the Lightfoot Halfling's and Wood Elf's racial traits, but remember that it cost a feat to do so. So I would say it has been balanced.

The Skulker feat not only gives new conditions to hide, but it also clearly makes an exception to the Unseen Attackers and Targets rule, when it comes to revealing their location after an attack. 

These are some of the obvious features that have exceptions to the Hiding rules, and I'm sure there are many others that I have missed. So feel free to bring them up so that I can study them within the framework.

In my next post, I will go into the other side of hiding; how to spot when someone is hiding from you.

[D&D RAW] Hiding, Invisibility & Other Sneaky Business, Part 5: Finding the Hiding.

Last updated: 7/7/2016   

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