D&D 5E 5e Surprise and Hiding Rules Interpretation

NotAYakk

Legend
Wow, you really don't like hiding, and are willing to twist wording to make it as useless as possible.

"If you make a hide check, you are covered by the unseen attackers rules".
"Hidden -- unseen and unheard"

The plain language again keeps on saying hidden is supposed to use the unseen attackers rules for the benefit you get from hiding. You can find ambiguity in any text, and your goal seems to be to restrict what "hidden" does as much as possible that is at all consistent with the text.

You should simplify your rules at your table. They should be "Do not try to use hide at my table." Would be less painful for players.

There is literally no point in hiding; any circumstance where you hide, to get the benefit you must have been unseen and unheard, which would have granted you all of the benefits of hiding before you tried to hide, with the one exception of your restrictive interpretation of how surprise works (an unseen and unheard person doesn't surprise unless they are hidden). After that first round of combat, hiding does basically nothing.

You nullified the "on a successful hide check, you gain the benefits described under unseen and unheard", because you require both hiding and unseen and unheard to grant those benefits! The check did nothing.

Which means the rule was pointless to start with.
 

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If anyone who is uncertain about how the designers of the game felt that combat should start want to hear from a designer, check out this Sage Advice video by Jeremy Crawford, the lead designer of 5e. He makes it clear that in the "surprise" dagger attack situation, that's an initiative roll (not surprise). He also makes it clear that surprise is meant for an ambush, and that it's resolved with Stealth checks. Take a listen


At 7:30 JC literally states that you can be surprised 'when going shopping for bagels, and suddenly the vendor has a maul in his hands' and in other such circumstances when you are 100 percent not expecting violence.
 

NotAYakk

Legend
At 7:30 JC literally states that you can be surprised 'when going shopping for bagels, and suddenly the vendor has a maul in his hands' and in other such circumstances when you are 100 percent not expecting violence.
I don't think you get how this game -- namely, the game of constructing this FAQ in this thread -- works.

JC didn't say that the vendor wasn't also invisible as well as having a maul. Did he say "the visible vendor"? Nope.

So the RAW text doesn't rule out the possibility that you must be hidden. Which means the RAW states they must be hidden.

So by RAW you can still ensure that hiding and surprise are as useless as possible. Which is the goal of this FAQ.

Now, some might say that the FAQ doesn't say that its purpose is to make hiding and surprise as useless as possible. But it says it is rules, and rules are made by rulers, and ruler is something dominating something else, and when you dominate something you restrict it, and this is rules about hiding, so it is campaign-specific restrictions on how hiding works. The first sentence of a work describes what the work is about, so this work is about restricting hiding and surprise. By the Faq As Written (FAW).

I kid, but this thread, well, it gets pretty ridiculous.
 
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Jon Gilliam

Explorer
Based on the observation above from discussions here (since hidden creatures cannot always use the Unseen Attackers and Targets rule), I concede that there probably isn't even an operational definition to be had of Hidden, and we're changing ours to the following:

  • Definition of being "Hidden" : Being "hidden" from an opposing creature means that the DM has determined that the circumstances you find yourself in are appropriate for hiding.
 

NotAYakk

Legend
"Hidden" -- you are hidden if the DM says so. Being hidden does nothing except permit surprise. Those with bonus action hide features can stuff it, as it has no use whatsoever. The hide action does nothing; the text that says "you gain the benefit of the unseen attackers rules" is a null, because everyone has the benefit of those rules when they are unseen, and hiding never ever helps you be unseen.
 

Jon Gilliam

Explorer
I don't think you get how this game -- namely, the game of constructing this FAQ in this thread -- works.

JC didn't say that the vendor wasn't also invisible as well as having a maul. Did he say "the visible vendor"? Nope.

So the RAW text doesn't rule out the possibility that you must be hidden. Which means the RAW states they must be hidden.

So by RAW you can still ensure that hiding and surprise are as useless as possible. Which is the goal of this FAQ.

Now, some might say that the FAQ doesn't say that its purpose is to make hiding and surprise as useless as possible. But it says it is rules, and rules are made by rulers, and ruler is something dominating something else, and when you dominate something you restrict it, and this is rules about hiding, so it is campaign-specific restrictions on how hiding works. The first sentence of a work describes what the work is about, so this work is about restricting hiding and surprise. By the Faq As Written (FAW).

I kid, but this it gets pretty ridiculous.

Actually, you don't get to tell me the goal of my group's FAQ, because that's us. If you don't think the discussion is relevant or important, you're certainly free to use your time in other ways.

Here's how this doc is presented to my players (copied from our Facebook group's post):

What's up with this Rules Interpretation doc?
Here is the plan: this is a living document and as we have discussions, it is updated with the latest group interpretation of the rules for my campaign. I make the final decision about what goes in the document, but I promise to hear out completely any discussions or arguments about the contents. All arguments should be about interpreting the source material : 5e rulebooks and Sage Advice sources, rather than arguments from first principles (it's about what the designers wrote and intended, not about how we individually think it should be or should have been).

During play, you and the DM can refer to this document with the same authority that would come with referring to any of the rulebooks. Out of play, you can make your argument for why the document differs from RAW and needs to change.

My campaign is meant to be default-RAW : meaning that RAW is intended to decide everything unless I say that I'm intentionally departing from RAW as a one-off experiment (which I can do at my discretion), or making a case for a house rule (in which case we'll need group consensus).
If you haven't already started to become familiar with the doc, please take the time to give it a look. What's in here is informed and guided by a lot of discussions here with all of the players, but I want to make sure everyone has a chance to voice any concerns.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
No, that's not the definition of hidden, that's simply specifying what subset of all the circumstances possible for hiding are always required to use the Unseen Attackers and Target rule. For example, you could hide and then begin movement from hiding. As you're doing your movement, you come out of darkness and through a patch of fog where your opponent can see you but not clearly, and then at the end of your movement you're back in darkness again. While in darkness, you're both hidden and able to use the Unseen Attackers and Targets rule, but during your movement through the patch of fog, although you remain hidden, you could not attack at advantage using that rule as you are seen just not clearly.

The side box on p. 177 of the PHB makes it clear that being seen or heard are only guidelines. The errata for the PHB even specifically updates that language to "You can’t hide from a creature that can see you clearly …”, adding the last word. Also if you listen to the Sage Advice video, posted above, Jeremy Crawford makes it clear that hiding takes into account any other criteria the DM believes relevant, and if you listen to this Sage Advice podcast, the designers make it even more clear that they intend for the DM to decide what circumstances are appropriate for hiding, including all of the following:
  • any specific traits or abilities
  • whether the creature can see you
  • whether the creature can hear you
  • whether the creature can perceive your presence in any way
  • whether the creature is distracted
  • whether the creature is in a high state of alert or especially vigilant
  • whether the creature is able to determine your position
  • whether the creature perceives your presence as a potential attacker
  • whether you are leaving any signs of your passage
So, being both unseen and unheard isn't the definition of Hiding under RAW. Gargoyles hide in plain sight, as can 10th level rangers. If you'd just been sprayed by a skunk and smell awful, the DM could decide you're not hidden. The best you can do to provide a definition of hiding is to approach it operationally ... which leads to our definition:

  • Definition of being "Hidden" : Being "hidden" from an opposing creature means that you could attack that creature without them being able to perceive that your attack is coming.
That is wide enough to encompass all the other guidelines as well as this condition from the PHB p. 177:

"In combat, most creatures stay alert for signs of danger all around, so if you come out of hiding and approach a creature, it usually sees you. However, under certain circumstances, the DM might allow you to stay hidden as you approach a creature that is distracted, allowing you to gain advantage on an attack roll before you are seen."

With that provision, it makes clear that being "seen" doesn't mean being in plain sight of a creature, and takes into account the creature's mental. Even an invisible creature that remains unheard may not be hidden. PHB p. 177:

"An invisible creature can't be seen, so it can always try to hide. Signs of its passage might still be noticed, however, and it has to remain quiet".

Jeremy Crawford in the video I linked to previously mentions how an invisible creature jostling a table or causing footprints in the dust could be given away by "signs of its passage," for example.
It's not written as set of circumstances which make it possible to hide. It doesn't say, "If it's possible to hide - unseen and unheard - when you make an attack..." It says very clearly that if you are hidden if you are unseen and unheard. If I am invisible and I cast silence upon myself, I am hidden. The DM should call for a stealth roll so that there's something to roll against such as foot prints and such.
 

Actually, you don't get to tell me the goal of my group's FAQ, because that's us. If you don't think the discussion is relevant or important, you're certainly free to use your time in other ways.

I'll happily state that if your group needs a FAQ like this, then it seems your table likely has bigger problems.

Im not saying you're playing wrong here either. It just reeks to me that you may have issues at your table.

I can rock up to DM an AL game with totally different players, and not need anything of the sort, because Im the DM, I make rulings, and that's just how it goes.

If you have a problem with rules lawyers to the extent you need a muti-page document, including wordy FAQ on something as basic as the Hiding rules, then your problem most likely lies somewhere else other than the hiding rules.

If the players want to know the rules on hiding, hand them the PHB. During actual play, just DM those rules. If a player whines about it, correct him, and again refer him to the PHB, and remind him you're the DM and that's how it goes. If he does it again, be firmer. If he does it a third time, show him the door.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
New FAQ based on my discussion with @Maxperson :

  • Can I always use the Unseen Attackers and Targets rule if I'm hidden from my opponent? No, the Unseen Attackers and Targets rule is more strict than the criteria for hiding, requiring you to be both unseen and unheard. An example would be if you hid and then began moving, taking you through an area where you're seen but not clearly seen. As you're doing your movement, you come out of darkness and through a patch of fog where your opponent can see you but not clearly, and then at the end of your movement you're back in darkness again. While in darkness, you're both hidden and able to use the Unseen Attackers and Targets rule, but during your movement through the patch of fog, although you remain hidden, you could not attack at advantage using that rule as you are seen just not clearly. As another example, if your character is invisible but walks through a patch of flour on the floor, during the movement through the flour your character might not be hidden since their signs of passage are giving away their location. However they are still an Unseen Attacker and still an Unseen Target for purposes of that rule.
Right, but someone who is invisible and silent with a silence spell, meets that more strict criteria and is also hidden. At no point is he ever visible and at no point is he ever heard. There could be other circumstances such as the flour which MIGHT allow detection, but absent those unusual circumstances the invisible and silent creature is hidden and get the advantages of such.
 
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SkidAce

Legend
Supporter
Using the "stand next to you" scenario, IMHO, if the person was disguised well enough or acting non hostile enough, the THREAT is hidden, and they could attack and potentially surprise.

edit: spelling
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
No, this isn't a house rule - it's an interpretation of RAW based on the text of the rulebooks and what the designers have to say about it. You haven't added any argument from a source here - you've just decided to resolve your cognitive dissonance by arguing your case by simply reasserting it. Surprise is determined via Stealth versus passive Perception, in a procedure described mechanically in the PHB, and determining surprise in any other way is a house rule. Disguises are therefore not relevant to surprise unless the DM decides they're relevant to being hidden, and anything other than that is also a house rule. Both of those things are well supported by the source material, and I've provided detailed references to all of them above.
  • Can I initiate surprise by deceiving an adjacent opponent into believing I'm actually an ally and then suddenly attacking? Not unless you are also hidden, since surprise requires hiding. Even if your opponent believes you are an ally, they still remain alert for signs of danger, and unless the DM decides they would be sufficiently visually or mentally distracted, the movement of your attack would be noticed as you began it. The initiative roll would determine who acts first, but if your opponent who had been successfully deceived previously (Insight vs Deception check) wins initiative, they may choose to do nothing to counter your attack on their turn if they momentarily believe the initiation of your action is due to something else other than commencing an attack. If the DM decides all of your opponents for the coming combat are somehow sufficiently distracted by your deception that they wouldn't notice an attack coming, and if the DM decides that all circumstances are otherwise also appropriate for hiding, only then could you attempt to hide in plain sight to them and initiate surprise (and only as long as all of the other members of your side of the combat are also able to hide, in plain sight via distracted opponents or otherwise).
  • Can I initiate surprise by deceiving an adjacent opponent into believing I'm actually an ally and concealing my dagger thrust as I attack? No, because you would have to be hidden to initiate surprise, and if you were able to conceal your attack this way for surprise purposes, you would in effect be hiding in plain sight, which is a special ability of 10th level rangers. Per the rules, most creatures stay alert for signs of danger all around, and without any special ability or trait indicating otherwise, any concealment of your thrust during attack is included in your bonuses and modifiers on your to hit roll. Note that even the Assassin rogue archetype's "Assassinate" ability doesn't automatically assume you have surprised a creature (since it provides an additional benefit if that is the case), and it doesn't require a Stealth check. Similarly, the rogue's "Sneak Attack" ability doesn't presume you have surprised the target, only that you have advantage on the attack roll.
  • Can a ranger with the Hide in Plain Sight ability attack at advantage using the Unseen Attackers and Targets rule? Yes. Rangers with this ability are in plain sight, but they are hidden and may not be seen because their presence may not be perceived. Camouflage disrupts the visual processing of the eye, in effect giving the ranger a very limited kind of invisibility. When using this ability, opponents with passive Perceptions lower than the ranger's Stealth check not only do not notice their presence and position, they cannot see them without actively searching.
  • Can my character who is not a ranger hide in plain sight by camouflaging themselves? Maybe, since there is the ranger's ability, Hide in Plain Sight, as precedence, although doing so would not provide the other bonuses associated with the ranger ability and would carry all the limitations. The DM would decide if this is possible given the circumstances, how long it might take to set up the camouflage, and what penalty to the Stealth check might apply given the character's amateurish attempt and the difficulty of remaining motionless.
  • Can my character hide for surprise by disguising themselves as a rock? Yes, but only under similar prescriptions as if you tried to hide in plain sight by camouflaging yourself, and the DM decides whether this is possible given the circumstances. The DM could optionally consider the results of some skill check in crafting the disguise (maybe a Nature check would be appropriate) when deciding if the circumstances were appropriate for hiding. If the disguise were poorly enough constructed, it might alert opponents to your position rather than distracting them from your presence.
  • Can I hide in a crowd of people and then initiate surprise by attacking opponents even if they would see me approach from the crowd? The DM would decide based on the circumstances. The DM can choose to allow a character to continue to be hidden as they approach a creature if circumstances would have that creature being distracted, as by a crowd (PHB p. 177, Hiding side box).
Being innocuous in a disguise isn’t camouflage, it instead represents not being perceivable by any reasonable person as a threat. The Ranger’s Hide In Plain Sight ability is wholly irrelevant.
The actual rules text states only that In combat, most creatures are alert to threats. It doesn’t state at all that one must be unaware of the creature entirely to be surprised by it.

You are over-interpreting the text, and trying to apply legalese pedantry to text meant to be read in plain language.
 


Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
That’s the only rational reading.
I think it's a mix of both. Depending on the circumstances, it may not matter how harmless you appear to be. The person you want to attack is going to be on guard anyway and therefore aware of the threat. Other times you could get away with it.
 

Jon Gilliam

Explorer
Right, but someone who is invisible and silent with a silence spell, meets that more strict criteria and is also hidden. At no point is he ever visible and at no point is he ever heard. There could be other circumstances such as the flour which MIGHT allow detection, but absent those unusual circumstances the invisible and silent creature is hidden and get the advantages of such.

Jeremy Crawford (lead designer for 5e) in the Sage Advice video on beginning combat and in the Sage Advice podcast on hiding does draw special attention to that scenario (how an invisible person could be unhidden due to the "signs of their passage" such as knocking over bottles on a table, tracks in dust, etc.), and gives the impression that those circumstances aren't intended to be so unusual. Since he explicitly gives that example in those sources, and since my group has already decided that anything published as Sage Advice is an official addendum to the rules, I feel confident saying the designers definitely intended allowing detection in these cases. In those sources, he mentions that an invisible character still has the big bonus in not being targetable by spells requiring sight, even if "signs of passage" can often leave them unhidden.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Jeremy Crawford (lead designer for 5e) in the Sage Advice video on beginning combat and in the Sage Advice podcast on hiding does draw special attention to that scenario (how an invisible person could be unhidden due to the "signs of their passage" such as knocking over bottles on a table, tracks in dust, etc.), and gives the impression that those circumstances aren't intended to be so unusual. Since he explicitly gives that example in those sources, and since my group has already decided that anything published as Sage Advice is an official addendum to the rules, I feel confident saying the designers definitely intended allowing detection in these cases. In those sources, he mentions that an invisible character still has the big bonus in not being targetable by spells requiring sight, even if "signs of passage" can often leave them unhidden.
Dude. You have to have A) have those sorts of things present, and B) have a clutz walking into them. They are not always going to be present and the target will not always notice them. There is NOTHING about what he said that indicates that detection is automatic or common. Some examples of possible ways to detect invisible creatures =/= common or automatic.
 

Jon Gilliam

Explorer
Bein innocuous in a disguise isn’t camouflage, it instead represents not being perceivable by any reasonable person as a threat. The Ranger’s Hide In Plain Sight ability is wholly irrelevant.

The actual rules text states only that In combat, most creatures are alert to threats. It doesn’t state at all that one must be unaware of the creature entirely to be surprised by it.

You are over-interpreting the text, and trying to apply legalese pedantry to text meant to be read in plain language.

Since you state this so assertively, have you watched the he Sage Advice video on beginning combat and listened to the Sage Advice podcast on hiding? And have you also read through the answers to the two questions on surprise in the Sage Advice Compendium? If not, go invest the time in listening to the designer of 5e discuss these topics, and see if you come away with the same opinion.

All of these cases confirm that surprise is determined through the mechanic of Stealth versus passive Perception. The Sage Advice Compendium has this to say:

To be surprised, you must be caught off guard, usually because you failed to notice foes being stealthy or you were startled by an enemy with a special ability, such as the gelatinous cube’s Transparent trait, that makes it exceptionally surprising. You can be surprised even if your companions aren’t, and you aren’t surprised if even one of your foes fails to catch you unawares.

Let's see what we have there... surprise is being
  • Caught off guard
  • Failing to notice foes being stealthy
  • Being startled by an enemy with a special ability
  • All of your foes catching you unaware
Even if you could be "caught off guard" by an opponent in a disguise, you still wouldn't be surprised if "even one of your foes fails to catch you unawares." What the language "notice a threat" intends in the PHB p. 189 when it says
"Any character or monster that doesn't notice a threat is surprised at the start of the encounter."
is to mean "failing to notice an opponent in hiding." That's apparent because that sentence comes immediately after the sentence describing how surprise is determined by comparing Stealth to passive Perception. To make "notice a threat" mean anything else, you have to pluck that second sentence out and read it in isolation, but that second sentence is even part of the same paragraph. You're stretching the rules and reading sentences out of context to give them the possibility of saying what you want them to say.
 
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Jon Gilliam

Explorer
Using the "stand next to you" scenario, IMHO, if the person was disguised well enough or acting non hostile enough, the THREAT is hidden, and they could attack and potentially surprise.

edit: spelling

How do you give a hidden threat a Stealth score? Hiding a threat (pretending to be an ally) is Insight vs Deception, not Stealth versus passive Perception, and the mechanism the PHB tells the DM they should use for determining surprise is Stealth versus passive Perception, p. 189:

The DM determines who might be surprised. If
neither side tries to be stealthy, they automatically notice
each other. Otherwise, the DM compares the Dexterity
(Stealth) checks of anyone hiding with the passive
Wisdom (Perception) score of each creature on the
opposing side. Any character or monster that doesn't
notice a threat is surprised at the start of the encounter.

The Sage Advice Compendium provides the following response by the 5e designers to clarify what that meant:

To be surprised, you must be caught off guard, usually because you failed to notice foes being stealthy or you were startled by an enemy with a special ability, such as the gelatinous cube’s Transparent trait, that makes it exceptionally surprising. You can be surprised even if your companions aren’t, and you aren’t surprised if even one of your foes fails to catch you unawares.

Surprise is:
  • Being caught off guard
  • Failing to notice foes being stealthy
  • Being startled by an enemy with a special ability
  • All of your foes catching you unaware
And see my replies to others above. The designers didn't intend "threat" to read as anything other than "an opponent on the other side of combat," and surprise was intended to represent an ambush where all of one or both sides are hiding with Stealth to catch the other side unaware and startle them.
 

Jon Gilliam

Explorer
To give another reason why "threat" cannot be read so expansively and in isolation in the sentence "Any character or monster that doesn't notice a threat is surprised at the start of the encounter." : a trap is certainly "a threat", but disarming a trap as they approach an ambush doesn't inoculate the party from the possibility of surprise, even though they've noticed "a threat."
 

Jon Gilliam

Explorer
"Hidden" -- you are hidden if the DM says so. Being hidden does nothing except permit surprise. Those with bonus action hide features can stuff it, as it has no use whatsoever. The hide action does nothing; the text that says "you gain the benefit of the unseen attackers rules" is a null, because everyone has the benefit of those rules when they are unseen, and hiding never ever helps you be unseen.

Each of us deals with cognitive dissonance in our own way. I guess you mock those you disagree with to deal with yours?
 

Jon Gilliam

Explorer
"Hidden" -- you are hidden if the DM says so. Being hidden does nothing except permit surprise. Those with bonus action hide features can stuff it, as it has no use whatsoever. The hide action does nothing; the text that says "you gain the benefit of the unseen attackers rules" is a null, because everyone has the benefit of those rules when they are unseen, and hiding never ever helps you be unseen.

And yes, you're hidden if the DM says so, because the rules say so here :

“The DM decides when circumstances are appropriate for hiding.”

And if you watch the Sage Advice video on beginning combat and listen to the Sage Advice podcast on hiding, the head designer of 5e says that that's what they explicitly intended.
 

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