Rules FAQ How Does Stealth Work in D&D 5E?

Stealth is a complex skill. The rules can be found in the Player’s Handbook, largely on page 177. On the surface, it seems simple: it is a Dexterity (Stealth) check opposed by a Wisdom (Perception) check. But, there is more to it than that.


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So let’s break it down step by step. Using stealth generally means using the Hide action. Hiding is a 4 step process:
  1. Are you sufficiently obscured from the creatures you're hiding from?
  2. Use Hide action; this could be a bonus action if you have certain abilities, like the rogue’s Cunning Action or the Ranger’s Vanish.
  3. Compare Dexterity (Stealth) check to the passive perception scores of any creature you are hiding from and against any active Wisdom (perception) checks to search for you
  4. While you remain hidden, use the same Dexterity (Stealth) result until you are detected or are no longer hiding.

o.l.d page 140 copy.jpg

While Hidden
When you are hidden (which means you have used the Hide action and a creature has not noticed you with passive or active perception):
  • You have advantage on attack rolls against creatures that can’t see you.
  • When you make your attack, though, you reveal your position and are no longer hidden, whether the attack hits or misses.
  • If a creature tries to attack you while you are hidden (and is able to guess the space you are in), it makes its attack roll with disadvantage.
Staying Hidden
You remain hidden until you are discovered, you stop hiding, circumstances no longer allow you to hide, or you make a noise or otherwise alert others to your presence.

You do not need to continually use the Hide action every round to remain hidden, but you will need to use it again to hide once you become detected or stop hiding (this could be complex to track, as being hidden is relative to each creature).

When Can I Hide?
According to the Player’s Handbook, you “can’t hide from a creature that can see you clearly”. The complicating factor is the line "The DM decides when circumstances are appropriate for hiding”.
  • The book reminds DMs that they might allow a player character to sneak up on a distracted creature, even leaving their concealment to do so, if circumstances allow it.
  • It goes on to say "An invisible creature can always try to hide", noting that being unseen does not mean you are undetected.
  • The Player's Handbook reminds us that the "Lightly obscured' and "heavily obscured" lighting affect what one can see. Being lightly obscured imposes a -5 penalty on Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on sight, while being heavily obscured effectively blinds creatures to things in the obscured area and makes Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on sight automatically fail.
We still do not have a definition for “clearly”; it is left up to DM interpretation in this context.
  • We know that being invisible counts. Being invisible makes one heavily obscured "for the purposes of hiding", so heavily obscured also counts.
  • Full cover is not mentioned, but since it fully blocks line of sight, it is safe to assume full cover for an opaque object would be sufficient to hide behind.
This leaves the question "Can I hide when I am only lightly obscured" or "Can I use half or 3/4ths cover to hide?" The answer seems to be left up to the DM, as there are special abilities which interact with creatures who are lightly obscured.
  • The skulker feat allows you to try to hide when you are lightly obscured" implying you couldn't otherwise do this.
  • Wood Elves have the mask of the wild ability that lets them use the hide action "when you are only lightly obscured by foliage, heavy rain, falling snow, mist, and other natural phenomena''.
  • Lightfoot halflings have the naturally stealthy ability, which lets them hide "even when you are obscured only by a creature that is at least one size larger than you".
There are two ways to read this. The strict interpretation would be that you need these abilities in order to hide within lightly obscured areas. The loose way to interpret would be that these abilities allow you to use stealth to Hide in certain kinds of light obscurement even while being observed. As the Hide rules state you "can't hide from a creature that can't see you clearly" it depends on how the DM interprets “clearly. And, if a DM is going to allow lightly obscured areas to count as “not seen clearly”, then they may allow half cover or three-quarters cover as well.

Be sure to discuss with your DM how they intend to interpret when a creature can and cannot see you clearly.
 
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Plaguescarred

D&D Playtester for WoTC since 2012
Wether you use Stealth or a flat DC vs Wisdom (Perception) or Intelligence (Investigation) to spot or deduce the presence of an invisible statue, as long as you have a chance to notice it is what matters.

Something remaining motionless will rapidly start to collect dust that can be dicerned hanging in midair, or the marks on the floor where dust has not accumulated etc...
 

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Asisreo

Patron Badass
Wether you use Stealth or a flat DC vs Wisdom (Perception) or Intelligence (Investigation) to spot or deduce the presence of an invisible statue, as long as you have a chance to notice it is what matters.

Something remaining motionless will rapidly start to collect dust that can be dicerned hanging in midair, or the marks on the floor where dust has not accumulated etc...
This is a good exercise in rule adjudication.

If the invisible statues are just there, but not attempting to be unnoticed, then I'd say the party automatically notices the statues as invisible statues, but not as creatures without further investigation.

If the invisible statues are attempting to hide, they get their stealth check.
 

Oofta

Legend
Wether you use Stealth or a flat DC vs Wisdom (Perception) or Intelligence (Investigation) to spot or deduce the presence of an invisible statue, as long as you have a chance to notice it is what matters.

Something remaining motionless will rapidly start to collect dust that can be dicerned hanging in midair, or the marks on the floor where dust has not accumulated etc...
Depends on where you are and how long it's been there, doesn't it? There's not a lot of dust in caves, maybe the statue patrols once a day.

In any case, if there is some environmental factor that gives away the position then yes, there's a way to detect it. It's just not automatic. A rogue with blindsense would notice it if within 10 feet of course, as would a ranger's feral senses. There are probably others.
 

Oofta

Legend
This is a good exercise in rule adjudication.

If the invisible statues are just there, but not attempting to be unnoticed, then I'd say the party automatically notices the statues as invisible statues, but not as creatures without further investigation.

If the invisible statues are attempting to hide, they get their stealth check.
Why? How? I mean, run it any way you want, but the rules are fairly clear. You can't see it. It has to interact with the environment somehow.
 

Asisreo

Patron Badass
Why? How? I mean, run it any way you want, but the rules are fairly clear. You can't see it. It has to interact with the environment somehow.
Honestly, I'd rule that they hear it constantly turning its neck. The gargoyle probably wants to see the adventurers. It's not attempting to be unnoticed and it definitely isn't worried about being seen.

Now I won't say "You hear an invisible gargoyle turn its neck." I'd say "You hear the sound of stones grinding against each other from that location in the room." They can investigate or not at their own peril.
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
Honestly, I'd rule that they hear it constantly turning its neck. The gargoyle probably wants to see the adventurers. It's not attempting to be unnoticed and it definitely isn't worried about being seen.

It's a creature with natural camouflage, "delighting in the terror it creates when it breaks from its suspended pose" and it has the advantage of being invisible on top of that, of course, it's attempting to be unnoticed.

Honestly, the reason this discussion is going nowhere like most discussions on stealth is that you are not recognising the one important fact that the designers have tried to impress on all the players of their game (and I agree that it's a break from the previous editions), that the circumstances are all important and that the DM (especially in the area of stealth) is the only one who can adjudicate because he has all the information.

There is a world of difference between:
  • An invisible gargoyle staying perfectly still (as it can) because it's trying to surprise opponents in a clear room with no dust and no light source.
  • An invisible gargoyle not caring about being noticed, and moving in an area with lots of mud and leaves on the floor, lots of dust swirling in the air, and rays of light shining through stained glass windows.
As a DM, I would give completely different DCs and would probably give auto-successes/failures depending on what the PCs describe as their actions.

This is 5e, there are very few overarching rules, mostly guidelines, and it's a really fun and open game where the DM can design whatever he wants without being bound by firm and fixed rules.
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
Supporter
You people all do realize that ever since 2014 you've spent thousands upon thousands of words debating and arguing over interpreting a series of rules that grant you nothing more than a single useable game mechanic, right?

Advantage on a single attack roll.

That is the ONLY useful mechanical bonus you get from that whole Hidden argument debacle. The same exact mechanic any character in the game can get seven ways to Sunday, and yet for whatever reason you've all decided that THIS single way has been worth wasting hundreds of thread pages arguing about it over the last seven years.

Battlemaster Fighters can grant Advantage if they want. Clerics with Guiding Bolt can grant Advantage. Using the Help action can grant Advantage. Barbarians with the Wolf Totem can grant Advantage. Countless other ways can grant Advantage across the battlefield. But yet for some ridiculous reason getting it via the Hidden condition causes such agita that you all go on and on and on and on worrying about the right way to rule it. It is insane.

Stealth just isn't that important. It's nowhere near worth the amount of time that's been spent arguing about it.
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
As a DM, I might decide that a certain guard is particularly inattentive and and that hiding twice in a row in a certain spot would possibly work, and that for another guard it would not work as well, because it's a roleplaying game where NPCs have their personality or distractions matter. Or that it works behind a certain crate and not behind a slightly smaller one somewhere else. Once more, this is not 4e where everything was cut up and dried initially in neat little squares and where visibility was determined exactly ("An alternative would be for the rules to severely limit what characters can do, which would be counter to the open-endedness of D&D"). Some people prefer this and it's fine, I don't and not only is it fine as well, but it's clearly the spirit in which 5e was written.
What is interesting here is that for each different ruling, you provide a motivating difference in the fiction. I would as well. I am thinking of consistency (in ruling) as consistent rulings in undifferentiated circumstances.

What counts as differentiating likely differs per group. Consistency in undifferentiated circumstances is a normal expectation that we can leverage into a more credible fiction. It underpins player agency, rather than stifling it, by letting them actuate their characters with confidence (rather than meeting arbitrary rulings) and thus produce a properly shared fiction.
 

Asisreo

Patron Badass
It's a creature with natural camouflage, "delighting in the terror it creates when it breaks from its suspended pose" and it has the advantage of being invisible on top of that, of course, it's attempting to be unnoticed.

Honestly, the reason this discussion is going nowhere like most discussions on stealth is that you are not recognising the one important fact that the designers have tried to impress on all the players of their game (and I agree that it's a break from the previous editions), that the circumstances are all important and that the DM (especially in the area of stealth) is the only one who can adjudicate because he has all the information.

There is a world of difference between:
  • An invisible gargoyle staying perfectly still (as it can) because it's trying to surprise opponents in a clear room with no dust and no light source.
  • An invisible gargoyle not caring about being noticed, and moving in an area with lots of mud and leaves on the floor, lots of dust swirling in the air, and rays of light shining through stained glass windows.
As a DM, I would give completely different DCs and would probably give auto-successes/failures depending on what the PCs describe as their actions.

This is 5e, there are very few overarching rules, mostly guidelines, and it's a really fun and open game where the DM can design whatever he wants without being bound by firm and fixed rules.
I mean, I agree. Though the case where its trying to be unnoticed is really easy. You just roll stealth for them. If they fail, they're noticed as a statue. I play a pretty abstract type of game so I can easily have a player brush against it randomly.
 

Hriston

Dungeon Master of Middle-earth
You people all do realize that ever since 2014 you've spent thousands upon thousands of words debating and arguing over interpreting a series of rules that grant you nothing more than a single useable game mechanic, right?

Advantage on a single attack roll.

That is the ONLY useful mechanical bonus you get from that whole Hidden argument debacle. The same exact mechanic any character in the game can get seven ways to Sunday, and yet for whatever reason you've all decided that THIS single way has been worth wasting hundreds of thread pages arguing about it over the last seven years.

Battlemaster Fighters can grant Advantage if they want. Clerics with Guiding Bolt can grant Advantage. Using the Help action can grant Advantage. Barbarians with the Wolf Totem can grant Advantage. Countless other ways can grant Advantage across the battlefield. But yet for some ridiculous reason getting it via the Hidden condition causes such agita that you all go on and on and on and on worrying about the right way to rule it. It is insane.

Stealth just isn't that important. It's nowhere near worth the amount of time that's been spent arguing about it.

No, you’re wrong! Hiding doesn’t give you advantage. It just makes your location unknown. Advantage comes from being unseen which you have to be to hide in the first place, so you already had advantage! :)
 

Oofta

Legend
I mean, I agree. Though the case where its trying to be unnoticed is really easy. You just roll stealth for them. If they fail, they're noticed as a statue. I play a pretty abstract type of game so I can easily have a player brush against it randomly.
Except gargoyles don't have to roll stealth. Unless of course your players assume every statue in the entire world is out to get them. Heck, even if they closely examine a gargoyle up close they can't distinguish between it and a statue.

Feel free to run it however you want, but the text is quite clear. "While the gargoyle remains motionless, it is indistinguishable from an inanimate statue."
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
What is interesting here is that for each different ruling, you provide a motivating difference in the fiction. I would as well. I am thinking of consistency (in ruling) as consistent rulings in undifferentiated circumstances.

I agree, I would word this as consistency of the game world (in being diverse, and rich, and not necessarily predictable especially when dealing with people "living" in there), and that consistency influencing the way the rulings are being made.

What counts as differentiating likely differs per group. Consistency in undifferentiated circumstances is a normal expectation that we can leverage into a more credible fiction. It underpins player agency, rather than stifling it, by letting them actuate their characters with confidence (rather than meeting arbitrary rulings) and thus produce a properly shared fiction.

The problem is that there is no such thing as "undifferentiated circumstances" in real life, and therefore, for me and the people at our tables. That is the problem with 4e for me, it forces people to think that a all guards are the same, all crates are the same, all circumstances are the same because it's the only way it can model it "consistently" in terms of rules. That, in turn, allows consistency of playing the same game using the same rules. But that is assuming that this the game that you want to play. It might be fine for some people, but for me, it's not only a game, it's a roleplaying game, where you assume the personality of a character and the DM does the same thing for all NPCs. And this is not something that is predictable, that quand be cut and dried and put in neat little boxes.

It's a false good reason that you need all these things to play a character with confidence, because even if you fix them arbitrarily (all guards are the same, all crates re the same, you can only be in a neat little square that perfectly determines what you can see or not), there can still be surprises put in place by the DM, a crate might be a mimic or whatever. And I really hope that this happens, otherwise, for me, the games would be very boring.

And for me, there is a much, much better place to put your confidence in than in a set of rules and a straight-jacketing of the world to make sure the rules are applicable, and that's your DM - which is why it's a good thing that 5e restored him to his rightful place as the lead storyteller rather than being mostly a referee of the above rules. If you trust your DM to provide you with fun, then you don't need rules to act with confidence.
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
You people all do realize that ever since 2014 you've spent thousands upon thousands of words debating and arguing over interpreting a series of rules that grant you nothing more than a single useable game mechanic, right?
Advantage on a single attack roll.

That is a really good analysis. The problem is that some people, possibly (voluntarily) fooled by the similarities, still think that 5e is a game about balance and DPR. And this in turn needs to thinking in reverse, that rogues need to have good DPR, so they need to have their sneak attack every turn otherwise it's not fair, and to get that sneak attack, they need advantage, otherwise it's not fair again, and therefore it all hinges about getting that &($^%&^ advantage, otherwise it's not fair...

Stealth just isn't that important. It's nowhere near worth the amount of time that's been spent arguing about it.

For me stealth is really, really important but not because of the above, because it's a core point of the exploration pillar and, at least to a large extent, of the social pillar, all of that coming down to intrigue. So it's all about circumstances, and taking advantage of them, and understanding the situation in them game world, etc. And this is why I really like the 5e stance (and why I spend long posts defending it), the designers realised that there is no way the real essence of stealth and deception can be properly captured in a game that is that open and imaginaiton-empowering.
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
I agree, I would word this as consistency of the game world (in being diverse, and rich, and not necessarily predictable especially when dealing with people "living" in there), and that consistency influencing the way the rulings are being made.
Agree on not necessarily predictable. And influencing: I feel like decisions influenced by consistent principles can come out different, and will still feel to players consistent. They have cohesion.

The problem is that there is no such thing as "undifferentiated circumstances" in real life, and therefore, for me and the people at our tables. That is the problem with 4e for me, it forces people to think that a all guards are the same, all crates are the same, all circumstances are the same because it's the only way it can model it "consistently" in terms of rules. That, in turn, allows consistency of playing the same game using the same rules. But that is assuming that this the game that you want to play. It might be fine for some people, but for me, it's not only a game, it's a roleplaying game, where you assume the personality of a character and the DM does the same thing for all NPCs. And this is not something that is predictable, that quand be cut and dried and put in neat little boxes.
Perhaps it is on the level of game as game that systematic abstractions drive consistency, and that consistency drives interest (of that sort.) Some cultures of play leverage this, others look elsewhere. Consistency can sustain the fiction along the lines Tolkien described. It's not a single fixed point: it's fuzzy. It can bring together disparate cases on their similarities, where those are crucial.

It's a false good reason that you need all these things to play a character with confidence, because even if you fix them arbitrarily (all guards are the same, all crates re the same, you can only be in a neat little square that perfectly determines what you can see or not), there can still be surprises put in place by the DM, a crate might be a mimic or whatever. And I really hope that this happens, otherwise, for me, the games would be very boring.
Without a baseline, surprises are unsurprising. Contrast!

And for me, there is a much, much better place to put your confidence in than in a set of rules and a straight-jacketing of the world to make sure the rules are applicable, and that's your DM - which is why it's a good thing that 5e restored him to his rightful place as the lead storyteller rather than being mostly a referee of the above rules. If you trust your DM to provide you with fun, then you don't need rules to act with confidence.
My take on this link is that it rightly says that good DM is good, without settling how we should best grasp game rules. Presumably best DM with best rules, grasped in the best way, is most good. I don't see trust as differentiating the argument: it's exactly as useful in any case. We don't want players to distrust DM, granted.

Rules have various jobs that they perform for RPGs. DM is defined up front in 5th as narrator and referee. Consistency is just a tool. Written rules feed into consistency. For example, generally players can expect their paladin to use a d10 for Hit points. That consistency drives meaningful choice. A lot of consistency in application is like that: more or less invisibile.
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
That is a really good analysis. The problem is that some people, possibly (voluntarily) fooled by the similarities, still think that 5e is a game about balance and DPR. And this in turn needs to thinking in reverse, that rogues need to have good DPR, so they need to have their sneak attack every turn otherwise it's not fair, and to get that sneak attack, they need advantage, otherwise it's not fair again, and therefore it all hinges about getting that &($^%&^ advantage, otherwise it's not fair...



For me stealth is really, really important but not because of the above, because it's a core point of the exploration pillar and, at least to a large extent, of the social pillar, all of that coming down to intrigue. So it's all about circumstances, and taking advantage of them, and understanding the situation in them game world, etc. And this is why I really like the 5e stance (and why I spend long posts defending it), the designers realised that there is no way the real essence of stealth and deception can be properly captured in a game that is that open and imaginaiton-empowering.
To argue that rogues should regularly gain advantage is not to say one takes that to be the most important use for stealth! That's leaning into a false dichotomy.
 

Oofta

Legend
To argue that rogues should regularly gain advantage is not to say one takes that to be the most important use for stealth! That's leaning into a false dichotomy.
But a lot of people argue that the rogue needs advantage (typically via stealth) most of the time or they fall too far behind on DPR. I disagree with this on multiple levels, but it is a common belief.
 


Asisreo

Patron Badass
Except gargoyles don't have to roll stealth. Unless of course your players assume every statue in the entire world is out to get them. Heck, even if they closely examine a gargoyle up close they can't distinguish between it and a statue.

Feel free to run it however you want, but the text is quite clear. "While the gargoyle remains motionless, it is indistinguishable from an inanimate statue."
So it's important to separate the three distinct situations and justifications for each.

You're right a gargoyle wouldn't need to roll stealth if it intends on looking like a statue, but it isn't trying to be hidden and therefore the players will immediately notice it, but it's indistinguishable from a statue. Meaning the description I'd give would be "As you walk through the room, you bump into what feels like a statue."

If the gargoyle is hiding, it wants the players to think there isn't a statue in the room, which would require some form of effort. Once it's discovered, it is seen as an invisible statue as if someone was trying to hide an invisible statue. The description would be "As you're searching through the room, you felt a strange texture in a nothingness. It feels like stone." If they want to investigate further, "As you touch on the stone object, you realize it has a chiseled definition reminiscent of a statue."
 


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