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.


This is the part of a weekly series of articles by a team of designers answering D&D questions for beginners. Feel free to discuss the article and add your insights or comments!

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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Lyxen

Great Old One
How a table asseses this may depend on if and how they use a grid. We've been using a grid through two multi-year campaigns (OotA and ToA).

I honestly don't see the correlation with using a grid here. What am I missing ?

Our experience with mainly wood elf, ranged-weapon use rogues is that they use up their movement to gain position, and their bonus cunning action to hide. In that context Steady Aim is a wash on tempo. It burns a rogue's move + bonus action. They were burning that anyway.

That is assuming that there are places to hide, and that their stealth check is successful (which at our tables is not granted because attacking from the place that you just hid in might even give an autosuccess on the target to spot you attacking), that they are not threatened, etc.

Moreover, this assumes a ranged rogue, but a melee rogue who wants to survive would be way better using his bonus action to disengage and move beyond retaliation range.

What it does is puts it in the rogue's hands whether they want advantage, as they can now invoke Steady Aim.

Steady aim, for the umpteenth time is an OPTION, just like feats, multiclassing, etc. It's a nice option, but a good way to be killed if you use it every round, assuming that you even can. Considering that it's an option that should not be usable all the time grants no clarity on the intent of the rogue as a class.

It works well for a style of play that uses grids and gives players strong narrative fiats via mechanical fiats.

Again, the reason for the grid escapes me entirely.
 

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This! Steady Aim gives a rogue a second attack roll and Sneak Attack if they hit. Mechanically most applicable to ranged and thrown attacks. (Melee can already can get two attack rolls.)


2 would not confer Sneak Attack to those hits, and Rogues can already get two melee + thrown attacks per turn for their bonus action, without giving up their movement. Just not with ranged. Look also at the design work on soul knife in the same volume.


3 can be achieved without bestowing advantage, as Rakish Audacity shows.


4 is unlikely as they have one of the best base class bonus actions in the game.

Just FYI I wasn’t claiming rogues are supposed to have all 4 of those things. I was theorizing about different (non mutually exclusive) possible design goals.

But I do think there’s a kind of logic combining 3 and 4: there are situations (e.g.archers without cover nearby, rapier-users who can’t move from their target) where all rogues can do on their turn is attack once, and then if they also can’t use sneak attack it’s a pretty uninteresting round. Aim applies to those situations.
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
But I do think there’s a kind of logic combining 3 and 4: there are situations (e.g.archers without cover nearby, rapier-users who can’t move from their target) where all rogues can do on their turn is attack once, and then if they also can’t use sneak attack it’s a pretty uninteresting round. Aim applies to those situations.

In that case (and as long as we are not trying to draw general conclusions from this), I agree, that option is an additional interesting option that does not unbalance the game. Although we do not allow all options at our tables, that one is allowed but is actually used very infrequently, at most once in a given fight, and certainly not in all fights. It's just an additional possibility for sneak attacking.
 

Were the goal of Steady Aim only to confer Sneak Attack, then there would be no need for it to confer advantage. It confers advantage because the intent is for rogues to frequently have advantage.

Yeah, I don't agree with this. A melee rogue doesn't have advantage more often than other characters. If you were correct it would mean rogues were intended to all be archers.

That's why I differentiate between advantage and 'two chances to hit'. Because rogues only get one attack their DPR really suffers on rounds they miss, and it's "important" for them to get two rolls, either with two weapons or by popping out from cover. That's especially true against high AC targets.

So, again, I think the logic behind Steady Aim is for those edge cases where none of the other rogue tricks apply, and they are stuck being the equivalent of unarmored fighters without multiattack.

Upthread when I referred to the "holes" in the rogue design (thousands and thousands of terrible, game-breaking holes, if you remember correctly) this is what I meant: in some situations rogue effectiveness drops way off and that isn't fun.
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
Yeah, I don't agree with this. A melee rogue doesn't have advantage more often than other characters. If you were correct it would mean rogues were intended to all be archers.

Exactly, we have a melee rogue in our Odyssey of the Dragonlords campaign, and he likes having a main attack - in which he usually has his sneak attack since one of the "tanks" is usually nearby, or he manages some other trick - his archetype had a distraction ability, but then he has other options, he can attack with his off-hand to still get a chance to sneak if the main hand missed (and then stay trusting uncanny dodge or move away risking an OA), or he can disengage, etc. Or he can say that he is going to take the risk upfront and use Steady Aim, etc. It's all about having multiple options depending on the combat circumstances.
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
We house-ruled a Take Aim cunning action option for Rogues a long time ago, which grants advantage like Steady Aim, but has no restriction on Speed. It works fine IMO even without restricting speed to 0.
To clarify my position, I am agnostic as to the means by which rogues gain advantage: I am not pitching for Steady Aim. I say only that it is the intended (and better) balance if they frequently gain the second attack roll, as well as Sneak Attack damage on the hit.
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
Yeah, I don't agree with this. A melee rogue doesn't have advantage more often than other characters. If you were correct it would mean rogues were intended to all be archers.
Do you take into account that a melee rogue has easy access to a second attack roll - at the cost of their bonus action - via two weapon fighting? Seeing as they don't have proficiency in shields, there is no downside: the increased chance to deal Sneak Attack damage outweighs versatile weapon use.

Steady Aim says: give rogues easy access to two attack rolls, whether ranged, melee or thrown.

That's why I differentiate between advantage and 'two chances to hit'. Because rogues only get one attack their DPR really suffers on rounds they miss, and it's "important" for them to get two rolls, either with two weapons or by popping out from cover. That's especially true against high AC targets.
Agreed. Sneak Attack deals zero damage if you miss on your one attack roll per turn.

Upthread when I referred to the "holes" in the rogue design (thousands and thousands of terrible, game-breaking holes, if you remember correctly) this is what I meant: in some situations rogue effectiveness drops way off and that isn't fun.
Definitely.
 

Oofta

Legend
To clarify my position, I am agnostic as to the means by which rogues gain advantage: I am not pitching for Steady Aim. I say only that it is the intended (and better) balance if they frequently gain the second attack roll, as well as Sneak Attack damage on the hit.

I have no problem that you think having advantage is good for the rogue. It's good for any PC that makes an attack roll. Whether it was the designers intent or not, some groups like the rogue having advantage frequently and steady aim gives them the option.

What doesn't follow is that there's some magic mathematical formula out there that says they "have to" have advantage in order to compete. Early on in the release of 5E the designers said that the rogue is not to be the best martial damage dealer in the game, that's supposed to be the fighter. Rogues have more options out of combat options which balance it out.

I've had rogues who only got advantage once in a while, they still worked just fine. Unless you're keeping track of damage every turn every combat I don't think there's enough of a difference to matter.
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
I have no problem that you think having advantage is good for the rogue. It's good for any PC that makes an attack roll.
Do you take into account that rogues uniquely among martials get only one attack? They have to work for a second roll. I think some people are coming back with "disagree" and then clarify that at their table rogues usually do access a second roll + their SA damage. That should be "agree, and..."

Whether it was the designers intent or not, some groups like the rogue having advantage frequently and steady aim gives them the option.
Thinking about the broader conversation here and elsewhere, what are your thoughts about player invokes versus DM decides?
 

Do you take into account that a melee rogue has easy access to a second attack roll - at the cost of their bonus action - via two weapon fighting?

Yes, that is exactly why I said that I think the focus should be on two chances per round to hit. Advantage is just another way to grant that.

I suspect that's really what you've been meaning this whole time, using a shorthand of 'advantage', which then gets misunderstood.

I don't think, for example, you mean that a dual-wielding rogue is intended to frequently have advantage on both attacks.
 

DND_Reborn

Legend
Do you take into account that rogues uniquely among martials get only one attack? They have to work for a second roll. I think some people are coming back with "disagree" and then clarify that at their table rogues usually do access a second roll + their SA damage. That should be "agree, and..."
I agree and would go further to say that other martials don't need to use their bonus action to get that second attack, a bonus action which for rogues is frequently in demand for other uses.

So, yes, while advantage is akin to having two attacks in that you roll two dice, Steady Aim uses that highly prized bonus action.

If a rogue could easily gain advantage without using its bonus action, then that is akin to what other martials get (sort of). But it isn't precisely the same because with two attacks, a martial gets to add ability modifier to damage on both if they both hit. With advantage, the rogue is still only hitting once...
 

Oofta

Legend
Do you take into account that rogues uniquely among martials get only one attack? They have to work for a second roll. I think some people are coming back with "disagree" and then clarify that at their table rogues usually do access a second roll + their SA damage. That should be "agree, and..."

I've had rogues in games who did not have two attacks. As I said, they seemed to work just fine. Obviously nobody likes "wasting" a turn, but there are options for ranged attackers to get a bonus action attack as well if they really want it.

Thinking about the broader conversation here and elsewhere, what are your thoughts about player invokes versus DM decides?
Sorry, not following.
 

Oofta

Legend
I agree and would go further to say that other martials don't need to use their bonus action to get that second attack, a bonus action which for rogues is frequently in demand for other uses.

So, yes, while advantage is akin to having two attacks in that you roll two dice, Steady Aim uses that highly prized bonus action.

If a rogue could easily gain advantage without using its bonus action, then that is akin to what other martials get (sort of). But it isn't precisely the same because with two attacks, a martial gets to add ability modifier to damage on both if they both hit. With advantage, the rogue is still only hitting once...
But is compensated by adding a bunch of D6s for damage. Which is why they don't IMHO need the "second" attack unless you want them to be better martial fighters than fighters.
 

How a table asseses this may depend on if and how they use a grid. We've been using a grid through two multi-year campaigns (OotA and ToA).

Our experience with mainly wood elf, ranged-weapon use rogues is that they use up their movement to gain position, and their bonus cunning action to hide. In that context Steady Aim is a wash on tempo. It burns a rogue's move + bonus action. They were burning that anyway.

What it does is puts it in the rogue's hands whether they want advantage, as they can now invoke Steady Aim. It works well for a style of play that uses grids and gives players strong narrative fiats via mechanical fiats.

Also avoids a stealth check and looking up a monsters passive perception which speeds up the game, which is always a good thing.

Stay still, bonus action aim and roll with advantage.

Also means Rogues that don't want to blow expertise in stealth (investigators, swashbucklers or thug types) don't have to.
 

DND_Reborn

Legend
But is compensated by adding a bunch of D6s for damage. Which is why they don't IMHO need the "second" attack unless you want them to be better martial fighters than fighters.
True and good point, but my original point in my last post was the required use of the bonus action to achieve it. Martials don't need to. And IME the bonus action is so highly prized by rogues, it is a high price to pay to gain "two dice" for attacking.
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
I've had rogues in games who did not have two attacks. As I said, they seemed to work just fine. Obviously nobody likes "wasting" a turn, but there are options for ranged attackers to get a bonus action attack as well if they really want it.


Sorry, not following.
Where rogues rely on stealth for advantage, it is up to DM to decide if circumstances allow it and what DC. So up to DM.

Steady Aim reads as something player invokes. So up to player.
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
Yes, that is exactly why I said that I think the focus should be on two chances per round to hit. Advantage is just another way to grant that.

I suspect that's really what you've been meaning this whole time, using a shorthand of 'advantage', which then gets misunderstood.

I don't think, for example, you mean that a dual-wielding rogue is intended to frequently have advantage on both attacks.
That's right. With the nuance that rogues are also intended to often be able to apply SA, when they do hit (which is surely uncontentious, at least as to designer intent.)

I think too about the martial feat cycle - crossbow expert, dual wielder, great weapon master, polearm master, shield master - it is interesting how each approach consumes a bonus action to gain an attack. There are aspects to their design that are quite respectable. Steady Aim could have been a feat, if it cost less or had another half.

Generally, the game is balanced on martial having at least two attack rolls. This is where warlock straddles worlds, uniquely getting multiple attack rolls with a cantrip. I find soul knife especially interesting as it essentially offers rogues their ideal case... even a better damage type! It's the only rogue subclass as mechanically sound in the blind as AT. Although in the right campaign others could always prove better.
 

Also avoids a stealth check and looking up a monsters passive perception which speeds up the game, which is always a good thing.

I would even go further and say it's not just about speeding up the game, but about reducing the need (or "incentive" for people who will blow a head gasket over the word "need") to rely on the cheesy hide/attack cycle.
 

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