D&D 5E Thievery in 5e - still relevant?

James Gasik

We don't talk about Pun-Pun
Supporter
Stealth isn't shut down by enforcement of the rules.

You are using an interpretation of the rules to be the most restrictive.

5e rules are actually pretty lenient by using passive perception and having the entire party be able to do it via group checks, even if there is a heavy armour user. 1 can fail and the group can still pass as the stealthy characters help them.

Or not even using a group check a rogue can use their action to help another character while using their bonus action to hide. That gives advantage or cancels out disadvantage.
Excuse me, I'm not using an interpretation of the rules to be restrictive, lol. I'm telling you what I've endured personally, as to why I feel Stealth is a sucker's game.

But more to the point:

Group ChecksTo make a group ability check, everyone in the group makes the ability check. If at least half the group succeeds, the whole group succeeds. Otherwise, the group fails. Group checks don't come up very often, and they're most useful when all the characters succeed or fail as a group.

So if our group has a heavy armored Fighter (untrained, Dex, say, I don't know, 12?), a medium-to-heavy armored Cleric (untrained, Dex ranging from 10-14), a Wizard (untrained, Dex 14-16), and a Rogue (trained, maybe expertise, Dex 16 or better), hang on, let me math...

Ok average roll with disadvantage is 7.18, average roll is 10.5....so we'll say our hypothetical results are...

Fighter 8, Cleric (halfplate 14 Dex*) 9, Wizard 13, Rogue 17....the group fails if the passive perception of foes is 13. Which I'll grant, is better odds than I've seen in play. So on paper at least, you're correct that my argument here is based on anecdotal knowledge, not real data. And maybe I gave up on Stealth in 5e too soon, given my horrible experiences with it in previous editions.

*The Breastplate exists, but I've never seen anyone use it at a table; they either have much cheaper medium armor and are fine with that, or if they upgrade, they want the best AC. YMMV!

OTOH, group composition matters. A character can't expect Stealth to work just because they're good at it, which still puts it somewhat at odds with other kinds of ability checks (above and beyond the already swingy nature of ability checks in 5e). They either need to put themselves at a distance from their party (which could lead to a solo encounter if they are unlucky) or, if possible, ask some important questions during Session Zero about the playstyle and builds of their fellows.
 

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ad_hoc

(they/them)
Excuse me, I'm not using an interpretation of the rules to be restrictive, lol. I'm telling you what I've endured personally, as to why I feel Stealth is a sucker's game.

But more to the point:

Group ChecksTo make a group ability check, everyone in the group makes the ability check. If at least half the group succeeds, the whole group succeeds. Otherwise, the group fails. Group checks don't come up very often, and they're most useful when all the characters succeed or fail as a group.

So if our group has a heavy armored Fighter (untrained, Dex, say, I don't know, 12?), a medium-to-heavy armored Cleric (untrained, Dex ranging from 10-14), a Wizard (untrained, Dex 14-16), and a Rogue (trained, maybe expertise, Dex 16 or better), hang on, let me math...

Ok average roll with disadvantage is 7.18, average roll is 10.5....so we'll say our hypothetical results are...

Fighter 8, Cleric (halfplate 14 Dex*) 9, Wizard 13, Rogue 17....the group fails if the passive perception of foes is 13. Which I'll grant, is better odds than I've seen in play. So on paper at least, you're correct that my argument here is based on anecdotal knowledge, not real data. And maybe I gave up on Stealth in 5e too soon, given my horrible experiences with it in previous editions.

*The Breastplate exists, but I've never seen anyone use it at a table; they either have much cheaper medium armor and are fine with that, or if they upgrade, they want the best AC. YMMV!

OTOH, group composition matters. A character can't expect Stealth to work just because they're good at it, which still puts it somewhat at odds with other kinds of ability checks (above and beyond the already swingy nature of ability checks in 5e). They either need to put themselves at a distance from their party (which could lead to a solo encounter if they are unlucky) or, if possible, ask some important questions during Session Zero about the playstyle and builds of their fellows.

Then I'm speaking to what the DMs in your games have done. That is just needlessly being anti-fun.

How much does that +1 AC really help survivability?

Breastplate is superior to half plate because it doesn't impose disadvantage to stealth

I've found optimizers on the internet like to focus on very specific capabilities of their characters and throw away everything else.

If they aren't focused on stealth or social encounters or whatever then they happily sacrifice the ability to do it to eek out just a little more ability in something they can already do very well at.

D&D is a game of varied challenges and the parties and characters who do best are ones who can adapt to those challenges.

In 5e everyone can attempt things and DCs are able to be met without huge bonuses.

Failing a stealth roll can be a big deal, that disadvantage is just not worth the +1 AC.

In your example of the party being full of PCs with disadvantage to stealth then of course they're going to have trouble with it. That doesn't mean that using stealth in the game in general is not feasible.

It just means that it isn't a great option for that party unless they have pass without trace. So even in this example stealth could be an accessible option with some magic.
 

Tony Vargas

Legend
Group ChecksTo make a group ability check, everyone in the group makes the ability check. If at least half the group succeeds, the whole group succeeds. Otherwise, the group fails. Group checks don't come up very often, and they're most useful when all the characters succeed or fail as a group.
Group checks were a neat idea, and I'm glad 5e didn't do away with them like so many others.
But, in the original group check rules, it was clear that they were meant to be lower difficulty than a solo check. I don't recall if 5e makes that clear?
maybe I gave up on Stealth in 5e too soon, given my horrible experiences with it in previous editions.
Stealth is notoriously awesome if you Pass-Without-Trace the whole party before an encounter to gain surprise.

Seriously, tho, Stealth - and the Thief before it, and halfings &c for that matter - had long been problematic because it "splits the party" both in the sense of putting a fragile character out there alone, and in the sense of everyone needing to wait for said fragile character to be killed by something before they get to play. Kinda the netrunner problem writ small, and much earlier.
 

James Gasik

We don't talk about Pun-Pun
Supporter
Group checks were a neat idea, and I'm glad 5e didn't do away with them like so many others.
But, in the original group check rules, it was clear that they were meant to be lower difficulty than a solo check. I don't recall if 5e makes that clear?

Stealth is notoriously awesome if you Pass-Without-Trace the whole party before an encounter to gain surprise.

Seriously, tho, Stealth - and the Thief before it, and halfings &c for that matter - had long been problematic because it "splits the party" both in the sense of putting a fragile character out there alone, and in the sense of everyone needing to wait for said fragile character to be killed by something before they get to play. Kinda the netrunner problem writ small, and much earlier.
I do feel that magic solving all the problems with Stealth to be problematic (at least until the Rogue becomes officially a magic class instead of just dabbling with magic).
 


James Gasik

We don't talk about Pun-Pun
Supporter
They come up loads if the DM puts them in the game. Seems to me that the experience you have had is at least partially down to a DM being overly restrictive.
I was just quoting the SRD about group checks, not commenting about their prevalence in actual play.
 

Seriously, tho, Stealth - and the Thief before it, and halfings &c for that matter - had long been problematic because it "splits the party" both in the sense of putting a fragile character out there alone, and in the sense of everyone needing to wait for said fragile character to be killed by something before they get to play. Kinda the netrunner problem writ small, and much earlier.
This is a player problem.

Most DM like to keep the group together and run one game, not run 2-5 mini games at the same time.

And it's just down right amazing how many players of stealth characters just a couple minutes into the game will be like "ok, I ignore and abandon the other players and characters and have my character go off stealthy alone. DM run me an hour long solo game and lets make the other players watch me play". This is not a great way to play a group game.

It's also amazing that the typical player that wants to have their character "sneak away" will out right refuse to play any Solo Game. A solo game where they can sneak around 24/7.....but "somehow" they don't want to do that.

And solo games for stealth characters work great. For example, I'll have the player come over three hours before the start of the group game. Then the player can do a solo game of just their character sneaking around and scouting out the area. This worked great for a player that could only play every other weekend (because kids). He'd come over early and play 'through' the last weekend session he missed, as a solo sneaky game until he 'caught up' in time with the group for that game night.

And bad in the crazy mall days I did things like: group a of good characters on adventure a and group b of evil, sneaky characters on adventure a too....at the same time. This was often two hours, break and switch groups. The idea was group b we sneaking along attempting to help the monsters and steal group a's loot.

I do feel that magic solving all the problems with Stealth to be problematic (at least until the Rogue becomes officially a magic class instead of just dabbling with magic).
You do need to accept this in D*D though. But it really does not matter much what words you use.

You can go round and round and round and say a character gets a +10 mundane/skill/stealth/shadow/inspiration/wahtever to a roll or go on and on and on to say that they somehow....impossibly...do an impossible thing "with no magic". But giving the sneak a non magical ability of "dark sight hide", is really just giving them a magical ability....your just saying it's "non magical". You can make it science based "oh the sneak can alter their DNA with dark matter nanobots to absorb photons and not be seen by dark vision" or even just say "psionicaly hide". But your still coming down to using "magic".
 

Vaalingrade

Legend
And it's just down right amazing how many players of stealth characters just a couple minutes into the game will be like "ok, I ignore and abandon the other players and characters and have my character go off stealthy alone. DM run me an hour long solo game and lets make the other players watch me play". This is not a great way to play a group game.
Is it really that amazing when you either focus stealth and are good at it, or wear functional armor and are always considered to sound like a master chef's kitchen's worth of pots in a washer/dryer?

If you want to stealth someone in the party is going to be a liability.
 

Tony Vargas

Legend
Is it really that amazing when you either focus stealth and are good at it, or wear functional armor and are always considered to sound like a master chef's kitchen's worth of pots in a washer/dryer?

If you want to stealth someone in the party is going to be a liability.
From the introduction of the Thief in Greyhawk Supplement I, through 3.5, the problem remained. You just couldn't stealth about as a party.

Then, 4e introduced Group Checks, and you could. You'd have to make some effort for most of the party to be somewhat sneaky, but it was doable. 5e didn't throw out Group Checks, so you still can - especially with Path Without Trace (which is new, the spell never gave such bonuses before). If 5e and 5e DMs seem a little more concerned with stealthy parties, it might be because Surprise is such a huge advantage, now? (I think 5e.2024 might be toning surprise down a bit, maybe it could also make stealth a little less complex/onerous, too?)
 


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