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If you have a Sorcerer with Spell Sniper and Distant Spell, you have just gained the ability to cast Scorching Ray at a 480ft range.

Let's assume you found a sniper's perch at this distance, and there is a clear line of sight from you to your targets. You now begin an assault by casting Scorching Ray at this crazy far range.

A "sniper's perch" means you have the optimal conditions for firing a long distance shot and taking cover afterwards. You have a line of sight to the target, as well as the ability to gain total cover by using only a small amount of movement -- possibly requiring none, even, as you might only need to crouch.

The PHB (pg194-195) states:

Unseen Attackers and Targets

[..] If you are hidden--both unseen and unheard--when you make an attack, you give away your location when the attack hits or misses.

The question is, when you cast this spell, do you count as an unseen and unheard attacker? Do you give away your position?

At a distance this far, would taking the Hide action still benefit you, or would you still have to take the Hide action after your first Scorching Ray to remain hidden?

Clarification On Being Hidden

Let's say you somehow were able to hide in the same turn--you cast Haste on yourself or something--but you stayed in your perch, what does that mean for the targets? Do they suddenly forget your position?

Does it go like this when you don't hide:

  1. Cast Scorching Ray at distance
  2. Duck behind total cover
  3. Become unseen, but enemies know where your perch is

And like this when you hide:

  1. Cast Scorching Ray at distance
  2. Take hide action
  3. Become hidden, enemies now do not know where your perch is, but they can guess

And what of this scenario, say you didn't have Haste?

  1. Cast Scorching Ray at distance
  2. Take cover but do not hide, enemies now know your position
  3. Initiative roll
  4. Hide, but do not move (enemies lose your scent? you are still in the same square as before)
  5. Wait for your next turn
  6. Cast Scorching Ray at distance

The Question of Distance

I chose to use a long distance here because it makes sense that hiding from further away should be easier than when you're 60ft away. When you're at 480ft away, you do not have to move much to gain total cover, and any slight sounds you make while gaining cover again cannot reasonably said to be heard by the targets.

Whereas, if you're only 60ft away, you are within range of the target, so you must move constantly to stay out of reach, and so being forced to take the Hide action makes sense at that distance.

Normal Sniping Distance for US Police

I know this is a fantasy game, and putting it in perspective of real life mechanics is not always the best approach. Still, it seems useful at least to have some sort of grounds for comparison, and typical real life sniper distances can ground us as to how sniping works.

That said, this is an excerpt from a legitimate-looking article on the internet. It is a report of 219 sniping incidents from 1984 to 2004 in the US. The same study is referenced in another legitimate-looking article on the internet.

The average police sniper distance was 51 yards. Of all the sniper shots, 95% took place between zero and 100 yards. The rest were equally divided between the 100 to 150 yard bracket and the 150 to 250 yard bracket. This has profound training implications.

Basically, sniping from 480ft or 160 yards would be in the upper 2.5% of real life incidents in the US. Not bad for a spell sniping sorcerer, and also lending credibility to the fact that you can snipe at this distance.

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Are you asking if you can throw all 3 rays of scorching ray before you become seen or heard, or are you asking if being in a sniper's perch will keep you hidden when casting long range spells in general? – Shamwowters Mar 7 at 12:04
    
@Shamwowters The second. I assume that since the three rays are part of the same casting, all three should benefit from the advantage of being hidden? – markovchain Mar 7 at 12:09
    
No that's not correct - the rays are separate attacks, so you are unhidden after the first one is rolled. "when you make an attack, you give away your location when the attack hits or misses." – mxyzplk Mar 7 at 15:58
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Also, please clarify your question more up front - we're getting a hash made of the answers as you re-edit to invalidate each one's point. – mxyzplk Mar 7 at 16:01
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We have a question about distance of vision in D&D 5e already: How far can you see? (targets, lip reading etc). Comments effectively reproducing that page have been removed. – SevenSidedDie Mar 7 at 16:45
up vote 11 down vote accepted

The disconnect here is that you're thinking that the Hide action can hide your position, where “position” is in the modern tactical combat sense and means your general location. It can't. Hide only hides your person.

So this is how your best-case example runs down:

  1. Cast Scorching Ray at distance
  2. Take hide action
  3. Become hidden
    • enemies know exactly where your perch is because you gave it away by attacking
    • but they don't know your exact position, so they would have difficulty targeting you/your square at a distance (they would have to guess exact square)
  4. You lay about in the perch like a hidden but sitting duck

Does this sound useless? It is mostly, yes. The Hide action is to obscure your exact position, not your general (tactical) position. It doesn't magically affect anything else.

To protect your general position from being noticed, you need to do something other than reach for the Hide button, since Hide doesn't remotely accomplish what you want to accomplish.

In this scenario the only way to protect your position is to not give it away in the first place. Flashy spells that streak out like mega-tracers are not the way to accomplish this. Throw away your real-world police sniping intuitions about this — a sniper rifle is too different from a bright, flashy attack spell.

Alternatively, don't protect your position, and instead use the Hide action for what it's for: concealing your exact location (but not where you attacked from) and subsequent movement: after attacking, stealthily move away from the position you attacked from. This is a classic tactic that D&D 5e does attempt to model: not being where you last attacked from when they come looking / fill it with arrows, by concealing your movement away from that position.

TL;DR

Basically, Hide conceals you, it doesn't retroactively make enemies forget where the pyrotechnics you just threw very visibly came from. Attacking as in your scenario gives away your position, and there's nothing you can do about that. The best you can do is leverage the Hide action to conceal your movement after so that the enemy doesn't realise you've given up the position and can't know your new position.

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Thanks. The main idea here seems to be that D&D does not support this kind of combat, and so it isn't covered in the rules, which is well and good. The "must use hide" strategy makes sense in close quarters, not over long ranges. The idea of long range spellcasting was cool, but ultimately I can see that it's quite useless. +1 – markovchain Mar 7 at 16:27
    
@markovchain For flashy spells, yeah. If you use non-attack spells though (buffing your zombie horde maybe, or telekinetically setting off deadfall traps perhaps), then a prepared blind would be useful to keep you from ever being noticed. – SevenSidedDie Mar 7 at 16:30
    
True, but then it won't benefit from Spell Sniper, which brings you much closer to the enemy. It can still be long ranged spellcasting, and of course it still has lots of cool utility, but you are no longer necessarily "sniping," which was the theme of the question. – markovchain Mar 7 at 16:45
    
@markovchain The name does seem to be a misnomer, yes; for what it does, it would be better called “Spell Sharpshooter”. – SevenSidedDie Mar 7 at 16:49

You are "unseen and unheard" when your target doesn't know where you are. If you are standing in the middle of a parade ground when you do this you are not unseen. If you are playing the trumpet you are not unheard. To be unseen and unheard you have to hide; sure, this is easier to do at 480 feet than 120 feet but the basic mechanics are the same.

Yes, you give away your position because that is exactly what the rules say.

In perspective 480 feet is only 160 yards or 146.3m; not even 2 football fields - unless you are taking precautions a human or even smaller sized creature is easily visible at this distance.

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You're right. That's why I specified you are in a "sniper's perch" in the question, to show you are not easy to find. You mention "unless you are taking precautions" in your answer, which I do assume, so would you say the attacker remains unseen and unheard after their first attack? – markovchain Mar 7 at 11:37
    
@markovchain Hidden is not the same as unseen and unheard. For example, if 3 lasers shoot at you from a single point, you might just guess that there was something there. – Miniman Mar 7 at 12:48
    
@Miniman I would assume you will know the general direction of where those rays came from, but the answer to your link suggests that the targets will know the exact location of your perch unless you hide. That brings up questions -- I've edited the question to include specific scenarios that test the hidden vs unseen rule. – markovchain Mar 7 at 13:24

Distance doesn't automatically affect line of sight or make it any easier for you to hide.

D&d doesn't have rules for how far sound travels or at what distance a creature can be heard or seen. Real life physics could be applied but by d&d mechanics, hiding behind a tree, or "sniper's perch" serves the same purpose whether it's done at 10' or 480'. Which is to say that a creature knows where you are unless you Hide and in order to Hide you need to roll a stealth check. A DM could give you advantage on the stealth check the further away you are but that's left up to DM discretion.

So regardless of distance, if you have total cover than you are unseen but you can still be heard and a creature knows where you are. If you are unheard than you can still be seen and a creature knows where you are. In order to be unseen and unheard you need to Hide, as explained on page 177 of the PHB.

  • If you cast a spell then duck behind total cover, you are unseen but not (automatically) Hidden and a creature still knows where you are.

  • If you cast a spell, duck behind total cover, then take the Hide action (and succeed on the check) than you become Hidden and the enemy doesn't know exactly where you are. They don't just magically forget where you are though. They still know where you were and where they last saw you, they just don't know your exact location.

  • If you cast, duck behind total cover but can't Hide on the same turn, the enemy knows where you are. If you Hide on the next turn but don't move, the enemy doesn't know your exact location (as far as they know you could have moved) but again, they know where you were so they might just take pot shots at where they last saw you in the hopes of getting lucky.

Also as a side note, only the first ray would benefit from any advantages of being hidden because you roll an attack for each ray and "when you make an attack, you give away your location".

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Let's say your perch lets you also move to a wall that provides you total cover after your attack. Are you not unseen after this? – markovchain Mar 7 at 12:21
    
That's confusing, but I understand how that comes about from the rules. Unfortunately I can't imagine how it can be applied. I've updated my question to include specific scenarios that test the hidden vs unseen rules. – markovchain Mar 7 at 13:22

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