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One of my players is asking if he can use Wall of Fire to block off the line of sight of enemy archers. The spell description says the wall is "opaque", so this seems like a valid thing to try.

However, because this opaque wall would make both sides unseen from each other, the advantage and disadvantage would cancel out, and it would provide no immediate tactical benefit.

When you attack a target that you can’t see, you have disadvantage on the attack roll.

When a creature can’t see you, you have advantage on attack rolls against it. (PHB p. 193-4)

In the interest of trying to see if he can get any tactical benefits out of this - if he blocked the line of sight of the enemy archers in a group but not that group's melee fighters, would he/others be able to take the Hide action from the archers even if the melee fighters could still see him?

If he can Hide in this way, that would mean the archers would no longer be able to know his precise position and would need to guess his square before making an attack.

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    \$\begingroup\$ @Szega Although the players are unseen by the archers, the archers can still keep track of exactly where they are. Hiding from the archers (and not from the melee fighters) would mean the archers no longer knew where the players were and thus would have to make a guess at their square before shooting (without disadvantage). \$\endgroup\$ – Vigil Jun 22 '18 at 8:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Szega that disadvantage will be cancelled out by the advantage they get from the player not being able to see them (see above rules exerpt). \$\endgroup\$ – Vigil Jun 22 '18 at 9:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ Oh, you are right. \$\endgroup\$ – Szega Jun 22 '18 at 9:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ Can the archers really know everyone's precise location without seeing the battlefield, even after some characters move around? \$\endgroup\$ – FenrirG Jun 22 '18 at 9:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ @FenrirG It is my understanding that you always know the location of all non-Hidden creatures on the battlefield, and that there are no implicit "if you move x feet from where a creature last saw you, you become Hidden" rules. I am having trouble finding references though... \$\endgroup\$ – Vigil Jun 22 '18 at 9:29
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You can hide from the archers separately to the melee fighters

From PHB pg. 177:

Hiding

When you try to hide, make a Dexterity (Stealth) check. Until you are discovered or you stop hiding, that check’s total is contested by the Wisdom (Perception) check of any creature that actively searches for signs of your presence.

You can’t hide from a creature that can see you, and if you make noise (such as shouting a warning or knocking over a vase), you give away your position.

When you hide, you make a stealth roll. This is against the passive perception of the enemies you are hiding from. If some have higher passive perception than others, and your stealth roll happens to land in between, you will be hidden from those with lower passive perception but not hidden from those with higher passive perception.

Passive Perception. When you hide, there’s a chance someone will notice you even if they aren't searching. To determine whether such a creature notices you, the DM compares your Dexterity (Stealth) check with that creature’s passive Wisdom (Perception) score, which equals 10 + the creature’s Wisdom modifier, as well as any other bonuses or penalties. If the creature has advantage, add 5. For disadvantage, subtract 5.

So, this sets the precedent for being able to hide from some but not all enemies. If the archers cannot see you, you can hide from them, but the melee fighters can see you and thus you cannot hide from them. The fact that the melee fighters can see you does not stop you from attempting to hide from those who cannot see you.

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The rules don't cover ranged attacks into a mixed group they can't see, so we can not make a RAW or RAI judgment on the situation other than advantage and disadvantage cancel. So, what is the benefit of casting a Wall of Fire? To keep the game fun, we need to consider what makes sense. Either the archers are guessing at the locations, or firing in the direction of sounds they hear. As a DM I would apply the following rule:

RAF

Melee combat is pretty noisy, hiding would be difficult. However, if the archers are targeting based on sound, I would give a chance that they hit a friendly unit instead of an enemy. There are two was to do this.

  1. pool together all creatures engaged in melee combat. Roll a die to randomly choose the archers target (friend or foe).

  2. If the ranger's target is involved in melee combat, there is a 50% chance that he targets friend instead of foe.

I would rule that characters not in melee combat could attempt to conceal their location (hide).

Also, in realistic combat, the archers generally stop shooting when the melee fighters engage to avoid hitting friendly units. Possibly make a Wisdom check. A success means they stop firing, a fail means they continue to shoot with the above chance of hitting friendly units.

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It's moot

Being hidden grants you the benefit of being unseen. However, when standing behind an opaque wall you are already unseen. In order to attack the unseen players, the archers will attack at disadvantage.

The player does not need to hide to move quietly. They can state they are trying to move quietly, and the DM can determine when they make noise. Note that the rules give some examples of things that will reveal your location, such as knocking over a vase or after making an attack.

It is a misunderstanding that Hide lets you move silently. When Hiding you must move silently or your location is revealed, that's all.

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    \$\begingroup\$ "In order to attack the unseen players, the archers will attack at disadvantage." - Not quite. As the question points out: "because this opaque wall would make both sides unseen from each other, the advantage and disadvantage would cancel out, and it would provide no immediate tactical benefit." The OP is trying to get a different tactical benefit out of it by taking the Hide action so their location is not known. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Nov 15 at 3:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ @V2Blast Yes? So? There is no additional benefit to being hidden when you are unseen. If you continue reading my post you will see I discuss other tactical options. \$\endgroup\$ – jgn Nov 15 at 4:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm not saying whether or not there is an additional benefit to being hidden when already unseen, just explaining what OP is trying to do. However, I am pointing out the inaccuracy of the claim (from your answer) that I quoted; if neither party can see the other, advantage and disadvantage cancel out, so the archers have neither. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Nov 15 at 4:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ @V2Blast Correct, they need to HAVE disadvantage in order for it to be canceled out. It is not correct to suppose that Hiding from someone who already had disadvantage will tip things in your favor. Advantage and disadvantage cancel out no matter how many of each there is. The claim that attacking an unseen player imposes disadvantage is correct by the rules. \$\endgroup\$ – jgn Nov 15 at 4:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ @V2Blast dndbeyond.com/sources/basic-rules/… "When you attack a target that you can't see, you have disadvantage on the attack roll." therefore when the archers attack someone behind an opaque (meaning, solid, can't be seen through) barrier, they cannot see the target and they roll at disadvantage. \$\endgroup\$ – jgn Nov 15 at 4:09

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