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Exactly what "hidden" means in game is not completely obvious.

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. An invisible creature can’t be seen, so it can always try to hide. Signs of its passage might still be noticed, however, and it still has to stay quiet. (PHB p. 177)

So we know you can take an action do do it, and that when you are hidden from a creature they don't know (exactly) where you are.

One further hint comes from the Unseen Attackers and Targets section:

If you are hidden–both unseen and unheard–when you make an attack, you give away your location when the attack hits or misses. (PHB p. 195)

Does "hidden" just mean unseen and unheard, like that section suggests? (also unsmelt, unfelt, untasted - generally unsensed) Or does it mean something else?

Some implications if this were the case:

  • There would be some extra niche cases that allowed easier access to being hidden.
  • creatures out of sight of a PC that had the Deafened condition would effectively be hidden from the PC
  • The Silence spell could be used to stop enemies without line of sight to a PC from knowing exactly where they/their party are in its radius (effectively "Mass Hide" as long as they have a line of sight blocker and stay in the radius)
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    \$\begingroup\$ Is there a specific case you are trying to understand here? You've got two questions on hiding and I'm thinking these are X-Y problem related. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Jun 22 '18 at 16:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch Ah, you're right. I was trying to look at the issue in the comments of rpg.stackexchange.com/a/124975/42959 of whether unseen and unheard(/no senses able to percieve) means you don't know exactly where a creature is/cannot pinpoint their exact location. Went a bit overboard with my angles of attack, I think. \$\endgroup\$ – Vigil Jun 22 '18 at 16:30
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Unseen and Unheard

A key aspect here is the phrase:

You can’t hide from a creature that can see you clearly...

This is the implication that if they have a means to perceive you, then they will perceive you. You can be situated behind a wall and attempt to Hide, but if a creature has tremor sense, they're going to sense your location that way.

There are many iterations of ways to perceive a creature and Hiding - and they're generally be adjudicated by the senses of the creature looking for you and how/where you're hiding.

General vs Specific

In general, hiding is unseen and unheard (as shown in your quotation about being revealed upon an attempted attack.), but specific rulings will come into play depending on the circumstances and the ability of the creature detecting you.

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    \$\begingroup\$ There are a lot of Crawford tweets and an entire official podcast segment that could back up this answer. \$\endgroup\$ – Derek Stucki Sep 12 '18 at 21:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DerekStucki I think I wrote this answer during a period attempting to not use tweets as support :) I agree that adding them could bolster it, but I"m also fairly happy with this assessment. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Sep 12 '18 at 21:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ Might be worth noting that tremorsense isn't sight, so it doesn't actually apply to the phrase "You can’t hide from a creature that can see you". However you can use tremorsense to potentially detect a hidden foe by making a perception check in situations where others would be unable or have disadvantage (eg a rogue behind a wall). Also perhaps worth noting that the rules go on to say that if you do make noise, your location is detected. So you are unheard so long as you stay quiet! \$\endgroup\$ – jgn Nov 18 '19 at 8:20
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It means "hidden".

The first sentence in the Basic Rules under "hiding" is this:

The DM decides when circumstances are appropriate for hiding.

There isn't a "hidden" condition (unlike something like "grappled" or "invisible"), so there aren't hard boundaries on when the rules consider a creature to be hidden. Additionally, "hidden"-ness is separate with respect to each creature that might discover you (as shown by the rule that they each get a Perception check to notice the hiding guy).

The DM needs to adjudicate it based on the situation. Generally it means "unseen and unheard", as you said, but against a creature with (say) some kind of telepathic sense, that might not be enough to hide you.

Additionally, you can't hide from an enemy that can see you, which means hiding is different from simply breaking line of sight (because you can break line of sight from an enemy that can see you, and then it no longer sees you). If the monster is chasing you on open ground, and there's an outhouse, and you go inside and shut the door, you're unseen and could be unheard but you're not hidden, because it saw you go in there.

I can see cases going the other way, too: if you're camouflaged, or wildshaped into a sheep and standing in a flock of real sheep, you could remain hidden even from someone who can see you. Because the DM decides when circumstances are appropriate for hiding.

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In an episode of the official D&D podcast, Dragon Talk, Jeremy Crawford does an official Sage Advice segment talking about hiding and stealth rules in D&D 5e. The segment starts at 8:50 and I highly recommend all DMs listening to its entirety. In the segment, Crawford says "if you're hidden, the way the rules define it, it means you're both not noticed visually, and you're not heard." (19:22) He reiterates that hidden means unseen and unheard at 36:58, "because hidden means both they can't see you clearly and they can't hear you clearly. Or the more concise way we state it in the rules is you are unseen and you are unheard." There are dozens of other examples in the segment, but these should suffice.

The "in the rules" he's talking about is right in the question, on PH page 195. 5e is written in natural English except for when a word is given a specific game meaning. The word Hidden is a defined game term that means unseen and unheard.

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When you are hiding, you are trying to hide. You are not necessarily unseen, nor unheard, and your location could be known.

When you hide your character tries to hide in the normal sense. Your character physically does something to hide themselves. They crouch behind a box, slow their breathing, stop their armor from rustling, etc.

If you make noise, your location becomes known

After becoming Hidden, whenever you make noise your location becomes known:

you give away your position if you make noise

That is to say, as long as you don't make noise, you can't be heard. You can do this without being Hidden too.

If your location is known, then your location is known

Being unseen and being detected by any other sense in 5e are 2 different things. Being able to sense someone always gives away their location.

This is lampshaded in the footnote for Unseen attackers:

When a creature can't see you, you have advantage on attack rolls against it. If you are hidden--both unseen and unheard--when you make an attack, you give away your location when the attack hits or misses.

There is no point in having a special rule that gives away your location if you are being noisy since your location is known.

If a creature detects you, then they can attempt to see you

If an enemy rolls an active perception check, and beats your stealth check, then your attempt to hide is ineffective. However, if you are hiding behind a box, in darkness, etc, then perhaps they still can't see you.

You continue hiding even when detected

Some people misunderstand Hiding as a condition. It isn't. It's an action. Your character physically does something to hide themselves. They crouch behind a box, slow their breathing, stop their armor from rustling, etc.

  • If you are heard, you continue hiding.
  • If you are seen, you continue hiding.
  • If someone taps you on the shoulder, you continue hiding.

Each opposing creature must detect you independently. Just because one creature sees you, or hears you, or knows your location, doesn't mean that everyone else can.

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