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The Monster Manual's entry for the Specter (p. 279) includes the Poltergeist variant, which has the Telekinetic Thrust action. The part I'm considering is (emphasis mine):

If the target is an object that isn't being worn or carried, the poltergeist hurls it up to 30 feet in any direction. The poltergeist can use the object as a ranged weapon, attacking one creature along the object's path (+4 to hit) and dealing 5 (2d4) bludgeoning damage on a hit.

From my reading, this should count as making an attack against a creature.

The rules on unseen attackers/targets include:

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

So when using Telekinetic Thrust in this way, since it is an attack, it seems to me that the poltergeist would be giving away its location.

However, in the Curse of Strahd campaign, there is a poltergeist (minor CoS spoilers):

Chapter 13 (p. 194), Area X38, "Haunted Room":
The ceiling here is 10 feet high. A poltergeist (see the specter entry in the Monster Manual) haunts this room and telekinetically hurls broken furnishings at intruders so as not to give away its location.

So what's going on here?

  • Is the adventure wrong?
  • Is this a "specific beats general" case, that is, is this a special poltergeist?
  • Was I wrong in the assumptions I made about poltergeists and telekinetic thrust?
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Location IS given away at the time of the attack.

tl;dr Poltergeist gives away location using attack. J.C. bare bones is location of non-actively-hiding invisible creature is known.

Invisible but not Silent

The poltergeist is permanently invisible, but nothing in the stat block nor description indicates it is silent. Attacking does end hiding and gives away the location as per the rules.

Trying Not to Give Away Location with RAW

In order to not give away the location mechanically, the poltergeist would have to hide. That requires an action in combat. To effect the frustration of not knowing the location of an invisible enemy, this could be played by having the poltergeist hide every other round and moving around the room.

Attacking Unseen Targets

The benefit of being invisible, according to JC, is already built into the condition. In this case, attacking and targeting an invisible opponent is already very difficult.

From the PHB:

When you attack a target that you can’t see, you have disadvantage on the attack roll. This is true whether you’re guessing the target’s location or you’re targeting a creature you can hear but not see. If the target isn’t in the location you targeted, you automatically miss, but the DM typically just says that the attack missed, not whether you guessed the target’s location correctly.

Jeremy Crawford in a Podcast on Stealth

In this podcast JC talks extensively about stealth. At approximately 33:00, he distils the bare bones with as little GM interpretation as possible about invisibility. In short, assume everyone knows the location of an invisible but non-actively-hiding creature.

  • ~25:30 [Start conversation about invisibility condition]
  • ~33:00 Bare bones interpretation: assume people know where invisible creatures are. Benefits of invisibility are already built into the condition.
  • ~38:00 About the wording of attacking while hiding. Hiding ends when damage is resolved, but the hider is still hidden while making the attack.
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By RAW, yes the attack reveals the Poltergeist's location.

However...

  • Unlike the invisibility spell (which breaks on an attack) the poltergeist would remain invisible as this is its default mode.

  • There is precedent, as you noted in the Curse of Strahd quote, where it implies that the poltergeist does not in fact reveal its location, even though this fact is not mentioned in the Monster Manual. So arguably a DM could decide that, although the characters would know something is up, they still would not know its exact location in the room.

Regarding the second point above, if the players have no way of seeing through invisibility, this would make for a more difficult encounter, though there is nothing to say that the poltergeist is silent, so a Perception check to hear it would narrow down the rough location.

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This would be an example of the specific trumping general. I can understand the logic- an indirect attack wouldn't reveal the direct location of the poltergeist, but normally an attack always reveals invisibility.

At CR2, attacks from an undetectable source are something that would severely penalize a party, and wipe it out. It's best to be very careful with enemies like that.

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