Is it possible to ready a ranged weapon attack (specifically with a longbow) when you suspect there might be an enemy lurking and hidden, completely concealed from you?

For example, my party and I are walking a long, narrow canyon with many ledges and nooks and crannies and we get ambushed by several Orcs with melee weapons from the ground.

Following initiative and the start of the battle, my turn comes up and I have no clear line of sight on them as it is too narrow to have a clear shot with my bow with several party members partially concealing my foes.

I would tell my DM: "I use my action to ready a ranged attack against any potentially concealed enemy that shows up from above to range attack us"

Is that a legal action and do I have to declare a line of sight? Or do we assume my character is looking all around to find this potentially hidden foe?

up vote 14 down vote accepted

Absolutely

Once initiative has been rolled and your team is in combat, there's no longer a possibility of surprise. At that point, those hidden enemies likely are following their own initiative rolls, and in a sense, are participating in the same combat you are, if only in the sense that you can't see them and they're choosing not to attack.

In 5e, it is assumed that you are paying attention to all angles around you, so as soon as a new enemy shows up, you can definitely shoot at them with your held action.

Keep in mind that since you are focusing on attacking as quickly as possible, by spending your action to "be ready" for an ambush, your DM may not allow you to use a proper Perception check since your action is already expended, so you may not notice as soon as your party members do.

A standard trigger for a held action would be "If an enemy walks towards me, I attack it", which could easily convert to "If I notice a new enemy" or "If my allies point out a new threat".

  • What would the consequences be if my DM chose to not allow me to use a proper percepotion check? Would that delay the attack to the next turn anyway? – Louis Aug 14 at 22:31
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    @Louis It would depend on your DM's use of Passive Perception, and how obvious the enemy's entrance is. If they slip and fall, you probably don't need the perception check. If they charge at you screaming, same thing. This also applies if your teammate is keeping watch, succeeds their own check, and shouts "Over There!" Otherwise, if they strike while still obscured (like shooting from the shadows/bushes), then you very well may not tell where they are, and likely will just shoot blindly into the direction of the attack. – Daniel Zastoupil Aug 14 at 22:36
  • @Louis Passive Perception is used almost like a "defensive" perception stat, and is "always on". If their stealth roll was under your passive perception, then you see them even if you didn't use an action. If they attack from stealth and try to hide again, then they'd have to make another roll against your passive perception, giving you another chance to spot them (them being obscured gives your passive a -5) However, it's your DM's job to tell you if they failed against your passive perception. It is not your job to track it, so politely talk to your DM about it. – Daniel Zastoupil Aug 14 at 22:41

No. A Ready Action Will Not Trigger on an Enemy that is Concealed from You.

tl;dr You need to be able to perceive (not limited to sight) the event or creature that will trigger the ready action.

The Trigger for a Ready Action Needs to be Perceivable.

"I use my action to ready a ranged attack against any potentially concealed enemy that shows up from above to range attack us"

The term "concealed" in the above trigger can be removed. A concealed enemy can't be perceived and one that shows up isn't concealed. The description of ready action indicates the trigger must be perceivable:

First, you decide what perceivable circumstance will trigger your reaction. Then, you choose the action you will take in response to that trigger, or you choose to move up to your speed in response to it.

The Enemy is Perceivable

The hide doesn't beat your passive perception, then it will trigger the ready action.

The enemy is Concealed

It is hidden and beats the passive perception, then it will not trigger the ready action.

Passive Perception is Always On

.. do we assume my character is looking all around to find this potentially hidden foe?

You are always perceiving around you, and that's more than looking.

In this podcast Jeremy Crawford talks extensively about stealth. At ~11:00 he states that it is up the GM to determine if the conditions for stealth are applicable. During the interview, he repeated states that passive perception is always on, and goes into some detail about how that works for rolls.

You can attack an unseen enemy.

Attacking a hidden or unseen enemy is done at disadvantage.

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.

  • 4
    Would a foe stepping out of his complete cover be a perceivable curcumstance? – Louis Aug 14 at 20:34
  • @Louis yes. At that point, it is no longer concealed. I don't recall where in the podcast JC talks about that. It's before the 25 minute mark though. – Grosscol Aug 14 at 20:36
  • @Louis the simpler trigger is "attack the first enemy I detect above me." – Grosscol Aug 14 at 20:37
  • I will definately be watching this podcast shortly. The trigger would be exactly a "new" foe showing up in the ambush – Louis Aug 14 at 20:37
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    @Louis That's how the people I play with state it. Shoot the first enemy that shows up or shoot the first thing that they detect if they're pretty sure there aren't any friendlies in the area. – Grosscol Aug 14 at 20:40

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