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An eldritch knight wants to attack a guard behind a wall. Before, he casts scrying and thus can see the target and where they are behind the wall.

How should this be resolved?

Is he unable to attack through the wall? Does it depend on the material of the wall? Or does it count as attacking a location? How should advantage/disadvantage be applied to this?

I really want this to work because having a knight in full plated armor greet the enemy through the wall with a giant axe seems awesome, but my DM insists on giving my ruling support.

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You can't attack through total cover

As defined on page 196 of the Player's Handbook:

A target with total cover can't be targeted directly by an attack or a spell, although some spells can reach such a target by including it in an area of effect. A target has total cover if it is completely concealed by an obstacle.

Generally, cool, way past the realm of normally physically possible things (for most walls) is generally left to the table to work out how they want to do, or left to the DM to adjudicate if it comes up in the moment.

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Seems like surprise is the tool for the job

The rules don't allow it directly, but you're spending resources to do some scouting, which is clever! You should be rewarded for playing cleverly!

I think if a player tried to do that at my table, I'd handle it like this: Make the player attack the wall (see below; if I can't remember it off the top of my head, I'd probably just make something reasonable up on the spot to save time).

  • If the player destroys it in one round, start a fight with the enemy on the other side surprised
  • Otherwise skip through the subsequent attacks needed for destroying the walls, but when the wall is destroyed, the enemies on the other side have readied actions.

This will roughly do what you want to do, but all within the framework of the rules, so try and pitch this to your GM and work with them to find a solution that works for both of you. I hope you find a way to make it work!

Response to a hypothetical objection:

"But Pierre, what if the players start doing that all the time and cheesing every encounter with surprise?"

Dear GM, consider yourself lucky. Your players are using every tool at their disposal and taking time to scout fights beforehand. They're bringing their best game and are spending time and resources coming up with clever and cinematic ideas. Don't punish them for it!

On AC and HP for walls:

DMG p. 246-247 gives tables for object AC/HP depending on material, size and sturdiness. Using those tables, a stone wall (large stone object) could have an AC of 17 and HP anywhere between 5 (fragile wall, old/misshapen stones, crumbling mortar...) and 27 (resilient wall, well-cut stones, expertly adjusted good quality mortar).

This section of the rules also mentions resistances and damage thresholds, which could both apply to this case; I recommend you read it.

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  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ It sounds like your actual answer is that the attacker needs to attack and break through the wall first, and the part about surprise is a footnote about how you'd handle the attack after that. \$\endgroup\$ – Mark Wells May 29 at 18:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ Although I imagine this could be interesting if one is thinking about stabbing someone (with an axe or spear) if they are leaning against a thin wooden door, like in a slasher movie... I think in those cases one would have to really just rule-at-the-table. \$\endgroup\$ – CR Drost May 29 at 22:34
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Someone Evil's answer mostly covers the rules as written.

Rules on unseen attackers

That being said, if your DM wants to follow the RAW as much as possible while still allowing you to pull this off somehow, I suggest using the rules on object AC/HP and the rules for unseen attackers (PHB, p. 195):

When you attack a target that you can’t see, you have disadvantage on the attack roll. [...] If the target isn’t in the location you targeted, you automatically miss, [...] When a creature can’t see you, you have advantage on attack rolls against it.

When attacking through the wall, you would make a normal attack roll, since you being unable to see the target and the target being unable to see you cancel each other out (having both advantage + disadvantage = normal roll).

Rules on object statistics

Regardless of the material the wall is made out of, the DMG has rules on object AC and hit points on p. 246; paper (for Japanese-style paper walls) has an AC of 11, wood has an AC of 15, and stone an AC of 17.
A paper wall would likely have 5 hit points (being "fragile", see DMG p. 247), while a stone wall would have 27 hit points (being "resilient"). A wood wall could have either.
Depending on the material, your DM can decide that the object has damage vulnerabilities or resistances (see DMG, p. 247, "Objects and Damage Types"). For instance, a paper wall might be vulnerable to slashing and fire damage, while a stone wall could be resistant to slashing and piercing damage.

Those rules apply RAW as well, except you technically have to use a number of attacks on the wall until it is destroyed, before you can use a separate attack on the enemy behind the wall.

Houserule examples that are as close to RAW as possible

The closest to RAW would therefore be to grant you advantage on the second attack (assuming you can smash through the wall with your first attack), since your target didn't see you. This wouldn't technically be the case as it can see you once the wall is broken, but it's a minor change that's well within the DM's ability to grant advantage in certain situations. I'm not 100% certain it would be RAW, but it's at least debatable.

A more significant change (that is definitely not RAW anymore) would be to allow you to deal any excess damage from hitting the wall to the attacker. As an example, let's say you hit a paper wall with a Greataxe and get a 22 on your attack roll and a 13 on your damage roll. Assuming the attack roll is higher than both the wall and the target's AC, you would deal 10 damage to the target; 3 damage are required to destroy the wall, which I would consider a fragile large paper object (=5 HP) vulnerable to slashing, and the remaining 10 damage would hit the target.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Your last suggestion is very close to the "Cleaving Through Creatures" optional rule on page 272 of the DMG. The main difference obviously being that a wall is not a creature, but it's not too far from RAW. \$\endgroup\$ – smbailey Jun 2 at 22:05
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It depends on the attack. If you're planning to stab him with your sword, it won't work of course. You could say some spells would work. For example, I always imagine a Fireball as being thrown, and thus I'd rule it could be thrown over the wall. Same could go for Magic Missile, which I always envision as homing projectiles (I mean, they literally can't miss, only be blocked by specific effects).

Just talk with your DM about your spells, the way you envision it, and ask if it'd work. If he likes the rule of cool, he'll allow it. If he doesn't, you can just try to sneak past the guard. You didn't "waste" as much of your resources since that spell essentially saved you guys a fight.

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