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The Sentinel feat grants a number of benefits (PHB, p. 169-170):

  • When you hit a creature with an opportunity attack, the creature's speed becomes 0 for the rest of the turn.
  • Creatures provoke opportunity attacks from you even if they take the Disengage action before leaving your reach.
  • When a creature within 5 feet of you makes an attack against a target other than you (and that target doesn't have this feat), you can use your reaction to make a melee weapon attack against the attacking creature.

If a character has the Sentinel feat, would enemies know, so that they avoid attacking someone else or disengaging? Or when/how would they find out if they don't know to begin with?

As far as I can see there is no "official" answer so I am looking for the community's consensus. If you can point me to a rules as written answer that would be great.

My thoughts are that an enemy would not know unless they also had the Sentinel feat (or other martial prowess?). One without the feat would figure it out after being attacked (or maybe hit?) by a use of the feat.

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Characters in-universe have no concept called the Sentinel Feat.

Rather, they experience its application in the fiction. Most of the rules and features in the game do not correlate to tangible things in the fiction of the universe. Things like spells do, somewhat, but the Sentinel Feat translates to "this person is really good at pinning you down in a combat" - and this is something that is learned through being pinned down in melee combat.

Now, if a character with the Sentinel Feat was widely known for being good at pinning people down in melee combat, enemies who had heard of this character's skills might be able to strategize against this tactic.

In response to this question: Is there a way to ask in game (i.e. in a non-meta way) what a character's class is? , T.J.L. nicely lays out the distinction between game mechanics and the fiction of the world:

class is a metagame construct: from the characters' perspective, it doesn't exist. There is no good way to determine "class" as a hard fact for the character, because a particular set of abilities does not cleanly map to the character's identity and societal position in-world.

To put it a different way (using D&D 5E terminology)...

  • You have a two characters who wear heavy armor without discomfort, swing a greatsword with skill, and call on the powers of a deity to enhance their abilities and destroy their enemies. Are you dealing with a War Cleric or a Paladin?

  • You have two characters who wear medium armor, wield a longsword, and cast arcane spells. Are you dealing with an Eldritch Knight Fighter, or a multi-classed Fighter/Wizard?

To emphasize the difference even more... all four of these characters, if asked in game (without metagaming), may call themselves a knight.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for this answer it not only addresses my questions but is very helpful in my broader effort to improve story/role playing instead of just being focused on tactics and game strategy. I am going to wait a little longer to mark your answer as correct to encourage more answers/discussion, but I can't see anything better coming along. \$\endgroup\$ – goryh Dec 30 '20 at 17:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ Note though that some game mechanics do leak over into the fiction. For example, any spellcaster who has gained access to spells of at least level 2 has enough info to extrapolate the basic principles of spell slots. Similarly, the concept of proficiencies is easily determined in game by simple observation (though you cannot get comprehensive information about someone’s proficiencies this way). \$\endgroup\$ – Austin Hemmelgarn Dec 30 '20 at 17:56
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From my answer to "Do characters know if someone else, who they can see, has failed a saving throw?":

PCs do not understand mechanics; players do not understand the game world

Mechanics represent something that actually happens in the game world. PCs respond to whatever it is that the mechanics represent; players respond to the mechanics.

To require the players to only react to what the PCs perceive and vice-versa is a category error - if the players know something in the mechanics then the PCs know the equivalent something in the world.

The Sentinel Feat (or any other mechanic) is the manifestation in the real world of something happening in the fictional world so that the players can actually play the game. This thing that the characters experience is different from what the players understand as the Sentinel Feat but in order to engage meaningfully in the combat the players (including the DM) should be able to be told or intuit "Ah! This creature has the Sentinel Feat" and adjust their play accordingly just as the would if the creature had a breath weapon or poison or anything else with a mechanical effect. You can't actually play the game without playing the metagame.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for the thoughts. While I think this is a useful view, I do not feel it answers the question. When would another player (or NPC) notice what in the game world translates into the metagame Sentinel Feat? It is import for the GM (and other players) not to endow characters with more knowledge than they should have. \$\endgroup\$ – goryh Jan 8 at 15:17

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