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Our delightful barbarian decided to get swallowed by a Behir. Our Scout rogue decided to stick an arrow in the unfortunate beast and claimed that they qualified for Sneak Attack, as the barbarian was restrained but not incapacitated, and technically inside the Behir's stomach is within 5 feet of it. Our DM said no chance after we couldn't find an official ruling.

Does Sneak Attack work here? Can a rogue use Sneak Attack when an ally has been swallowed by the target?

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RAW, you would get Sneak Attack, but I would agree with your DM in my ruling.

You have outlined the proper rules as written argument. The Behir's swallowing causes the ally to be Blinded and Restrained, neither of which interact with Sneak Attack:

You don’t need advantage on the attack roll if another enemy of the target is within 5 feet of it, that enemy isn’t incapacitated, and you don’t have disadvantage on the attack roll.

That said, the feature description of Sneak Attack also says:

you know how to strike subtly and exploit a foe’s distraction.

The idea here is that when you have an ally engaged within 5 feet of the target, that ally is sufficiently distracting your target so that you can get off a good shot. I have always ruled that a swallowed creature is no longer providing this level of distraction and so does not qualify your attack for sneak attack. This explanation has always been received well by my players the few times this has happened.

So this one could go either way. It is also reasonable to rule that Sneak Attack does apply, since the swallowed creature can still damage the Behir, which may be sufficiently distracting. Just be careful, ambitious players may try to justify sneak attack damage on any target with sufficiently painful gastrointestinal conditions.

To be clear, I am generally against nerfing the rogue's Sneak Attack feature. I am very pro Sneak Attack. This is the only situation where I have ever ruled against a rules as written Sneak Attack.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Most of my barbarians would be ashamed to not even register as a distraction while laying into a creatures intestines with handaxes. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 23, 2021 at 7:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ Quoting from the "swallow" section in the Behir's MM entry: "If the behir takes 30 damage or more on a single turn from the swallowed creature, the behir must succeed on a DC 14 Constitution saving throw at the end of that turn or regurgitate the creature, which falls prone in a space within 10 feet of the behir. " Sounds pretty distracting to me. As a DM, I would probably house rule based on the damage the behir has been taking from the morsel. If said morsel is digested into unconsciousness, it won't distract any more. (Why does the rogue have only one party member providing distractions?) \$\endgroup\$ Mar 23, 2021 at 11:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think the point is that the 'distraction' we're talking about here is a combat distraction, as in "hey look at me I'm waving sharp things at you" rather than "ugh my tummy hurts". If an axe blade in the guts from inside counts as a distraction, why would a blast of fire from the wizard six blocks away not count? \$\endgroup\$ Mar 23, 2021 at 15:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ Most things get distracted when the swallowee casts anti-magic field thus converting the mites they are carrying back to colossi. \$\endgroup\$
    – Joshua
    Mar 23, 2021 at 17:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ @DarthPseudonym If that where the case, it would be worded "an enemy of the creature capable of taking reactions". There is a long history of "rogues are not allowed to sneak attack", and in 5e they reduces that to exactly two cases: (1) The rogue, personally, has disadvantage on your attack roll. (2) the rogue is fighting an enemy with no other non-incapacitated melee allies near it, and is incapable of generating advantage. \$\endgroup\$
    – Yakk
    Mar 23, 2021 at 17:39
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If that ally is incapacitated, you can't use Sneak Attack

The Sneak Attack rules state that the enemy of your target (e.g. your ally) that allows you to qualify for Sneak Attack "isn't incapacitated". That is a state where you cannot perform any useful action.

While naively you'd think "you are swallowed, so you are incapacitated", most 5e creatures who swallow leave enough room for the creature inside them to attack, cast spells, etc. They are explicitly not incapacitated.

The Sneak Attack rules could say "is able to perform actions and reactions", or even "isn't blinded", or a myriad of other cases. But all that sneak attack requires is not "incapacitated" -- an ally able to do anything at all.

To be clear:

A blinded, prone, slowed, frightened, restrained, poisoned, deafened, grappled, exhausted(5) ally next to an invisible target...

still grants sneak attack on that invisible target, so long as the rogue themselves doesn't have disadvantage.

The DM is free to rule that a core class ability of a PC just doesn't work. They can state that a wizard cannot cast a spell, that a fighter cannot swing a sword, or a druid cannot wildshape at any point for any reason.

In general the DM should avoid doing that, especially absolutely.

There are rules for environmental situations making it harder to cast a spell; a concentration check. Similar checks could apply here, or in similar situations where the rogue's ally is in bad shape (but not incapacitated).

Now, you can argue that a creature is effectively incapacitated. But the creature swallowed is not here.

RAI

There is a long history in D&D of Rogues not being allowed to sneak attack or backstab.

In OD&D, the creature had to be completely unaware. In 3e, the creature had to have discernible anatomy (so no undead), and be vulnerable to critical hits. In 4e, you had to have combat advantage (which was otherwise worth +2 to hit), with abilities that let you do it without combat advantage (usually with some other posititioning requirement).

The designers of 5e understood the idea of denying a rogue sneak attack.

In the rules, they used "incapacitated". Not "adjacent and capable of taking reactions", or "equipped with a weapon" or even "can see the creature".

Incapacitated is the 2nd most extreme tier of condition in 5e D&D - basically, only paralyzed/ko/etc is worse than it (and they all contain incapacitated as a subcondition).

In 5e, Rogues get to sneak attack all the time, unless

  1. They, personally, are suffering disadvantage.

  2. They are fighting a foe with zero non-incapacitated enemies of that foe next to it, and they cannot generate advantage.

This is by design. The designers where well aware of all of the other ways they could have restricted Rogue sneak attack, every edition of D&D did it; 5e restricts it the least, and saying "but actually, they intended to restrict it more than that" isn't very plausible.

DM's call

In D&D, every single rule is up to the DM. You can change the rules.

Here, however, you are turning off one of the Rogues primary class features. In my opinion, one should be cautious about turning off the primary class features of a PC. You can do it, but you should have a good reason, and in my opinion, "I feel like it and I'm allowed to" falls short.

Let the rogue stab. If you want to ensure fiction reason why, ask the barbarian "how is it you are helping the rogue sneak attack". I'm sure the barbarian can describe something plausible and funny.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I would disagree that Incapacitated is the 2nd most extreme condition. It is included in a lot of conditions but by itself it isn't as bad (assuming it doesn't last for a long time). However, it is the most referred condition in DnD 5e. It is included in Paralyzed, Petrified, Stunned, and Unconscious. All 4 of which add additional negatives on top of not being able to take actions or reactions. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 23, 2021 at 18:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Dave , there are worse. Just thinking about a disintegrated PC's soul consumed by a the barghest, which in turn was nightmare haunted by a hag that sends her soul bag to the negative plane. aka "I upset my DM again", the most extreme condition of all \$\endgroup\$
    – Weiramon
    Mar 23, 2021 at 21:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Weiramon: Good point, you can remove the Dead condition. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dave
    Mar 23, 2021 at 22:17
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It depends on the DM

RAW rules - yes, as Thomas Markov put above and you noted:

You don’t need advantage on the attack roll if another enemy of the target is within 5 feet of it, that enemy isn’t incapacitated, and you don’t have disadvantage on the attack roll.

I can't find anything beyond this in the rules so your barbarian counts as long as they aren't incapacitated.

I'd add my table's own extension to that - the enemy within 5ft must also be able to deal damage. In your case we would rule that yes, you can still get your sneak attack as the swallowed barbarian can still attack. Arguably more distracting to have someone working on your stomach lining than your hardened skin.

So long as the other person is still a threat they're also still a distraction.

Note this is damage based, not attack, so say instead its your wizard within 5ft. They're unable to cast spells for some reason, have no weapons and their low strength means their unarmed attack would deal 0 damage, they don't wouldn't grant you your sneak attack.

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    \$\begingroup\$ In your example, does it matter for your ruling whether the Behir is aware of the fact that the wizard couldn't deal damage? \$\endgroup\$ Mar 23, 2021 at 14:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MarsPlastic I would say no but it is a complicated one, I agree. My justification would be that although turns have an order, a round is all supposed to occur within the same six seconds. If a player makes an attack then the enemy could make an attempt to dodge it, distracting them, regardless of whether it hits. With the attack doing 0 damage its equivilent to whether you'd bother dodging flies on the highway - at worst they'll make a mess on the windscreen :) \$\endgroup\$ Mar 23, 2021 at 17:08

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