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I always considered sneaking to be a per character check, because I have a hard time imagining a paladin in shiny, heavy and loud armor sneaking silently, just because a rogue with stealth expertise goes next to him.

I was under the impression that my approach was according to the rules, because PHB 175 states that "the DM might ask for a group ability check" and furthermore "[group ability checks] most useful when all the characters succeed or fail as a group". This doesn't have to be the case for stealth imho, where it is very well possible for one character to fail and be spotted, while the others are still hidden. It can even be useful, if just one character is spotted the guard may be like "You got lost or something?", however if a whole group appears they might immediately ring the alarm. Of course it can also be annoying to barely be able to sneak while wearing heavy armor, but taking it off is an option.

However in this comment nick012000 states that technically this should be a group stealth check. So I got curious if I was missing something. Maybe a different rule in a different book, or something else that requires or recommends stealth checks to be group checks.

Note: I do use group checks, for perception, or if multiple characters investigate something etc. Just not for sneaking.

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    \$\begingroup\$ @ila Please refrain from answering in comments \$\endgroup\$
    – linksassin
    Jun 7 at 0:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ This question is probably a duplicate of this question, but the concern that stealth might be special warrants leaving it open, I think. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 7 at 0:53
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No, unless the DM wants the answer to be yes.

The rules for "Working Together" from the Basic Rules state:

[...] the DM might ask for a group ability check. In such a situation, the characters who are skilled at a particular task help cover those who aren't.

[...]

Group checks don't come up very often, and they're most useful when all the characters succeed or fail as a group. For example, when adventurers are navigating a swamp, the DM might call for a group Wisdom (Survival) check to see if the characters can avoid the quicksand, sinkholes, and other natural hazards of the environment.

It says it is entirely up to the DM, based on their assessment of the situation. It say group checks are 'useful' when you succeed or fail as a group, but not that they're necessarily appropriate. (And it says they don't come up very often, hinting that common situations like this might not use them.)

It seems to me there are three basic situations:

  1. The group has to work as a team to succeed, and the successes can help compensate for the failures. For example, the swamp navigation mentioned above, or you're trying to entertain an audience by putting on a play, or you're roped together and climbing a cliff.

  2. Only one person needs to succeed for the group to succeed. For example, you're searching for something, it is enough for a single individual to find it. In this case, everyone rolls, and one success is needed. Unless the roll is very hard, this is almost guaranteed to result in success.

  3. The entire team has to succeed; one failure and the group fails. For example, you're all trying to walk across a room without waking the sleeping ogre, disturbing the exploding fungus, or similar. Unless the roll is very easy, failure is almost guaranteed.

In my opinion, group stealth should usually be in the latter category. What are the effects on gameplay of this ruling?

  1. It encourages scouting. (If you hate it when the group splits up, I suggest allowing group checks instead.)

  2. It encourages the one guy in noisy armor to stay behind or remove the armor in cases where stealth is essential. (If you think the game is already biased in favor of Dexterity-based characters and against Strength-based characters, that might be another reason to use group checks.)

  3. It means large groups have difficulty with stealth, which is realistic and probably no bad thing. Six PCs have a huge advantage in most other respects in an adventure designed for only four. And if a group of forty goblins (or a thousand goblins, for that matter) were trying to sneak past the one PC keeping watch and ambush the party in their sleep, allowing them to make a group check would make it quite easy for them to succeed...

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I think there is a fourth category: (4) The ones who succeed gain some benefit, or the ones who fail suffer harm. A good example for stealth is when the players are stealthing to ambush. The players that succeed should get a surprise round, the ones who fail, not. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mitten.O
    Jun 9 at 6:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Mitten.O: That's not how surprise works in 5E; there is no surprise round, there's a surprised condition during the first round for those caught unawares. It's a little strange if you not being sneaky somehow makes you surprised by the enemies you already knew were there... \$\endgroup\$ Jun 19 at 3:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ Good analysis on the impact of using them more often. \$\endgroup\$
    – Wyrmwood
    Jul 12 at 19:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ Even a party entirely made of rogues will have trouble with group stealth checks where every player needs to succeed. A group of 5 pcs will roll a nat 1 22.5% of the time. Even RAW, this means unless the target isn't worth sneaking up on in the first place, it's not likely to be possible to sneak up on it at all. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 23 at 23:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ More relevant to the answer: A group of 4 pcs will roll a 5 or below 68.4 % of the time. Regardless of stealth modifier, 5 is likely to be a failure. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 23 at 23:45
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Use group checks when an individual failure would mean the group fails.

First, the rules for group checks:

When a number of individuals are trying to accomplish something as a group, the DM might ask for a group ability check. In such a situation, the characters who are skilled at a particular task help cover those who aren't.

To make a group ability check, everyone in the group makes the ability check. If at least half the group succeeds, the whole group succeeds.

Otherwise, the group fails. Group checks don't come up very often, and they're most useful when all the characters succeed or fail as a group.

It is important to understand the purpose of group checks. Group checks are called for when a single individual failure would normally mean the whole group fails. This is what "succeed or fail as a group" means.

So if the whole group is trying to be quiet and not alert the enemies to their presence, and one character fails their individual check and makes a whole bunch of noise, then the group has failed, as now the enemies know that someone is here. So just use a group check.

On the other hand, I have had situations where the whole group was using stealth, but individual checks were called for. The party was being chased through a castle and ducked into a storage room. The guards saw them go into the room, but the party had a chance to hide. I had everyone roll their checks individually. In this situation, a single failure is not a failure for the whole party, only the individual. It allowed the paladin to distract the guards while the rest of the party set up for an ambush from their hiding places.

There isn't a "stealth always rolls individually" or a "stealth always rolls group checks" rule. Different situations call for different rulings. Sometimes everyone uses stealth and a group check is called for, and sometimes individual checks are called for. Using group checks when the rules say you should is quite important, as explained in the next section.

Using individual checks when a group check should be used almost guarantees failure.

Using group checks serves to make the laws of probability less punishing. When you have a party of six trying to sneak about, individual checks means you have to have six out of six successes, else the whole group fails. Group checks means you only need three out of six successes. Individual checks, when a group check should be used, almost guarantees failure, as you have observed.

Stealth often sees one character with a special job.

In my experience, I often find myself doing a group check and having one character making an individual stealth check. This occurs when the group is moving stealthily, but one character (usually the rogue) is scouting ahead or otherwise sneaking separately from the party. When this happens, I’ll have the party do a group check, and the rogue roll individually, resolving enemy perception separately for each of the checks. This way, if the party gives themselves away, the rogue can still maintain their hidden position.


This answer was adapted from my answer to a similar question: When do individual ability checks become group ability checks?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Let us continue this discussion in chat. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 7 at 12:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Wyrmwood I just mean you should preanalyze a situation to determine if a group check is called for. "If I do individual checks here, does an individual failure mean a failure of the entire task for the whole group? If yes, then I will use a group check and its attendant rules instead of using individual checks." \$\endgroup\$ Jun 8 at 21:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ The first chapter of Horde of the Dragon Queen says to use group Stealth checks for moving around Greenest during the raid. This was my first encounter with group checks of any kind. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 19 at 17:06
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Yes, you should use a group check

This is explicitly what they are for:

When a number of individuals are trying to accomplish something as a group, the DM might ask for a group ability check. In such a situation, the characters who are skilled at a particular task help cover those who aren't.

I have a hard time imagining a paladin in shiny, heavy and loud armor sneaking silently, just because a rogue with stealth expertise goes next to him.

Why? The rogue scouts and signals the paladin when to move, when to stand still, when to pretend to be an empty suit of armor used to decorate the castle, and when the enemy has an amusingly undersized piece of equipment.

A United States soldier using a hand signal

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    \$\begingroup\$ The idea of helping seems different for stealth. With climbing they can help before, with advice, and also after by holding a rope. With stealth they can't help at all after a failure has made noise, and can help less beforehand (tougher to communicate and be stealthy). \$\endgroup\$ Jun 7 at 19:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ @OwenReynolds I think this stance stems from a lack of imagination. The paladin's trying to be stealthy and botches it by hitting a crate or something; so upon hearing guards approaching the rogue diverts them by throwing a rock and feigning a squeaking noise to make them think rats are in the supply closet. The skill is 'Stealth', not 'Move Silently' and there's a lot of ways to be stealthy as my dog-who-steals-my-pizza-while-my-attention-isn't-directly-on-him can tell you. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 7 at 20:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Pyrotechnical In the case of your dog you had a low perception on your end. Imagine a guard rolling a nat 20 on perception and having a total of 22. For the rogue it's not gonna be that hard to beat that 22 (+10 stealth at Level 5, always from Level 11), and if it's a group check, the stealth 0 (nat 1 - 1) from the paladin is not gonna matter since half the group already succeeded. Now try explain that Paladin stealth 0 getting past a guard with a perception of 22. And this is assuming the best roll of the guard, if he rolls any lower, the rogue is gonna consistently beat it. \$\endgroup\$
    – findusl
    Jun 7 at 20:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ If 3 people make stealth and 3 blow it, that's a lot of rats. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 7 at 21:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ I was thinking the rogue could do things like tell the paladin where to step to avoid creaky boards if indoors or sticks that might make noise if outdoors ("follow in my footsteps"), time guard patrols to let the paladin know when to move, point out things the paladin should avoid (like the crate in the 2nd comment), the list could go on. It's hard to imagine the rogue not being able to help the paladin somewhat if they wanted to. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 8 at 18:07
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There is no RAW answer here.

By RAW both group and individual checks are allowed for this. It is entirely up to the DM.

That being said, here is what I would do:

Use group checks for overland movement

When moving on the "world map", if players are trying to be stealthy (keep in mind this means moving at a slower overland pace than normal) to avoid encounters or to be able to ambush things they do encounter, I would use the group check. This makes a lot of sense, as overland movement is a lot of averaging things over time. It is easier for more skilled members to cover for the mistakes of less skilled ones in these situations (the rogue telling the paladin where to step to avoid crunching branches, getting his armor stuck on things that make noise, etc).

This also allows for army scale ambushes, which are real things. It makes little sense that an army just auto fails ambush attempts as inevitably someone would roll a 1 in a group of hundreds.

Use individual checks for dungeons

This is the rogue's turn to shine. When in a dungeon to scout ahead or trying to sneak past a guard, etc, each PC that attempts it has to make a check. For things on this scale it makes way more sense for a single bad roll to give you away. This allows the high stealth character to be really happy with their choice to invest in being stealthy. It also makes it realistic. Yes a Paladin in full plate is very likely to give away your position. This allows the rogue to sneak ahead scout the area so the party knows what they are up against, without letting the whole party just bypass all the challenges with a much easier group check.

If the whole party does need to get by without fighting and they don't like their odds with individual checks, they will need to get creative. Have the paladin remove their armor. Cast invisibility on the least stealthy people, granting them advantage. Invest in boots and cloak of elven kind. Use slight of hand to create a distraction, tossing a rock from around a corner down the wrong hallway (an arcane trickster with mage hand can do a lot of creative distractions), the guards going to check the noise the group getting advantage to sneak by. Use suggestion, dominate, deception, or other non-stealth ways to get past the guard. These up close and personal situations require creative game-play or sheer luck.

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Absolutely!

While having a whole party being spotted because of one clumsy member is "realistic", the enormous roll variance of the D20 system is not realistic in the first place and is there for the sake of gameplay. Conversely, in gameplay terms, for a party of 5, this is functionally rolling with quadruple disadvantage. Think on how powerful advantage/disadvantage is, to the point that it explicitly doesn't stack in 5E in any other circumstances whatsoever.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I think in dungeons, having an entire party of 4-6 characters sneaking past all the monsters is not only very unrealistic but makes for a very boring dungeon. Its like they just bypass all the challenges in the dungeon without having to work for it. Doing that should be very difficult and require a ton of luck. If you want to sneak past everything, fine, but get creative in how you do it. See my answer above. That makes for a much more interesting dungeon than everyone rolls several group checks, happens to get somewhat lucky gets what they need and gets out \$\endgroup\$ Jun 8 at 11:53
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You wouldn't use group check for stealth, primarily because the rule states that it is uncommon, and intended to be for group activities. If I needed to operate a machine with multiple stations, group check would work here. If I was running a store, group check would work here. But stealth is different, because it has its own check, and stealth checks for parties happen constantly. Stealth already has its own detailed rule set, which the game spends a lot of time on. Second, you wouldn't apply this to enemy monsters would you? You would be ambushed constantly. It should go both ways.

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