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Because of a dispute with our DM, I'd like to confirm the following.

The wood elf's Mask of the Wild trait says:

You can attempt to hide even when you are only lightly obscured by foliage, heavy rain, falling snow, mist, and other natural phenomena.

The description of dim light in the rules says:

Dim light, also called shadows, creates a lightly obscured area.

This is the definition of natural phenomenon:

A phenomenon, in a scientific context, is something that is observed to occur or to exist. [...] Natural phenomena are those that occur or manifest without human input.

Given that shadow and darkness is a natural phenomenon similar to mist or falling snow, can dim light be used to trigger the Mask of the Wild racial trait?

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If the Dim Lighting is a result of a Natural Phenomenon, Yes

You have quoted the relevant rules. You, simply, must be lightly obscured by natural phenomena, and dim light does lightly obscure an area. All that is left is to determine whether the dim light is provided by a natural phenomenon. That, of course, will depend on the situation.

There are forms of dim lighting that are non-natural phenomena, ranging from the mundane (a screened or partially shuttered window) to the magical. These would not allow Mask of the Wild to work. But simple, natural darkness, such as that provided by night or a heavy tree-top canopy, would be enough.

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It's questionable; your DM is free to rule on this.

It's not clear that shadows in general are a viable source of obscurement for mask of the wild. All the given examples are A) natural events or objects that B) block vision. Shadows don't actually block vision, and while they're arguably 'natural' in the sense that they are the inherent consequence of having a light in the darkness, dim light in the context of the game is usually related to having brought a man-made light source into a dark place, which is probably not 'natural' in the sense of a thing that happens all on its own without human intervention.

Since the game is not clear that shadows are or are not 'natural', then the DM is free to rule on the matter, and whichever way they go, it isn't wrong.

Just as a personal observation, with dim light being by far the most common source of light obscurement in the game, its exclusion from Mask of the Wild's list of examples feels meaningful. If the developers intended for shadows to be a valid place to use the ability, why did they fail to mention it? It seems like a strange oversight to make -- so strange, in fact, that it doesn't feel like an oversight at all, but rather an intentional exclusion.

What about Darkvision?

Many creatures have darkvision, and as such treat dim light like bright light, and total darkness as dim light (within 60 feet), and that's where ruling shadows as a valid source of concealment gets really complicated. "Dim light" to one creature may be treated as "bright light" to another; you might be facing a group of creatures where some perceive enough obscurement for you to hide, while for others you're still clearly visible.

That isn't an insurmountable problem; the same thing comes up if you happen to have a creature with blindsight or other extraordinary perception. Still, the sheer fact that darkvision is so common makes dim light much more complicated than the listed sources of 'natural' concealment, which affect normal eyes and darkvision equally.

#NotAllShadows

It may be reasonable for a DM to rule that Mask of the Wild works in some dimly lit areas but not others. For example, they might rule that 'natural' shadows include dim light due to tree cover, twilight, operating at night under a full moon, or being in total darkness while dealing with creatures that have darkvision; while other shadows are not 'natural' and thus can't be used for Mask of the Wild, such as being on the fringes of a torch's radius or lurking in an alleyway off a well-lit street.

Still, this idea starts getting into a lot of weird corner cases that can easily devolve into an argument.

What if it's a moonlit night but you're also within the 'dim' radius of a torch? Which source of dim light "counts"?

What if it's completely naturally dark, but you're trying to hide in the dwarf-king's bedroom, a definitely un-natural environment? That seems distinctly against the theme of Mask of the Wild.

The idea of Mask of the Wild is that you're adept at using a natural, wild environment to conceal yourself, disappearing into or melting out of foliage (or weather or whatever) where it shouldn't be possible for somebody to hide. Trying to use shadows for that feels like a different ability entirely, at least to me.

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All of the examples deal with blocking line of sight, not shadows

All of the examples listed in the Mask of the Wild trait are phenomena that partially obscure the direct line of sight between you and another creature. None of them necessarily create an area of dim light (although they might do so, depending on the circumstances). You might be able to argue that Mask of the Wild should be usable in an area of dim light created by a natural phenomenon that doesn't block direct line of sight, such as under a sufficiently dense canopy of overhead foliage, or even just out in the open during dawn or dusk (examples of dim light given in the PHB). Going strictly by the rules as written, this probably works, since things in dim light are considered lightly obscured. However, your DM may disagree, since it doesn't match the pattern set by the examples given, so the intent of the feature is ambiguous in this case. (Personally, I'd allow it because I generally prefer to rule ambiguous cases in the the player's favor.)

Regardless, Mask of the Wild almost certainly does not apply to shadows and other dim light created or caused by constructed objects, such as the dim light in an alley between two buildings.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 I believe this is the key reading here. The OP emphasized that lightly obscured is used in both descriptions, however from the context the interpretation in both excerpts seems different: line of sight vs shadows. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 28 '21 at 14:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ If it required a blocked line-of-sight, why wouldn't the rules have used that instead of "lightly-obscured." In any case, I do not believe there is a rule about "partially blocked line-of-sight", and none of those phenomena actually prevent effects that rely on line-of-sight anyway. \$\endgroup\$
    – shhalahr
    Jun 28 '21 at 15:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ shadows are a natural phenomenon. They don't block light, they reduce light. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 28 '21 at 16:48

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