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Let's say a Darkness spell is casted on a specific point:

Magical darkness spreads from a point you choose within range to fill a 15-foot-radius sphere for the duration. The darkness spreads around corners. A creature with darkvision can't see through this darkness, and nonmagical light can't illuminate it.

Now let's assume Alice moves inside this Darkness. Bob has seen Alice move in and wants to shoot at her with a bow. Nor Alice neither Bob has a way to see through this darkness. How does that work?

Among the possible rulings I can think of:

  • Bob is able to follow Alice's steps since she never used an action to Hide, and can shoot at her. He gets a disadvantage on his attack (because he can't see his target), but also an advantage (because his target is blinded) and thus they get cancelled out. In the end, walking in has no substantial mechanical effect.
  • Bob has to pick a specific square he wants to attack. If it happens that this is the square where Alice is standing, the attack would proceed normally. Otherwise the attack is an automatic miss.

Now, what if instead of Darkness there is an opaque wall. Alice goes behind it. Bob has seen her but he can't shoot through the wall. Charlie on the other hand could easily cast a small area-of-effect spell above the wall, but Charlie has been unconscious until now (they just got healed by Bob) so they actually haven't seen Alice at all. Would they be able to know where Alice is? Does it work the same as with Darkness?

Lastly, what if on top of the lack of line of sight, the area was also covered by a Silence spell? Would that change the outcome?


Related: How does fighting in an area covered by the Darkness spell work? However this other question is focused on the "(dis)advantage" aspect, where mine is focused on targeting.

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    \$\begingroup\$ There are some genuine questions here, but you probably should separate them into individual posts: one about how Darkness interacts with Silence for locating a creature you want to attack, and another about Charlie being woken up (I take you to be asking, can Bob tell Charlie where to aim his AOE spell). And BTW there may be other answered questions on this site that are relevant. \$\endgroup\$
    – Valley Lad
    Feb 19, 2023 at 2:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ValleyLad: In my example nobody is telling Charlie about Alice. They just get woken up with no specific indication. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 19, 2023 at 11:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ The real problem is nobody is noticing Eve watching invisibly.... \$\endgroup\$
    – Alan
    Feb 20, 2023 at 20:36

2 Answers 2

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If they are not hidden, it is either automatic or impossible

Question: In combat, do creatures have complete knowledge of the locations of all other non-Hidden creatures in the combat?

Answer: Generally yes, so long as normal senses apply, especially seeing and hearing.

When Alice walks into the Darkness, Bob loses track of her with his sight. However, as she has not taken the Hide action, he can still keep track of her by her sounds (footfalls, breathing, clinking armor...). Thus, he knows her location. Attacking her falls under: Unseen Attackers and Targets:

When you attack a target that you can't see, you have disadvantage on the attack roll. This is true whether you're guessing the target's location or you're targeting a creature you can hear but not see... When a creature can't see you, you have advantage on attack rolls against it.

You might assume that if Bob can't see Alice in the Darkness1, then he has to guess her location. However, just hearing her is enough to know her position on the map. Even the position of invisible creatures can be tracked by sound, as explained in the Hiding Sidebar of Using Ability Scores: Dexterity:

You can't hide from a creature that can see you clearly, and you give away your position if you make noise, such as shouting a warning or knocking over a vase. An invisible creature can always try to hide. Signs of its passage might still be noticed, and it does have to stay quiet.

Bob knows exactly where Alice is in the Darkness, but he can't see her, and she can't see him. There is offsetting advantage and disadvantage, so he makes a flat roll in his attack.

But suppose the Darkness was in an area of Silence. At the point in time in which Alice is covered in both Silence and Darkness, then Bob would lose track of her location, even without her hiding2. In that case Bob would have to guess her location in order to make an attack; an incorrect guess would be an automatic miss, a correct guess would be a flat roll for offsetting advantage and disadvantage as before.

Now, rather than Darkness, suppose Alice walks behind an opaque wall. This is a very similar case, in that Bob and Alice cannot see one another. Bob still knows her location, however, so long as he can hear her. However, 5e does not have rules for how far sound carries, or what blocks sound. Thus, it would be the DM's decision as to whether Bob could still hear Alice or whether he would need to guess her location. At some point the wall would be thick enough or the distance would be far enough that it would effectively act like a Silence spell and Bob would need to guess her location.

Now suppose that Charlie is brought to consciousness, having not previously known about Alice. Can he detect her location? If she is merely in Darkness or behind a nearby thin wall, yes - as soon as he is conscious, he can hear her, and thus can detect her presence and location just as Bob could. If she is in Darkness and Silence, however, or behind a thick and distant wall, he cannot detect her or know her location. Furthermore, unlike Bob, he has no reason to suspect that she is there, since he did not see and hear her enter the Darkness/Silence or go behind the wall. He could, RAW, attempt to target her by guessing her square. However, since OP has clarified that there has been no communication about Alice between Charlie and Bob, it does beg the question of why he both assumes that anyone is in that general location, and why he further assumes that they are hostile and merit targeting. At least at my table, that would be considered the player using meta-game knowledge rather than the character using in-game knowledge, and would warrant a conversation before proceeding.


1'Alice in the Darkness', of course, is not to be confused with the fictitious Alice in Chains tribute band of the same name. 2Typically sight and sound are the only things that 'matter'. If other senses are in play, a DM is free to rule that Bob is tracking Alice's position by other means, such as scent.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Surely the question is it needs a perception with what difficulty \$\endgroup\$ Feb 19, 2023 at 10:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ @user2617804 To perceive a creature, the difficulty is set by their Stealth roll, if they are Hiding. In OP's example, Alice is not hiding, therefore no DC on the Perception check - she is either automatically detectable, or impossible to detect. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Feb 19, 2023 at 15:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ Source on normal movement counting as "making noise"? The examples supplied (shouting and knocking over a vase) seem to imply something "more". \$\endgroup\$
    – From
    Feb 20, 2023 at 6:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ And this is a good case of why oversimplification of rules is at least as bad as overcomplication. You get ridicilous cases when runing into darkness and that doesn't give you any benefit from archer shooting at you. Whole stealth mechanics from 5e are dumb AF \$\endgroup\$
    – Negdo
    Feb 20, 2023 at 15:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Negdo A more charitable interpretation would be that the 5e rules are deliberately simplified in order to give more latitude for DM decisions as to circumstantial effects. You can think of them as the 'minimum rules needed', a point JC has made in podcasts. In my own games, for example, I rule that sound is irrelevant in a noisy environment and thus someone who was in darkness during a combat would force potential attackers to guess their square even without Silence or having Hidden. The same creature outside of combat could be automatically located by their sound. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Feb 20, 2023 at 17:27
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AFAIK - there are no specific rules on finding people, who are not hiding. So, as long as they don't take some efforts to hide - RAW - they can be located. Even if they are invisible, hovering above ground in an area of darkness and silence.

So, setting a difficulty to locate people falls to GM. I'd probably use something like 'passive stealth' (10+Stealth) as DC for spotting someone, who is not hiding, but not obviously revealing themselves, in obscure conditions, adding 5 for each extra sense they can't be percieved with. And in combat - I'd rely to general advantage/disavantage to represent character's ability to track enemy, who is not hiding, but can't be percieved otherwise to not overcomplicated the game.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I haven't downvoted, and in fact use a similar passive Stealth system at my table. However, I suspect the downvotes are because OP is asking "How does this work RAW?" and not "How would you do it?" \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Feb 20, 2023 at 17:38

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