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Boots of Elvenkind grant these benefits:

While you wear these boots, your steps make no sound, regardless of the surface you are moving across. You also have advantage on Dexterity (Stealth) checks that rely on moving silently.

There may be other items or features (for player or monsters), which grant silent movement. This question is about the silent movement part in general.

Is Boots of Elvenkind description mechanically equivalent to shorter: "While you wear these boots, you have advantage on Dexterity (Stealth) checks that rely on moving silently"?

More generally, is any mention of "moving silently" fluff, or do rules offer some implicit benefit for moving silently?

For example, there might be intercation with Tremorsense, maybe? Also, something explicit from a published adventure, even 3rd party, would qualify.

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3 Answers 3

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Your steps make no sound when walking

There is no division into rules and fluff text in spells or magic items in 5e, it's all rules text.

The straightforward mechanical effect is Advantage on Stealth checks. But there could be others, for example there could be a glyph of warding set to trigger when someone walks by, making a sound. The owner of such boots could want to set that condition on it.

The "also" clause makes it so that advantage on stealth checks is always guaranteed, and not dependent on DM adjudication, unlike other effects of stepping silently. (Thanks, @Pepijn).

Tremorsense

From a pure rules-as-written perspective, spells and magic items only do what they say, so strictly read, the boots do not protect you from tremorsense, as tremorsense triggers on vibrations, not on the sound the vibrations would maybe make.

A monster with tremorsense can detect and pinpoint the origin of vibrations within a specific radius, provided that the monster and the source of the vibrations are in contact with the same ground or substance. Tremorsense can't be used to detect flying or incorporeal creatures.

Again, it does not say they don't detect creatures that make no sound when moving.

Now from a physics perspective, it is impossible to not make a sound when causing vibrations, at least in the material you vibrate, because sound waves essentially are vibrations traveling through some medium. But D&D is not a physics simulation. There would be other consequences that are more obviously outside the scope here: for example, when you apply pressure on a material, then remove it, that will cause it to move, and the vibrations of that movement will create some kind of (however hard to perceive) sound. Does that mean the wearer of those boots does not cause pressure and can walk over snow, quicksand and water? Surely not.

House-ruling it

That said, we in our group house-ruled that the boots do protect from tremorsense, as it sounds so intuitive, and this has not caused issues. It has slightly improved the power of this non-attunement item, and has helped cause some cool moments, for example where a thief could walk by a corridor undetected while an earth elemental was on the other side of a door to guard it, and it also helped in a combat against Umber Hulks.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Would there be stealth advantage even if item description doesn't give explicit advantage? \$\endgroup\$ Oct 2, 2023 at 7:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ @WakiNadiVellir Yes that could still give stealth advantage, but in that case adjudicating it would be entirely up to the DM \$\endgroup\$ Oct 2, 2023 at 7:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ So "Also stealth advantage" is just not the best writing in the boot's item description. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 2, 2023 at 7:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ @WakiNadiVellir It is there to give a very clear mechanical feature that unlike the rest of the text is not open to much interpretation. Items solely relying on DM rulings tend to be rather weak due to inconsistency. \$\endgroup\$
    – anon
    Oct 2, 2023 at 9:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NobodytheHobgoblin Specifically: The DM can also decide that circumstances influence a roll in one direction or the other and grant advantage or impose disadvantage as a result. (PHB, p173) An example to such a ruling could be if a character in heavy armour is trying to sneak but they aren't imposed the customary disadvantage because the guards patrolling the corridors are also wearing heavy armour and their own clanking masks the noise. \$\endgroup\$
    – biziclop
    Oct 2, 2023 at 13:20
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If you were to be walking through leaves, snow, or broken glass etc, this description suggests that you can do so silently without a bunch of crunching sounds.

A niche benefit, but it would negate any disadvantages caused by walking through these noisy materials.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Are there any actual rules that give any kind of penalty for walking through crunchy leaves? \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Oct 2, 2023 at 15:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ Exactly. Not that I'm aware of, but were a DM to make such a call, you're covered by the enchantment pretty specifically. With the "you also" wording, it appears able to negate the disadvantage of wearing noisy armor, it's an extension of this. Perhaps more of a flavoring than mechanical consideration. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 2, 2023 at 19:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think the problem with that (and you are right) is that the answer is that there is no benefit unless the DM seems it appropriate. Your answer suggests why a DM might, but doesn't make it clear that it's a ruling rather than a rule. And as a ruling it is useful to show your experience with it rather than just suggest. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Oct 2, 2023 at 21:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DangerLake "With the "you also" wording, it appears able to negate the disadvantage of wearing noisy armor, it's an extension of this." actually, this seems quite big detail. The wording of the boots is pretty clear. Not core thing I asked about moving silently, but explains the wording in the boots. I think it's worth adding to the answer proper. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 3, 2023 at 5:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ ...or well, I guess to support this, quote from the armor stealth penalty is also needed. Didn't check now, if penalty is supposed to be due to noise or something else. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 3, 2023 at 5:26
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I think this would most come into effect when you're dealing with creatures that have the Keen Senses feature, or something similar. Any kind of ability that would gain some sort of bonus from sound being made would be made irrelevant by an item with this silent effect.

Say, for example: I'm playing a character who is trying to sneak through a snowy forest for some reason. I encounter a Winter Wolf, with the trait Keen Hearing and Smell, which reads:

The wolf has advantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on hearing or smell.

If that Winter Wolf wants to detect my presence, it would likely need to make a Perception check to notice me. If I have an item or feature that says I make no sound, or that I don't have an odor, then that wolf would not gain advantage.

Basically, I don't think that this effect, or another like it, would ever offer a direct benefit to the user of the item, but I do believe it would affect NPCs interactions with the Player Character.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Is there a rule that says this happens, or is it just a suggestion? It makes sense, but would be better if there was a rule somewhere which said to do this. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Oct 2, 2023 at 21:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ That is an inclusive or, either [smell], [hearing] or [smell and hearing] gain advantage - the wolf gains advantage if you don't have protection from both. \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    Oct 3, 2023 at 3:56

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