Hiding is very important in D&D 5th Edition as it may allow you to avoid combat entirely or engage in combat where the first turn you have advantage and your opponent effectively loses their turn and cannot even take reactions until their turn of inactivity is over.

The Hiding rules (pg 177 PHB) seem to have a contradiction with another part of the PHB, I have separated into clauses that I have numbered for quick reference:

  1. The DM decides when circumstances are appropriate for hiding.
  2. You can't hide from a creature that can see you clearly, and
  3. you give away your position if you make noise, such as shouting a warning or knocking over a vase.
  4. An invisible creature can always try to hide. Signs of its passage might still be noticed, and it does have to stay quiet.
  5. In combat, most creatures stay alert for signs of danger all around, so if you come out of hiding and approach a creature, it usually sees you. However,
  6. under certain circumstances, the DM might allow you to stay hidden as you approach a creature that is distracted

{note: there was an errata that significantly changed these rules, early editions of the PHB are significantly different}

I'd like to point out that being Lightly Obscured (defined Pg 183 of PHB) seems to avoid the limitation of Clause 2. But it's not specific, it depends on inferring the meaning of "see you clearly".

This lack of specificity is exacerbated by the traits of Wood Elf on Page 24 of the PHB (earlier in the book) where the Mask of the Wild (MotW) trait is specified:

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

It has been put to me that the MotW trait proves or indicates or somehow leads to the conclusions that Clause 2 is meant to mean you can be clearly seen when lightly obscured and the only way you can attempt to hide is to be heavily obscured or have this trait or a similar trait from the Skulker feat.

It is the language "even when you are only" which is taken to mean an attempt is otherwise impossible. This is similar to the language of feats like Sentinel "Creatures provoke opportunity attacks from you even if they take the Disengage action" the difference is the rules on Opportunity Attacks and disengage are specific with no ambiguity.

(EDIT: this is to address the contention that if you cannot always hide when Lightly Obscured ipso facto, therefore.. you can ONLY hide if you are Heavily Obscured, Invisible, or the creature you're hiding from is blinded. The idea that there's no possible combination of circumstances that could allow you to hide when lightly obscured other than explicit rules like Skulker/MotW.)

My contention is that the Hiding rules on Pg 177 are general rules and the MotW is a specific rule that is not actually redundant. But I'm not sure if I am missing something, is this a correct interpretation of the rules?

So should a DM allow creatures to hide from creatures if they are lightly obscured if the totality of circumstances be appropriate? And the way a Wood Elf or creature with Skulker should be treated differently is they only need the rules specified in the trait not the totality of circumstances as ruled by the DM?


Examples of circumstances where a DM may allow a creature to hide when lightly obscured even without an explicit rule allowing hiding when lightly obscured:

  • the hider is camouflaged after a sufficient a survival check
  • the creature is a beast with a natural camouflage pattern
  • great distance from the seeking creature
  • hider benefits from the spell Pass Without Trace or Blur
  • Hider use of half-cover or three-quarters cover
  • seeker distracted by another activity that requires focus elsewhere
  • poor vision short of blindness in the seeking creature
  • the hider is size small or smaller

None of this would be necessary for a Wood Elf or any creature with the Skulker feat to hide when lightly obscured.


2 Answers 2


DM can always decide when hiding is possible, but... The PHB rules are clear--the DM decides when hiding is possible. That is, it is a valid ruling to allow a character to hide when lightly obscured even without MotW/Skulker. However,...

Surplusage Canon of Construction (pdf) counsels to not allow hiding when lightly obscured as a default. A legal canon of construction (effectively a meta-rule about how to read rules) counsels that when interpreting legal (or in this case rule) text, one should disfavor interpretations that make other parts of the rules redundant[*]. While not required by RAW (canons of construction are rarely required by the text themselves, but are essential for interpretation), this rule has lots of value, I believe, in any sane interpretation.

In this case, interpreting the hiding rules to allow anyone to hide when only lightly obscured and no other extenuating circumstances completely obviates MotW/Skulker.

So I would argue that DMs shouldn't generally allow people to hide when only lightly obscured--for me, they'd need to be lightly obscured and some other significant factor. Such as being camouflaged, magically silenced, having significant other distractions present, etc.

MotW/Skulker provides a specific exception/guarantee MotW/Skulker provides value primarily by making it clear that, for someone with MotW/Skulker, no other conditions need to be met to allow hiding other than the specified forms of light obscurement.

General policy: let features do cool things As a general rule, I try to let all features have meaning. Of course this means being careful to avoid the air-breathing mermaid issue (where the presence of a feature now means no one else could do ). But gaining a feature should never be a no-op unless you already had that feature from somewhere else.

[*] Full text: If possible, every word and every provision is to be given effect (verba cum effectu sunt accipienda). None should be ignored. None should needlessly be given an interpretation that causes it to duplicate another provision or to have no consequence.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @TREB I agree that it's a middle ground. But it seems to be the sanest middle ground and the one best supported by text and good practice. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 17 at 16:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 lol, talk about rules-lawyering . . . . \$\endgroup\$
    – Jack
    Commented Jun 17 at 17:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Jack I figure if you're gonna rules lawyer, at least use the tools that the law has already built out (where they make sense). :) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 17 at 18:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ I might bounty this answer for tying in the Canons of Construction... what a find! What a blessing! \$\endgroup\$
    – order
    Commented Jun 18 at 2:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ @order But is an artificer's cannon a construct? 😁 \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 18 at 16:17

The features provide you a guarantee that you can hide

The rules say that you cannot hide when another creature can see you clearly, and that the DM gets to decide when you can (your clause 1. and 2.). This is not quite the same as saying that you can hide when the other creature cannot see you clearly. It might be be that you can, or it might be that you cannot, the DM gets to decide.

The DM decides when circumstances are appropriate for hiding. You can't hide from a creature that can see you clearly

Lightly obscured is described as follows

In a lightly obscured area, such as dim light, patchy fog, or moderate foliage, creatures have disadvantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on sight.

This does not outright say that creatures cannot see you clearly in a lightly obscured area, it only says they have disadvantage on sight based Perception checks. To be honest, to me that sounds as close to not being able to see clearly as one can get. What else would disadvantage on sight based perception represent, if not that you cannot see clearly?

But even if that is so, the DM still gets to decide if you can hide or not, because there is no rule that you always can hide when not seen clearly, there is only one that says you cannot, when seen clearly.

If you have either of these two features, you are not dependent on your DM's decision any more because these say:

You can try to hide when you are lightly obscured from the creature from which you are hiding [Skulker]
You can attempt to hide even when you are only lightly obscured by foliage, heavy rain, falling snow, mist, and other natural phenomena. [Mask of the Wild]

In addition, Skulker provides some other benefits. The guarantee that you can hide "even when only lightly obscured (by natural phenomena)", also does not necessarily mean that you cannot hide if lightly obscured in general, as it refers to these special sources of obscurement.

I think the hiding and light/darkness rules are a mess, and it is likely that the designers just forgot to update these features when they errataed the hiding rule from saying that that you cannot hide from a creature that can see you, full stop, to saying that you cannot hide from a creature that can see you clearly.

For example, Goblins have a bonus hide action, and for a goblin ambush in a forest to work and allow them to hide in bushes using this action, they would need to be able to hide while only lightly obscured -- but they have no special feature for that. Until we get a revision D&D with these glitches hopefully fixed, each DM must decide if they want to use these rules as written, or not.


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