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I have interpreted the rules so far, that if for example a rogue is fully concealed behind a tree and is hidden, he can make a ranged attack with advantage. Because it makes intuitive sense.

But after reading the scattered and confusing hiding/stealth/unseen attacker rules again I am not sure this is even allowed:

If the Rogue is fully concealed, then he can also not see his target. To see his target he would need to step out of full concealment. In that moment, the following rule would apply:

"you can't hide from a creature that sees you (...) 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 under certain circumstances, the DM might allow you to stay hidden as you approach a creature that is distracted, allowing you to gain advantage on an attack before you are seen".

This rule is very unclear to me. When stepping out of cover, do I approach? So I stay hidden when I walk backwards out of cover? Or does the first sentence ruin my plan anyway with "you can't hide from a creature that sees you".

And what does "come out of hiding mean"? Does it mean coming out behind obscuring terrain? Stopping to try and "hide"?

So do the unseen attacker rules only apply if you are unseen because you are invisible, or because you are in darkness?

You could say shooting after being fully concealed is covered under "However under certain circumstances, the DM might allow you to stay hidden as you approach a creature that is distracted, allowing you to gain advantage on an attack before you are seen". But it seems to me that simple being in a fight doesn't count as the target being distracted. (As the same rule earlier explicitly calls out that combatants are always alert).

It also seems accepted in the community, that you can't stay hidden when you cross a bit of unobstructed terrain. Following that logic shouldn't you also be unable to stay hidden while taking a shot?

Per the rules hiding itself also doesn't give advantage on attacks. Only being unseen gives advantage. Going a step further, if we say you can attack "unseen" by hiding, couldn't you also attack unseen without hiding? Just by being obscured and stepping out?

Sorry for the scattered question, these rules are just unclear to me and confuse me.

Edit: It was errataed to "you can't hide from a creature that can see you clearly" (thank you @Nobody the Hobgoblin). But as we have established, being hidden doesn't give you advantage on attacks. Being unseen gives you advantage on attacks. You don't get advantage from being not clearly seen.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This contains a lot of questions, most of which are already answered in related questions: see e.g. rpg.stackexchange.com/q/99253/52922, rpg.stackexchange.com/q/71286/52922. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 17 at 16:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ I would prefer some rules based answers. The top answers in the linked questions ignore the rules or don't explain how they lead to the conclusion, in my opinion. But thank you for the links. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 17 at 17:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ Note that there as been errata so that the text now says "you can't hide from a creature that can see you clearly" (emphasis added). My copy also has the old text, but the new text adds this. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 17 at 17:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ "If the Rogue is fully concealed, then he can also not see his target" Says who? Much of your question seems to rely on this assumption, but it's simply false. Of course it's easier to be fully concealed when not even your eyeballs are in line-of-sight to your foe, but that's hardly definitive. "Concealed" does not mean "literally imperceptible to any conceivable observer with pixel-perfect clarity and instantaneous apprehension", either colloquially or in RAW. A camouflaged ranger in a treetop or an archer behind an arrow slit in a castle can obviously be fully concealed... or not. Context. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jay McEh
    Commented Jun 18 at 17:15

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Look at it narratively, first

It makes perfect sense that you can hide behind a tree. And you can definitely step out and shoot, and then step back behind the tree.

Remember "How to Play"

From the How to Play section from the Introduction to the Basic Rules:

  1. The DM describes the environment.
  2. The players describe what they want to do.
  3. The DM narrates the results of the adventurers’ actions.

So, you don't apply the rules of hiding and so on, the DM does.

So, even if you think you understand how the DM would (or should) interpret the rules, they're the ones that interpret them. So you can have perfect understanding, and yet the DM may not agree with you.

After all, D&D isn't a video game. You describe what you want to do; the DM uses the rules to adjudicate.

Clearly, you want to understand the rules so that you can play your character to tactical advantage in combat. That's great!

So how do you figure this out?

Play it through in your mind, until you think you understand it. Put yourself in the position of the DM. How would you adjudicate it? Then check with the DM, ideally out-of-session.

There are numerous questions on rpg.se that might help. Or, ask additional questions. It helps to be very specific. If you expect very specific answers, you need to provide very specific scenarios.

So, back to the tree

You're behind the tree. The enemy can't see you. You can't see them. You have total cover.

Obviously, there are a lot of variables that can influence this. But let's go with it.

You have to step out to shoot. Once you step out, you no longer have total cover.

But note, just because you started behind total cover, that does not necessarily mean you get advantage.

From "Unseen Attackers and Targets":

When a creature can't see you, you have advantage on attack rolls against it. If you are hidden--both unseen and unheard--when you make an attack, you give away your location when the attack hits or misses.

Maybe your opponent knows you're there. Maybe they're looking at the tree. Maybe they've readied a lightning bolt for when you step out. In which case, not only do you not get advantage, you get lightning bolted after you step out, before you get your shot off.

Or maybe they've taken advantage of your total cover (because, haha, if you have total cover, so do they) to hide. And you step out, and . . . there's no one to shoot at.

Or maybe they know you're there, you step out, they see you, you take your shot, no advantage or disadvantage.

Or maybe the DM determines they are looking in another direction and don't see you. In that case you should reasonably get advantage.

What does "come out of hiding mean"

Coming out of hiding means just that. Again, think narratively. You're behind the tree. You step out. They see you. You've come out of hiding.

Unseen attackers

When a creature can't see you, you have advantage on attack rolls against it.

That is a very broad statement. It applies if you're invisible, if their back is turned, or in many other circumstances.

Shooting from hiding

You ask:

It also seems accepted in the community, that you can't stay hidden when you cross a bit of unobstructed terrain. Following that logic shouldn't you also be unable [sic] to stay hidden while taking a shot?

My opinion, crossing unobstructed terrain doesn't magically make you seen, unless they look at you.

So, can you stay hidden while taking a shot. In some exceptional circumstances, maybe. Up to the DM to decide.

Moving forward

I hope this has helped. My best advice, talk to your DM. Run through these scenarios. It isn't a video game. No one applies the rules exactly the same. The details of the situation very much matter. We on rpg.se have lots of opinions! But we cannot possibly have all the details that pass between a player and a DM.

So, think narratively, think like a DM, play it out in your mind. Then talk to your DM.

Finally

Finally, different tables have dramatically different styles. In some games, no one hides behind trees and steps out and shoots. It just isn't done. Everyone just stands there and plunks away at each other. In other games, both the PCs and the monsters take every tactical advantage. And everything in between. There's no right and wrong, just different styles of play. I can't stress enough that you need to work out how these things are going to work in your game, with your DM.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for the answer. I am thinking about it as a Player and as a DM. It would just be very weird for me as the Rogue player to tell a new DM (who for sure wouldn't understand these rules or their effects on the game) to tell them: Because of this rule I get advantage every turn. And not having it specifically in the rules. As a DM I would rule it pretty much in favour of the Rogue, because I feel like martials are shafted anyway and a Rogue should be able to hide in plain sight. But as you see I am biased :D I am also disappointed that the DM has to make it up and get's no rule support. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 17 at 18:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ So as a DM, I would assume a rogue is good enough at general "stealth" to always use his bonus action to get advantage and to hide in almost any situation. He would pop out from the tree in the moment the opponent is not looking. (Which also seems to be the intention of the designers, after all they added the bonus action of just standing still to get guaranteed advantage.) On the other hand I am just "giving myself an advantage" by inventing rules that are not in the book. I kinda could also use the same logic to allow an Arcane Trickster to silently cast. Because it would just make sense. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 17 at 18:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Lichtbringer You're the DM . . . but how would the rogue know the opponent isn't looking? I mean, if the rogue's behind the tree and can't be seen by the opponent, then likely the rogue can't see the opponent either. Also, the Cunning Action feature says "This action can be used only to take the Dash, Disengage, or Hide action." \$\endgroup\$
    – Jack
    Commented Jun 17 at 18:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ I meant the "Steady Aim" optional class feature for the Rogue, sorry should have clarified. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 17 at 20:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Lichtbringer Yes, that makes sense. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jack
    Commented Jun 17 at 20:30
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The rules are fairly clearly written around this. Only if you decide to start combining ideas does the concept fall down. The PHB defines the hide action and tells us we get to attack using the "unseen attackers" mechanic. Only if you decide to really rulesmith the ruleset does this even become a concern.

Hide When you take the Hide action, you make a Dexterity (Stealth) check in an attempt to hide, following the rules for hiding. If you succeed, you gain certain benefits, as described in the "Unseen Attackers and Targets" section later in this section.

Prior to "Steady Aim" feature the way ranged rogues got advantage was via hiding. Obviously when you come out to shoot you aren't in hiding, but I've never had a DM not let my Rogue shoot at advantage from hiding. The ruling is typically that you are seen after you shoot, so you use your bonus action to hide again.

A DM who does not let a rogue shoot from hiding at advantage needs to make this known prior to play so the player can choose a different class if desired.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I guess we could just assume all these technicalities and uncertainties I am thinking about are handled with the stealth check. If it fails everything doesn't work, if it succeeds everything just works. I could accept that. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 19 at 8:38
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"you can't hide from a creature that sees you"

That is an old outdated version of the PHB. Please look up the Errata for the Player's Handbook, which changes that line to be:

"You can't hide from a creature that can see you clearly,"

Emphasis added. This changes a lot because it's not just a matter of being seen but whether you can be clearly seen. So this is only a limitation if you can be clearly seen and the rules on cover can prevent a clear view.

But the most important change in the errata is this line added at the beginning:

The DM decides when circumstances are appropriate for hiding.

Now all these rules on hiding are not the general rules, they are the specific exceptions to the new general rule which is: the DM will assess the totality of the circumstances, and THEN all the hiding rules will then limit the DM's decisions.

So, the general rule is the DM decides, the specific rule says "unless you can be seen clearly" well that seems to tie the DM's hands, but see the rules on cover on Page 196 of the PHB:

A target has half cover if an obstacle blocks at least half of its body. The obstacle might be a low wall, a large piece of furniture, a narrow tree trunk...

Emphasis added. This is explicit that obstacles were the edge is perpendicular to the ground rather than parallel to the ground can be used as cover as part of using cover. This would be part of your Dexterity (Stealth) check to position yourself so at least half your body is behind the tree when you make the shot. This would be a case where the creature can no longer "see you clearly" or at least a significant part of it.

This alone is not going to be enough, the DM will expect other contributing factors. Remember the general rule is "circumstances appropriate for hiding", other circumstances will be necessary such as:

  • sufficient distance from the seeker
  • impaired vision of the seeker
  • distraction of the seeker
  • Camouflage of the hider
  • the small size of the hider
  • Lightly obscured (Note: this explicitly imposes disadvantage on seeker's Wisdom (Perception) check)

Do you need ALL of these? Do you need to be a halfling with a Cloak of Elvenkind, on a moonlit night trying to shoot from cover 200ft away at a short-sighted orc who's distracted with magic eye puzzle just to even attempt to remain hidden? Reasonably not, you need some of these things but not all of them.

A DM should weight these circumstance with consideration to the DM's power to grant advantage or disadvantage as specified on page 173 of the PHB:

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.

The DM should not fall into assessing the circumstances only on the binary of whether an action is-or-is-not-possible but also whether it's with advantage or disadvantage. This is a contested check, so the seeker may also have advantage or disadvantage on their Wisdom (Perception) check.

A DM can say "okay, you're barely stepping out from behind a boulder to take a shot at a bandit that's 50ft away, really nothing else helps you remain hidden. I'll allow it BUT you have disadvantage on your stealth roll. If you fail the stealth roll bandit will not be surprised and you may lose initiative. Good luck."

If you have proficiency in the stealth skill you are entitled to the DM telling you whether such actions allow you to remain hidden and what sort of actions it would take to get advantage or avoid disadvantage.

If you don't have proficiency in stealth, then there will be more trial and error, you will have to commit to the action then learn if it's even possible and if you need to roll with advantage or disadvantage.

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Yes, it's possible, but it's not automatic

The rule says (p. 195):

When a creature can’t see you, you have advantage on attack rolls against it.

So this really comes down to if the creature actually sees you when you move out of cover. (If they see or hear you, you also are not hidden1 anymore, but the condition for advantage on your attack is just that they don't see you, not that your are hidden).

It is possible that the creature could see you, but if it looks the other way, is still cannot. Just because the creature could see you does not mean it actually does see you. The "can" here does not describe the fundamental physical ability of a creature to see you, it describes if, at the time where you shoot at it, it sees you. A goblin of course "can" normally see you, but not if you are behind full cover or if the DM decides that at the moment, it is busy looking in another direction.

Even in combat it could be distracted or looking somewhere else. The section on hiding on p. 177 explains this

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, under certain circumstances, the Dungeon Master might allow you to stay hidden as you approach a creature that is distracted, allowing you to gain advantage on an attack before you are seen.

Usually is the key word here, it means it is not automatically the case that you are seen. The DM decides, based on the circumstances when it is the case. So to you main question, yes, it is possible to shoot with adavantge after giving up full cover, if the DM rules the creature does not see you.

However, it is far from guaranteed. If the goblin happens to look your way when you step out, or if it is not busy looking at your buddy who is trying to stab it, then it might see you, and you'll not get advantage.

To approach, or not to approach

This is even true, if you try to approach (i.e. move closer to) your target. Just for shooting an arrow at them, you would not need to approach them, you could just step sideways out of cover, or maybe lean sideways from behind your tree, keeping the same distance. The section does not really discuss what happens if you come out of hiding and don't approach a creature.

Technically, to come out of hiding you would only need to be be seen or heard. You can come out of hiding without the creature seeing you - for example it is fighting another creature, hears you move but does not turn to check visually, so this all works, as written.

I don't think that is what the section means, I think it is expicitly discussing just the situation where you try to sneak up to a creature, and where that creature does not realize you are there, because it also says the DM can allow you to "stay hidden". And you of course cannot both "come out of hiding" and "stay hidden" at the same time. I think what they mean by "come out of hiding" here is that you move so that your victim could see you if they were looking your way.


1 PHB p. 195, and defines what it means to be hidden:

If you are hidden—both unseen and unheard—when you make an attack, you give away your location when the attack hits or misses.

For example, if you were hidden, you could maybe shoot an arrow through the curtain while being heavily obscured and thus not seeing your target and your target not being able to see you, and then would not be hidden any more. Your opponent would know where you are, even though they still cannot see you.

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