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I've heard of a trick of Hiding behind one's tower shield with the implication that, since the hider becomes hidden, so too should the tower shield. Now, obviously, the hider's tower shield should still be visible, but is it visible by the rules-as-written?

And what about interaction with the (usually supernatural) ability to hide (in plain sight) with shadow? For example, the Blend into Shadows (BiS) feat (Drow of the Underdark, p.47) says, "You can draw from nearby magical shadow to cloak yourself in darkness." Can't "yourself" include your tower shield? Would the HiPSer (not) appear as an anomalously lone shadow (assuming the shadow does not bridge with any other shadow)?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I've deleted three comment wars from this question. Play nice, write your answers and stand by them. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Oct 24 '14 at 18:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ In the Dragon #317 Sage Advice column "Official Answers: Steel, Shields, and Spirits" (100-4) Skip Williams answers tower shield questions. Is such advice rules-as-written enough for an answer? \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Dec 21 '14 at 1:58
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Tower Shield hiding

The rules as written allow you to use the cover granted by the tower shield to hide, since it doesn't have any caveat about that. The rules make no distinction between sources of cover, they only check if you have it, one way or the other. The rules also do not recognize anything as partially hidden, so the tower shield is hidden if you are. It doesn't stop granting cover, so this doesn't negate your hiding.

Note you still cannot hide while “people are observing you, even casually,”1 but if they are not yet observing you and try to see you while you are using the shield for cover, RAW you can roll Hide and force them to beat it with Spot. This means if you are in the middle of the room, you cannot suddenly lift your shield and disappear, shield and all.1 But if you walk into the room with the shield used as cover, you can attempt to Hide (shield and all) from anyone in the room.

This is dumb and I doubt anyone allows it. It's up there with healing-by-drowning and monk non-proficiency with unarmed strikes for stupid rules interactions. Just like the cover offered by a tower shield makes an exception for being targeted with spells, it should also make an exception about not being usable for hiding. It just neglects to do so. This is a minor and easy house-rule, and I’ve never seen a game where it was even necessary to explicitly state it was in force.

1 Unless you have a version of Hide in Plain Sight that lets you hide while being observed, but still requires cover or concealment, e.g. that which is granted by the Dark template. Then, RAW, you totally can be in the middle of a room, and use your shield for cover and vanish from sight.

Supernatural Shadow Hiding in Plain Sight

Shadow-based Hide in Plain Sight usually specifies that it can't be your shadow, and your equipment would be a part of you for this purpose (by the same token as it being hidden by your Hide check). That said, the rules about shadow-based Hide in Plain Sight are extremely nonspecific about what does and does not count, and you arguably should be able to hide very nearly anywhere.

There are also multiple subtly different abilities called Hide in Plain Sight, several of which deal with shadows in slightly different ways. Assassin and shadowdancer work the same way, but the aforementioned Dark template does not, for example, even though all deal with shadows. So ultimately you have to carefully consult the specific version of Hide in Plain Sight that you are using.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Also, by holding a tower shield, you're taking a -10 armor check penalty on your hide roll. \$\endgroup\$ – Tridus Sep 26 '14 at 22:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ There is no roll for total cover. \$\endgroup\$ – Wyrmwood Jul 7 '16 at 23:48
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You can’t hide behind your tower shield

While the tower shield can grant total cover against attacks, that’s not sufficent to permit a Hide check:

If people are observing you, even casually, you can’t hide. You can run around a corner or behind cover so that you’re out of sight and then hide, but the others then know at least where you went.

The tower shield doesn’t put you out of sight, so you can’t hide behind it. Even the most casual observer would recognize that you are a guy trying to hide behind a shield.

Sneaking up on someone is also a bad idea

If you do find a way to conceal you and your shield, you’re better off leaving it behind than trying to sneak around with it. If you come out of your hiding place, you can stay hidden only momentarily:

You can sneak up on someone after emerging from a hiding place. For every 5 feet of open space between you and the target, you take a –5 penalty on your Hide check. If your Hide check succeeds, your target doesn’t notice you until you attack or perform some other attention-grabbing action. Such a target is treated as being flat-footed with respect to you.

When you lug a board the size of a door through open space, it’s not just obvious to casual observers, it’s probably attention-grabbing in itself. The shield’s –10 check penalty won’t help either.

Hiding doesn’t erase all evidence of your existence

A successful Hide check doesn’t make you and all of your gear vanish from existence – even the invisibility spell leaves behind clues that you’re around. Success just means that other people need a successful Spot check to notice you:

The Spot skill is used primarily to detect characters or creatures who are hiding. Typically, your Spot check is opposed by the Hide check of the creature trying not to be seen. Sometimes a creature isn’t intentionally hiding but is still difficult to see, so a successful Spot check is necessary to notice it.

A Spot check result higher than 20 generally lets you become aware of an invisible creature near you, though you can’t actually see it.

The rules don’t pin down exactly what it means to “detect” or “notice” somebody, so you are free to describe the scene as you like. If you can come up with a plausible bluff or camouflage to explain why your shield is just lying there without a guy lying in wait behind it, then you’re free to describe it that way. Nothing vanishes into thin air (unless you have a special ability, of course).

You can’t hide in your own shadow

Shadow hiding abilities are typically written such that you must hide in a special kind of shadow, or that you simply cannot hide in your own shadow. For example, the shadowdancer ability:

Hide in Plain Sight (Su)
A shadowdancer can use the Hide skill even while being observed. As long as she is within 10 feet of some sort of shadow, a shadowdancer can hide herself from view in the open without anything to actually hide behind. She cannot, however, hide in her own shadow.

If there were an ability that let you hide in your own shadow, you can describe it a couple ways. As noted above, hiding isn’t invisibility, so you might just not be noticeable in the shadows – a kind of super-camouflage. Or maybe it is invisibility – at this point, we are talking about supernatural abilities that might not make sense physically.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ You can move with the shield, though, so you never have to leave the hiding place until you attack. You do lose the cover when you attack though, so Tower-Ninja is only cool if he's got hide-in-plain-sight. Also you may auto-succeed hide checks depending on your GM (I rule no). \$\endgroup\$ – the dark wanderer Nov 3 '14 at 6:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ The shield is not a hiding place as its cover does not put you out of sight, as mentioned in the answer. We've gone over this before in several comment threads and chats that have been deleted. \$\endgroup\$ – Bradd Szonye Nov 3 '14 at 20:21
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What the rules say

The rules state, a tower shield grants total cover if you give up your attacks. Total cover usually obviates the need for a hide check. Successfully hiding (or not) is the result of an opposed check; Spot versus Hide. You make a spot check any time you have a chance to see something and you make a hide check when you want to hide, usually as a part of movement. Obviously, the hide check only matters when someone has a chance of seeing you, though you may or not be aware of others, so your DM may have you roll when it does not matter, to avoid giving you information you would otherwise not have as a player.

Interpretation 1 Invisible Shield

Since you give up your attacks, you gain total cover. Total cover obviates the need for a hide check, so as long as you don't attack, therefore: you are "hidden". There is nothing specific in the tower shield rules about what happens when you move, so since you carry your shield, the cover moves with you. Since there is no facing, this is in all directions and since you are hidden, no one can see your equipment, including the shield. Since being hidden is equivalent to invisible (Rules Compendium), you are effectively invisible and gain the benefits of the invisible condition.

Interpretation 2 (Visible shield and player - The one I think the rules support)

Since hiding is an opposed check, and you can't hide if someone is observing you, there's no opportunity for a hide check (even though, with total cover, it otherwise would be unnecessary).

Interpretation 3 Invisible Shield

You could hide while no one was observing you, then while successfully hidden, move to the battlefield, remaining hidden. However, that's not how I understand hiding works in RAW, but is quite possibly a common understanding.

Hiding in 3.5

Hiding is actually somewhat difficult in 3.5. With respect to sneak attack, often the conditions that enable hiding preclude you from using it. For example, if you wanted to shoot an arrow from hiding, there either needs to be a vision differential (darkvision or low light and bright/shadowy illumination with position/radius in your favor) or cover or concealment that allows you to make a hide check, you but not your opponent. Earlier rules editions had the concept of "back stabbing" and I think this idea has perpetuated with the players, but "sneaking" up on an enemy in 3.5 to use sneak attack is quite difficult. It wasn't even explicitly clear until the Rules Compendium that you could sneak attack purely from a successful hide/spot (because your opponent is flat-footed with respect to you). However, the rules for opponents being flat footed at the start of combat and flanking give alternative (and arguably easier) ways to achieve sneak attack. Some rules expansions helped sneaking in like Moving Between Cover and Sneaking Up From Cover.

How hiding with total cover works

Ignore the tower shield for a moment. If you were behind a wall, with enemies on the other side, you don't need to make a hide check, since you have total cover and they are unable to observe you. If you move around a corner of the wall where opponents might see you; it's no longer possible to hide because in order to make a hide check, you must have cover or concealment and you just removed that by moving from behind the wall. You could use something that otherwise grants you the hide check, but that's not using the wall at that point. If the wall is your only source of cover/concealment or hiding ability, you cannot hide.

In the case of the tower shield, there is no conceivable circumstance where you can make a hide check without some other form of cover or concealment or ability granting a hide check since you may be observed.

The tower shield does not grant "hidden", it grants total cover, and hidden is not a condition or state; it's the result of an opposed check. As such, the other abilities and rules extensions that allow hiding when not in cover and concealment operate as normal, with no other impact from the tower shield (other than the steep armor check penalty).

Facing and line of effect

This does present the question, does the total cover from a tower shield grant total cover in all directions? The rules for the tower shield do not say anything about this, and the common understanding is that since there is no facing in 3.5, yes. The MAIN35FAQ addresses this by making the inference that because the tower shield is providing cover, it must have a location on the battlefield, like any other form of cover or concealment and has direction with respect to line of effect. In my opinion, it's a pretty reasonable inference, but it isn't otherwise mentioned in the rule books.

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