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In D&D 5e, the description of hiding (PHB p177) says an invisible creature needs to stay quiet and otherwise avoid leaving signs of its passing, while the "invisible" condition (p291) says the creature's location can be determined by any noise it makes. This seems straightforward: even a blinded creature can pinpoint the location of anything on the battlefield that isn't tiptoeing/holding its breath.

However, the Ranger's "Feral Senses" ability (p92) grants awareness of the locations of invisible creatures within 30 feet, provided the creatures aren't hiding and that the Ranger can both hear and see. I realize the ability also removes the disadvantage to attack rolls against invisible creatures, but the wording and limitations seem to imply that awareness of the location of an invisible, unhidden creature isn't a given.

I realize the hidden vs invisible question has come up before, but I'm hoping someone can explain what changes for a Ranger when she hits 18th level. Is there a scenario where a creature who can see and hear would not be aware of the location of unhidden, invisible creatures within 30 feet? Or is this just the equivalent of giving a fighter the ability to add half of their proficiency bonus to attacks with simple weapons for which they don't already have proficiency?

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Stealth and hidden are currently very much in the court of the DM. To some degree this ability takes some of the shakiness out of the current rules and gives you a measure of certainty.

Right now, at least to me, the stealth, invisible and hidden rules indicate the following:

  • If you are invisible but not hidden, your position is known, and you can be attacked with certainty, though at disadvantage.
  • If you are invisible and hidden, your position is not known and attacks against you must be made by guessing your location.

However, depending on the creature, and the DM's digestion, he could rule that an invisible creature's position is not known if they are being particularly quiet. To me (and in my games), this act of being quiet is the stealth check, but since making that stealth check costs an action, not all DMs may agree. A DM who disagrees and simply allows a character to "be quiet" with no stealth role or action is one for whom this ability was written (in part).

What the Ranger's power does is twofold. First it removes the disadvantage from the first case. Second it removes the ambiguity of the DM discretion. I would argue that the first thing it does is the primary element of this ability, removing disadvantage is pretty darn huge. However, the second one should not be overlooked. By putting Stealth and hidden firmly in the hands of the DM, 5e has opened itself up to this kind of interpretation. Giving a player a high level ability to negate this is an important element of that.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Your second paragraph is very important - DM indigestion often leads to irritability and unkind rulings. \$\endgroup\$ – Dacromir Feb 17 '18 at 23:51
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No

As you point out, the PHB defines the interaction between invisibility (not being seen) and hiding (not been seen or heard, and thus not having your exact location known).

An invisible creature can always try to hide. Signs of its passage might still be noticed, and it does have to stay quiet.

So indeed an invisible creature must hide in order to conceal its position.

So what does the second clause of Feral Senses even do?

At 18th level, you gain preternatural senses that help you fight creatures you can't see. When you attack a creature you can't see, your inability to see it doesn't impose disadvantage on your attack rolls against it.

You are also aware of the location of any invisible creature within 30 feet of you, provided that the creature isn't hidden from you and you aren't blinded or deafened.

Strictly by RAW, the clause does nothing. If an invisible creature is near the Ranger, and is hiding, the Ranger doesn't know where they are. If they aren't hiding, the Ranger, like anyone else, does know where they are (and from the other clause of Feral Senses, can attack the invisible creature without disadvantage).

However, my interpretation of what's intended here (and how I would rule) is that:

  1. This clause was intended to allow the Ranger to detect invisible creatures within 30 feet that are hiding using just their invisibility (aka, invisibility is worthless against an 18th level Ranger, in line with the other clause in the feature)
  2. The "provided that the creature isn't hidden from you" limitation was intended to avoid the absurd outcome that if a creature is hiding behind a rock, the Ranger could automatically know where they are...if and only if the creature is invisible.

Or in other words, what I interpret this limitation to mean is "provided that the creature isn't hidden from you through methods other than their invisibility".

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  • \$\begingroup\$ In the case of an invisible creature that has succesfully taken the Hide action against your perception (passive or active), but is standing next to you, what would you say happens? \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Nov 29 '19 at 18:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch Perhaps I need to be clearer, because I thought the answer to that was the major/obvious outcome of my interpretation! Under my interpretation I would say that the Hide action is ineffective against the Ranger (although may be effective against others around) - the Ranger continues to perceive the invisible creature unimpeded while it's within 30 feet, regardless of Hide actions taken by it. \$\endgroup\$ – Vigil Nov 29 '19 at 18:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ Okay, thank you! I think I disagree with that because of the explicit of "provided that the creature isn't hidden from you". You've added a personal interpretation that I think is different than the actual wording. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Nov 29 '19 at 18:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch yep - my read here is basically that since I believe the RAW feature provides zero benefit, some benefit must have been intended (and guess/rule sensibly on what that might be). But I'm certainly going against the strict text. \$\endgroup\$ – Vigil Nov 29 '19 at 18:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't really understand why they have that line in there, either! It does seem to just the state obvious always-on rule in a different way. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Nov 29 '19 at 18:33

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