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Trance. Elves don’t need to sleep. Instead, they meditate deeply, remaining semiconscious, for 4 hours a day. (The Common word for such meditation is “trance.”) While meditating, you can dream after a fashion; such dreams are actually mental exercises that have become reflexive through years of practice. After resting in this way, you gain the same benefit that a human does from 8 hours of sleep.

The bold words seem to imply that even when an elf is in a trance he can make perception checks (possibly at a disadvantage), because they are semiconscious instead of unconscious.

Is that true and is that different than the way other races are when they sleep?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ @sadaqah, You do not need to be asleep to hear the alarm spell. If you are asleep, then it wakes you up. So either way you hear the alarm. \$\endgroup\$ – Alexis Wilke Feb 11 '15 at 8:50
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Sleeping is treated as being unconscious. Thus if an elf maintains consciousness throughout their trance, they are fully aware.

The big difference here is that the elf maintains consciousness. We do not at this time, have rules for what perception is like when a PC is sleeping (considering the use of unconscious, I'd guess it's automatic failure), so we can't necessarily determine what effect the semi-conscious meditation has on perception checks.

I'd say it's safe to assume that an elf can make perception checks (though generally for this kind of thing, passive is used), as normal with no penalty while meditating.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Since we don't have an actual definition of sleep yet I'm waiting for the DMG to come out before I accept an answer. \$\endgroup\$ – HESH Nov 21 '14 at 16:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ @HESH According to the DMG (p. 248), "[I]f a character is in a state, such as sleep, that lacks consciousness, you can say the character is unconscious." \$\endgroup\$ – sadaqah Dec 31 '14 at 19:22
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I've been allowing tranced elves to "come awake" instantly but have not been allowing them to consider a trance state the same as a PC (fully awake) on watch. Disadvantage on perception checks (or a minus 5 on passive perc) is a good way to account for a diminished, but not absent awareness of the surroundings. Thus an all elf party couldn't all go into trance together and expect the same level of vigilance as if one was on watch, but a spell like Alarm (or a loud noise like kicking down a door) would immediately let them come awake and into action.

Since there aren't (to my knowledge) any rules for someone to wake up, I usually require a sleeping character to take a "wake up" action (after a surprise round if that happens) before they can take normal actions. A tranced elf would not need to take such an action.

Considering a sleeping character to be unconscious is a pretty stiff penalty (attacks against it have adv, and a hit is a crit). Maybe consider them incapacitated (can't take actions or reactions) instead?

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The fact that it is different than real sleep isn't really contested much. There have been comments that they are supposed to be great for mid-shift guards at the very least because of trance. The hard part is how to adjudicate it.

I would use the Sleep spell as a baseline for sleeping characters and make them unconscious. Consider their passive perception as -5 (for disadvantage) when it comes to noticing what's going on and waking up. This means a very low wisdom character has a chance to sleep through a fight outside their tent. (Likely a DC 5 as a very simple task).

Trance, on the other hand, flat out states that it is different from sleep in the description. It is a meditation state, not a true sleep, and only has to be maintained for four hours. I would say that this also gives disadvantage as their focus is shifted internally, but this would be easily negated by the generally high perception that elves have. They would hear combat and normal noise regardless, but wouldn't likely hear an assassin.

All this said, the duration is the real prize. Elves don't need a full night's sleep to get their rest, so they can be alert for half of a long rest. During this time frame, they are not suffering from any penalties to their perception. Two elves can cover an entire watch with no worries at all about being asleep. This combined with their natural alertness makes it hard to ambush a group with at least 2 elves in it. (And fairly difficult to ambush them even if it's only 1.)

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  • \$\begingroup\$ When I was running Out of the Abyss, a within-party fight broke out while Sarith was trancing. I RPed him similar to how I act when I'm trying to meditate and people are being disruptive. He was aware of what was going on, but knew he'd lose out on his Trance if he got too engaged. So he snarked at them briefly and otherwise ignored them. Then again, drow are supposed to experience trance differently according to lore, though the mechanics are the same. \$\endgroup\$ – Ettina Kitten Sep 26 at 12:52

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