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I'm confused about how concealment in combat works in D&D Fifth Edition. If there are environmental effects that make it difficult to see a character, but do not grant physical cover, how does that affect the ability of others to target her?

Specific example

A player in a recent session cast Fog Cloud to conceal himself and others while trying to escape a pitched battle. The text of Fog Cloud reads:

You create a 20-foot radius sphere of fog centered on a point within range.... its area is heavily obscured....

What are the effects of such concealment on the mechanics of the following actions:

  1. Creatures attempting to move within the cloud.
  2. Creatures within the cloud attempting melee attacks against other creatures within the cloud.
  3. Creatures outside the cloud attempting ranged attacks against creatures within the cloud.
  4. Creatures within the cloud attempting ranged attacks against creatures outside the cloud.
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There are 6 combat states in 5e when you don't consider cover coming into play (and cover adds modifiers rather than affecting the advantage state, though full cover prevents targeting entirely):

  • Able to target no adv/disadv
  • Able to target adv
  • Able to target disadv
  • Guess no adv/disadv
  • Guess adv
  • Guess disadv

The question is how total concealment (such as from fog cloud) affects these states. To do this we need to address the two components of the states individually. Let's settle the question of advantage/disadvantage first.

A creature in a heavily obscured area effectively suffers from the blinded condition (see the appendix). (Player's Basic 65)

This leads us to the blinded condition:

  • A blinded creature can’t see and automatically fails any ability check that requires sight.
  • Attack rolls against the creature have advantage, and the creature’s attack rolls have disadvantage. (Player's Basic 105)

So here's the interesting thing, you both grant advantage, and have disadvantage if you are in a heavily obscured area. So if you attack a creature who is also in a heavily obscured area, you do so as a straight roll (because they are granting advantage and you have advantage). This may be dissatisfying (I know I find it such), and you may want to rule that you only grant advantage to characters who can see you (but that's a house rule).

So we know our advantage state in heavy concealment (attacking at disadvantage, being attacked at advantage, possibly cancelling each other out if both characters are in the fog). However, we don't know our targeting state. Can you be targetted directly or do you need to guess. For this we turn to the "attacking things you can't see" section of the rules:

When you attack a target that you can’t see, you have disadvantage on the attack roll. This is true whether you’re guessing the target’s location or you’re targeting a creature you can hear but not see. If the target isn’t in the location you targeted, you automatically miss, but the DM typically just says that the attack missed, not whether you guessed the target’s location correctly. (Player's Basic 73)

This is unfortunately unhelpful. When do you have to guess, and when do you know where your target is?

Unfortunately, the guidelines are not particularly good on this. It seems clear to me that hiding is intended to conceal your position (and it's heavily implied elsewhere in the rules, such as the rogue's Blindsense feature, and the final paragraph of the attacking things you can't see block), but it does not directly indicate that your position becomes unknown when you hide. There is this though:

You can’t hide from a creature that can see you, and if you make noise (such as shouting a warning or knocking over a vase), you give away your position. An invisible creature can’t be seen, so it can always try to hide. Signs of its passage might still be noticed, however, and it still has to stay quiet. (Player's Basic 60)

So it seems that hidden certainly obscures your position, and if you move, it should be unknown to your attackers (if you don't move, they'd be perfectly justified to attack the square you were last seen in, thus being able to attack you no problem).

The larger question is can you attack a creature who isn't hiding, but is totally obscured without guessing their location?

This is a question that is unfortunately left completely open by the rules. In general, I'd say that you need to make the stealth check to hide to keep quite and keep your movements under control, but that may be the 4e coming out more than it should in this system. I kind of hope that this gets more clarity in the upcoming DMG than we currently have, but I'm not super hopeful about it. Find something that works for you group and keep it consistent (or establish the rules you're going to operate under when these things come into play). One place we do get a hint is from the invisible condition:

An invisible creature is impossible to see without the aid of magic or a special sense. For the purpose of hiding, the creature is heavily obscured. The creature’s location can be detected by any noise it makes or any tracks it leaves. (Player's Basic 105)

This certainly seems to indicate that you can know an invisible or heavily obscured creature's location, but that it doesn't necessarily require a stealth check (again I'd personally require one to stay quiet)

To answer your final bullets:

  1. Movement does not appear to be hindered by obscured conditions. If a DM wants to hinder movement they do so at their discretion.
  2. By the book, if they aren't hidden (position known), the attack is made as a straight roll. The creature attacking has disadvantage on the attack because they can't see, but the creature being attacked grants advantage. This seems dumb to me, and I'd make the attack happen at disadvantage.
  3. This attack is again made as a straight roll provided the creature isn't hidden (ie position known). Again since the attacker can't see the creature, they have disadvantage, and because the attacker can't be seen, the target has disadvantage.
  4. Same story as above, you can't see your target, target can't see you, straight roll.

So, ultimately, this question comes down to one of whether or not you can target someone accurately if they are heavily obscured. This, ultimately comes down to whether you believe position is always known unless someone is hidden, or whether position can be obscured by another means beyond hidden. Unfortunately, the rules are not clear on this matter and it becomes squarely the domain of DM discretion or table level house rules.

Supporting this stance, we have Jeremy Crawford on the twitters:

Being hidden is the by-the-book way to conceal your position. The DM may decide that other methods can also conceal it.

So basically, it's hidden, or the whim of the DM.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ DMG is no longer upcoming. \$\endgroup\$ – Thanuir Sep 3 '18 at 13:55
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Making an attack requires the ability to see the target

The most fundamental tasks of adventuring—noticing danger, finding hidden objects, hitting an enemy in combat, and targeting a spell, to name just a few—rely heavily on a character's ability to see. (Player's Handbook, p183)

You can make an opportunity attack when a hostile creature that you can see moves out of your reach. (Player's Handbook, p195)

In order to be able to make attacks, creatures must be able to see their targets. Absent a specialized sense like Blindsight, creatures can only detect the presence of other creatures via other senses such as sound.

Therefore, in order to make attacks against a target, the creature must pass the Wisdom (Perception) check to see the target before attacking. This is the only way to know where something is during combat.

Different levels of concealment

There are three levels of concealment:

  • None. This is the default state, for which we can assume that it is Very Easy (DC 5) to see a creature. Most anything's passive perception score meets that threshold, which is why normal combat works all the time.
  • Lightly obscured.

    ...creatures have disadvantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on sight. (Player's Handbook p183)

    This raises the DC a bit, to 10. Some unfortunate creatures may not be able to see here passively, which could be interesting. Most will, though, and so dim light is usually not a problem for fighting.

  • Heavily obscured.

    A creature in a heavily obscured area effectively suffers from the blinded condition (Player's Handbook p183)

    A blinded creature can't see and automatically fails any ability check that requires sight. (Player's Handbook p290)

    Here we see that creatures inside the area are unable to target any other creatures. While it's not explicitly stated, it's reasonable to extend this to any attempts to target a creature in a heavily concealed area.

The specific example

  1. The rules don't actually give any indication that a creature in an obscured area becomes disoriented. Therefore, that creature can move in some direction however they desire. The creature cannot, however, move to a specific creature or object, because its exact location is unknown.
  2. If the creature fails its Wisdom (Perception) roll, it must select a square to target when making the attack. Should that square be occupied, the attacker has disadvantage on the attack and the defender gives advantage on the attack. Therefore, it is a straight roll.
  3. Again, the creature inside the cloud is obscured, so the attacker must choose a square and attempt an attack. If the square is occupied, the check once again balances to a straight roll because both parties are effectively blinded.
  4. In this case, the attacker is blinded, and so must choose a square and attack at disadvantage. Since the defender is not blinded outside the cloud, the attack is made with disadvantage.

But sound should make a difference

Now we tread into house rule territory.

There are clearly references to sound playing some role in targeting. However, if we apply some GM discretion and real-world knowledge, we see that sound should not have nearly the same usefulness as sight.

One way to approximate this would be to allow players to judge the approximate direction (North, South, Northwest, etc) and rough distance (±5ft) of a target as a bonus action. This has several attractive qualities:

  • The creature does not have perfect information. On a square grid, such a direction leaves several possible locations for the target to occupy, reinforcing that sight is the ideal sense for locating things.
  • Melee is more feasible than ranged. At the distance of ranged attacks, this direction information will cover dozens of possible squares, appropriately making blind shooting ineffective. At close range, the creature can guess more easily where a target might be.
  • It sidesteps "homing movement". Since a creature can only take one bonus action, it is not possible to move a few squares, listen, move again, etc., and "home" to the target with unrealistic effectiveness.


Without a doubt, this answer relies on some significant reading-between-the-lines of the Player's Handbook to find coherent rules. However, absent further publications, we are left to make our own rulings to be able to run games effectively. I do believe this is a reasonable reconciliation of the print material and intuitive understandings of concealment in the real world.

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    \$\begingroup\$ RAW, your first heading is completely wrong. A blind creature can attack and an invisible one can be attacked, although both with disadvantage. "Rely heavily on" is very different from "require". \$\endgroup\$ – GoblinTheodicy Nov 21 '14 at 13:49
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For ranged attacks it is pretty easy to rule that attacking INTO an area of heavy obscurement is basically impossible unless the obscured area is very small (ninja smoke bomb affecting only the square the target is in, for example) or the attack involves an area of effect. Range attacking OUT of an area of heavy obscurement should be equally impossible (total darkness excepted, if your target is in a lighted area). Allowing ranged attacks against distant squares you can't actually see seems unfeasable to me but could be allowed by the rules. Imagine an archer standing watch, hearing sounds out in the darkness. How likely is he to hit anything out there? Allowing attacks like this starts a game of Battleship.

Melee attacks can be made, but here is where the ability to use stealth can influence things. Two opponents in melee range, both "blinded", are equally inept attacking each other, thus their adv/disadv cancels out and they would both know what squares the other occupied. But a character that uses heavy obscurement to enter stealth could become undetectable to the opponent, so now the opponent would have to guess the square to even attack, but if he guessed correctly would use a straight roll. The stealthed character however, wouldn't have to guess the square to attack (as he knows where the opponent is) but would still attack with a straight roll (as his adv for stealth and adv for attacking a blinded opponent is cancelled out by the dis of being blinded himself).

It is easy to imagine two fighters, both trying to be stealthy, both blinded, having a cat and mouse stalking game inside an area of heavy obscurement. The rule system strains to accomodate this, but if you take it piece by piece I think it can be done.

As for AoO when both characters are blinded, the RAW says they can't be made (you can't see) but I usually waive this if the attacker succeeds on a perception check against the targets stealth (but I make it an attack with dis to emphasize how difficult it is, also a house rule).

Movement inside an area of heavy obscurement is totally up to the DM. I would base it on whether or not a character saw the area before concealment began (like the Fog Cloud example) or if they are entering a dark area blind (ahem). It does not reduce their movement in any way unless the obscurment is due to heavy foliage undergrowth or something (which is usually also treated as difficult terrain in modules) but certainly allowing characters to precisely and rapidly navigate in an unfamiliar obscured area is unthematic at best.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Melee and ranged aren't treated any differently by the rules on this. Where do you find a distinction in the rules? \$\endgroup\$ – wax eagle Nov 21 '14 at 20:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ I didn't, and stated as such. DM's judgement will be required, though it is entirely permissible to have two archers, both in a 100x100' field of heavy obscurement, play "Battleship" with one another by choosing squares and rolling to hit. I submit this is unfeasible and the DM shouldn't allow it. Now wizards tossing fireballs at each other, that might be interesting enough to watch :) \$\endgroup\$ – Jason K Nov 21 '14 at 20:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ An interesting angle is whether or not making a ranged attack, while in heavy obscurement, somehow reveals yourself to the target/others since the rules state making an attack while "...hidden-both unseen and unheard..give(s) away your location when an attack hits or misses." (PHB p195). So RAW may allow ranged attacks into/out of heavy concealment with a realistic chance to pick the correct square based on whether or not the target attacked (losing the "hidden" protection) and didn't move/hide afterwards, but I still think it is impractical both thematically and from a game-time perspective. \$\endgroup\$ – Jason K Nov 21 '14 at 20:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ I guess my point is that hidden is something you actively engage in (make a stealth check), and it requires an action. The sort of fundamental motivation of my questioning this is why should you have the benefits of hidden without paying the cost? \$\endgroup\$ – wax eagle Nov 21 '14 at 21:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ In heavy obscurement you can't be seen, so opponents are left with hearing, smelling, or feeling you. At what point does distance prohibit detection by those senses? The rules don't say, it is totally up to the DM. Managing gameplay between two blinded opponents using ranged attacks on each other (assuming some distance between them) is an exercise in futility with the rules we have so far. I don't think a DM should bother (with square picking), instead handling this scenario some other way. \$\endgroup\$ – Jason K Nov 22 '14 at 19:13

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