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On pg 195 of the PHB it states:

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

So, does this mean I have to successfully hide from the creature, or if it was fighting a creature in front of it and I walk around back, do I get that advantage?

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Normally no. But in the right circumstances, yes.

In most cases, a creature is assumed to be moving around in its space on the battlefield, not fixedly focused forward on one opponent (that's suicidal, for exactly the reason you present). So, normally, no, you can't just walk around an opponent and get advantage on them: they see you, see where you went, and are keeping an eye on you.


The exceptions happen in, well, exceptional circumstances, as judged by the DM's good sense. To demonstrate, I have to make something up, so let's have an example.

You meet an man in the forest. He challenges you, drawing his sword.

Suddenly your warlock companion throws a curse at the him, acting quicker than the drawn sword. You've seen this before, it's an eyebite curse. The man collapses, asleep.

“What was that for?!”

“We're looking for those old ruins, right? He might know where they are. No sense killing him out of hand just because he's jumpy. Get around behind him and be ready to hit him if he causes trouble.”

You stand a close behind where the man fell as the warlock shakes the man awake, and gets right up in his face, holding his attention. “That was impolite of you. Shall we start over?”

There, in that moment, you're not hidden. You didn't have to make a hide check to get there, but notice how you're out of the target's sight. This is an example of not being seen.

DM's judgement

The DM's judgement is very important in 5e, for exactly this reason. Most of the time it will be obvious: you're not hidden, and the target can see you just fine. In rare circumstances — often, circumstances that you've put some work into creating — you'll be unseen despite not being properly hidden, and then you'll have advantage if you need to put a knife in their kidney without actually hiding.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This makes a lot of sense. The example I had (while GMing) was a character claiming advantage as he was behind an door a creature walked around. To my mind, the creature would definitely throw a glance around the door, so I didn't give advantage. \$\endgroup\$ – chooban Mar 30 '15 at 21:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ @chooban In combat that might make sense, if the creature already knew someone might be that way. If not in combat, or if it might have been a surprise to find someone there during combat, that's probably better managed with a pair of Stealth (how quiet/motionless is the PC behind the door?) and Perception (does the creature notice anyway?) checks. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Mar 30 '15 at 21:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ Good call. I'll keep that in mind for next time to try and keep the action varied. Currently drawing up action cards to promote fights that aren't just umpteen round of hacking and slashing. \$\endgroup\$ – chooban Mar 30 '15 at 21:10
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Unless your DM is using the optional Facing Rules (Pg 252 of the DMG) There isn't really a 'behind' on a creature.

That said; hiding, invisibility, or temporarily/permanently blinding a creature will give you advantage on your attack rolls against it by this rule.

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The PHB says (emphasis mine):

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.

I'd say that a creature would still be aware of you if you just walk around to their backs.

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The game has no facing, so “behind” doesn’t exist

Basically, the rule is that you only get advantage if your target can’t see you. As far as the game is concerned, if the creature can see you from their current square, they can see you (even if they aren’t literally looking at you at this moment; the game doesn’t track that).

This is what is known, in game-design terms, as an abstraction. The game abstracts away everything that has to do with looking around to basically two issues:

  • Line of sight. This means that you can draw a straight line that does not go through anything that blocks vision from anywhere within your square to anywhere within the square of the target.

  • Special conditions. By this I mean anything that prevents a character from seeing, or another character from being seen. Blindness, invisibility or hiding, etc. are examples of these kinds of conditions.

The game makes this abstraction, makes it so these two things are the only things that you have to worry about, because it makes the game simpler and quicker to run.

Many editions of D&D, 5th included, have optional rules for facing. These require rules about what you can see well (in front of you) and what you can kind of see (peripheral vision) and what you cannot see (behind you), based on your facing. They are complicated, required special methods of marking it, special rules for when you could or could not change it, and so on.

These rules are optional to make combat move a more smoothly. In effect, sneaking up from behind has been replaced with “flanking” – a bonus you got if you and an ally split an enemy between you, so that he was surrounded and had to look two ways at once.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Which pre-3e editions had facing rules? \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Mar 30 '15 at 21:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ I've noticed the flanking rules in the DMG, but haven't got to them yet. Now they're next on the list. \$\endgroup\$ – chooban Mar 30 '15 at 21:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie ...could have sworn... meh, that makes this answer rather redundant. I wonder where I got that idea. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Mar 30 '15 at 21:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ 5th ed does have facing rules, they are just optional. \$\endgroup\$ – The Amused Muse Mar 30 '15 at 21:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie Might it be from the thief's ability to backstab? \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Mar 30 '15 at 22:08
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It is possible

On PHB pg 177, on the "hiding" sidebar, it says:

In combat... ...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.

So it will be up to you and your DM negotiate how you might try it. Example:

  • Use a minor illusion to create sound (falling feeble, a cricket, a raven, etc.) while you make a stealth check with disadvantage against the target's passive perception to rush and "backstab" your target in a split second.
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