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Many effects deal with hostile or nonhostile creatures. For example, the ability Radiance of Dawn (Cleric of Light channel divinity) affects hostile creatures within range, and Aura of Life affects nonhostile creatures within range.

It is clear that someone attacking you in combat is hostile, and that a party member is nonhostile. The question is does a covert spy in the party count as hostile? Does an invisible enemy stalking the party count as hostile? Does it count as nonhostile, i.e. would it get the benefit of the aura if it were near the party? What steps can I take as a GM to determine their hostility?

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There are some guidelines to help a DM decide what category a creature falls under so let's take a look at page 185 of the PHB:

In general terms, an NPC’s attitude toward you is described as friendly, indifferent, or hostile. Friendly NPCs are predisposed to help you, and hostile ones are inclined to get in your way.

Page 244 of the DMG goes into a little more detail but there's too much to quote it all here so I'll only post the relevant parts.

  • A friendly creature wants to help the adventurers and wishes for them to succeed.
  • An indifferent creature might help or hinder the party, depending on what the creature sees as most beneficial.
  • A hostile creature opposes the adventurers and their goals but doesn't necessarily attack them on sight.

In general it's up to the DM to use their best judgement to determine which category a creature falls into and whether or not they are affected by certain spells.

If the covert spy in the party works for someone who "opposes the adventurers and their goals" then they might also technically count as hostile. However this is definitely a case where the rules aren't strictly defined and the DM can rule however they like. If the DM doesn't want to "out" the spy and the party thinks he's their friend, it would make sense to rule that something like Aura of Life would work on him. But if the DM wants to reveal the spy for what they really are or at least hint at it than you would be perfectly fine to rule otherwise.

As for whether an invisible creature can be affect by such spells; a creature's visibility has nothing to do with their attitude. If it's hostile when visible, it's hostile when invisible, whether the party knows it's there or not. As such, we still follow the general spellcasting rules regarding invisibility and spells and if a hostile invisible creature happens to be in range of Radiance of Dawn when it's cast, it would still be affected.

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    \$\begingroup\$ What if it is a smart enemy, say a high intelligence wizard with invisibility and stealth who is stalking the party and waiting for an opportunity to do something to them, either take a life, or take some piece of treasure? Can the group just randomly cast radiance of dawn before rests and bust his cover unwittingly? \$\endgroup\$ – Aviad P. Jul 31 '15 at 8:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'd think yes. A wizard of such calibre would be able to estimate the range of such magics, and stay outside of it. You may also want to consider if the caster would necessarily know someone was affected by the spell. If they don't know, then the skulking wizard may yet remain hidden if he can handle the pain. \$\endgroup\$ – Nanban Jim Jul 31 '15 at 15:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ @AviadP. This mage would fit the desctiption of hostile ("wishes malice/opposes the group"), so yes. \$\endgroup\$ – Trish Mar 5 '18 at 14:32
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Covert spy: Not a hostile unless they attack the party in some fashion. Would definitely benefit from party auras.

Invisible Enemy: Yes, definitely a hostile with some situational caveats that would be roleplay specific.

The Spy

So the spy is a covert hostile that is not attacking your party right now. Perhaps he has some agenda, maybe the mission is to observe and report. It doesn't matter. The spy wouldn't be covert if they hadn't tricked you into taking them along.

In fact, in most of my campaigns I have at least 2 party members who are subtly if not openly hostile to each other thanks to the lack of cohesion on alignment. They still aren't hostile targets. The spy would fit under this category as well. Your party thinks he/she is a group member, and thus any spells cast would take this member into consideration as a friendly.

An invisible enemy

Hostile. Always hostile. It says it in the name: An enemy.

If you're talking more about being invisible, then an invisible creature not engaging in a hostile act would be neutral.

However, an invisible creature likely or considering engaging in a hostile act (Invisible Stalker) would be hostile. Even if the stalker didn't engage, it would still be considered a hostile because the intent could have been to stalk and then kill a player. The stalking alone is hostile intent, unless blatantly stated otherwise.

This comes with a caveat of obvious role playing. For example, a sleeping stalker could be considered neutral for the purposes of determining hostility. Other roleplay examples include invisible creatures just following players to observe out of curiosity. This wouldn't mean they are invisible enemies though. Even if you have a murderhobo group that considers grass a favoured enemy, creatures not hindering, attacking or being openly hostile wouldn't qualify.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Extrapolating from your spy case, the perception of the group determines whether a target is hostile or not? So an imperceptible target, say an invisible enemy who was not detected and whose presence is not suspected would also not be targeted? \$\endgroup\$ – Aviad P. Jul 31 '15 at 8:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think as a GM I am going to use a mix of party perception and creature intent in determining whether they are hostile. So basically dependending on the circumstances without a hard and fast rule. So a rogue/wizard stalking the party while invisible, but which is a personality more likely to steal than to murder might not be considered hostile until they actually attacks the party or has his presence suspected while invading their space. So, personally if the party doesn't have any way to perceive the hostile or if their intent is well hidden then it won't be affected. \$\endgroup\$ – Aviad P. Jul 31 '15 at 9:09
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Well I couldn't find anything in the players handbook or in the DM book either. Here is the definition of dictionary.com. Yes sevensided is right probably ask your DM but it should follow these definitions. I would consider any creature hostile that fits these definitions in thought, word, or deed.

adjective

1. of, relating to, or characteristic of an enemy: a hostile nation.

2. opposed in feeling, action, or character; antagonistic: hostile criticism.

3. characterized by antagonism.

4. not friendly, warm, or generous; not hospitable.

noun

5. a person or thing that is antagonistic or unfriendly.

6. Military. an enemy soldier, plane, ship, etc.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is a game term question, not a "I have no dictionary" question. \$\endgroup\$ – Trish Mar 5 '18 at 14:18

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