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Sneak attack says:

You don't need advantage on the attack roll if another enemy of the target is within 5ft of it, that enemy isn't incapacitated, and you don't have disadvantage on the attack roll.

Silent Image (PHB, p. 276) can be used to create an image of "a creature", which is only determinable as an illusion with a successful Investigation check.

Can this "creature" count as an "enemy of the target" for purposes of provoking Sneak Attack?

An arcane trickster wants to know.

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By RAW, yes. So strictly speaking, absolutely.

You've actually answered your own question citing the pertinent rules.

Requirement met: An enemy of the target within 5 feet.

That's really what matters. The target treats the illusion as real by default, so it's clearly an enemy of the target, which grants you sneak attack. Since this portion is based on the enemy's point of view, and not your own, you most definitely qualify.

Furthermore, illusion spells generally default as real until investigated/interacted with. Example:

PHB. pg.276, Silent Image

You create the image of an object, a creature, or some other visible phenomenon that is no larger than a 15-foot cube. The image appears at a spot within range and lasts for the duration. The image is purely visual; it isn't accompanied by sound, smell, or other sensory effects.

This does not in any way limit the creature from appearing as normal. It just lacks sound, smell and touch. Against virtually all creatures, an utterly silent drow warrior suddenly appearing behind them would most definitely be constituted as a threat.

Contrary to other answers, I would definitely not give the creature a free check against the spell. If there was meant to be a saving throw against the spell, it would have included it in the spell description.

The Arcane Trickster is already limited in spell slots and progression, and is burning rounds and spell slots to cast these abilities. The check most definitely needs to be a decision made by the creature to investigate the threat. Imposing a manufactured save would be detrimental to the player, and possibly be viewed as meta gaming against a rogue type for playing to it's strengths. This would be like making a barbarian pass an Acrobatics check before making a Strength/Athletics roll to open a door.

One answer contrasted this against phantasmal force in an effort to emphasize the reality of the spell. The actual difference between the spells, is that phantasmal force can actually harm a target (up to and including instant perceived death on a failed save). Whereas silent image can not harm a target directly, and any physical interaction reveals the image to be an illusion automatically.

As a personal note: I just want to caution you with respect to illusion spells. By default, illusions appear real unless otherwise stated or disbelieved by the affected target(s). This can be done any number of ways that is normally detailed as conditions within the spell itself that would end it. Not a lot of DM's handle these well because they know an illusion is being cast. The affected creature doesn't though, and for all intents and purposes, this is a spell which is resolving in an effect. Whether that be summoning a creature, a sword, a pool of lava or anything else, the illusion is real until otherwise countered from the affected creatures point of view.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Fair points. I see valid points for both arguments, so I've un-accepted and will wait a bit. \$\endgroup\$ – ohmusama Feb 12 '16 at 20:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ The Sneak Attack rules aren't based on the target perceiving a threat. If another PC is hidden next to the target, the Rogue still gets Sneak Attack even though the target is completely oblivious to the hiding PC. In my opinion, the fact that the enemy would consider the image a threat initially is immaterial here. The rules say the enemy of the target can't be incapacitated, so it's clear the enemy is meant to be a creature. An image isn't a creature and can't oppose or harm the target in any way, so isn't an enemy of the target by any conventional definition. \$\endgroup\$ – Doval May 19 '17 at 19:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Doval - That's empirically false. An enemy is defined as something or someone that is actively harming or opposed to something or someone. The sneak attack rules specifically point out the target's POV. "You don’t need advantage on the attack roll if another enemy of the target is within 5 feet of it." The target doesn't know it's an illusion, therefore until they discover it is, it most definitely counts as an enemy. Since it's a spell, it actually CAN be incapacitated. For instance, I could make an image of an unconscious ogre appear. I wouldn't, but I COULD. The point is, target POV. \$\endgroup\$ – Lino Frank Ciaralli May 19 '17 at 20:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ Here's a tweet from Crawford: "The illusion of Invoke Duplicity isn't a creature, an enemy, or an ally. It doesn't interact with Sneak Attack." Invoke Duplicity creates a more convincing illusion than minor illusion to boot. \$\endgroup\$ – Doval May 19 '17 at 20:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ That tweet says nothing about sneak attack. And I never said anything about awareness. A hidden ally next to the target qualifies you because there is an enemy within 5 feet of the target. If the target is charmed, if is now friendly TO YOU but you are still its enemies, it just doesn't care because of the magic. \$\endgroup\$ – Lino Frank Ciaralli May 20 '17 at 13:54
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Strictly speaking, no.

The RAW answer is no. An image of a creature isn't a creature, and certainly isn't an enemy.

Note that a Silent Image is pretty limited in what it can do; it doesn't really move unless the caster uses their action, so it's hard to see how any creature would perceive it as an "enemy".

My interpretation of the Sneak Attack rule is that when another combatant is next to a creature and presenting a threat to them (thus "an enemy"), a rogue can take advantage of their divided attention to make a surprise attack. But a silent image doesn't really move (and it doesn't make noise), so as a general rule it seems like it couldn't present enough of a threat to be a distraction.

As a DM I would probably rule that a well-conceived silent image presented in a convincing way to an enemy would allow them to make an immediate Intelligence (Investigation) or Wisdom (Perception) check, and if they fail, they are momentarily convinced that the illusion is presenting a real threat. For example, the target would probably need to see the illusion move towards them, so the caster would need to create it out of sight and then use their action on a following round to have it move next to the target. For an arcane trickster, this would be hard to pull off, since you would want to be sneak attacking on the same turn that you are moving the image.

Contrast silent image with the 2nd-level spell phantasmal force which explicitly has the target treat the illusion as real. A creature subject to a phantasmal force that appears to be attacking them would allow an attacking rogue to do sneak attack damage.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Interesting, thanks for the snippet from phantasmal force, that puts this into perspective! \$\endgroup\$ – ohmusama Feb 12 '16 at 18:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ The info about phantasmal force is the strongest point (+1) supporting your answer (especially since this is a RAW question). Maybe move that to the top of the answer, and/or add the relevant quote? \$\endgroup\$ – Tim Grant May 20 '16 at 17:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ While I like this answer, the use of silent image as a distraction to grant advantage seems equivalent to a familiar being a distraction (not an attack) ... hmmm, your point on Phantasmal Force is a pretty solid one in any event. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jun 25 '18 at 16:08
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You ask can an image of a creature created with silent image serve as an "enemy of the target" for purposes of allowing a rogueish sneak attack.

Maybe you're asking slightly the wrong question. As pointed out, an image of a creature isn't a creature, and certainly isn't an enemy. That makes it pretty easy for the GM to rule against you.

However, having an attack buddy isn't the only way to get a sneak attack. Another way is to have advantage on the attack.

So depending on your GM's interpretation, your silent image of a buddy attacker might or might not be sufficient to count as an enemy. Regardless, it might be sufficient to count as enough of a distraction and give you advantage. Even if your target disbelieves the illusion, that might be enough of a distraction to give you advantage.

A bigger problem is that the way I read it, unless you use your action, the silent image doesn't move. So in a given round you either get to make the image move or you get to attack, but not both.

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A sufficient enough illusion is most certainly an enemy worthy of a sneak attack. Until it is interacted with it is totally treated as a real threat. How does the creature know otherwise that its not.

Sneak attack works off the premise of an adjacent enemy or ranged attack. This would seem to presume that the enemy acts in some sort of way when there's an adjacent threat that opens them up to sneak attacks.

Creatures that the target cannot perceive do not qualify. "Enemy of the target is within 5 feet".

This implies two things, the 'enemy' is within 5 feet. (Okay you can definitely be within 5 feet of an opponent while invisible and be totally unnoticed). At this point your not an enemy. (Your no different than any other 5 foot cube of air.)

"Enemy of the target is within 5 feet" really implies two fascets: 1. Perceived through the enemies senses. (Why do they have to perceive them?, because they can't determine threat without it... Are they going to suddenly attack or dodge attacks from air..not likely...thus their not going to open themselves up to the target they can see) 2. The target adjacent is considered an enemy/threat according to a point of view after they are perceived. What if I disguise self as an ally of the target. Yes, I'm an enemy, but they don't know that. Therefore your not an enemy to them.

Both of these would probably allow the invisible/disguised person to sneak attack at least once. After all they'd probably gain advantage from the trickery in play. But simply being there doesn't open them up to others.

Q.E.D If the target can't perceive them...i.e. invisible targets...they can't notice an enemy. If the target next to them is disguised, as an ally, they are not seeing an enemy. But if they see an enemy, or an illusion of an enemy, they will most certainly react to it until they learn otherwise which all illusions require interaction for.

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