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Our party is traveling through the desert in a boat-like vehicle and we want to hide its tracks. We're not sure how to do that. Right now we're looking at spells that might help such as pass without trace, but would it hide the vehicle's trail in the sand?

Edit: I understand that my question wasn't stated the clearest and I appreciate the help, but whoever edited the question got the wrong impression of what I'm asking.

To clarify, I believe it's agreed that we can physically modify the vehicle to make it more stealthy. I am asking whether or not a spell that would normally help stealth a player character be able to be cast on a vehicle.

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    \$\begingroup\$ It kind of sounds like you have two questions here: 1) Does Pass Without Trace work on vehicles? 2) What other ways are there of making vehicles more stealthy in 5e? Those might deserve separate posts, but at least I would say you should rephrase to emphasize what's most important to you. \$\endgroup\$ – SirTechSpec Jun 19 '16 at 19:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SirTechSpec you're correct and I've corrected the question, since I'm looking for a general rule on casting stealth spells on vehicles, as opposed to something like painting a vehicle in camouflage. \$\endgroup\$ – BooleanCheese Jun 19 '16 at 19:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ I had edited this to be about your actual problem (how to cover a vehicle's trail) instead of about whether the current guessed solution to the problem (whether spells that target creatures may target vehicles), because asking about a solution's workability is likely to leave you with still having a problem, and needing to ask a new question about the actual problem anyway. I see you've reverted it, but I think you should reconsider. See What is the XY Problem? for why focusing on your problem instead of a guessed solution is far more effective. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jun 19 '16 at 19:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie oh, I understand now. I guess in my mind it didn't seem to matter whether or not we actually stealthed the vehicle, just wether or not we can do so easily. \$\endgroup\$ – BooleanCheese Jun 19 '16 at 19:56
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No, you can't use spells that target creatures on vehicles. A vehicle is not a creature.

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(GM here)

No, you may not cast Pass Without a Trace on a sandship that is not specifically outfitting for stealthy movement. Especially since stealth sand ships exist.

The Ranger (not OP) asked two questions:

1. Can she use her ranger ability to get the party through difficult terrain (she has desert as favored terrain) with the boat to hide their tracks and be stealthy?

The answer to this is no because:

  • The desert is essentially enchanted and her ranger ability would not apply here. I did however say that I would give her party advantage on attempting to walk the desert on foot (for the untrained/unadapted it's more like quicksand). She also felt she should get advantage on attempting to be stealthy because of her ranger ability, but since it does not reference vehicles (just navigation) I said no.

  • There are specific ship types created by the dwarves of this area to be stealthy scouting ships that do not leave a trace. They were not given one of those nor did they ask if such a thing existed. The guild probably wouldn't have given them one anyway though a solid charisma roll could change that.

2. If not can I cast Pass Without a Trace on a boat?

No, you can't cast pass without a trace on a vehicle, just the party. She COULD make the boat seem empty but an enemy would still see a boat moving on it's own (I'd probably give that enemy advantage on perception checks to look for passengers).

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    \$\begingroup\$ 😂😂😂 you caught me \$\endgroup\$ – BooleanCheese Jun 19 '16 at 19:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ And so we learn once again that asking your DM is the most productive solution... \$\endgroup\$ – Jasper Jun 20 '16 at 10:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Jasper It wasn't that I was trying to circumvent the DM. I was more curious about whether there was an official rule on the matter. \$\endgroup\$ – BooleanCheese Jun 20 '16 at 13:18
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Yes, conceivably

You can conceal a vehicle's tracks with magic, especially if the spell can be cast on an object.

Your question specifically asks whether magic can help a vehicle "to hide its tracks" which is maybe not what folks think of when they see "stealth." This answers the question specifically about making it harder for pursuers to follow your vehicle's tracks.

Don't make tracks

You don't mention the size of the boat, but if it's small enough (like, a canoe) you could cast Levitate on the boat, and poll it along like a Venetian gondola. But the boat can't weigh more than 500 lbs, so unless your party is the gnome squad you might need to split up.

Spells that can cover your tracks with weather events

The 8th level spell Control Weather could conjure up rain or wind to expunge your tracks.

The 2nd level spell Gust of Wind or the 3rd level spell Wind Wall could blow the tracks away for short periods (they only last a minute). But might be handy in key situations.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Unseen Servant might work too - the scene with the broom creature in Disney's Alice in Wonderland leaps to my mind. \$\endgroup\$ – Miniman Jun 20 '16 at 6:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ @miniman depends on how slowly you want the vehicle to move. US needs to stay within 60' of the caster. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jun 20 '16 at 12:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ @miniman or Mickey's spell in Fantasia. Yes I think that's a reasonable trick for US to do. But the unseen servant doesn't have survival skill, so they might leave their own tracks with the broom or rake. I also thought Conjure Minor Elementals, but didn't see a low level elemental that had an appropriate power specifically called out. \$\endgroup\$ – Tim Grant Jun 20 '16 at 13:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think this is a good answer to a different question, "How can I keep a vehicle from being tracked?", but is off-topic for this relatively narrow question. This might be a good candidate for creating a new question and self-answering. \$\endgroup\$ – Ceribia Jun 21 '16 at 9:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Ceribia - This question is a classic XY problem: I want to do X / Can I do Y. ("We want to hide [a vehicle's] tracks [with magic]" / Can I "cast a stealth spell on a vehicle?"). It's understood that addressing X in your answer is appropriate at StackExchange. meta.stackexchange.com/questions/66377/what-is-the-xy-problem \$\endgroup\$ – Tim Grant Jun 21 '16 at 11:13
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I think it is worth taking this one back to first principles (PHB p.6):

How to Play

  1. The DM describes the environment.

  2. The players describe what they want to do.

  3. The DM narrates the results of the adventurers’ actions.

The environment consists of a desert and a boat-like vehicle. The players want to hide its tracks.

The PHB (p. 183) has this to say about tracking:

Track. A character can follow the tracks of another creature, making a Wisdom (Survival) check when the DM calls for it. (The Dungeon Master’s Guide has rules for tracking.)

And the referred to DMG info is on p. 254:

Adventurers sometimes choose their path by following the tracks of other creatures - or other creatures might track the adventurers! To track, one or more creatures must succeed on a Wisdom (Survival) check.

Now, if you want to take an absurd RAW position, no one can track the boat-like vehicle because it is not a creature and only creatures can be tracked. QED.

Assuming that you are going to be more sensible than this, you have to accept that "creatures" has to include their mechanical or magical mode of transportation. If that is how you want to interpret it then there is no reason that Pass without Trace won't do exactly what it says it will do:

For the duration, each creature you choose within 30 feet of you (including you) has a +10 bonus to Dexterity (Stealth) checks and can’t be tracked except by magical means. A creature that receives this bonus leaves behind no tracks or other traces of its passage.

Providing that each creature on the boat-like vehicle is within the area of effect (30 foot of you) then I see no reason why it wouldn't work exactly as advertised. After all, it expends at least a 2nd level spell slot per hour and is a Concentration spell so its not without cost to the caster.

From a pure realism point of view there is nothing to stop characters from mechanically erasing the tracks of the vehicle providing they are willing to spend the time, effort and have the necessary skill (Dexterity (Stealth) or Wisdom (Survival): use your best judgement). All the spell does is cause this to happen through magic.

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    \$\begingroup\$ That's interesting. You're absolutely right, by RAW, that Dexterity (Stealth) covers sneaking past the guards, &c. And there's nothing in the rules to indicate otherwise, But my gut tells me that an "anti-tracking" check should be Wisdom, not Dexterity. Certainly food for thought.... \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Jun 19 '16 at 23:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ @nitsua60 I think the two effects are separate - you get a bonus to Dex(Stealth) for sneaking, and you are impossible to track except by magic. \$\endgroup\$ – Adeptus Jun 20 '16 at 1:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 -- by RAW, veihicles cannot be tracked, only creatures can be. Tracking the veihicle is about tracking the creatures in it (made easier by the transportation). By making the creatures in the veihicle untrackable, the tracks of the veihicle go away too. However, this also implies that a veihicle that is remote-controlled would not be trackable. ;) On the other hand, without saying your chattles are untrackable, the tracker could just follow your boots. ;) Less RAW, the spell creates a 30' radius stealth effect: I'd have it apply to the veihicle's tracks if the veihicle is small enough \$\endgroup\$ – Yakk Jun 20 '16 at 13:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Yakk just to be sure I'm understanding you: RAW give us rules on tracking creatures, so we can track creatures. You're saying, by extension, that because there's no RAW method for tracking a vehicle it cannot be done? (Not there's some RAW proscription against tracking a vehicle, but that the omission of a tracking rule for vehicles makes it impossible.) Is that your position? \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Jun 21 '16 at 13:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure the comparison's apt: Pass Without Trace specifies that creatures within the radius gain a particular benefit. "I can generally track things that leave tracks, the rules only handle tracking creatures, let's use common sense to figure out something for vehicles" feels different to me than "Pass Without Trace confers a benefit to creatures in range, I'd like that benefit to extend to an object too." They seem like qualitatively different scenarios: an adventuring rule that doesn't cover all bases vs. a spell that specifies targeting. Maybe it's just me. \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Jun 21 '16 at 14:47

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