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Let me lay out the scenario first: a human in the dark enters a pitch-dark room. Within the room is an elf who watches the human enter. The elf is not trying to hide, just standing there. They are enemies. The human wins initiative.

Now, per the rules the human has the blinded condition, which gives disadvantage on attack rolls. However, the elf isn't hiding, so with a perception check the human should be able to locate him, cross the room and attack, with disadvantage.

Is this correct? Does he have disadvantage on the perception check? Perception is not just sight and since the elf isn't trying to hide then I'd say no, it's just a straight perception check. And finally, since the elf isn't hiding, what would the DC be for such a check? Arbitrarily assigned by the DM?

There are other factors that I won't get into (such as: if the human is a rogue, he should be able to hide from the elf with stealth, since darkvision turns darkness into dim light; or if he were a barbarian, he could negate the disadvantage from blindness by reckless attacking and cancelling it out with advantage).

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  • \$\begingroup\$ FYI, Dim Light is not sufficient to Hide without other features in play. \$\endgroup\$ – T.J.L. Oct 16 at 20:24
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The rules as written don't say that a Wisdom (Perception) test is called for in this situation.

SRD, p 94 (emphasis mine):

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 GM typically just says that the attack missed, not whether you guessed the target’s location correctly.

However, part of this is still a DM call.

The above doesn't help tell you whether the human is 1. "guessing a target's location" or 2. "targeting a creature they can hear but not see." So it's probably your call as DM. If it's option #1, the human would be picking a space and attacking a hypothetical opponent in that space. If it's #2, the human would know what 5' x 5' space the elf is in, and would take disadvantage on the attack roll. #1 is a lot harder for the human than #2.

Facts to take into consideration when making that call as the DM:

  • If the elf isn't hiding, then they presumably aren't taking steps to remain silent as well as unseen. As a DM, you may rule that those sounds are sufficient to tell what space the elf is occupying, and allow the human to move adjacent and attack (with disadvantage).
  • If the elf is trying to remain silent as well as unseen, you may want to revise the premise of the question and say that it does count as being in hiding and make a Dexterity (Stealth) roll for it.
  • Be wary of making a ruling that makes it harder to attack a non- hiding elf than one that is hiding. If you were to rule that the non-hiding elf couldn't be located with a Wisdom (Perception) test because it isn't hiding, but that a hiding one could, you're creating a weird paradox in which it's more advantageous to stand there than to take steps to conceal oneself.
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  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ As part of the DM call - I had considered using the elf's passive stealth as a DC for the perception check (hearing) with or without (still not sure on that one) disadvantage in this situation to determine the elf's location. Some people are just naturally more stealthy than others. I've never seen that offered as a solution though. Characters with high stealth would naturally be very hard to find - and the one thing that causes me to hesitate is they might get a lower ACTIVE. Stealth roll when they actually tried for one. \$\endgroup\$ – Carey Sauerbrun Feb 11 '17 at 21:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ I didn't include a "passive Stealth" solution in my answer because it's not strictly speaking a thing in the rules as written, but as a DM, I'd probably do exactly that. \$\endgroup\$ – Polisurgist Feb 11 '17 at 21:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ I generally don't allow for passive Stealth - keeping quiet and still is something one usually has to apply effort towards, things like making sure you're not brushing against anything, sliding your feet instead of walking, holding your breath, etc. Passive Perception is different, because one cannot help but see and hear. \$\endgroup\$ – T.J.L. Aug 20 '18 at 20:43
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If the elf is not hiding the human knows where it is. Whether this is because elves breath heavily, or smell of roses (or what fertilises roses), or bend the weave of magic in a way that humans can detect is up to you, but - not hidden is not hidden. The human does suffer from the blinded condition imposing disadvantage on attacks but that's it.

Of course, if the elf was preparing an ambush or otherwise sneaking along it could start the encounter hidden. During the encounter it can use a (bonus) action to hide at any time since the human cannot see it.

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The blinded condition states:

A blinded creature can’t see and automatically fails any ability check that requires sight.

If the elf is just standing there, then he is not making any noise. In the absence of special abilities, the human can neither see nor hear the elf, and thus has no idea that the elf is there. This is because the human automatically fails that perception check to detect that elf.

A functionally equivalent scenario is one in which the room is well-lit but the elf is invisible. If the elf isn't moving, he is both silent and invisible, and the entering human would have no idea that the elf is there.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Downvoting because nothing about the described situation indicates that the elf is slient as well as unseen. Even a standing creature can shift its weight, have its armor of coins in a pouch jingle, scrape a dagger against its sheath, &c. If the elf is attempting to remain silent as well as hidden, it should be making a Dexterity (Stealth) roll and hiding, which changes the premise of the question. \$\endgroup\$ – Polisurgist Feb 11 '17 at 18:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think this answer raises a very valid point, if the Elf knows the human can't see him he would almost automatically try and stay still and not make any noise, which would count as hiding. There is almost no way the Elf would be happily going about his noisy business in this situation. \$\endgroup\$ – SeriousBri Jan 30 '18 at 7:34

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