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Last session, my Warlock was being attacked by a pair of Winter Wolves, and not doing well. I was able to get a little away, and cast Darkness to hide from them. My DM wasn't sure how exactly the wolves should handle this situation.

We know that it's impossible to see in magical Darkness unless you have something like True Sight. But one of the other players at the table was hesitant to say that the wolves should get disadvantage because the wolves have advantage on perception rolls using scent/hearing. I still would argue that while the wolves maybe can smell where my character is, it's not an exact science where the wolves know exactly where he is, they'd still need to have visual confirmation to make sure that they can hit him.

After all, a blind wolf in the wild is a dead wolf in the wild. While a blind wolf could perhaps smell a living creature, it's still going to have trouble targeting a creature that can move around, even if it's right next to it. A blind wolf could find a stationary object, like a dead carcass, and feed off it, but it's still going to stumble, run into things, and generally head towards false trails without visual direction.

While the wolf maybe could make make an ability check at our table, I would assume that would use up his action (as we play it, I'm not sure if that's in the handbook or not, I haven't looked at it yet), but he'd still have problems with making visual confirmation at where exactly the target is.

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RAW: Yes, the wolf would be able to detect you, find you and attack you, but they would still have the blinded condition and therefore suffer all the effects of that condition (see below).

But the big takeaway is. If everyone (attacker and defender) is blinded, then it doesn't matter anyway, as attacking a blinded creature nets you advantage. And any advantage cancels any and all disadvantage.

You could likely make a Dexterity (Stealth) check if you want to actively avoid the wolves in the darkness, by moving quietly, but since they have keen hearing AND smell, it probably isn't worth it for you to waste an action on it. This is where it gets into RAI. As a DM, I might let you make a Dexterity (Stealth) check as part of a move action to remain still enough to not be heard, but that's a DM call.

PHB pg 183 - Vision And Light:

Relevant sections italicised

Darkness creates a heavily obscured area. Characters face darkness outdoors at night (even most moonlit nights), within the confines of an unlit dungeon or a subterranean vault, or in an area of magical darkness.

A heavily obscured area–such as darkness, opaque fog, or dense foliage–blocks vision entirely. A creature effectively suffers from the blinded condition (see appendix PH-A) when trying to see something in that area.

Other Relevant Info

pg 290

Blinded

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

  • Attack rolls against the creature have advantage, and the creature’s attack rolls have disadvantage.

pg 305 On The senses of wolves

Keen Hearing and Smell. The wolf has advantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on hearing or smell.

And finally, and perhaps most importantly on pg 177

NOTE: The hiding rules and the invisibility rules are effectively the same now, with the exceptions noted below.

Hiding When you try to hide, make a Dexterity (Stealth) check. Until you are discovered or you stop hiding, that check's total is contested by the Wisdom (Perception) check of any creature that actively searches for signs of your presence. You can't hide from a creature that can see you. and if you make noise (such as shouting a warning or knocking over a vase), you give away your position. An invisible creature can't be seen, so it can always try to hide. Signs of its passage might still be noticed, however, and it still has to stay quiet.

In combat, most creatures stay alert for signs of danger all around, 50 if you come out of hiding and approach a creature, it usually sees you. 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.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I might let you make a Dexterity (Stealth) check as part of a move action to remain still enough to not be heard... Respectully, this is a really bad idea. Hide and Search are balanced against each other (they both take an action.) This destroys that balance and devalues abilities like Cunning Action. From a narrative point of view, if they're trying to stay quiet, there's nothing to use their action on anyways. Finally, the fact that it's high risk/high reward is precisely what makes it an interesting choice (and thus hopefully fun). Still gave you a +1, the rest of the answer is good. \$\endgroup\$ – Doval Apr 16 '17 at 23:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ Can you clarify why this is a bad idea. Right now, as I understand it, if one is already hidden, you can make a Dexterity (Stealth) check as part of your move action to make sure you move stealthily / remain hidden. You don't hide again every turn. I would reckon this would be an extension of that. I guess once the wolves locate him, he would want to move. Subsequent to that, another hide action would be reasonable to call for. \$\endgroup\$ – JWT Apr 17 '17 at 16:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ You never mentioned starting hidden, but being invisible doesn't remove the need to hide. The rules say your Stealth check is good until "until you are discovered or you stop hiding". Since hiding isn't automatic, if you don't use the Hide action next turn you're no longer hiding. As a final bit of supporting evidence, I asked Crawford whether you keep the same Stealth check in combat and he didn't say using Hide was unnecessary on the following turn. \$\endgroup\$ – Doval Apr 18 '17 at 1:34
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Page 183 of the player's handbook for all quotes

A creature in a heavily obscured area effectively suffers from the blinded condition

Blinded condition includes

The creature's attack rolls have disadvantage.

The only way around this is via blindsight or truesight, neither of which is in the wolf's stat block.

The player is essentially claiming that, because the wolf has heightened hearing and smelling abilities, it should get blindsight. But, while the PHB does state

Creatures with echolocation or heightened senses, such as bats and true dragons, have [blindsight]

every example given has blindsight in their stat block, even when they have normal or enhanced vision (e.g. the Ancient White Dragon in the Monster's Manual has both darkvision and blindsight).

So, by the lack of blindsight in the stat block of the wolf, you can conclude it should never have blindsight, even if normal vision is somehow cut off. Because that's the only way to negate the disadvantage from darkness, the wolf would still have disadvantage on all attacks.

All that said the wolf will likely roll without disadvantage

Unless the player had some way to see inside darkness, they would also have effectively suffered from the blinded condition. Because that includes

Attack rolls against the creature have advantage

then the wolf gets advantage, cancelling out the disadvantage. Related, any attacks your party made would not be at disadvantage against the wolves, as they cannot see you.

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