Last Updated on January 22, 2023
The Hide Action is one of the most commonly misunderstood rules in D&D. As a DM, getting Hide right can be the difference between running challenging and immersive tactical encounters or running bad guys whose behavior evokes all the worst tropes of buggy video game AI.
In this guide, we’ll go over how Hide works and how to use it the right way for DMs and players alike.
What is the Hide Action?
The Hide Action is an ability that can be used by any creature to become unseen by other creatures. If one creature is hidden from another, this grants various benefits.
For example, the second creature can’t see, and therefore can’t easily react to, the first creature’s movements and actions.
How Does Hide Work?
When you decide you want to hide, your DM first decides whether it’s reasonable that your character could attempt to hide in this situation.
Generally, this determination is based on how clearly enemies can see you. If the DM decides your character can try to hide, you then make a stealth roll. This roll must beat the passive perception of all creatures you’re trying to hide from.
The roll is also contested by perception rolls by any creatures that are actively searching for or focusing on your character.
If the stealth roll succeeds against all of these things, your character becomes hidden.
Hiding in Combat and Hidden Combatants
You can try to hide in combat by using your action, on your turn. In the same way as when hiding outside of combat, the DM first rules whether or not you could reasonably attempt to hide.
When you attempt to hide in combat, it’s usually assumed that all enemy combatants are actively paying attention to you so your stealth roll will usually be contested by perception rolls from all enemy combatants.
It’s also assumed that all enemy combatants are paying attention to their surroundings so if, when you’re hidden, you leave cover and openly approach an enemy, that enemy will generally spot you automatically and without needing to make any perception rolls.
Attacking While Hidden
If you attack while hidden then you have advantage on your attack roll. You reveal your location when you attack, regardless of whether your attack hits, so this only applies to the first attack you attempt.
Attacking Hidden Creatures
You can also make attacks against creatures that you’re aware of but that are hidden from you. This is particularly useful if you’re fighting invisible creatures, and changing position or searching for them is less likely to be successful than simply making an attack in the hope that it hits.
Rather than selecting a creature you can see as the target of an attack, in these cases you choose an area to target. This might be represented by a square or hex on a battle map. You then make an attack roll with disadvantage, directed at that area.
If your target isn’t in the area that you targeted then you automatically miss. The DM doesn’t tell you why you missed – it’s up to you to figure out whether your target was elsewhere or if you just didn’t beat their AC.
Hiding and Vision
Vision is the main factor that your DM uses when determining whether your character can attempt to hide.
Stealth in D&D works differently from stealth in many video games – because D&D is based heavily on the players’ collective imagination of events, you can more easily model a ton of different factors that could impact your ability to hide.
Anything can be factored in, from how weather conditions impact the light level to whether a guard is slightly inattentive today because his kid is struggling at school.
This is very different from video games where a computer is making judgments that, therefore, must always be based on the same set of criteria.
Several major factors are likely to impact vision:
Whether You’re In Ccover
This often is the most important factor. Usually, when you’re attempting to hide, you need to be behind cover. The degree of cover you need may vary based on other factors that obscure vision.
Some DMs may also be more or less lenient with cover requirements – some DMs prefer that your character is behind full cover while some may allow you to hide behind partial cover.
For the purposes of hiding, it’s worth noting that cover only needs to obstruct vision and doesn’t need to provide ballistic cover.
For example, light foliage won’t stop an arrow in flight but it will still obstruct an enemy’s vision of you. This means that some objects will provide a greater degree of cover when determining if you can hide than they would when resolving attack rolls.
Simultaneously, a thick glass window might be more effective at deflecting arrows than at obstructing vision.
The Light Level and Weather Conditions
Your surroundings may be lighter or darker for a range of different reasons. If you’re outside then the time of day has a major impact – it’s significantly lighter at midday than in the late evening.
Seasons may also play a part here – Winter is typically darker than Summer. The weather on a given day is also a factor. An overcast or rainy day is darker than a sunny one.
If you’re inside then the biggest factor in determining light level is the presence of artificial lighting like torches or candles. That said, the darkness in an unlit cave is much more complete than that in an unlit house.
Broadly, light levels are divided into “bright light”, “dim light”, and “darkness” depending on these factors. Characters in dim light may be lightly obscured while characters in darkness are usually heavily obscured.
Weather conditions like fog and heavy rain or a sandstorm or blizzard can also impact vision. Not only do these weather conditions impact light levels, but they also more directly obstruct vision between enemy combatants.
These factors, combined with the light level and any present foliage, can be used to determine if vision is lightly or heavily obscured.
If the area is lightly obscured then characters have disadvantage on any sight-based perception checks, including passive checks. This makes it much easier to hide.
Creatures trying to operate in heavily obscured areas, meanwhile, have their vision blocked entirely and suffer from the blinded condition. Blinded creatures automatically fail any sight-based checks, so hiding from them automatically succeeds.
Usually, you don’t need cover to hide in these conditions.
Darkvision, Blindsight, and Truesight
Certain abilities allow creatures to see you, even when vision is heavily obscured. Creatures with Darkvision have a range (usually 60ft) within which they can see, even in darkness.
Creatures with Blindsight rely on some other means to detect you, besides sight, so factors that obscure vision don’t impact their ability to perceive you.
Truesight is uncommon and extremely powerful. Creatures with Truesight can perceive you within a specified range and can see through any mundane or magical effects that would otherwise obscure you. This includes invisibility and illusions.
If a creature has any of these abilities, that makes it much more difficult to hide from. Player characters are unlikely to possess Blindsight or Truesight but Darkvision is quite common amongst playable races.
Hiding – A Quick Reference
Attempting to hide:
- The player says that they want to try to hide.
- The DM decides whether the player character can try to hide. This is based on how clearly enemies can see them, which the DM determines based on factors like light level and cover.
- The player makes a stealth roll. This must beat all enemies’ passive perception scores.
- Any enemies who are actively paying attention to the player character contest the stealth roll with a perception roll.
- If the player’s stealth roll beats the passive perception scores are the stealth rolls, the player character successfully hides.
Attacking a hidden enemy:
- The player chooses an area they want to make an attack against. This could be a tile on a battle map if you’re using one.
- The player makes an attack roll with disadvantage.
- If the enemy was present and the player’s roll beats the enemy’s AC, the attack hits.
- If the attack misses, the player isn’t told why. It’s up to the player to guess whether the enemy is elsewhere or whether they didn’t beat the enemy’s AC.
Attacking while hidden:
- The player makes an attack roll with advantage.
- After making the attack roll, regardless of success or failure, the player character is no longer hidden and the enemy is aware of their position.
Rogues and Hiding
Rogues usually hide more than any other player characters. Rogues’ Cunning Action ability allows them to hide (amongst other things) as a bonus action.
This is very powerful – other classes need to use their action if they want to hide which precludes attacking, casting, or doing other useful things on that turn. This means rogues sacrifice a lot less when they hide.
Rogues’ other abilities also synergize well with hiding. Attacking while unseen grants advantage on attack rolls and rogues’ Sneak Attack ability grants extra damage when they attack with advantage.
There are also more indirect synergies between Hide and other aspects of rogues’ toolkit. For example, Cunning Action also allows rogues to disengage or dash as a bonus action.
This means it’s often easier for rogues to reach cover which then allows them to hide on a later turn.
Rogue’s individual subclasses also have bonuses relating to hiding. For example, the Thief subclass’s Supreme Sneak ability allows you to sacrifice part of your move speed to gain advantage on stealth checks.
Hiding From Some Enemies (but not all)
There’s one particular area of the rules for stealth where the D&D community is in disagreement. If your stealth check succeeds against some enemies but not all of them, are you hidden from the enemies your check succeeded against? Or do you entirely fail to hide against any enemies?
The former adds greater realism to the game while the latter is practically easier to keep track of during play. Some DMs prefer one while some prefer the other ruling – you should choose whichever you think will work best for your game.
Hide as DM
Hide is one of many actions you can use, as DM, to make combat feel more dynamic and to characterize your bad guys. If your bad guys hide, it helps to create a sense of motion and strategy in the combat as players reposition and find ways to reveal their hidden enemies.
Hiding also adds tension – if the players know an enemy has successfully hidden, they will assume that the enemy will eventually make an attack. This possibility may encourage your players to take precautions and think about their environment in a way that makes combat feel much more real.
Hiding can also help to characterize bad guys as anything from cowardly to cunning. Enemies hiding in the shadows aren’t necessarily even weaker than your PCs – a powerful enemy might hide to taunt and toy with your party rather than because the party poses any danger to them.
There are a few enemies that should specifically use the hide action. For example, goblins.
Goblins are almost ubiquitous low-level enemies and are notoriously mishandled by DM’s. New DM’s, especially those coming from a video gaming background, often run goblins as static, out-in-the-open encounters with a few enemies who stand in melee range and attack until they’re dead.
Goblins can make for some of the most tactically interesting and dynamic encounters in D&D if they’re run correctly and Hide is the key to that.
Goblins have the Nimble Escape ability which, similarly to rogues’ Cunning Action, means they can hide as a bonus action. They have a +6 bonus to stealth checks which, for a CR 1/4 creature, is incredibly high.
Goblins also have darkvision which allows them to operate in lower light levels than some PCs (depending on race) may be able to.
A goblin’s shortbow deals just as much damage as its scimitar so there’s no reason that they’d choose to be in melee range, especially with their measly 7HP. Goblins’ 15 AC makes them nigh untouchable when combined with bonuses from cover.
Overall, goblins’ statblock makes it very clear that they’re intended to be run as stealthy guerilla enemies who pepper your PCs with arrows, only to meld back into the shadows before your players can strike back. If you’re not making heavy use of Hide when running these tiny terrors, you’re doing it wrong.
Goblins’ encounters that use Hide extensively can make for some narratively harrowing and tactically challenging battles against enemies whose numbers and positions are unclear.
Goblins are one example but many other creatures are intended to be run with heavy use of hide. When you prepare an encounter for your players, always pay attention to bonuses your monsters get to stealth rolls or hide. Even if an enemy has no such bonuses, enemies with a high dexterity modifier may still benefit from hiding in certain circumstances.
It can be tricky to handle PCs hiding. It’s important to maintain boundaries of what PCs can achieve with hide in order to maintain the sense that your bad guys are thinking, tactical people in a living, breathing world.
If a PC approaches an enemy across a well-lit room, then regardless of whether the player claims to be moving “stealthily”, the bad guy will see that PC.
Similarly, a bad guy doesn’t immediately forget that a PC is present, just because the PC successfully hid and the bad guy lost track of the PC’s exact position.
On the other hand, your job as DM is to facilitate the players successfully making an attempt (note: this is not the same as making a successful attempt) at whatever hair-brained scheme they’re trying to enact.
If a player wants to hide then you can improvisationally create cover for them to hide behind. If they say “I want to sneak past the guard”, you can describe how “some crates opposite the guard would make excellent cover to hide behind”.
It’s also really important to communicate to your players if you suspect they’re operating under a flawed understanding of how the game, or your world, works. If necessary, ask them “what are you trying to achieve here?” I
f players are trying to do something that obviously wouldn’t work, like attempting to hide while in open view of several attentive enemies, then try to work with the player to find a way of doing whatever they’re trying to achieve.
It’s also a good idea, if PCs aren’t ever attempting to hide or move stealthily, to throw some enemies at them who do. The best way to tutorialize any mechanic in D&D is by having enemies use it to gain an advantage against the players.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is hiding an action or a bonus action?
Ordinarily hiding requires a character’s action. There are some abilities, such as Cunning Action, that allow a character to hide as a bonus action instead.
Does hiding give advantage?
Yes. If you attack while unseen then you gain advantage on your attack roll. You’re then revealed though, so this only applies to your first attack roll.
Can rogues hide in plain sight?
No. You can only hide if vision between you and the creature you’re hiding from is partly or fully obscured. This applies to rogues, as well as other characters.
How do you hide in D&D?
First, your DM decides whether you can attempt to hide. This is usually based on how well enemies can see your character. If your DM decides that you can try to hide, you make a stealth roll.
This roll must beat the passive perception of all the enemies you’re hiding from and is contested by perception rolls from any enemies who are actively paying attention to your location.
If your stealth roll beats all of these things then you are successfully hidden.
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I played the game a lot as a kid, back in first edition. Over the past few years since 5e was released, I’ve really started getting back into it. Currently, I run a campaign online for some friends and my brothers, and we also play a side-sesh just to mix things up.