Whether you’re trying to sneak inside a monster’s lair, past the watchful castle guards, or out of a hostile enemy camp, stealth missions in Dungeons & Dragons 5e tend to inevitably result in the party’s discovery and therefore either combat or a frantic chase.
In order for a whole party of adventurers (most of whom are audibly clanking under the weight of their plate mail armor and the 50,000 gold pieces jangling around in their pockets as they walk) to successfully stealth their way from A to B, they’re all probably going to have to succeed on more than one Dexterity (Stealth) check each.
Guard posts need to be bypassed, corridors need to be moved along, walls need to be scaled, and locked doors need to be forced without attracting undue attention.
While every successful check brings the party closer to where they need to get without being detected, it only takes a single whiffed ability check for the alarm to be sounded and the guards to descend, swords drawn.
So, if you want to dramatically increase not only your own chances of successfully passing a stealth check but your entire party’s, you should definitely consider picking up Pass Without Trace.
What Is Pass Without Trace?
Pass Without Trace is a 2nd level abjuration spell available to rangers and druids (as well as clerics from the Trickery domain). Anyone affected by the spell gets a massive +10 bonus to their Dexterity (Stealth) checks.
Also, their feet leave no marks on the ground, and they cannot be tracked, except by magical means as, for an hour (or until the caster’s concentration ends), the spell shrouds the caster and their nearby allies in a cloud of shadows and silence.
Pass Without Trace
When this spell is cast, the caster enshrouds themself and any creatures they can see within 30 feet that they choose in a veil of shadows and silence.
For the spell’s duration, all creatures affected by the spell gain 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.
Let’s break this down. For the price of a 2nd-level spell slot (which druids will get access to two of at 3rd level and rangers can cast from the time they reach 5th), you can not only give yourself a +10 bonus to your stealth checks for a whole hour, but signs of your passage through an area are also going to be concealed.
No footsteps, no broken branches, nothing that a long-haired, dirty Aragorn-type can crouch over later and proclaim, “They went this way.”
This makes Pass Without Trace the ultimate spell for stealth missions, infiltration, and escapes.
You can move a whole group of people through a guarded area when normally only the rogue might have a good chance of getting through undetected.
Ensuring that — unless the character in question has a negative Dexterity modifier and no Stealth proficiency — it’s virtually impossible to roll below a 10 on a Dexterity (Stealth) check is hugely useful.
This is especially true if your dungeon master uses passive perception for unaware enemies rather than rolling every time.
Setting aside the possibility of a natural 1, even a character with no Dexterity bonus and no Stealth proficiency who has Pass Without Trace cast on them now has a 75% chance of getting a 15 or higher on any Dexterity (Stealth Checks) they make.
Now, if the people or monsters they’re trying to sneak past are making their own Wisdom (Perception) checks in response, this gives them a pretty huge advantage.
But that advantage gets even bigger if the guards are using their passive perception.
If the monsters on guard aren’t actively and explicitly looking for the heroes, the heroes’ Dexterity (Stealth) checks should be made against those monsters’ passive perceptions.
Assuming you’re going up against monsters of appropriate CR for your level, you’re rarely going to go up against enemies with a passive perception higher than 15.
Stuff like the CR 5 Barbed Devil with a monstrous 18 passive perception are the scare exception, but for the most part, Pass Without Trace means that a character who isn’t inherently stealthy only needs to roll between a 2 and a 5 on their d20 to silently and undetectably evade detection.
Who Benefits Most From Pass Without Trace?
As with most spells and abilities in D&D 5e that buff a character’s abilities, Pass Without Trace is most impactful when it’s either applied to characters who are really stealthy… or really aren’t.
First, any adventurer wearing heavy armor — which imposes disadvantage on Dexterity (Stealth) checks, reducing their average roll result by about 3.5 ish — is going to be immensely grateful for the bonus.
Likewise, any adventurer with a low Dexterity score or who’s suffering from the effects of poison or a few levels of exhaustion can all benefit from this huge boost to their ability to move around without attracting attention.
However, it’s in the hands (and totally silent feet) of high-Dexterity, naturally stealthy characters that this spell becomes kind of terrifying.
Rogues are no stranger to insanely high bonuses to their ability checks (thanks to their Expertise feature), but whacking another +10 on top of that means a medium- to high-level rogue could comfortably be rolling Dexterity (Stealth) checks above 30.
In particular, rogues who benefit from surprising their enemies — like the Assassin subclass that gets to automatically score a critical hit against surprised targets — are going to love Pass Without Trace.
It’s just a shame that the rogue has to rely on non-rogue party members in order to get access to this spell.
In terms of druids and rangers that would do well to pick up Pass Without Trace, the Gloom Stalker Ranger, which thrives in darkness anyway (and should mostly grab this spell as a way of letting their fellow party members keep up), is a particularly strong mechanical and thematic choice.
Both druids and rangers tend toward having good Dexterity scores (and usually Stealth proficiency) as it is, so adding more is never a bad thing.
However, it’s important that players (and dungeon masters) realize that a +10 bonus to a Dexterity (Stealth) check does not mean your character gets to go invisible.
The Limitations of Pass Without Trace
I think that in order to talk about the situations in which Pass Without Trace doesn’t work, we need to talk a little about the limits of stealth in general in D&D 5e, which I guess is actually about the limits of skills as a whole.
A lot of people — players and dungeon masters alike — make the mistake when playing 5e of thinking that because they rolled high for a skill check, they have to succeed.
A guard walks into a tiny supply containing nothing but a few mops, a bucket, and a 6,4 goliath barbarian. The barbarian player grabs their dice, declares they’re making a stealth check, and rolls a natural 20.
Despite there being no real way that the guard (without being blind, drunk, or both) could have missed the hulking mountain of muscle and tribal tattoos trying to hide behind a mop with a bucket on its head, the dungeon master feels obligated to let it work. They rolled a natural 20 after all.
It’s a too-oft forgotten rule of D&D 5e, but if there’s no physical way that a character can accomplish something, no amount of dice rolling (with any number of modifiers) is going to make it happen.
No matter how badly you want to punch the sun, lift a 10,000 pound rock above your head, or hide your goliath barbarian behind a 1-inch-wide piece of wood, it just isn’t going to happen.
There’s a whole other discussion to be had about the fact that D&D is better when players think completely in narrative terms rather than using language that relates to mechanics, but that’s beyond the scope of this spell guide.
My point is that the limits of Pass Without Trace are the same limits as the Stealth skill in general.
A character who has Pass Without Trace cast on them and who’s trapped in a brightly lit room with a wary beholder isn’t going to be able to take the Hide action or make a Stealth check on their turn because there’s no physical justification for why they’d be able to attempt it.
The only other drawback of this spell is its reliance on concentration, although because you usually only break concentration as a result of taking damage and if you’ve taken damage, the spell has probably already failed to do its job, this isn’t the end of the world.
Also, because Pass Without Trace clearly makes the creatures affected by it stealthier by hiding them from view and earshot, you should be careful that a creature that hunts using blindsight or smell can probably bypass this advantage.
However, the tracking element of the spell notes that all nonmagical attempts to track creatures affected by Pass Without Trace fail, which would include the scent left behind by passing creatures, so this ruling is probably best left up to the Dungeon Master.
Personally, I would rule that only monsters with unnaturally enhanced senses of smell, like werewolves, for example, that have the Keen Hearing and Smell trait, could follow the scent of a creature concealed by Pass Without Trace.
What’s the Best Way To Use Pass Without Trace?
Obviously, the simplest way to use Pass Without Trace is as a massive party-wide buff to Dexterity (Stealth) checks.
This means that sneaking into a goblin stronghold to rescue the local villagers (especially if you have a second use of this ready to go for the prisoners) goes from an inevitable combat to a smooth, Sam Fisher-style commando raid.
Speaking of Commando Raids, the fact that the only limit to the number of people that Pass Without Trace can affect is how many people you can fit within 30 feet of the caster means that you can catch a whole platoon of soldiers, a patrol of mounted knights, and even a size Huge creature like an adult dragon or a hill giant.
This makes Pass Without Trace the ultimate tool for campaigns centered around faction warfare, a PC-owned smuggling operation, or a dangerous escort mission.
Final Verdict: Should I Pick Up Pass Without Trace?
Pass Without Trace is, for a 2nd-level spell slot, a huge amount of utility and control that affects not just the caster but the whole party.
Suddenly, whole groups of adventurers can carefully bypass enemy positions, escape after being captured, and generally have a whole lot more freedom of movement to get where they need to be, set up ambushes, and more.
Even rangers, who have a relatively limited supply of spell slots compared to druids, should seriously consider picking up this spell as it’s a top-tier option at this level.
Druids, who get to prepare new spells every time they finish a long rest, should always be ready to prepare Pass Without Trace, especially if they think the day ahead is going to call for the party to move unseen.
We hope this has given you everything you need to know about one of D&D 5e’s best utility spells.
Just remember that, when you’re a goliath with a bucket on his head standing in a small, brightly lit room, not even Pass Without Trace can save you.
Until next time, happy adventuring.