Stealth seems to be a topic that I’ve been writing about a lot (see On Sneaking) lately. The reason why I’m writing about it again is because at our last game, we had a tough time of it. Our stealth woes were so bad, my DM wrote about it on her own blog. On the surface, our problems were related to figuring out when to make Stealth and Perception checks, what bonuses to apply, how light, cover, and different actions change a character’s ability to hide. Digging deeper, the real problem was that the party got totally schooled in the sneak department by our Kenku opponents.
The problem with the Stealth rules is not just their complexity, but also that it has been errata’d at least once. For my own (and possibly your) future reference, the 4e erratas are kept here: http://www.wizards.com/dnd/Article.aspx?x=dnd/updates. In the latest update (March 2010), the Stealth rules are on page 15 of the errata, although that is likely to change as the document changes, so just search for “Stealth” and you’ll eventually get there.
Here’s the breakdown of how I think Stealth works:
- You hide (and roll the opposed checks) at the end of the move action. That means you can’t move, attack, and then hide. Your character must be able to make a move action to hide (even if he moves 0 squares). As long as you end the move in a spot where you can hide, you’re can still make the check, even if the move happened out in the open.
- You make the check against any enemy against which you have total concealment (invisible or obscured but not next to) or superior cover (behind a window, arrow slit, grate). That means you can be hidden from some enemies but not others. It’s incumbent on the player or DM not to use player knowledge to unduly influence a character’s actions in this case. If character that can see the hidden creature points it out his friends, I suppose they should be able to make attacks into that square as if it had total concealment (-5).This particular part bit us in that recent encounter against the Kenkus, since the Kenku Sneaks [DDI] have an ability to hide if it has cover from another Kenku. I believe our DM rightly and effectively used this power against us, even when the Kenku only had partial cover. The ability text refers to just “cover” and the Stealth rules explicitly state that a character can’t use an ally’s cover to hide, meaning this is one of those exception-based abilities the rules are so fond of. These exceptions are good for the game as it gives these monsters a unique flavor that others won’t have, but is frustrating as heck to a rules lawyer.
- To stay hidden all you need is to maintain a little bit of cover or concealment, not make a lot of noise, and not attack. If you move more than 2 spaces you have to make a new Stealth check, but if you’re okay if you move two or less and have just a little bit covering.To me, this means if one hides in the first round, and then in next round he attacks someone, it breaks the hiding. But then he can use a move action to rehide (if he still satisfies the cover conditions). This is a pretty good deal for a sniper. In fact you can imagine a pretty good ninja-character sneaking in somewhere, killing a minion and then re-hiding with a move, silently sneaking from guy to the next, taking them out. Another interesting piece is that you need total concealment to hide, but can stay hidden with partial concealment. When dealing with light sources, you can go into hiding when it’s completely dark, but then sneak through dim light.
- The one caveat is that you can’t rehide as part of an action that makes you loose hiding. So if you have a power that grants an move & attack as part of an action, you can’t use that move to hide after loosing the hiding from the attack: you’d have to do another move action. Also if you move out of cover/concealment or move more than 2 squares and fail the new Stealth check, you can’t re-hide at the end of that movement.
There are a few interesting questions that aren’t covered explicitly by the rules, and I wanted to take a stab at them, since they are likely to come up again as we fight more stealthy enemies.
- Generally, to be hidden an enemy needs some amount of cover or concealment. In that case I assume the normal rules for cover/concealment apply for attacking, which is generally a -5 when you can’t see the enemy. However what if the creature has a special power that lets it remain hidden without cover/concealment? Then I assume for standard attacks the rules are the same as if the creature were invisible (-5 to hit), but what about with an area attack? On page 281 of the PHB, it says that an close or area attack doesn’t suffer the penalty when attacking an invisible enemy. I assume the same applies in the Stealth case.
- What about forced movement? Let’s say I have an area force attack that pushes everything 3 squares. Does this mean a hidden creature is now exposed? Or do they get a chance to reroll Stealth to hide, even though it’s not their move action? What about if the forced movement is only 1 or 2 squares? My gut reaction would be that anything forced to move would be moved away from what it was hiding behind and is thus exposed.
- In a second post, Sarah wrote again about the Kenku situation, and postulated in her notes about moving the Sneaks around to give each other advantage. While devastating, I don’t think it is cheap tactic since an attack breaks hiding and they have to use a move action to rehide, so any sneak hidden by another can attack (breaks hiding), and move to provide cover but can’t rehide without cover/concealment itself. The now covered kenku can use a move action to hide, and then attack from hidden (for extra damage) but then can’t rehide that round (see my comment on her post). It’ll be tough but I think sending the defender to limit their movements will help break the pattern. This pattern I think is most useful for an archer on a rampart: he attacks (breaking cover), moves down to the next hole and rehides, and repeats this round after round.
- If creature A is using creature B to hide, and creature B moves, leaving A without cover, is A no longer hidden? I’m assuming that’s the case here.
So, have I gotten these rules completely wrong? After rereading the rules two dozen times in writing this article, I feel like I understand them much better and are no longer afraid to use them, but there still seems like there could be a ton of situations where logic and rules clash. I know it’s up to the GM to make the call and move on, but sometimes a fair ruling isn’t the fun one 🙂