More on stealth

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 🙂

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6 thoughts on “More on stealth

  1. I spent a lot of time before that encounter trying to study and internalize the stealth rules. Part of the reason I chose the sneaks is because I know that at least one of you guys want to do a super-awesome sneak mission and we needed to learn those rules to make it happen.

    As for your questions, here is how I would rule.

    1. Close or area attacks would not have a penalty, although I don’t think they would automatically become unhidden. I might even roll a check for the creature caught in the blast to see whether or not they make a sound or otherwise become unhidden. I would peg it to the level of the attack. A cloud of daggers that does a small amount of damage would have a much lower DC than a huge fireball of doom.

    2. I totally think forced movement that moves a hidden creature out of cover should make them visible and, if it moves them more than 2, they should be able to make a hide check if they had cover during the entire movement. The story telling possibilities are just great with that possibility. I might even give creatures moved more than 2 squares a penalty to the check since they were likely taken off guard by what just happened to them.

    3. Yeah, the downside of the sneaks is that they have daggers, which means they kind of need to be close to be menacing. Synergies are important to PCs and they can be just as important to NPCs.

    4. Yup, if the creature providing cover, as in the case with the sneaks, moves out of the way, the poor guy in the back is left open.

  2. Pingback: Marking your opponents « Mike's D&D Blog

  3. I’m still confused…

    So you can standard action shoot something with stealth “activated” from the previous turn, then “re-stealth” after you standard action?

    Do you have to roll a stealth check to restealth or do you just keep hiding well and no one notices you. Does the enemy have to percieve you beating your stealth check?

    I have a player who refuses to play D&D as any other character except one that can go around and ninja kill things, yet this is my mind makes no sense at all in groups mechanics.

    He wants to be stealthy but his whole team is just in the room fighting stuff and hes at range getting his bonuses yet refuses to say he is not being stealthy about how he is doing it and claims because he is a hero “I should be able to stealth regardless of whatever I roll, WHAT WOULD HAPPEN IF I ROLL A 1 ON STEALTH??? A PRO HERO JUST FAILS????”

    I can understand his point of being a hero and being trained to not fail but, its D&D and random chance is part of the game.

    He wants me to impliment a “passive” stealth system of some sort……

    I have no fucken idea where to start, help me out if you can, we’re playing today and I FUCKEN KNOW hes going to want to stealth everywhere….pisses me off. No because he wants to stealth, but because stealths mechanic is so problematic in the sense of the “reality” player.

    • @Mitch: When it comes to managing players like that you should look at your campaign and check to see if it suits your players. But in regards to players like that.. Unless he’s level 20-30 he’s not considered a hero and he’s definitely not that well trained. I assume the guy is low leveled or middle leveled. And as for rolling ones, even professionals make mistakes (:

      Just tell him he can’t start out that way he has to earn it.

      So the way I would go about it is having your player in control of the character learn to reduce the amount of rolls needed (aka positioning and decision making) or them having an astronomical amount of points in stealth as they progress in their career and supporting items.

      If anything remove critical failures and add in skill points regardless and proceed with the check.

  4. Second line of the article: “You hide (and roll the opposed checks) at the end of the move action.”

    Now excuse me if im wrong but the rules (post-errata of course) state: “Stealth: The check is USUALLY at the end of a move action, BUT IT CAN BE AT THE END OF ANY of the creature’s ACTIONS THAT IVOLVE the creature MOVING”

    I think that means thar you can indeed attack and hide if you use a power that involves moving and attacking as a standard action for example… now you probably cant move as a move action, then attack as a standard action and then hide but still you got some more freedom and options as of when you can hide…
    unless of course a player is not a creature……:)

    I still think the rules need some revising because i find it stupid that i cant hide while in total concealment or superior cover and then move to a place with light concealment or cover in the same turn :/

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