[RPG] Can the rogue repeatedly hide in combat to sneak attack the same enethe


One of my players is a rogue and has been, on his turn, using Cunning Action to hide as a bonus action and immediately afterwards attacking. I have been ruling that this does work to grant him advantage as an unseen attacker as I believe that is the RAW, but it seems a little strange. Is he really, in the span of 6 seconds, ducking behind a corner and popping back out and this completely disorientates his target? I guess I just wanted to make sure I was ruling correctly.

Best Answer

No, this doesn't work in melee.

At least not the important second half.

  1. Yes, they can duck behind the corner and hide. All they need to do to be allowed to hide is break line of sight.
  2. No, they can't just pop back out and sneak attack. To sneak attack, they need advantage, and to get that from being unseen they have to still be unseen when they attack (PHB, p. 195):

    When a creature can't see you, you have advantage on attack rolls against it.

    Unfortunately for the rogue, as soon as they pop out in front of an attacker that's already aware of their presence, they are immediately seen and no longer count as unseen when they attack (PHB, p. 177):

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

Sneak attack only works if they sneak up on an enemy who doesn't know they're there. Popping out of hiding isn't sneaky, unless the enemy is surprised — and they can't surprise an enemy that is “aware of danger”. When they duck behind a corner in combat, the enemy is aware of danger and watching all around, and is impossible to sneak up on (without unusual circumstances), because that enemy is the opposite of surprised — they are actively on guard.

Does it work at range?

Not easily. It can work as long as they avoid being spotted, but not being spotted is the hard part: since the attacker's location is automatically given away and after that it's easy to see them, special precautions are required to prevent being seen despite the target knowing exactly where they are.

To do that at range you're working with the same rules — they need to be unseen, they need to stay unseen until after they make the attack, and the target needs to fail to locate them after being attacked. It's that last part that makes this difficult — by an explicit rule, attacking reveals a character's location (PHB, p. 195):

If you are hidden—both unseen and unheard—when you make an attack, you give away your location when the attack hits or misses.

So to make this work at range, they need to arrange fictional circumstances somehow to defeat that. The usual way to do this with ranged attacks is to

  1. attack while unseen (usually in cover1), revealing their location,
  2. either have attacked while in cover, or move to break line of sight or into cover,
  3. hide now that they're somewhere that allows a Stealth check,
  4. move to a new location without that movement being seen, to make their location unknown again,
  5. then, attack from their new location, unseen.

This convoluted process is often necessary because, at step (1) the ranged attacker has already revealed their location, and all it takes is a successful Perception check to see them (assuming the attacker is not blindingly obvious once the enemy knows where to look) for the advantage from being unseen to be removed. Steps (2)–(5) establish a new location that has not already been revealed, allowing the next attack to be made unseen.

(However, this process can be largely skipped if the hiding spot is so good that Perception checks to see the attacker are likely to fail. To be a good sniper, make a good sniper nest! And hope you're not seen, and have an escape route planned.)

But popping out from hiding in a single location before attacking? No, that won't grant advantage, because just like in the melee situation, the attacker is immediately seen once they move out from their hiding spot to line up the next shot.

Ugh, this is too hard!

Well then, do it the simple way: an enemy that has an ally of the rogue's adjacent to it can also be Sneak Attacked. That allows Sneak Attack every round with no need to fiddle with movement or hiding or seen/unseen variables. Just flank and shiv.

1. This post uses “cover” in the dictionary word's tactical sense, to describe the activity happening in the game fiction. Whether that cover is mechanically represented with Obscurement (PHB, p. 183) or Cover (p. 196) will depend on the exact circumstances as adjudicated by the DM on the scene, as is appropriate.