[RPG] How far away is the Gnome’s “Clockwork Toy” or “Music Box” audible


Rock Gnomes possess the capability to produce small devices such as the "Clockwork Toy", "Fire Starter" and "Music Box". The book specifically states that they produce sound. My expectation on how I would personally use this is as a distraction. So from how far away are these devices Audible?

Best Answer

There are no rules governing sound and audibility.

And at first I thought this would be a simple "rulings, not rules" matter in 5e. "C'mon, have you ever heard a music box?" I thought. "Just figure it out in ten seconds with your GM and move on." But...

There are a lot of things that depend on sound/audibility. Enough that maybe there should be rules on it.*

As a brief survey, we've got many Bardic class features, many charms/enchantments, turning undead/faithless, Battle Master maneuvers, Blindsense, the Inspiring Leader feat, and the "Unseen Attackers and Targets" section of combat... and dozens of spells!

Turning to the DMG, "Noticing other Creatures" (p.243) would be a nice place to find a bit of suggested rules--but it's silent. It does tell us that "if neither side is being stealthy, creatures automatically notice each other once they are within sight or hearing range of each other." And that's it. Never a discussion about what a reasonable hearing range might be.

So it's worth developing a decent system. I'll leave that to you and your GM, but here are the relevant touchstones I see:

  1. 30': many effects key off of a creature/target being able to hear you and being within 30'. The strong implication is that "normal" noises can be heard at 30'.
  2. 30', 60', 120': sentient items may possess sight and hearing, and their hearing may extend to 30', 60', or 120' (DMG p.214). Thus these are not unreasonable ranges, though they are magically-created ranges and need not be taken for gospel.
  3. 300': The various Thunder-based spells (and Knock, but excepting Thunderclap (100')) specify that their unusually-loud effects are audible out to 300'. This, then, presents a range at which it'd be unreasonable for "normal" noises to be audible.

* @KorvinStarmast rightly points out that my suggestion that one should develop a more-systematic approach to sound and hearing goes against the explicit 5e design philosophy of trying to simplify, staying away from excessive simulationism. My suggestion that one might codify this is based upon the surprise I felt when I discovered just how important sound is, just how many mechanics do key off of it. You, of course, should play your game. And enjoy!