[RPG] see a Hidden creature that is not obscured at all


Here is the scenario: I am the GM, and one of my players is a Sharpshooter Rogue. He likes to hide as a bonus action to gain advantage on his rolls, which effectively nullifies the -5 attack bonus on Sharpshooter, and thus gives him an extra 17(10+2d6) damage every round. So at 4th level he's doing ~25 damage a round, which seems awfully high.

What I'd like to do in future encounters is send in some monsters to root out this Rogue and prevent him from staying hidden (obviously not all the time, but enough to keep this player on his toes and give the tank and melee fighter something to do).

What I noticed in our last session was that for the most part, this Rogue is just Hiding behind cover, so like a rock or a tree. So, to me, if I send in a goblin to check the tree the Rogue just hid behind, then that goblin should be able to clearly see the Rogue just by walking around the tree. But the Rogue already beat the goblin's passive Perception to hide in the first place(back when he couldn't be seen so it made sense), and the rules I've seen imply that the goblin has to spend its action to Search for the 'hiding' Rogue.

Does this mean that the Rogue is essentially invisible until he decides to attack? And that he can Sneak Attack this goblin that's staring right at him (or stab him normally if by some miracle the goblin succeeds on a Perception test)? Or am I looking at this all wrong?

And yeah, I know there are plenty of tangentially related Stealth questions, but this seems like a weird edge case that I haven't seen addressed yet.

Best Answer

See? Yes. Notice? Maybe.

The rules on Hiding and stealth give a lot of leeway to a DM, so you are absolutely within your rights to declare that once a creature is looking directly at you, you cease to be hidden from it. But keep in mind a couple of important distinctions:

1. Hiding is different than being unseen

Any creature that is in a heavily obscured area, or invisible, or fighting a blinded enemy is "unseen". But a creature that is hiding is not only unseen, but also unheard, and generally unperceived. They might keep very still, or stand close to similarly colored parts of their surrounding, or compact their body so their silhouette no longer seems humanoid. In short, they are doing more than being out of line of sight.

As evidence of this distinction, consider the following on page 177 of the PHB:

An invisible creature can’t be seen, so it can always try to hide. Signs of its passage might still be noticed, however, and it still has to stay quiet.

To put it another way (and to quote a 2016 Errata in the PHB):

the question isn’t whether a creature can see you when you’re hiding. The question is whether it can see you clearly.

2. You can't Hide from a creature that sees you, but maybe you could remain hidden

The rules are clear that

You can’t hide from a creature that can see you clearly, (PHB, p. 177)

but note that this only rules out becoming hidden: it doesn't necessarily rule out remaining hidden. So as a DM, it will totally be up to you whether or not the Goblin will notice the already hidden rogue when they gain line of sight.

Keep in mind that combat is a chaotic and distracting place. As an example of what that level of chaos can do to perception, note how difficult it is to count how many passes the players in white make in this linked video.

Note, though, that once the hidden rogue attacks anything, they won't be able to hide (from the goblin) again, unless they've moved to some new location that the goblin can't see. The rules are clear that while you could remain hidden while visible, you can't hide.

3. Advantage/Disadvantage (on attacks) is not from being hidden, it is from being unseen

All the points above are meant to indicate that a creature could remain hidden while they are seen: that is, an enemy might not notice them, or might not know where they are. But that does not necessarily mean they will gain advantage on an attack roll against such an enemy.

Any place that the rules suggest a hidden creature will gain advantage on an attack, they justify this as a result of the hidden creature being unseen. Such as:

Master might allow you to stay hidden as you approach a creature that is distracted, allowing you to gain advantage on an attack before you are seen. (PHB, p. 177, bold added)


When you take the Hide action, you make a Dexterity (Stealth) check in an attempt to hide, following the rules in chapter 7 for hiding. If you succeed, you gain certain benefits, as described in the “Unseen Attackers and Targets” section later in this chapter. (PHB, p. 192, bold added)

So the only real benefit a hidden character could get against an enemy that can see it is that the enemy might not notice them. This could cause an enemy to be surprised (first round of combat only) or to be unable to intentionally attack the hidden creature (because they don't know it's there). But a creature hidden in plain sight would not get advantage on attack rolls against a creature that could see them, regardless of whether or not they remain "hidden".