Can the rogue repeatedly hide in combat to sneak attack the same enemy?
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.
No, this doesn't work in melee.
At least not the important second half.
- Yes, they can duck behind the corner and hide. All they need to do to be allowed to hide is break line of sight.
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
- attack while unseen (usually in cover1), revealing their location,
- either have attacked while in cover, or move to break line of sight or into cover,
- hide now that they're somewhere that allows a Stealth check,
- move to a new location without that movement being seen, to make their location unknown again,
- 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.
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This seems to contradict statements by Jeremy Crawford as stated in the answer by @Mattamue below. Specifically the ranged part, as in combat, the enemies are most likely not actively searching (=using an action to search). What do I misunderstand?
@Mala JC says you can get the bonus if you Attack from cover+hidden without moving, and so do I. He says popping out of cover to attack loses the hiding and therefore benefit, and so do I. I might be missing where the contradiction is?
"rogues wanting to always hide around corner, next end move out and attack hidden." answer JC: "That's a legitimate use of Cunning Action." and following. Also the errata change to p. 177 with explanation: "Also, the question isn’t whether a creature can see you when you’re hiding. The question is whether it can see you clearly." vs your Statement: "Sneak attack only works if they sneak up on an enemy who doesn't know they're there". Seems to me the criterion is 'unseen and unheard', not unaware of your location?
@Mala Ah. In that case JC is contradicting himself, or he or the other misunderstood the answer or question, since he says “But if you run out into the open and then attack, you're not hidden when you attack.” As for not know vs. unseen & unheard, that’s a hair that I think can only be split properly in a specific situation by the DM involved. I’ve split it how I have here because it fits the situation I wrote.
also note that as soon as you attack, you are detected by your target.So if your attack comes from a place where the target has line of sight to you, you are spotted and therefore do not gain advantage and need to move out of line of sight to try to hide again.
"either have attacked while in cover, or move to break line of sight or into cover," why must this step be performed? Breaking line of sight or moving into cover are not requirements to be hidden. "hide now that they're somewhere that allows a Stealth check," If the attacker was already hidden then they remain hidden. In order to begin hiding you only need to be not 'clearly visible.' As you noted, attacking only gives away your location, it does not make you no longer hidden. Imagine a goblin shooting an arrow from inside a deep fog, yes you know WHERE it is, but you can't PERCEIVE it.
"move to a new location without that movement being seen, to make their location unknown again" this is unnecessary because to gain advantage (and sneak attack) you only need to be hidden. Being hidden allows the character to attack as if they are unseen. It has nothing to do with having a known location. The known location relates to "If the target isn't in the location you targeted, you automatically miss" Now that you know the location you can attack without guessing the location, however "When you attack a target that you can't see, you have disadvantage on the attack roll" still applies
"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" This is a misleading statement. Even before a hidden attacker's location is known, a successful perception check will reveal them: "that check's total is contested by the Wisdom (Perception) check of any creature that actively searches for signs of your presence." Again, it has nothing to do with having an unknown location, it is about being unable to be detected.
The correct steps (ranged): 1. Hide--make a Dexterity(Stealth) check against an opponent's Passive Perception, or opponents' Passive Perception group check. 2. Attack--"when you make an attack, you give away your location when the attack hits or misses". At the end of these steps you are still Hidden ("Until you are discovered or you stop hiding, that check's total is contested by the Wisdom (Perception) check of any creature that actively searches for signs of your presence.") and you may attack again immediately. There is no need to move, break line of sight, or hide again.
The correct steps (melee): 1. Hide. 2. Approach the enemy--Note: Stealth explicitly says you can "sneak up on someone without being seen or heard." Your DM *may* require you to make an additional Stealth check, but there is no requirement by RAW or RAI to do so. Hidden characters are actively trying to be stealthy, it is not a normal situation. 3. Attack. You have now given away your location, and you are probably out in the open. It would be very easy for a creature to make a perception check (probably with advantage) to find you. However, you ARE still hidden.
@jgn Since you’ve crafted these points into your own answer, it’s not necessary to repeat them in comments on a competing answer.
@SevenSidedDie The other way around actually, I made these comments while struggling to understand this answer, then decided it would be better to articulate my argument in an answer. You are free to reply to either answer if you want to make a comment.
@jgn I often do the same! I’m glad it helped work out another useful contribution to the site. Cheers!
@SevenSidedDie if you have time I would appreciate hearing your opinion on my points! I think the stealth rules are quite sparse and poorly worded so I am never 100% certain that I have it right :3