Reader Questions: Goblin Stealth and Retreating Monsters


Q: I recently purchased a copy of Live To Tell The Tale, and I must say, excellent work. But I was confused by all of the hiding and Stealth in the first scenario. There were times it seemed the goblins were moving, rolling Stealth, attacking, moving, rolling Stealth to Hide. What were all those Stealth rolls? And what about all of the Perception rolls that the players were doing during their turns? Do those count as part of their action?

A: A large part of that encounter has to do with the goblins’ Nimble Escape feature, which lets them Hide as a bonus action. In order to Hide successfully, a goblin has to (a) be out of view and (b) make a Stealth roll that exceeds every player character’s passive Perception. Once it’s made a successful Stealth check, it doesn’t have to keep making Stealth checks—it stays hidden until it does something that gives its position away, or until an opponent choosing the Search action finds it (which requires him or her to make a Perception check). Once it’s been seen, to Hide again requires another Stealth check, and so on.

In other words: I don’t have to make a Perception check to see you when you’re not hidden. If you want to Hide (action), you have to make a Stealth check. If that Stealth check is equal to or lower than my passive Perception, I can still see where you went. If it’s higher than my passive Perception, you’ve slipped out of my sight. If you’ve successfully hidden from me, and I want to find you again, I have to use the Search action, which involves making a Perception check. If I beat your previous Stealth roll, I’ve found you. If not, you’re still hidden.

As soon as you Attack, Cast a Spell, make a loud noise or run out into the open in the direction I’m looking, you’re no longer hidden. Otherwise, you can stay hidden as long as you like—that is, unless and until I find you while Searching. Make sense?

Q: I have a few problems with having my monsters retreat. First, my players don’t like it when the monsters retreat. I give them full XP for defeated or retreating monsters, and they still don’t like it. Second, how do monsters succesfully retreat? My players chase down retreating monsters. They refuse to let any monster retreat. What more should I do after a monster Disengages?

A: Of course, as dungeon masters, we want to keep our players happy, but we don’t have to indulge them when they’re being childish. Monsters don’t care whether what they do pleases the player characters or not. They pursue their goals, not the PCs’ goals. If the PCs don’t like that, they can start a monster obedience school.

The fact that a monster tries to escape a fight doesn’t mean that it will be successful. As I mention in “Dodge, Dash or Disengage?” retreating is difficult and dangerous. It’s very likely that a retreating monster will be chased down. C’est la vie. Just as the monsters pursue their goals, not the PCs’, the PCs pursue their goals, not the monsters’. If the party wants to chase down a retreating monster rather than let it live, that’s their prerogative. (That being said, if any of the members of that party consider themselves lawful good or neutral good, you may want to have a talk about what alignment means.)

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8 responses to “Reader Questions: Goblin Stealth and Retreating Monsters”

  1. Dr Chimera Avatar
    Dr Chimera

    Personally when I have my monsters retreat I tend to do so towards some other hazard to the party (if there is one available, of course, no making up stuff). More often than not this is a monster running to allies, turning a chase from picking on an already defeated foe into a marathon battle that costs them their chance to recover or plan. But it can be something as simple as the monster diving into a flowing river that MIGHT be dangerous to the party, or at least increase the distance it will take to catch it so far it’s not worth chasing any more. Trying to jump over a ravine or other such hazard that requires a roll that could potentially be dangerous to the party is good too.

    It’s a win-win on my part. If the party catches and kills it, well, they would, have done that if it didn’t retreat. If it gets away, it got away. If a party member is unscathed they feel like they earned it. If they get dinged up, maybe they’ll think twice before swinging on a rope across a chasm in full plate to catch a single goblin of no consequence next time.

  2. Vincent Avatar

    To add to the question on Escaping:

    An escape usually only works, if you have a better method of escape than movement speed. I’m thinking of Invisibility, Flighty or sacrificing your minions to cover your escape. There is always a PC with a longbow or Eldritch blast that running away over an open field just can not work.

    Otherwise you need something to escape to. Examples are: under water, a dense forest to hide in or the narrow corridors of a dungeon.

    What works best in my experience is to surrender, get captured and wait for a better chance. The next time initiative is rolled no PC will want to babysit the prisoner. They want to fight the new monsters.

  3. SafariJohn Avatar

    I remember the Angry GM saying something about retreating, but I can’t remember what article it was. I think the gist of it was this: if one side retreats and the other gives chase, then it’s no longer combat and shouldn’t use combat rules.

    If you want some ideas for chase rules, the Angry GM talks about building a chase here:

  4. SerBiffyClegane Avatar

    Retreating opponents give the party an interesting tactical dilemma. If they give full chase, they can get caught in an extended position/led into traps/etc., but if they don’t, there’s a good chance the escaping foes will alert and reinforce the next wave.

  5. Ettina Kitten Avatar
    Ettina Kitten

    When I have a large base populated by a single faction (eg a bandit camp), I’ll often have one guy run for reinforcement as soon as the fight starts. If they try to chase, he’s heading into the next encounter. If he gets away, he’s bringing the next encounter to them.

    1. Keith Ammann Avatar

      So logical as to be almost mandatory.

  6. Tim Martin Avatar
    Tim Martin

    Keith, I am *still* confused about the hiding in Live to Tell the Tale (LTT).

    You wrote, “In order to Hide successfully, a goblin has to (a) be out of view and (b) make a Stealth roll that exceeds every player character’s passive Perception,” which is accurate RAW/RAI. But that’s not what happens in LTT.

    At the end of Round 1, only Goblin 1 rolls higher stealth than the entire party’s passive perception. But you write that Lennie only knows where Goblin 4 is. Really, the whole party should know where Goblins 2 through 5 are.

    At the end of Round 2 Goblin 4 hides, and then Lennie, who has already used his action, makes an active perception roll on the goblin’s turn (?!) Furthermore Lennie rolls a 2, which is lower than his passive perception, and according to Jeremy Crawford you can’t be *worse* at perception than your PP.

    So really none of this jibes with the rules, or what you just wrote on this page.

    Lastly, in your Goblin Tactics writeup you say that goblins have to “describe a significant arc” to get, I assume, behind a PC in order to hide. But 5E doesn’t use facing rules, and attackers who attack from behind your mini don’t automatically get advantage as if you can’t see them. So Goblins shouldn’t have to move to Hide; they just need to be heavily obscured.

    Now, overall I think the 5E hiding rules are a mess, and therefore difficult to use effectively in combat. I’m interested in ideas about how to use them well, even if it involves home brewed rules. But I can’t tell what rules you’re following, and you don’t seem consistent.

    1. Keith Ammann Avatar

      The updated edition of Live to Tell the Tale will include a new section on Stealth and Perception that clarifies how these rules work—some of which I did get wrong in the level 1 battle in earlier editions, and which I correct in the new edition (which complicates the battle by making the forest off the trail difficult terrain and making the foliage so thick that it renders the whole area lightly obscured).

      As far as the “significant arc” thing goes, the idea behind that is that you can’t realistically vanish simply by stepping behind a tree that’s right next to you—an enemy may not be able to see you, but they’ll still know exactly where you are. You have to get out of your foe’s field of view for them to lose any sense of where you’ve gone. Yes, by the default rules, characters have 360-degree vision, but that’s meant to represent constantly looking in different directions, not looking every direction at once. My idea is that goblins using Nimble Escape are trying to get to a new hiding place beyond your peripheral vision before you can turn your head. So while there’s no facing (unless you’re using the optional Facing rule, which people seem constantly to forget exists), and while a goblin could Hide simply by taking one step into an adjacent space behind a tree, having them try to run out of sight if they can is a nod to narrative verisimilitude.

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