Fixing Stealth in DnD 5e

 In All, DM Tools 5e, Mechanics

Stealth Missions will eventually show up in every campaign. Whether you need to infiltrate a castle, steal a relic, assassinate a powerful political figure, or escape from a prison, your party is going to have to get sneaky sooner or later.

There really isn’t a whole lot of help when it comes to stealth mechanics in published materials, pretty much all we get is:

Stealth. Make a Dexterity (Stealth) check when you attempt to conceal yourself from enemies, slink past guards, slip away without being noticed, or sneak up on someone without being seen or heard.

This one mechanic isn’t all that helpful if you are going to be running a longer stealth based mission. The second your paladin in heavy armor tries to make a stealth check things can go off the rails very quickly.

At Arcane Eye, we have created an altered Initiative system that will allow for a bit more flexibility when it comes to stealthing along, we call it Stealth Initiative.

Stealth Initiative

Stealth Initiative is a way to allow for a more forgiving and interesting stealth mission experience. Instead of relying on one stealth check to determine if the party fails or not, the party will enter Stealth Initiative with any NPCs nearby. Depending on how well or poorly the characters do on their stealth checks, they can move NPCs up and down the Awareness Track.

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Awareness Track

0UnawareNormal. Applies passive perception.
-1CautiousSpends an action each round to make a Perception check, but does not actively search.
-2AlertActively searches.
-3AwareAware of your exact location. Will alert others if available.

If you fail a Stealth check, the NPC will move -1 on the Awareness Track. If you fail a stealth check by 5 or more the NPC will move -2 on the Awareness Track.

If you succeed on a Stealth Check the track does not change, if you succeed by 5 or more than the track moves +1.


Players receive their typical 3 actions (Bonus Action, Movement and Standard Action). They will also have to make a Stealth check as a Free Action after their movement each turn.

The following are available as Standard Actions in Stealth Initiative:


Using the Hide action as your Standard Action will give you +2 to your Stealth check.


Using the Distract action allows players to roll a Deception check against the NPCs Intelligence. If the Stealth check succeeds the NPC Intelligence Check it cannot use its Perception until the end of its next turn. If the Deception check fails, the player will get -2 to their next Stealth check.


Any player that takes the Dash action will roll their next Stealth check with disadvantage.

Running Stealth Initiative

Running Stealth Initiative will require a different mindset than combat encounters. For a Stealth Initiative encounter to be effective, it needs two things:


Making sure that your environment has plenty of places to hide, as well as things to interact with is particularly important in Stealth Initiative.

Avenues of Movement

Giving your players several options when it comes to routes, distractions, and lethality is very important.

Have you used Stealth Initiative in any of your campaigns? Tell us about it in the comments below or email us at

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