Can you use allies as cover for stealth checks?

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This is a fun issue that has come up:

Can a rogue or any other character, use an ally as "cover" to make a stealth check? The rules state the following:

"IF a creature has unblocked line of sight to you (that is, you lack any cover or concealment), the creature automatically sees you (no perception check required)."

Pg188 of the PHB. The rules also state that allies give you cover against ranged attacks, but not in the following circumstances:

"Your allies never grant cover to your enemies, and neither allies nor enemies give cover against melee, close or area attacks."

This implies to me that allies give cover in a special circumstance (ranged attacks) but not against other circumstances like melee and similar.

The question is, can a rogue (or other character) use an ally as "cover" to make a stealth check? Pg 188 demonstrates that this should not be possible, because the enemy has awareness of the character behind the other one and that LOS should not be broken. A creature with reach 3 for example, does not grant cover to the ally standing behind two allies and can clearly target any of them. If it was using a ranged attack it would.

So in a long winded way, can the rogue (or whomever) use the allies as cover to make a stealth check and what specifically in the rules (PHB) supports this interpretation. Ranged cover seems a special circumstance to me, that is only granted on the attack if an ally is intervening. If this is the case, can a rogue make a stealth check if any object is intervening? So we have the following situation:

A...BR where A is a monster using a ranged attack three squares away, B is a paladin and R is the rogue. Can he make a stealth check to hide because of the cover the paladin grants him to As ranged attack (And what rules from the PHB support this).

What about A...B...R where B clearly grants the rogue cover from the ranged attack of A, but the rogue is clearly within LOS of A. Can the rogue make a stealth check?

Again in both cases, does ranged attack cover "apply" all the time and count for blocking line of sight, even when the creature is not using a ranged attack? Because again, the book is clear that allies do not grant cover for melee, area burst effects and similar.

Finally, what about A...BR but this time, A is a creature with a melee reach of 5 (let's just say). Does the rogue get cover from A, who is not using ranged attacks and could clearly draw LOS to the rogue despite the intervening paladin (B)? I can't see how the paladin granting the rogue cover in the above scenario would make any sense and I can't see how it would be supported by the rules either.

Personally, I think that allies providing cover in this manner is inconsistent in the rules and illogical (especially the Dragon making stealth checks behind a row of goblins/rats).
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By RAW, and supported by CSRs, you can hide behind allies. When you look at the rules to see if you have cover, it says creatures can provide cover. It's that simple. Many DMs do not like this idea though and it SEVERELY cripples the rogue when ruled differently.

There's many houserules people can apply but this forum is not the place for them really.
I thought the designers mentioned that they "fixed" this issue to prevent halfling rogues from hiding in backpacks...
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I thought the designers mentioned that they "fixed" this issue to prevent halfling rogues from hiding in backpacks...

Suddenly it all makes sense. They "fixed" the stealth rules by writing them so badly that no-one would want to use them!

Man, rickrolled in a stealth thread. I deserve it.
Would you define unaware for this purpose because I can't see a rogue making them unaware of them on any sort of regular basis. That's even more crippling then removing the ability to hide behind friendlies.

The rogue shouldn't be doing more damage them because he should be unconscious pretty quick when he can't engage from range in an effective manner.

I don't like discussing houserules usually because any given DM can find any given situation/ power/ability needs a change but I was curious in this case about unaware.
Many DMs do not like this idea though and it SEVERELY cripples the rogue when ruled differently.

Funny, that's not my experience at all as the rogue in my group didn't even know he could use allies in this manner and has been doing fine damage. In the playtests and other "amuse myself with some friends for a few hours" things that I do sometimes, particularly when I make new creatures, the rogue has not been 'severely' crippled by the lack of this either.

Personally, after finally poking the CSR enough I am aware of what the ruling is. I find the default ruling so offensively ridiculous however, as do everyone else I've spoken with including my players (amazingly enough, this includes the player behind the rogue) that I have completely ruled it out. Normal cover is still fine of course and I don't believe in being "unaware" of the rogue, otherwise stealth checks are useless in combat full stop (it's very hard to become unaware of something in a battle without heavy line of sight obstructions in the battlefield).

But hiding behind allies just brings up far too much stupid scenarios and abuses for my liking.

Edit: I also wanted to stop the blatantly ridiculous "conga line", where creatures (or players) "leapfrog" one another each turn taking cover from the other character (stealth check) and using a ranged attack to get combat advantage against the target (and sneak attack damage if appropriate).
Edit: I also wanted to stop the blatantly ridiculous "conga line", where creatures (or players) "leapfrog" one another each turn taking cover from the other character (stealth check) and using a ranged attack to get combat advantage against the target (and sneak attack damage if appropriate).

Lol that's exactly why it should not work. If players start doing it every single ranged mob in the game should do it as well.
pg 280 of the PHB says that your target gains cover from ranged attacks, but never against melee, close or area attacks. Although it doesn't say anything about stealth specifically, since it's a special and limited kind of cover, I don't allow creatures to hide behind their allies.
No
pg 280 of the PHB says that your target gains cover from ranged attacks, but never against melee, close or area attacks. Although it doesn't say anything about stealth specifically, since it's a special and limited kind of cover, I don't allow creatures to hide behind their allies.

In other words, by RAW, if they had a ranged weapon they couldn't see the stealthy character, but if they drew a melee weapon, they could? :D

^ above is not a serious claim. Do not be fooled and critique!
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97183719 wrote:
Seeing as there is a disconnect between balance (quantifiable) and fun, (subjective and personal) discussing fun in a thread about balance because you find one system more enjoyable than another is as helpful as discussing religion in a thread about architectural engineering because you think cathedrals look prettier than outhouses.
The official answer (from here) is
"Cover is not concealment. Notice on page 280/281 they are listed in different categories! An ally offers you cover, but not concealment. There is a difference."

So to stealth you need concealment, not cover. Allies grant cover.
Chandrak's awesome solutions to the 5-minute workday 'problem'
97183719 wrote:
Seeing as there is a disconnect between balance (quantifiable) and fun, (subjective and personal) discussing fun in a thread about balance because you find one system more enjoyable than another is as helpful as discussing religion in a thread about architectural engineering because you think cathedrals look prettier than outhouses.
So to stealth you need concealment, not cover. Allies grant cover.

The rules for stealth say you need either cover or concealment.
...
So to stealth you need concealment, not cover. Allies grant cover.

To stealth you need either cover or concealment. Either one will work per p.188 Stealth.

As far as allies go, here's the exchange I had with customer service about two weeks ago:

Question (July 13, 2008)
1) Since your allies provide you cover against enemy ranged attacks, can you make a opposed Stealth Check versus the Perception of enemies at range to become hidden from their view? (Per the FAQ and your previous CSR reply you'd then have combat advantage against those ranged enemies and they'd be -5 to attack you until they can spot you with a perception check.)

Answer
1. Yes you can.


Question
2) On a related question, let's say you're fighting an enemy that has a reach weapon like a polearm. Per p.280 Cover under Reach it says that you still have cover against that enemy if the intervening square between you and them provides cover. But then under Creatures and Cover it says that allies don't provide cover against melee attacks. So my question is, if there is an ally between you and an enemy with a reach weapon, does your ally provide cover against that enemy? And if so, can you use that cover to make a Stealth check to become temporarilly hidden from view relative to that enemy as per question 1) above?

Answer
2. No, your ally does not provide cover against a melee reach attack.

Paul
Customer Service Representative
Wizards of the Coast

So at least as of two weeks ago the CSR respone was a definitive "Yes" that you can hide behind allies.
So at least as of two weeks ago the CSR respone was a definitive "Yes" that you can hide behind allies.

No, CSR Paul gave you two different answers about stealth-behind-your-buddy. He said "yes" for ranged enemies, and "no" for melee enemies, even if they have a reach weapon.

Is it just me, or does anybody else think this is getting sillier all the time?

Imagine that Stealthy Sally is standing two squares away from a Hobgoblin. Standing directly between them (adjacent to both) is Sally's ally, Bob. Are the CSR's seriously telling us that Sally can use Stealth if the Hobgoblin is holding a bow, but not if he's holding a long spear?

In the immortal words of Remus Lupin: "Riddikulus!"

- Alane -
pg 280 of the PHB says that your target gains cover from ranged attacks, but never against melee, close or area attacks. Although it doesn't say anything about stealth specifically, since it's a special and limited kind of cover, I don't allow creatures to hide behind their allies.

I like this argument. It's simple, it's as close to RAW as anything else and it fixes all the ugly stuff.
I like this argument. It's simple, it's as close to RAW as anything else and it fixes all the ugly stuff.

Agreed.
I like this argument. It's simple, it's as close to RAW as anything else and it fixes all the ugly stuff.

I don't mean to criticize your uncle bobs argument, because I inherently agree with the logic used, but I should point out I specifically ferreted an answer on that from the CSR after I asked this. I wrote this response because I still cannot figure out what makes a reach attack so unique compared to a 5 to 3 square ranged attack. What on earth makes one count an ally as cover and the other not? How is that supposed to make any sense?

I digress:

Yes, I know it does, but this means allies do not grant cover, they do so only circumstantially (against ranged attacks). This now goes back to my original question, if allies don't give you cover except in a specific circumstance (ranged attacks) how does this mean you can use them as cover for stealth checks?

I'm sorry, but I can't parse these two contradictory parts together in my head by the rules. Either allies provide cover or they don't. If allies provide cover against ranged attacks that is fine, but surely this cover is circumstantial only in the case of checking for line of effect from a ranged attack. It just makes utterly no sense and must mean that allies block line of sight (otherwise the stealth check would automatically fail), but this is not indicated anywhere in the PHB.

How does this specifically work and where in the rules (sorry for being so pedantic, but it's quite important) supports the interpretation? As far as I can see, ranged cover is circumstantial and the book is 100% clear that allies do not get cover from melee attacks or similar.

Your answer above was the following, again, I'm sorry to be pedantic but your answer said that "Allies do grant cover". So is this a specific special circumstance of cover and where is this specifically covered in the book (aside from the passage on page 280). How can allies NOT provide cover against a reach melee attack and yet be providing cover against the same creature at the same time?

It just doesn't make any sense and I'm trying to parse together where in the rules it supports this special kind of cover you're describing. The answer you've given makes a new kind of cover "allied cover", which is nowhere in the book. Allies don't block line of sight (or do they) so surely by the description of stealth on pg 188 of the PHB, if they don't block line of sight you can't count them as cover for a stealth check. Or do they? I can't tell, because it's clear from the reach example they aren't obscuring line of sight.

This is my issue. An ally only gains cover from another in the circumstance of drawing line of effect with a ranged attack, but nowhere in the rules does it state allies constantly provide cover in all circumstances when you're not drawing a line of effect for a ranged attack (where they do provide cover). If melee, spell effects and other non-ranged targeting works fine without an ally interfering as cover, doesn't that mean allies aren't cover unless you're drawing a line of effect for a ranged attack?

I finally got a specific answer:

Ok, let me try to explain this again. The rules that are on page 280 of the Player's Handbook give three exceptions to allies and granting cover. Those are melee, close and area attacks. Stealth checks are not listed as an exception, which is the same for ranged attacks as well.

I understand your point of view and how this can seem confusing.

Unfortunately, there isn’t an official answer for the situation you describe. I’ve passed along this conversation to the game’s developers. Hopefully, we’ll see an update or FAQ entry covering it soon, but until then it’s up to the campaign’s Dungeon Master to decide. The DM is always the final arbiter on how they want their campaign to run. Have fun!

So what you're looking at is actually the exceptions that are listed, not the normal way things are supposed to be with ranged attacks being the exception. This changes the logic above dramatically, because now allies are cover is the norm and those three scenarios are the exceptions (not the other way around, IE when allies count as cover).

IMO, after reading the RAW and considering all the rules for cover, line of sight and such, I still feel the RAW actually supports that allies cannot be used for stealth checks (not just basic common sense). Unfortunately, the CSR response I got removed the "common sense" objection and how I was mechanically ruling it (allies provide cover only when a ranged LoE is drawn for a ranged attack, not any other time and so you cannot stealth behind them).

After explaining the enemy leapfrog conga line to my players, they quickly decided that this sort of ridiculousness was not good for the game.
When you make a ranged
attack
against an enemy and other enemies are
in the way, your target has cover.

I too read this to mean that this cover is specificly against Ranged attacks.
Since Perception is not a ranged attack you don't gain 'cover' from a ally for the purposes of Stealth.
So what you're looking at is actually the exceptions that are listed, not the normal way things are supposed to be with ranged attacks being the exception. This changes the logic above dramatically, because now allies are cover is the norm and those three scenarios are the exceptions (not the other way around, IE when allies count as cover).

That's if you accept the CSR answer, but they're answers don't necessarily reflect that of the developers and their reading of the rules is fallible just as everyone else's is.

There is no explicit, general rule that says creatures grant cover to anyone. There is only the rule that states that creatures grant cover to their allies in the specific case that a ranged attack is being made against them, so there is nothing in the RAW to support that creatures grant cover to their allies as a general rule. The fact that the rules never explicitly state that creatures do not provide cover for stealth checks does in not imply that they do.

Furthermore, I find it hard to believe that the designer's intended the rules to be used this way.
I too read this to mean that this cover is specificly against Ranged attacks.
Since Perception is not a ranged attack you don't gain 'cover' from a ally for the purposes of Stealth.

So did I, but apparently this is actually the "normal" rule and everything else, that just happens to be the majority of situations, are actually the exceptions.

Yes, I know this is completely stupid.

That's if you accept the CSR answer, but they're answers don't necessarily reflect that of the developers and their reading of the rules is fallible just as everyone else's is.

I'd like to defend paul, because he was very patient with my long and often very specific questioning, so he certainly got a good view of the issue from my point of view. To be honest, I am not sold on the answer he gave but it does sound like it could be plausible.
I don't mean to criticize your uncle bobs argument, because I inherently agree with the logic used, but I should point out I specifically ferreted an answer on that from the CSR after I asked this.

Ah, CSR. I decided that CSR answers make a lot more sense if you imagine that they have no contact with the designers, a maximum five minutes per reply and do little out-of-hours research other than playing the game.

I have no idea whether this is actually true, but the alternative is scary.
So did I, but apparently this is actually the "normal" rule and everything else, that just happens to be the majority of situations, are actually the exceptions.

Yes, I know this is completely stupid.



I'd like to defend paul, because he was very patient with my long and often very specific questioning, so he certainly got a good view of the issue from my point of view. To be honest, I am not sold on the answer he gave but it does sound like it could be plausible.

Just looking at this thread, we have 3 different takes on this topic from 3 different CSRs. One of them even said you needed concealment, not just cover. Though I think that also made the most insightful comment, that the DM decides when there is cover, concealment, and the chance to make a stealth check (all of which I recall being implied, if not explicitly stated, in the PHB and DMG). Even one of the ones who was firm on allies giving cover conceded that it was not official at all, it was more or less the DMs call.

Ultimately, while there are times where CS will be able to point someone to an exact rule that will help them, they (typically) have no more insight into these muddy issues than we do. In those cases, they are basically giving a response based on how they would handle it as a DM. To take any of it as gospel is putting too much on them and limiting ourselves from figuring things out.
I think that Paul said he had passed along the conversation to the lead designers and I don't think he's lying or whatever :P

I'm hesitant to criticize the CSR, because they are usually pretty responsive and I thought he was very patient with my interrogation.

To take any of it as gospel is putting too much on them and limiting ourselves from figuring things out.

I'm certainly not myself, after-all I explained how this would work to my players and they clearly decided against it (conga line was the most convincing argument).
I think that Paul said he had passed along the conversation to the lead designers and I don't think he's lying or whatever :P

Oh, that's quite possible. I just don't get the impression that there's much communication in the other direction

This does suggest that if you bug CSR enough, the issue will eventually show up in the FAQ or errata, so it's not an entirely pointless pursuit. I'd be surprised if the whole stealth issue wasn't already being worked on for a future errata though.
I think that Paul said he had passed along the conversation to the lead designers and I don't think he's lying or whatever :P

I'm hesitant to criticize the CSR, because they are usually pretty responsive and I thought he was very patient with my interrogation.

I'm certainly not myself, after-all I explained how this would work to my players and they clearly decided against it (conga line was the most convincing argument).

Yeah, my last statement was directed to everyone in general. I've been running a lot of these topics past my group too, and they pretty much responded as yours did.

I am certain the CSRs pass issues on, which is likely a major source of FAQs and corrections. I hope this issue (stealth in general) is getting passed on a lot, as it really does feel integral to the game now.

I agree that it is not fair to harshly criticize CSRs specifically, my complaint is with whatever policy they are acting under.
I'm hesitant to criticize the CSR, because they are usually pretty responsive and I thought he was very patient with my interrogation.

I agree. CSR does not deserve the bad rap they get on these boards. What people do need to understand, though, is that CSR representatives do sometimes get things wrong, and one needs to take their responses with a healthy bit of skepticism. They have access to resources most of us do not, but they are also probably on very limited time constraints to answer questions. They must answer the vast majority of questions without directly consulting the game's developers, and, as I said above, they're reading of the rules are fallible just as everyone else's is. This is not to mention that it would be easy to get the official rules mixed up with house rules their group may be playing with or previous versions of the 4E rules they might have been exposed to during playtesting.
I'd be surprised if the whole stealth issue wasn't already being worked on for a future errata though.

I would certainly hope so. I would also hope they go with the general consensus that I tend to see that it's a truly stupid mechanic and is more prone to abuse than anything else.
Please refer to the billion other threads on the subject.

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LOL, I find it hilarious that this search result now brings you to this very thread as it's first result. Recursion FTW!
By RAW, and supported by CSRs, you can hide behind allies. When you look at the rules to see if you have cover, it says creatures can provide cover. It's that simple. Many DMs do not like this idea though and it SEVERELY cripples the rogue when ruled differently.

There's many houserules people can apply but this forum is not the place for them really.

Read the actual words in the CSR, and then decide.

The CSR confirms that the cover given by allies against a ranged attacker is of a type suitable for stealth. Any cover is suitable for stealth, so long as the DM agrees (DMG43, PHB178, PHB188).

The CSR does not say that cover applies in the stealth user's turn, and there is no wording in RAW that tells you it does. Thus there is nothing telling you the stealth user has that cover at the right moment to make an active check with. There are logical cases that suggest they don't.

Outcome, up to you, but don't let anyone tell you there's a clear ruling on this.

-vk
The CSR does not say that cover applies in the stealth user's turn

It technically does, according to Paul and the situations described in the book (melee including melee reach, close burst and such) are actually exceptions to where that cover actually applies. By the ridiculous stretched RAW/CSR interpretation you do have cover from allies all the time.

What I've realised I don't know, is does this cover apply just for being next to an ally or only when you have a blocked LoE?
...
Imagine that Stealthy Sally is standing two squares away from a Hobgoblin. Standing directly between them (adjacent to both) is Sally's ally, Bob. Are the CSR's seriously telling us that Sally can use Stealth if the Hobgoblin is holding a bow, but not if he's holding a long spear?

I think the idea is that with a reach melee weapon you can more easily attack opponents who are otherwise obscured to a direct straight line shot. A halberd can swing over someone's head or around someone's body, for instance, even if they are trying to keep you from getting a direct line of sight attack. That's why you don't usually suffer the attack penalty of hitting someone with a reach weapon if they only have enemies blocking you.

But yeah, the reach weapons are the oddity in the cover and stealth equation.
The CSR does not say that cover applies in the stealth user's turn, and there is no wording in RAW that tells you it does. Thus there is nothing telling you the stealth user has that cover at the right moment to make an active check with. There are logical cases that suggest they don't.

You seem to be saying that cover is a relationship between two parties and not a flat status of the target, which I agree with, but I'm confused how that relationship changes assuming nobody moves from the attacker's turn to the stealther's turn.
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You seem to be saying that cover is a relationship between two parties and not a flat status of the target, which I agree with, but I'm confused how that relationship changes assuming nobody moves from the attacker's turn to the stealther's turn.

That is why we are not accepting the view that CSR gave us. How does it change because of the weapon they are holding? You don't make a stealth check against a weapon, just against the observer. If you only get cover against them when they are making a ranged attack, then you somehow have to make a stealth check during that attack. Even then, I wouldn't allow it, as this is meant as cover against a moving object, and not in the sense of being able to make an opponent lose track of you.
If you only get cover against them when they are making a ranged attack, then you somehow have to make a stealth check during that attack

Bingo. If you read my (long winded I know) queries from the previous page this is exactly what I was trying to figure out. Why does a creature with reach 5 attacking a character behind two allies avoid penalties for cover, yet the same situation with a ranged attack does. It makes literally no sense because it's clear the reach 5 enemy can still happily hit him because his line of sight is unobstructed otherwise he would be granted cover from the attack. If the allies aren't obstructing LoS (and I can accept why allies would interfere with a ranged attack, perhaps ducking at the last minute into the attack by mistake or maybe nudging the arrow or giving a smaller viewpoint, while swinging a huge tree or polearm at the enemy may be easier) then how can they use stealth?
Bingo. If you read my (long winded I know) queries from the previous page this is exactly what I was trying to figure out. Why does a creature with reach 5 attacking a character behind two allies avoid penalties for cover, yet the same situation with a ranged attack does. It makes literally no sense because it's clear the reach 5 enemy can still happily hit him because his line of sight is unobstructed otherwise he would be granted cover from the attack. If the allies aren't obstructing LoS (and I can accept why allies would interfere with a ranged attack, perhaps ducking at the last minute into the attack by mistake or maybe nudging the arrow or giving a smaller viewpoint, while swinging a huge tree or polearm at the enemy may be easier) then how can they use stealth?

Don't you mean reach 10? wait, am i confused? is reach in squares now?
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Reach is in squares. So reach 5 is (extreme I realise) a 25 ft arm of doom (or tentacle :P)
It makes no sense that your ability to hide depends upon what weapon the enemy is currently holding. Any such interpretation leads to ridiculous results. What if the bow-armed enemy doesn't happen to fire in a particular round - does your stealth suddenly break? What if he stows the bow, slinging it over his shoulder? What if he's holding the bow, but uses his standard action to punch an adjacent enemy with his fist, or cast a "close" spell, or take his Second Wind?

Having your ability to use Stealth depend upon the enemy's ranged vs. non-ranged attack status seems (to me! ) silly beyond words.

For me, this issue is extremely simple. Standing behind your buddy gives you cover only against "a ranged attack" per page 280. Stealth vs. Perception is not a "ranged attack", so you don't have cover for that purpose.

- Alane -
Woot, more stealth debates. It makes sense to me that cover changes with melee. A melee attack involves the attacker to have part of himself or his weapon in the defender's square. Melee attacks don't hit because they touch the square the defender is in. It's because they are hitting and affecting the defender. The cover doesn't block it like a ranged attack because for the attack attempt to be made the melee weapon or unarmed attack has to be in the defender's square already or else they can't even be trying to hit the defender.
Woot, more stealth debates. It makes sense to me that cover changes with melee. A melee attack involves the attacker to have part of himself or his weapon in the defender's square. Melee attacks don't hit because they touch the square the defender is in. It's because they are hitting and affecting the defender. The cover doesn't block it like a ranged attack because for the attack attempt to be made the melee weapon or unarmed attack has to be in the defender's square already or else they can't even be trying to hit the defender.

Are you talking about cover in general, or are you talking about stealth?

Stealth makes no distinction between melee and ranged once their is a success. The creature is hidden, one benefit of that is combat advantage. Their are also Rogue abilities that can make the character invisible after successfully hiding. I cannot see any way to reasonably reconcile this view of stealth with any idea of which weapon a creature holds effecting the stealth or perception of any participant.
You seem to be saying that cover is a relationship between two parties and not a flat status of the target, which I agree with, but I'm confused how that relationship changes assuming nobody moves from the attacker's turn to the stealther's turn.

Generally, there is no difference between the attacker's and the stealther's turn. The rules state "When you make a ranged attack against an enemy and other enemies are in the way, your target has cover" (emphasis mine). It says nothing about cover from enemies who are simply wielding a ranged weapon, nor does it say anything about creatures providing cover under any other circumstances.

The simplest way to read this is that this is situationally-dependent cover, and therefore does not qualify for stealth. Or, in other words, you have cover for the purposes of the attack in question, and not for any other purpose (including stealth).

Reading it any other way is at least questionable under the RAW and leads to bizarre absurdities that were surely not intended.
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