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Chapter 8: Tactical Rules / Senses

The Four States of Awareness

Source Starfinder Core Rulebook pg. 260
In gameplay, there are four different states of awareness that you can have with regard to another creature, which determine, for example, whether you surprise it when you engage it in combat or whether you can target a creature with an attack. These states of awareness are described below.

Unaware

When you are unaware of another creature, you don’t even know it is present. Generally this occurs because the creature is hidden, you failed your Perception check to notice it, and the creature hasn’t yet performed any actions that would alert you to its presence. You cannot directly attack a creature you are unaware of, but it is subject to area effects.

Aware Of Presence

When you are aware of another creature’s presence, you don’t necessarily know exactly where it is. Typically this occurs when the hidden creature has taken some action that revealed its general presence in the area but has successfully used Stealth since then to hide its exact location. If you have succeeded at a Perception check to notice a creature with an imprecise sense other than blindsense, you are aware of the creature’s presence (if you have blindsense, a successful Perception check means you are aware of the creature’s location; see below). You cannot directly attack a creature if you are only aware of its presence, but it is subject to area effects affecting its location.

In order to directly attack such a creature, you must pinpoint its exact location with an additional Perception check. If this check is successful and you are using an imprecise sense to pinpoint a creature, you become aware of the creature’s location (see Aware of Location below). If this check is successful and you are using a precise sense to pinpoint a creature, you are observing the creature (see Observing below).

Aware Of Location

When you are aware of a creature’s location, you know exactly where the creature is located, but you still can’t observe the creature with a precise sense such as vision. Generally, this occurs because you have blindsense, or because the creature is hidden but you have succeeded at a Perception check to pinpoint the creature with an imprecise sense. You must at least be aware of a creature’s location in order to directly attack it, though it is considered to have total concealment from you (see page 253). It is, however, subject to area effects affecting that location.

Observing

When you are observing a creature, you can directly perceive the creature with a precise sense. Generally, this occurs when a creature is visible, when the situation makes it impossible for the creature use Stealth to hide, or when you have succeeded at a Perception check to pinpoint the creature using a precise sense such as blindsight. You must be observing a creature to use a ranged effect that targets a specific creature without requiring an attack roll to hit (such as magic missile). You can also make normal attacks, including ones using ranged abilities, against creatures that you are observing. Again, it is subject to area effects that affect its location.

A creature currently being observed can’t attempt a Stealth check without first breaking that observation. To break observation, the creature must either mask itself from your precise senses (with darkness, fog, invisibility, or the like, but not with effects such as displacement that still leave a clear visual indicator of its location), move somewhere it can’t be observed (a place with cover, for example), or use Bluff to create a distraction to momentarily break your observation of it.