Now you see me. Now you don’t.
There are plenty of ways to avoid being spotted in Dungeons & Dragons 5e, from a high-stealth modifier to temporarily blinking into the astral plane.
With access to the right magic items, spells, and abilities, however, you can pass by watchful eyes completely unseen — even if they’re looking right at you.
Welcome to our guide to invisibility. We’re going to be breaking down the Invisible condition, how it works, what you can and can’t do while invisible, and why most people misunderstand the difference between unseen and undetected.
We’re also going to take an in-depth look at all the spells, items, and other features that let you become invisible as well as some of the best ways to overcome an enemy’s invisibility — from 6th-level spells to humble bags of flour.
What Is the Invisible Condition and How Does It Work?
A creature benefiting from the Invisible condition cannot be seen except by magical means — or by creatures that don’t rely on sight, like those with tremorsense.
Just because you can’t be seen, however, doesn’t mean people can’t tell where you are. Let’s take a closer look at the rules for the Invisible condition.
- An invisible creature is impossible to see without the aid of magic or a special sense. For the Purpose of Hiding, the creature is heavily obscured. The creature’s Location can be detected by any noise it makes or any tracks it leaves.
- Attack rolls against the creature have disadvantage, and the creature’s Attack rolls have advantage.
So, to break this down, if an enemy’s only method of detecting you is visual, you are completely safe from detection. Being heavily obscured means that any attempt to take the hide action automatically succeeds.
This makes invisibility the perfect solution to circumventing patrols, sneaking past guards, and generally escaping detection when a simple stealth check probably won’t be sufficient.
And, if you need to increase the odds of landing your first blow against an enemy (or even attacking repeatedly with advantage), then doing so while invisible puts you in a powerful position.
It’s important to note, however, that while invisibility means you’re impossible to see, it doesn’t mean you’re impossible to detect.
If you’ve ever tried walking around your house at night without making any sound (as someone with a cat who takes the slightest noise between the hours of three and eight a.m. as an invitation to start screaming for his breakfast, I try this a lot), you’ll know it’s more or less impossible.
Floorboards creak, clothing rustles, and you need to take a breath; all sorts of tiny sounds conspire to give you away.
Now, imagine you’re also trying to run around while wearing 50 pounds of rope, spare torches, hammers, crowbars, and weaponry. And that’s just noise.
What about the people you brush up against, the things you knock over, and your body odor?
This is the thing that people seem to misunderstand about how invisibility works.
Even if you can’t be seen, that doesn’t mean your enemies don’t know more or less where you are.
This is why, unless you’ve successfully taken the hide action, enemies can still make attacks against you — albeit with disadvantage.
DM Advice: Describing Invisibility
I think describing the invisible condition can fall into one of two styles depending on whether the setting is high or low magic.
Also keep in mind that putting something with a mismatched tone into your game — a super-low magic spell in a high-magic setting can feel jarring but can be effective if you want to make the caster seem creepy, especially powerful, or just somehow different from the world around them.
The high-magic interpretation of invisibility is basically the Predator cloak.
The caster just magically melts out of sight, perhaps with an arcane shimmering effect or the jingling of ethereal chimes.
I think the low-magic interpretation is possibly cooler — I try to make all magic in my games either apocalyptically weird and uncontrollable or so subtle that it’s unclear whether it was magic at all.
To portray invisibility in a low-magic setting, I’d be inclined to borrow an approach that is used to great effect in Westworld. Essentially, something invisible is something that no one can make themselves see.
You’re not covering yourself with a cloaking device but are rather subtly altering the world around you, or perhaps the way you move, or projecting a psychic field that means people’s eyes just slide right off you.
Heck, maybe invisibility is just a state of mind.
How Do I Turn Invisible?
There are a number of different ways to become invisible in D&D 5e that range from common magical items and potions to very powerful spells, feats, and traits.
There are four spells that grant you the invisible condition in some way.
Available to: Artificer, Bard, Sorcerer, Warlock, Wizard, Druid (Circle of the Land, Grassland)
A 2nd-level illusion spell that lets you touch a creature (or yourself) and render it invisible for up to an hour.
The duration makes this ideal for scouting, infiltration, and escapes — and you can upcast it to affect an additional creature for every slot used above 2nd.
However, Invisibility relies on concentration, so casting an additional spell or taking damage (and failing a concentration save) ends the spell.
Also, if you take the attack action or cast a spell (even one that doesn’t require concentration), the effect ends.
Available to: Bard, Sorcerer, Wizard, Cleric (Twilight Domain), Druid (Circle of the Land, Underdark), Warlock (Archfey, Genie, Undead), Artificer (Armorer)
The 4th-level version of the Invisibility spell has a shortened duration (1 minute) and can’t be upcast.
However, the spell also doesn’t end when you cast non-concentration spells or attack — meaning you can run around the battlefield stabbing people with advantage to your heart’s content.
Available to: Bard, Wizard, Cleric (Twilight Domain)
A slightly stranger version of the Invisibility spell, Mislead is a 5th-level illusion that turns you invisible while simultaneously creating an illusory duplicate of yourself where you were standing.
You can then sit invisible while you command your double (which moves at twice your speed) to scout ahead (you can choose whether you want to see through its eyes or your own), distract your enemies, or generally wreak havoc for you.
Available to: Wizard
A unique and powerful 7th-level wizard spell, Sequester hides away a willing creature or an object, making it safe from detection for the duration (which lasts until the spell is dispelled, so theoretically forever).
The target is locked in a state of suspended animation, becomes invisible, and can’t be targeted by divination spells or perceived through scrying sensors created by divination spells.
This is one of those spells that DMs are probably going to have more use for than players as it’s more or less the perfect way to set up a long-awaited deus ex machina and unpleasant surprises for your party.
There are a whole bunch of magical items scattered throughout D&D 5e’s various sourcebooks and adventures that turn the wearer or consumer invisible. Here are some of the more commonly found options.
Potion of Invisibility: A potion bottle that, rather charmingly, appears to be empty until you drink it, at which point it grants the creature who consumes it the effects of a 2nd-level Invisibility spell.
Cloak of Invisibility: A legendary wondrous item that turns the wearer invisible when they pull up the cloak’s hood, which takes an action. The cloak has a maximum invisibility duration of 2 hours, which is counted in 1 minute minimum increments.
Ring of Invisibility: A legendary wondrous ring that lets the wearer turn invisible as an action. Anything they are wearing or carrying is also rendered invisible and remains invisible indefinitely unless the bearer attacks, casts a spell, or uses a bonus action to end the effect. Also, if the ring is removed, the effect ends.
Dust of Disappearance: A packet of powder or fine magical sand that renders every creature and object within 10 feet of the creature who uses it invisible for 2d4 minutes or until they cast a spell or attack. Perfect for quick escapes or ambushes.
Anstruth Harp: a powerful magical harp with several spells stored inside it, including Invisibility.
The Gloom Stalker Ranger
One of the most dangerous ranger archetypes that excels at inflicting massive damage on the first turn of combat before melting away into the shadows is the Gloom Stalker.
The cornerstone of this subclass is the Gloom Stalker’s Umbral Sight feature, which (among other things) makes the Gloom Stalker invisible when in dim light or darkness, effectively nullifying darkvision.
Warlock Invocation: One With Shadows
The warlock invocation One With Shadows is available at 5th level and functions similarly to the Gloom Stalker’s Umbral Sight.
When in dim light or darkness, this invocation allows a warlock to use their action to become invisible until they move or take an action or a reaction.
Firbolg Racial Trait: Hidden Step
Firbolgs have a natural affinity for moving unseen and unheard, despite their large size.
If you’re playing a firbolg, once per short or long rest as a bonus action you can magically turn invisible until the start of your next turn or until you attack, make a damage roll, or force someone to make a saving throw.
Gnome Feat: Fade Away
Gnomes have a natural flair for illusion magic that is almost instinctual and can take the Fade Away feat in place of an Ability Score Increase.
In addition to an Intelligence or Dexterity score increase, immediately after you take damage, this feat lets you use a reaction to magically become invisible until the end of your next turn or until you attack, deal damage, or force someone to make a saving throw.
Once you use this ability, you can’t do so again until you finish a short or long rest.
Invisibility is a powerful tool to have in your arsenal, and no illusion wizard or glamor bard is complete without some way to pass sight unseen — especially if your party has sworn off letting rogues join after… last time *shudders*.
Just as invisibility can be an invaluable asset to an adventuring party, enemies with the ability to turn invisible — from rival wizard to the dreaded Invisible Stalker — can completely throw your best laid plans into a cocked hat.
Now, obviously, the simplest way to handle an invisible enemy is to lock all the doors and set fire to the room.
If it’s an Invisible Stalker, you’re probably going to want to burn down the building and maybe the rest of the town for good measure, but I digress.
Aside from area-of-effect spells (which can be hugely useful at getting an invisible creature to break concentration) and just shooting a ton of arrows “over there,” there are a few more sophisticated methods for overcoming an enemy’s invisibility.
A simple, low-level solution to invisibility, this 1st-level evocation spell fills a 20-foot cube with colorful light, outlining all objects and any creatures that fail a Dexterity saving throw.
Attackers have advantage against visible creatures affected by the fire, and an affected creature or object cannot be invisible.
It’s easily one of the most effective ways to negate an enemy with invisibility, and it’s available to a wide range of classes, including the artificer, bard, druid, and several cleric domains.
This is a simple 2nd-level divination spell that directly counters Invisibility, allowing the affected creature to see invisible creatures (as well as into the astral plane) for an hour or until the caster breaks concentration.
Situationally, this is an incredibly powerful spell considering its level.
The more powerful version of See Invisibility, True Seeing allows the caster or a creature they choose to see things as they actually are.
For the duration, the creature has truesight, notices secret doors hidden by magic, and can see into the Ethereal Plane, all out to a range of 120 feet.
A Bag of Flour
Lastly, it’s important to think about how to approach the issue of an invisible enemy (or indeed, how enemies might approach the issue of an invisible party of adventurers) when no one thought to prep any detection spells.
How terrible! We might have to use our brains.
Thankfully, there are as many ways to flush out an invisible enemy as you have time to think them up.
Here are a few I’ve either used in a game or overheard my players furiously preparing after I sicced an Invisible Stalker on them.
- Puddles of red paint just inside all the doors
- Buckets of paint on top of all the doors
- Throwing a bag of flour into the room. Bonus points because flour suspended in air is super-duper flammable, so if you see the outline of your invisible target, just throw a match in after them and shut the door. Whoomph.
- Silken tripwires tied to bells
- Using Control Weather or Create or Destroy Water to make it rain and watch for the silhouette
- Loudly insulting the person you think is invisible in the hope they get mad
- Burn down the building
Fighting invisible enemies is a great chance to get creative in a way that I think D&D rewards better than any other type of gaming.
Think about the world of the game, not the numbers on your character sheet, and no invisible enemy is going to be able to get the drop on you.
Similarly, dungeon masters, I hope you’re all taking notes for the next kobold death fortress your players stumble into.
Until next time, keep your eyes peeled, adventurers!