A Fighter is outnumbered and on his back. With enemies all around, he knows he won’t last long. Suddenly, a thick fog rolls over the battlefield, consuming the Fighter and his foes.
A blade swings from the shadows. The Fighter narrowly rolls to safety under the cover of the heavy mist.
This guide to obscured vision will cover the mechanics of vision and light in 5th edition. We’ll cover the effects of being heavily obscured and how players can create, or avoid, these conditions.
We’ll also take a look at the best ways to use obscured vision and cover some special use cases involving this mechanic. Finally, we’ll review some common house rules and explore how DM’s can use them in their own games.
How Does Obscured Vision Work in 5e RAW?
DnD characters need their vision to accomplish most tasks.
After all, it’s difficult to defeat an enemy you can’t see. And good luck finding a secret passage in the dark. Some adventuring areas obscure the players’ vision, preventing them from seeing friend or foe.
For instance, a character surrounded by heavy fog or magical darkness might as well be blindfolded.
The Rules for Light and Vision
Players can find a detailed guide to light and vision in the Player’s Handbook. The rules-as-written cover both lightly and heavily obscured areas.
In lightly obscured areas, such as patchy fog, characters will have disadvantage on vision-based perception checks.
Heavily obscured areas, on the other hand, make it nearly impossible for characters to see. According to the Player’s Handbook, creatures are effectively blind in heavily obscured areas and will suffer from the blinded condition.
A heavily obscured area一such as darkness, opaque fog, or dense foliage一blocks vision entirely. A creature effectively suffers from the blinded condition when trying to see something in that area.
Source: Player’s Handbook (p.183)
Also, any creature trying to see into or through a heavily obscured area is blinded as well. A blinded creature suffers several penalties, including the following:
Attack roles against the creature have advantage, and the creature’s attack roles have disadvantage.
Source: Player’s Handbook (p.290)
Imagine a Wizard casts fog cloud centered on an elven archer. The fog creates a heavily obscured area. The archer is now concealed by thick fog, and also blinded by it. When trying to target the elven archer, the Wizard is effectively blind. The archer, aiming through the heavy fog, is also unable to see.
Heavily obscured areas effectively blind everyone. Characters can’t see into them, and anyone inside a heavily obscured area will be shooting in the dark.
These rules have some strange and unexpected consequences. Whether or not the rules governing this mechanic should be altered is a point of contention among players.
Advantage and Disadvantage
Because heavily obscured areas effectively blind everyone, things can get a bit confusing. With everyone swinging widely in the dark, you might expect creatures to find themselves at a disadvantage. Strange as it seems, this isn’t exactly the case.
From chapter 7 of the Player’s Handbook:
If circumstances cause a roll to have both advantage and disadvantage, you are considered to have neither of them, and you roll one d20.
Source: Player’s Handbook (p.183)
Creatures blinded by a heavy fog are given disadvantage on their attacks. But because they are hidden from others, they also get advantage on their attacks. Creatures can not have both disadvantage and advantage, so they roll normally.
Spells That Obscured Vision
There are many spells that allow a character to create areas that are heavily obscured. For example, the spell fog cloud creates a heavily obscured 20-foot-radius sphere that bends around corners.
The darkness spell also obscures vision, allowing the caster to conjure an area of magical darkness.
The Best Ways to Use Obscured Vision
Moving into or creating a heavily obscured area can have its advantages. To begin with, heavily obscured areas will cancel out any advantage bonuses on both sides of a battle.
The same is true for characters affected by disadvantage. So if your party is hit with faerie fire, casting fog cloud on the group will serve as a sort of counterspell.
Furthermore, many spells require the use of vision. For example, to successfully cast hold person, a Cleric must be able to see their target. Creating a heavily obscured area will disrupt this ability.
Finally, moving through an obscured area can make it easier to hide. Anyone attempting to hide in dense fog or darkness will find the environment aids the attempt.
Could Obscured Vision Work Better?
Some players will argue that the rules are fine the way that they are and there is no need to change them. Others will suggest that the rules for vision and light could be more intuitive. However you decide to handle the game, the decision will be valid.
When it comes to making house rules, however, it’s always a good idea to discuss the decision ahead of time with the group. This way, everyone is on the same page and knows what to expect.
Creative Table Rules
Players are always looking for creative ways to change the rules. For many players, this is one of the most enjoyable aspects of DnD.
Having control over the fantasy world and tweaking the game to suit this or that style of gameplay is a challenge in and of itself.
That being said, when it comes to heavily obscured areas, players have plenty of gripes. The double-blind nature of heavily obscured areas is a bit confusing and unintuitive. And the question of whether or not these rules could be improved is certainly debatable.
One solution is to disadvantage anyone blinded by a heavily obscured area. This way, two combatants in a fog cloud would both be disadvantaged instead of attacking each other normally. This may give the combat more continuity
Another option is for the DM to take each situation on a case-by-case basis. With this method, common sense can be applied to each case instead of relying on generalities that sometimes do not make sense.
Spells to Look For
Players can overcome the limitation of vision in some instances. Characters with truesight can see through magical darkness. And those with blindsight don’t need their vision to see. They can locate creatures using other senses.
Creatures with these abilities will have the advantage in certain heavily obscured areas. A player with darkvision or devil’s sight will still be able to see in the darkest of nights.
Darvision gives players the ability to see in areas heavily obscured by darkness, unless that darkness is magical. Players can use these spells to get the most out of fighting in the dark. And as for magical darkness, players can use the True Seeing spell, which gives a character truesight for up to an hour.
Does A Heavily Obscured Area Block Truesight?
Truesight is a powerful ability that allows creatures to see through magical darkness, find invisible creatures, and detect visual illusions.
While truesight works in some heavily obscured areas, such as darkness, it doesn’t work against physical objects. This means a fog cloud spell could still blind a creature with truesight.
Can Devil’s Sight See Through Fog?
Devil’s Sight is a Warlock ability that allows a character to see normally in darkness. This darkness can be magical in nature. However, Devil’s Sight doesn’t help if the Warlock’s vision is obscured by heavy fog or another physical obstruction.
Heavily obscured areas are perfect for hiding in. They are also great for blinding spellcasters and keeping them from being able to cast magic. And because they tend to blind everyone, heavily obscured areas are a good way to level the playing field, so to speak.
While some players might expect areas that obscure vision to make creatures harder to hit, the rules are not so simple. Those looking for a more intuitive approach are encouraged to explore variants on the rules until they discover something that works best for them.