Handling Invisibility Fairly

There are times during games where nobody knows what to do, or how you are suppose to handle it. One of those times is when one or more persons, NPCs, or monsters is invisible. What a nightmare! I mean, the DMG lists a characters chances of hitting an invisible target as –4. –4? Where do they get this number from? If you are attacking an invisible force with a bow and arrow, do you still only have to worry about a –4 penalty? And, if so, what exactly is the bonus for being invisible?

Well, this area really does need some enlightenment. What is invisible in the game? What are the rules which govern it? The answer to all of these questions and more is one of those things which requires a Dungeon Master to determine. Thankfully, however, there are rules which form the guidelines to help us get this done.


Being invisible is more difficult then it sounds. Light passes through you, and you can’t see yourself either. Most tasks are easily preformed, getting on a horse, drawing your weapon, picking up money; however tasks which require fine-motor skills are much harder when you can’t see your fingers. Tasks such as picking a lock, shooting an arrow, catching an object which was tossed to you. These tasks are much more difficult, and may not even be possible! It is up to the DM to decide if a task simply can’t be done, or s/he can impose a –3 penalty to a characters chances of performing a non-weapon proficiency, else a –15% to all percentage based skills.

Of course if there is more then one person invisible, then you run into some severe problems, you have no idea where the other people in the party are and you’re just as likely to strike them if you draw your weapon to attack something. In cases like this, the only person who will know exactly who you are attacking is the DM, somebody may be in the way, unless some plan is made before hand, becoming invisible and rushing into battle is a fools mission!


Invisible is invisible to both normal vision & infravision, however there are some tricks available to those who are being heckled by invisible foes. Mud and powders which stick to the invisible being will remain visible. While an invisible person who is swimming doesn’t leave a hole in the water, viewers may notice the water moving differently as it flows around the invisible force. Invisible people also leave visible foot prints! Notice that all of this depends on how giving a DM is at the moment. An invisible creature in the perfect conditions will be completely invisible, opponents will only be able to attack him when he attacks them. The –4 to hit requires that the person who is trying to hit the invisible being knows exactly where the creature is, if this isn’t known, even a true 20 will miss the target.

Another consideration is light. If the invisible creature requires light to see and moves into a dark area, he’ll need to bring a lightsource with him if he wants to see. If the lantern or torch which the creature is using was on him when the spell was cast, then the vessel (the lantern or torch) will be invisible, however the light will not be. Foes can use this light to pinpoint the location of the invisible person . . . or at least the vessel.

Using a Detect Magic spell does not work, the caster is aware that magic is in the air, however he cannot use the spell to pinpoint the invisible creatures location. Only Detect Invisibility is effective, and that is it.

HOWEVER! Once the DM feels that there is a chance of the character or NPC to notice a sound, smell, or something else from the DM’s deviously brilliant brain that may give away a creatures location, he is allowed to either give the player a Saving Throw vs. Spell or roll one secretly. Making this Saving Throw DOES grant you a –4 to hit, and this is where that modifier comes from. It is totally up to the DM to choose all penalties and to decide if maybe the penalties can be ignored entirely! Of course bribery will get you nowhere, but it never hurts to try.

When dealing with non-intelligent creatures or stupid races/individuals, being alert to the presence of an invisible creature may not be enough to provoke an attack, wild animals and such will be higher on guard! But they aren’t necessarily going to leap and attack something which their eyes tell them isn’t there. Anybody who has ever dealt with a ghost (NASTY creatures) or even heard of a ghost, may instantly flee in fear that the invisible person IS a ghost, which considering how nasty ghosts are, really isn’t all that bad of an idea once you think about it.


Timeshadows said...


I am curious: Where does it say that characters are Invisible to their own eyes?

R said...

Hi as well. I just wanted to list two of the things that the Wizard's Handbook has to say about Invisibility (under the Spell Commentary section in Chapter 7).

(1) "The invisible character can always see himself; in effect, he automatically
disbelieves the illusion."

(2) "All objects on the invisible subject's person are also invisible." - which makes me think that you cannot stick mud or powder to them.

I forget where (it may have been a monster with the ability to turn invisible), but I remember something about smoke or fog not revealing invisible beings because the swirls and mists are in constant movement and don't accurately outline the invisible entity (such that the displaced fog or mist wouldn't be an actual silhouette and thus not necessarily give away the invisible being's position).

Great site, by the way.

RipperX said...

Timeshadow: This is a 2e core rule found on page 120 in the Dungeon Master Guide. As with all 2e, if a spell description says differently then the spell description is used instead, but as a general rule, the invisible person can't see itself.

R: Welcome to the blog! You bring up a great point. Many of the Complete Handbook series changed what was core . . . or at least tried to. All of the information in them is optional, and all up to the Dungeon Master's ruling if they are used or not.

Lately I've been on a Core Rules supersedes all other rules, kick. I still use some of the information found in the Complete Handbook series, as long as it doesn't conflict with the core rules laid out in the DMG or the PHB. That is just me! If you prefer this to the core rule because you feel that it is a better rule, then by all means use it.

Brooser Bear said...

You have to separate real invisibility, a la The Invisible Man from the illusion of invisibility. A truly invisible man will be blind, since his retina will be invisible, rods and cones in his eye would be transparent and hence won't function physiologically, making the invisible man blind.

Second type of invisibility woukld be the illusion of invisibility, in which case, the guy would not be invisible to himself, and visible tracks and visible outlines inthe moke would deopend on the strength and success of the spell that was cast.

But there is a this type of invisibility, a Psonic Invisibility, if you will, from the Martian Chronicles and that can be possibly be employed by Mind Flayers and such. There is no illusion of invisibility, instead the so called Invisible creature works on the mind/s of the victims so that victim mind does not see the Mind Flayer or maybe sees a fair maiden offering to press the hero's heas to her bosom, of course the fool won't see the tentacles waiting in eager anticipation to burrow to that bone marrow of the fool's medulla oblongata... In this case the invisible being shall not leave any tracks and no mud will stick to it, since the illusion is not cloakign the object, rather it exists in the mind of hmmm... that hero?

RipperX said...

My problem with invisibility is that it can involve too many rules. I go more for all encompassing core rules that cover a variety of situations. Science and Magic do not mix, science says that an invisible person couldn't see, however it also states that a person cannot be invisible. Magic is magic, it is predictable but it has rules all of its own, completely independent from science.

Besides, this is a fantasy game, if we over-think everything then it will suck the fun right out of it.

Brooser Bear said...

Good point about overthinking, but...
the purpose is not game mechanics but the story. Deeper logic makes for a more vivid story that arises of that setting.

With regards to magic, don't you think that if the D&D Wizards discovered the Scientific Method (and there is no reason why a bunch of wizards wouldn't stumble ypon it), then D&D magic would not longer be the magic, but science of the D&D, and the magic weapons would be the high technology of D&D.

So, magic would have to be different from science. Mystical, illogical, unpredictable, unlike alien technology in that it does not sit passively there, waiting to be analyzed.Out of which the magic users try to gleam scraps of useful knowledge that manifests itself as spells. In play, magic is best exemplified by NPC wizards, like the Planescape's Lady Of Pain never get involved in the play, but are there showing off what power they can do (which goes beyond the AD&D spell lists). I have Zen spouting Kenku, who recite Koans with magical effects and elders of the native villages, some of whom have converted to Chrtistianity, who have the power of the Word to undo werewolves, head off storms, and destroy the undead. Part of play, not covered by game mechanics, sets up the setting's atmosphere.

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