Heavily Obscured 5e
Published on November 23, 2023, Last modified on December 18th, 2023
Dispel and obscurity surrounding the dreaded heavily obscured mechanic in D&D 5e!
Steven Belledin - Wizards of the Coast - Lantern Scout
Table of Contents
Understanding “Heavily Obscured” in D&D 5e
Nothing quite throws a wrench into adventuring like not being able to see. Whether you’re fighting a dragon or traversing a dungeon, sight is usually your most valuable sense. So, what happens when your vision is hampered by fog, darkness, or other magical means?
Let’s take a look into what it means for an area to be heavily obscured and the cloudy details of what that means for DMs as well as players.
The Basics of Heavily Obscured Areas in D&D 5e
In D&D 5e, an area is considered “heavily obscured” when it is shrouded in darkness, thick fog, or any other form of visual impairment that severely limits vision.
When in an area considered heavily obscured, creatures suffer from the blinded condition. This means that they automatically fail any ability check that requires sight and that attack rolls against them have advantage, whilst their attack rolls have disadvantage.
What Causes an Area to be Heavily Obscured in D&D?
Dealing with a heavily obscured area is actually quite a common occurrence in D&D 5e. Here are the most common situations in which you’ll run into it:
- Darkness: Whether by the darkness, shadow of moil, or hunger of hadar spells, or merely a lack of light, being in full darkness without a light source or darkvision causes the area to be heavily obscured.
- “Cloud” Effects: Fog cloud, stinking cloud, or just some bad weather are common ways to reduce vision and are enough to send a battlefield into chaos.
- Being Invisible: Funnily enough, being invisible in D&D technically grants you the benefits of being heavily obscured from others.
Attacking into a Heavily Obscured Area
The most common question I see regarding heavily obscured areas and D&D is: How does combat work when the combatants can’t see each other?
Here are some quick tips and rulings you can use to navigate this ambiguous terrain:
Two Creatures That Are Heavily Obscured Attack Each Other Normally
Seeing as both creatures suffer from the blinded condition, they attack with disadvantage, but attacks against them have advantage. The advantage and disadvantage cancel each other out, resulting in normal attacks.
Finding Creatures in a Heavily Obscured Environment
If you can’t see, how do you know where to shoot a bow or swing your sword? Here’s what the Basic Rules have to say:
When you attack a target that you can’t see, you have disadvantage on the attack roll. This is true whether you’re guessing the target’s location or you’re targeting a creature you can hear but not see. If the target isn’t in the location you targeted, you automatically miss, but the DM typically just says that the attack missed, not whether you guessed the target’s location correctly.
So this means you can guess a target’s location. Maybe if they were right next to you before the heavily obscured effect came into place, you swing your sword at that location and see if it hits. But, if the target isn’t there, you automatically miss.
But combat is noisy, so there are ways to detect where your enemies are, even if you can’t see them. This happens automatically after an attack is made:
If you are hidden—both unseen and unheard—when you make an attack, you give away your location when the attack hits or misses.
This means a tactically minded combatant will attack first, then move, so any attacks targeting the location the attacks came from will automatically miss.
The Ready Action Is Important
When you don’t know a target’s location, the best way to get an attack on them is to use the Ready action to hold your attack until they reveal their location. Unfortunately, this means martials will miss out on their Extra Attack, but it also means they won’t whiff their attacks into the air because they’re attacking an empty space.
Spells That Specify “A Target You Can See” Automatically Fail
This is a bit more of an obvious one, but it’s worth remembering that any spells that require a line of sight fail when you’re blinded. You also can’t target creatures that are heavily obscured by something like a fog cloud.
“A Point You Choose” Spells Are a Grey Area
If you’re in a heavily obscured area, and therefore blinded, how do you choose where your area of effect spells, like fireball, will go? This actually isn’t covered in the thin rules regarding heavily obscured combat, so it’s something DMs have to work out for themselves. If you’re playing with a battlemap, its easy to say, “I want my spell to be centered around this square.” But, when you’re playing in theatre of the mind, you’ll have to work with your DM to decide where your spell lands.
Countering the Challenges of Heavily Obscured Areas
Whether you’re a player looking to navigate the darkness or a Dungeon Master who wants to shake up combat, here are some ways to skirt the difficulties presented by a heavily obscured environment:
Light Sources and Spells
The most basic way to counter darkness is by using torches or lanterns. A standard torch can illuminate up to 20 feet of bright light and an additional 20 feet of dim light. For those that are more magically inclined, the light cantrip is a simple yet effective spell that causes an object to shine like a torch for an hour, illuminating a 20-foot radius with bright light and an additional 20 feet with dim light.
For a more powerful solution, the 3rd-level daylight spell creates a 60-foot-radius sphere of light for up to an hour, turning a heavily obscured area into a well-lit battlefield. Keep in mind that while it’s not technically sunlight and can’t trigger Sunlight Sensitivity, it can dispel magical darkness caused by a spell of 3rd-level or lower.
If you’re in a pitch-black cave full of vampires, you’ll need to spring for a 5th-level dawn, 6th-level sunbeam, or 8th-level sunburst.
Dispel Magical Darkness and Other Obscuring Effects
Dispel magic is one of the best ways of dealing with magical darkness or other magical effects creating heavily obscured areas. It can easily can end low-level spells like darkness or fog cloud, instantly clearing the obscuration. For magical effects causing heavily obscured environments that are produced by 4th-level spells or above, you can always upcast dispel magic or risk the spellcasting ability check.
Many races, like dwarves and elves, have darkvision, allowing them to see in darkness up to a certain range (usually 60 feet) as if it were dim light. If you weren’t lucky enough to be born with it, you can always use the 2nd-level darkvision spell to gain the ability for 8 hours, without concentration.
There are other, less common abilities that can navigate heavily obscured areas, like truesight or tremorsense. Truesight is probably the most powerful sight-based ability and allows a creature to see in normal and magical darkness, see invisible creatures and objects, automatically detect visual illusions and succeed on saving throws against them, and perceive the original form of a shapechanger or a creature transformed by magic.
Because it’s so powerful, it’s also almost impossible for players to get, usually being reserved for legendary creatures like dragons. If you really want it, however, it can be granted the 6th-level true seeing spell.
Heavily Obscured 5e FAQs
Can You See Through Heavily Obscured Areas in 5e?
By definition, heavily obscured areas impede vision entirely. Characters cannot see through these areas without the aid of special abilities or magic. For instance, a character with darkvision can see in darkness, which is a heavily obscured area for those without this ability.
What Does "Heavily Obscured" Mean?
"Heavily obscured" refers to the complete blockage of vision in an area. It imposes the blinded condition for any creatures trying to see something in or through that area.
Can You See Clearly Now?
Navigating heavily obscured areas in D&D 5e a solid understanding of how these confusing rules interact with one another. It’s important to have a solid foundation of what causes heavily obscured terrain, what impact is has on the creatures within it, and what happens if a fight breaks out. Whether you’re a Dungeon Master designing challenging encounters or a player navigating the treacherous terrains of your campaign, mastering the concept of heavily obscured areas will make your play experience smoother, so you don’t have to resort to breaking out the Dungeon Master’s Guide every time you head into the Underdark.
Hope this article helped clear things up, and happy adventuring!