When I first started playing Dungeons and Dragons, I could never understand why I would ever use the spell Darkness. Considering that I was playing as a Drow, the spell was available to me as a racial ability. Regardless, I never once touched it. Thinking back on it and how my first campaign played out, I could have and should have used Darkness to my advantage.
Heavily obscured environments are undoubtedly scary scenarios when you first begin to play Dungeons and Dragons 5e, but they can be used to your advantage. Not to mention, it’s not a guarantee that your attacker will decimate you, nor are heavily obscured areas a guarantee that you will miss every hit. There are ways to get around this environmental condition, and there are many ways to use it to your advantage, be you a player or Dungeon Master.
Welcome to a Heavily Obscured 5e Guide.
At a Glance
The heavily obscured environmental condition depends on both the situation and the players’ environment. In an area that is pitch-black dark, players and NPCs without Eyes of the Dark, Darkvision, Blindsight or Truesight are effectively blinded, but they do not suffer from the blinded condition.
The environmental condition of heavy obscurement can be utilized by players and Dungeon Masters inside and outside of combat, whether to escape roleplay situations, plant objects on a target, avoid being hit by their opponent, flee combat, or escape the range of their enemy.
For those who do not have access to spells, creating light through candles, torches, or any kind of fire may help to alleviate heavy obscurement caused by the dark.
However, this tactic will not work against the spell Darkness – little works to overcome the spell Darkness (aside from Eyes of the Dark, blindsight, and truesight) or the spell Fog Cloud (only blindsight works).
A Rundown On Heavily Obscured
In a heavily obscured area, it becomes more difficult to see objects or creatures inside and outside of the area. When in the area, your vision is blocked almost entirely, rendering you blind. When outside of a heavily obscured area, you cannot see into the area. Any attacks made within or into the area gain disadvantage if they are not impossible to make.
Any perception or investigation checks made within the area, so long as they rely on sight, must be made with disadvantage. Out of every tool available to players and Dungeon Masters, the heavily obscured environmental condition is by far the easiest one to utilize when throwing people off their game.
The Blinded Condition
When in a heavily obscured area, you will effectively gain the blinded condition. All attacks made against you are made with advantage, and all attacks you make are made with disadvantage. However, let’s put forward the scenario where a heavily obscured area is created by the spell Darkness. This spell creates a magical area of Darkness that not even dark vision can see through
. With that in mind, any attacker inside and outside of the area would have little idea where you were, thus giving them a disadvantage on their attack. In turn, because you are blinded, and they have disadvantage due to your status as ‘hidden,’ it just becomes a straight attack roll on their part and on your part. This, in a sense, makes a heavily obscured area a broken concept that doesn’t particularly work under these conditions.
Is Heavily Obscured a Broken Concept?
Yes and no. If you overthink it and accept that it’s a straight attack roll on both fighters’ parts by taking the concept of the blinded condition literally, then yes, this concept is broken. However, in the official definition of heavily obscured, it states that creatures inside the area are effectively blinded – they don’t actually suffer from the condition of blindness. The key here is not being able to see.
If you are attacking, you do not know where your opponents are, so you gain disadvantage. Your enemies suffer from the same fate, for the most part. They don’t know where you are within a heavily obscured area and, thus, will also gain disadvantage when attempting to attack you.
Simply, the blinded condition does not literally apply. Everyone attacking in or making a ranged attack into a heavily obscured area has disadvantage. It is very easy to literally apply the blinded condition in these situations, but it really does not work. There would be no point in creating a heavily obscured area, for both players and DMs, inside of combat if it did not actually affect combat.
The only time when a heavily obscured area should not affect an attacker is when they have blindsight or the area isn’t actually magical Darkness. In the latter case, there are ways to make it so the area is no longer heavily obscured.
In cases where a heavily obscured area is created by incredibly dense foliage (or very difficult terrain), or complete cover, then attacking is no longer an option. If you cannot reach your target to attack them, let alone see them, then you shouldn’t be allowed to, or be able to, make an attack.
Light It Up – Ending Heavy Obscurement
There are only a few ways to get around a heavily obscured environment, and all of it heavily depends on what is causing the environment to become heavily obscured. Even still, it’s worth testing out some options to try and get your character – or even your NPC – onto better footing.
Although there are a handful of spells and even class perks that can help to avoid the negative effects of heavy obscurement, there are racial traits and physical actions players and DMs alike can take to avoid and eliminate heavily obscured areas.
When dealing with an area that is heavily obscured because of nonmagical Darkness, the easiest way to subvert the heavily obscured condition is to simply light up a torch or a campfire. The bigger the flame, the better, as a bigger flame will throw off far more light and help to eliminate the ‘essentially blind’ condition. Of course, the better an area is lit up means that your enemies can see you easier, so I would hesitate before jumping right into this option.
When choosing to light up an area to eliminate the heavily obscured condition, it is incredibly important to take care that your light is strong and doesn’t go out. A candle
will only throw off bright light in a five-foot radius and dim light for an additional five feet. A torch, on the other hand, throws off bright light in a twenty-foot radius and dim light for an additional twenty feet. On top of that, it proves much harder to snuff out a torch than a candle.
If you wanted to go the extra mile, you could set up a campfire or bonfire – even cast the spell bonfire if you have access to it – which will put off even more light and become even more difficult to put out. However, there is no specified rule of how much light a campfire and bonfire put out.
As such, this is something to take up with your Dungeon Master and table to decide on numbers. Personally, I would state that it puts off bright light for thirty feet and dim light for an additional thirty.
Darkvision is one of the most prominent racial traits, but it does not solve every situation involving heavy obscurement. In areas where it is magical Darkness, darkvision will not be there to save you. For something like that, you’d need a trait like blindsight. The most important thing to remember with darkvision is that in dimly lit areas, you can see as if it was bright light, and in areas without light, you see as though it was dimly lit.
This means that even if you’re walking in the pitch black, you will still gain disadvantage on any checks that rely on sight (notably perception and investigation). However, in nonmagical Darkness, because you still maintain some semblance of sight, you cannot technically be considered to be in a heavily obscured area.
Blindsight and Truesight
Unlike darkvision, blindsight will get you out of every heavily obscured area that concerns darkness, be it magical or nonmagical. Blindsight is a condition in Dungeons and Dragons 5e that allows a creature to see around it without having to rely on sight. They can only see for a certain radius, however, and there are only a handful of creatures who can claim this feature as a racial trait. Notably, bats, true dragons, and creatures without eyes have blindsight.
In the third edition of Dungeons and Dragons, there was a spell called blindsight, which temporarily gave the caster blindsight for ten yards. Unfortunately, this spell is not in the fifth edition of D&D, so if you want your character to have it, or an NPC, then you’re going to need to do a bit of homebrewing with your table and DM.
However, if you don’t want to take on blindsight as a homebrewed or imported spell from the third edition, there is another option. The spell True Seeing, a sixth-level Divination spell, temporarily gives a willing creature truesight, along with a handful of other benefits.
Truesight, up to a specific range, gives creatures the ability to see in normal and magical Darkness with ease. They can see invisible creatures and objects and can easily see through illusions. As an added bonus, these creatures can see into the Ethereal plane within the same range.
This essentially negates any heavily obscured condition caused by Darkness, the same as blindsight. However, truesight may prove more accessible to player characters.
Eyes Of The Dark
Eyes of the Dark is a unique feature only available to Shadow Sorcerers. This ability allows you to cast the Darkness spell by spending one sorcery point. This feature gives Shadow Sorcerers darkvision with a range of 60 feet – a strong benefit if you didn’t previously have darkvision. When utilizing the Eyes of the Dark feature, you can see through any Darkness spell that you have cast.
Although this feature doesn’t stop you from being blinded by another person’s Darkness spell, it certainly helps you to get around your own Darkness. This feature effectively eliminates the downsides of casting Darkness for a Shadow Sorcerer, allowing you to create a heavily obscured area and only gain the advantage.
There are a handful of spells in Dungeons and Dragons 5e that can help you to overcome and avoid the heavily obscured environmental condition, though these spells are heavily dependent on what is causing the area to be heavily obscured.
Dispel Magic is an excellent one to use. If a spell has become heavily obscured thanks to a Major Illusion or Darkness, though, this dispel may not work if the illusory spell was cast at a higher level than your Dispel Magic was.
Other spells that utilize lighting, similar to a fire, can also help in this situation. These spells include Light, Dancing Lights, Bonfire, Burning Hands, Scorching Ray, or really any spell that utilizes fire.
If you would rather not light up the area, there are spells that can give the caster darkvision. Creatively, in 5e, this spell is called Darkvision. As a second-level spell, it gives the caster, or the castee, darkvision up to sixty feet. Or, you can bring in the Blindsight spell from 3e and have access to a spell that easily overcomes magical Darkness.
The spell Trueseeing is a more powerful version, though it is only available as a sixth-level spell. Regardless, it allows for a similar function as the Blindsight spell and negates the effects of magical and nonmagical Darkness, as well as the effects of illusions.
Gain The Advantage
However, even if none of the options to get out of a heavily obscured are available to you, heavily obscured areas can still work toward your advantage. If you’re attempting to avoid detection, get out of combat, or escape certain situations outside of combat, these areas are amazing.
Whether you’re creating them or diving into them, heavily obscured areas shouldn’t be a scary or uncertain area, and I highly encourage you, whether as a player or a DM, to take them in stride. Instead of attempting to get around these heavily obscured areas, utilize them to your fullest advantage – or even create them yourself.
Heavily obscured situations can be an excellent way to get out of a bad situation outside of combat. They can function similarly to a smoke bomb in a way. A notable situation where this happened was in Campaign 3, Episode 33 of Critical Role.
Without spoilers of the episode, Laudna utilized her Eyes of the Dark class feature to cast Darkness and avoid being hit during combat while simultaneously attempting to plant a tracking device on her target. She took no damage during this encounter and successfully escaped for the time being.
Even if your character doesn’t have access to Eyes of the Dark, you can still follow Laudna’s example with other spells. Both the spells Darkness and Fog Cloud can allow you to create a heavily obscured area and quickly escape before you take damage or get into an even worse situation.
It may prove more difficult to find your target and plant something on them, but it won’t be impossible. However, if you or another cast darkness while one of your party members, or you, are affected by the spell True Seeing, then you’re set for success.
Similarly, as escaping a roleplay situation, utilizing a spell that creates a heavily obscured area can help you and your party members to flee combat (or, at the very least, get out of the attack range of your enemy). There’s no guarantee that your enemy won’t follow you, but assuming you get the jump on them and they’re low in the initiative order, this tactic can be an excellent maneuver.
Does a Heavily Obscured Area Affect Combat?
The short answer is that yes, it does, whether you are inside the area or outside of it. The much longer answer, as with all other answers, is that how much it affects combat depends on your situation. There are workarounds for most heavily obscured areas, but there are not workarounds for all of them.
If you are in an area with full cover, it technically counts as heavily obscured and, thus, would make combat from the outside impossible. If you are inside of the area, it may simply depend on your positioning and whether or not you get lucky with each hit (or how well your target can see).
In order for an area to be heavily obscured from the inside, it will likely be pitch black or covered in a thick fog cloud. As discussed earlier in the article, all parties will be dealing with disadvantages when they try to attack or when making any skill checks that require sight. However, if you have truesight, blindsight, or even darkvision, you may be able to negate that disadvantage.
In that same line of thought, if your target has any of those traits and you do not, you may be going up against an enemy who has a total advantage over you with each attack; meanwhile, you are left fumbling around in the dark, hoping to hit something.
Generally, when fighting outside of a heavily obscured area and pushing attacks in, you’re a ranged attacker. This becomes a bit more difficult to discern, considering that you have even less of a clue where your enemies are and where your friends might be. Regardless, you’ll be attacking at disadvantage – if attacking is even possible. If the area you’re trying to attack is a fully covered area, making your enemies heavily obscured, an attack may end up being completely impossible.
For Dungeon Masters, in specific, you can use this against your ranged attackers and turn the table on your players. If one of your players is attempting to make a ranged attack into a heavily obscured area while a friend, or even multiple, are inside of the area, they’ll need to pick the general direction of where they’re shooting. When picking a direction, I heavily urge my players, not to meta-game and instead roll a die to randomly fire off a shot into the Darkness.
This can either be where they saw their enemy enter, assuming they were in the area long enough to see it, or just a completely random guess. If they opt for the random guess, I make my players roll a d20. On a 1-10, they hit their friend. On an 11-20, they have a chance to hit their target.
If they roll a ten and under, they roll against their friend’s AC. If it’s an 11 or higher, they roll against their enemy’s AC. If the spell requires a saving throw, the person who gets hit needs to make the save, generally with disadvantage because they would not have seen the spell coming.
Before you go ahead and utilize this tactic against your players, however, make sure that your table is okay with it. The last thing we want, as Dungeon Masters usually, is to create a frustrating environment for players where they feel like you are working against them rather than challenging them and demonstrating consequences.
Question: Could Truesight be a workaround for heavily obscured? Can Truesight see into a Fog Cloud?
Answer: Truesight is absolutely a workaround for the heavily obscured condition concerning magical Darkness, nonmagical Darkness, and illusions. However, considering that Fog Cloud is a conjuration spell and not an illusory spell, the effects of truesight would be nulled by Fog Cloud.
Question: Does Fog Cloud give disadvantage?
Answer: Because the spell Fog Cloud creates a heavily obscured environment, anyone within the Fog Cloud would gain disadvantage when attempting to attack one another or make a skill check that relies on sight. If someone was outside of the Fog Cloud and attempting to attack someone within it, they would have disadvantage on their attack.
Question: Can blindsight see through fog?
Answer: Yes, blindsight can ‘see’ through fog. Considering that fog does not necessarily disrupt a function like echolocation or even sensing tremors in the ground, a spell like Fog Cloud, or even naturally occurring fog, will have little effect on blindsight.
Heavily Obscured may seem like a simple environmental condition, but the truth is that there is so much nuance to it. It is a condition that changes with the situation and has different effects. This environmental condition can change purpose with ease and can be utilized for and against players without much of a hassle. It works both inside and outside of combat and, depending on the obscurement and can be subverted in different ways.
Heavy obscurement is a neat little environmental condition that can easily be misconstrued as a broken mechanic if the term “effectively blinded” is taken to mean “literally blinded.” It doesn’t need to be fixed but absolutely needs to be utilized more by Dungeon Masters and players alike.
- Compelled Duel 5e Guide - November 14, 2022
- Heavily Obscured 5e Guide – The Ins And Outs Of The Dark - October 31, 2022
- Word of Radiance 5e Guide – Up Close and Personal Radiant Damage - October 27, 2022