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Medusa and Umber Hulk and probably a number of other monsters suggest that a target can avert its eyes to avoid its effects.

For example, the medusa's Petrifying Gaze:

Unless surprised, a creature can avert its eyes to avoid the saving throw at the start of its turn. If the creature does so, it can't see the medusa until the start of its next turn, when it can avert its eyes again. If the creature looks at the medusa in the meantime, it must immediately make the save.

I've scoured the books but I can't find what it means mechanically to avert one's eyes. I'm assuming it's related to partial blindness or concealment but I'm not sure. So what are all the things that happen when your eyes are averted? Can you cite the rules so that I can understand it as thoroughly as possible?

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up vote 37 down vote accepted

Averting your eyes does exactly what it says it does: You willingly look away from your target.

Unless surprised, a creature can avert its eyes to avoid the saving throw at the start of its turn. If the creature does so, it can't see the medusa until the start of its next turn, when it can avert its eyes again...

When you cannot see a target, you have disadvantage on attack rolls made against it (PHB p. 183) and many spells that require sight of a target will not work. If a spell indicates it affects a target that you can see, then it will not work if you avert your eyes. It's worth noting that averting one's eyes is not a common interaction in the game.

No, you cannot look at the floor and retain vision of her. If you avert your eyes, you cannot see her. If you choose not to avert your eyes, you might get turned to stone

Also, if you cannot see the medusa, she has advantage on attacks against you. PHB p. 195 :

When a creature can’t see you, you have advantage on attack rolls against it.

The same goes for monsters against you.

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3  
I feel it is often best to go back to the classics if meaning is unclear: youtube.com/watch?v=DWQg4KEx5jM – Airk Feb 18 at 18:14

My players have just walked into such an encounter in PotA, which has got me thinking about it this week.

I've decided that I'm going to treat it like being blinded, but just for the specific target that you're avoiding the gaze of:

  • You have disadvantage on all attack rolls against the target.
  • The target has advantage on all attack rolls against you.
  • Any actions, abilities, or spells that require sight of the target must be undertaken at disadvantage where possible, otherwise that action cannot be taken.

For example, a spell like Magic Missile indicates that it must be a target that you can see. It also doesn't have an attack roll so can't be used at disadvantage, therefore it cannot be cast against the target without meeting its gaze.

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+1 that's exactly how three different AL tables running PotA treated it at my FLGS – nitsua60 Feb 17 at 23:16

When you avert your eyes away from a target, you are effectively granting that target the advantage normally granted by the heavily obscured condition:

This is darkness or heavy fog, or dense foliage. It imposes the effects of the blinded condition, which are auto failure of any check requiring sight, and advantage to attack you and disadvantage on your attacks.

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Different Approach

When my players decide to avert their eyes, I treat it as:

"I am looking by, but not directly at, the medusa, therefore she can't petrify me, but by that same token, I can't see her so well as to be able to deal a critical."

You can still see her, but you cant see her clearly, a mechanic I could apply to attacking a medusa by its shadow, its reflection, or what you can technically sort of see as you stare at its bellybutton to evade its gaze.

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