A level 6 Path of the Totem Warrior barbarian (PHB, p. 50) can choose the Eagle totem, which states:

You gain the eyesight of an eagle. You can see up to 1 mile away with no difficulty, able to discern even fine details as though looking at something no more than 100 feet away from you. Additionally, dim light doesn't impose disadvantage on your Wisdom (Perception) checks.

Combine this with the Observant feat (PHB, p. 168):

If you can see a creature's mouth while it is speaking a language you understand, you can interpret what it's saying by reading its lips.

Using this combination, can I read a creature's lips, speaking a language I understand, from a mile away?


2 Answers 2


Excellent combo.

You quoted all the relevant rules. To read lips, you need to

see a creature's mouth while it is speaking a language you understand

And with the Eagle totem at 6th level, you get to clearly see creatures and fine details (like moving lips) within 1 mile. It is legal and a great idea.

Regarding realism, as pointed out in the comments, it's not very easy (or possible?) to read a human's lips at 100 feet away. Depending on the size of what you are observing (like anything smaller than a Giant creature), the DM can certainly rule that you can't read its lips. That being said, the Observant feat doesn't require anything other than being able to see a creature's mouth, and the Eagle's Eye lets you see fine detail (do moving lips count?), so at least by RaW it should work. It depends on your table and how realistic or rules-adherent you are.

I would allow it as a DM, I think it's an awesome idea and it's something that isn't seen very often. Heh, the Barbarian is actually a ranged sniper/scout guy?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$
    – nitsua60
    Commented Jan 10, 2019 at 15:52

Detail does not = Form.

There's a reason objects that are far away appear flatter than objects up close. Our angle of view is much diminished at a distance, and a mile is a long distance. Using the Observant feat, details may be visible but that does not diminish the flatness of viewing objects at a distance. For the sake of lip reading this means the creature or person would need to be turned even more towards the barbarian than usual in order to read their lips. You simply cannot see as much of the 3-dimensional form at a distance.

There is nothing in the feat description that refutes this. The feat only references detail. It does not reference form.


RAW leave much to the GM's interpretation

What does "see a creature's mouth" mean?:

  • Any part of it?
  • All of it?
  • Straight on?
  • From the side?
  • Is there a spectrum or can you only fully interpret or not interpret at all?

If it were my ruling to make I would require a very clear angle of view of the mouth at distances over 1/4 mile (about 1300 feet), and unless it was 100% visible at that distance I would reduce the quality of the interpretation. Whether the PC would be aware that they interpreted inaccurately might depend on their wisdom or intelligence score (which barbarians are not particularly known for having in abundance).

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    \$\begingroup\$ This ruling seems to contradict the "able to discern even fine details as though looking at something no more than 100 feet away from you" part of the Eagle totem rule, and thus seems to actually go against RAW. Also, the distinction between "form" and "detail" seems rather arbitrary, and I've never heard of any special difficulty in lip-reading from a (flat) television screen where depth-perception is nonexistent. These points together likely explain the downvotes you have been getting. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 10, 2019 at 16:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ In addition to what @MrSpudtastic said, I would like to point out that this answer uses a lot of real-world logic to determine the outcome of in-game rulings. D&D doesn't work like that. It's this kind of mixing that gives you Peasant Railgun, among other silliness, and it doesn't lead to a very consistent game. This, too, accounts for the downvotes on this answer, I think. \$\endgroup\$
    – Sardonic
    Commented Jan 10, 2019 at 18:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ This would be improved by including support for the logical step that lip-reading is impossible or even just impaired when no depth is available (such as with one eye closed, or watching a video). Lip-reading is a professional skill employed by real hearing-deaf interpreters and there should be some documentation available to support the assertion if it’s true. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 10, 2019 at 18:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ @lightcat so... a human with a sight to see 1.6 KMs away = ok, but reading lips with a slightly deformed angle = not ok? Seems like a... weird place to make your stand \$\endgroup\$
    – Patrice
    Commented Jan 10, 2019 at 19:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ @lightcat not at all, I fully understand that aspect of vision. My point is just that this is a weird place to have your suspension of disbelief. But I guess we all have our different thresholds there. I just find weird (personally) that this is where you draw the line. \$\endgroup\$
    – Patrice
    Commented Jan 10, 2019 at 22:41

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