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Suppose there's an everyday ordinary human character who becomes invisible, either due to quaffing a potion of invisibility or from somebody casting the invisibility spell on him. These cause both he and the gear that he's carrying to become invisible.

While he's invisible, can he see himself? Can he see the items he's carrying that are invisible with him?

The plain reading of the "invisible" condition would say "no", as he is "impossible to see without the aid of magic or a special sense". There's nothing in either the potion or the spell which says it gives such aid, so since effects generally do only what they say then it looks like he can't.

But on the other hand, I'm trying to figure out how that would work in practice, in both a narrative sense and if there are any game mechanical implications. For instance,

  1. It'd be harder to watch one's footing on rough uneven terrain, so perhaps it would be even slower going than usual, or some dexterity checks or saving throws might be called for.
  2. It'd be harder to swing a sword or aim a bow. Mechanically, attacking a creature that can't see you grants you advantage on the attack, but I'm having a tough time picturing it really being easier to attack if you can't see what you're doing (particularly for some weapons like a bow), even if the opponent isn't seeing it coming.
  3. It'd be really hard to find a particular item among one's belongings. For instance, if I had two different potions in similarly shaped containers, I might not be able to quickly figure out which one was the specific one I wanted to find.

For those reasons and others, I'm thinking that allowing a person to see themselves and the invisible items they're carrying may make things a lot easier (and more fun), even if it's not supposed by a strict reading of the rules.

So, my questions:

  1. Is my reading of the invisibility rules correct, that rules-as-written one can't see oneself when invisible or one's carried invisible items?
  2. Is it "typical" for a DM to treat this as a downside of being invisible, such as by making it take longer in combat to be able to get out a desired item?
  3. Is there anything I need to be wary of if I decide to make it a house rule that people can see themselves and their things while invisible? I'm assuming it doesn't make the invisibility spell overpowered or anything like that, but there may be something about the tradeoffs the designers have in mind when being invisible that I'm missing.
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm gonna vote this as too broad. 1 and 2 could maybe go together, but then 3 is a broad question all its own, then we have 4 which is a question of balance which is out of scope. \$\endgroup\$ – Premier Bromanov Jul 31 at 4:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think this is answerable as one question without needing to go into a breakdown. The question is, "Can invisible creatures see themselves [and if not, what are the consequences of that]?" \$\endgroup\$ – Tim C Jul 31 at 4:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ Marginally related: Can you cast a blanket Invisibility and let the targets see each other? \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jul 31 at 5:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ The answers I'm getting are focused on the mechanics, which is probably what I'm most concerned with. So I'll split off my second question (about any lore in other material from books and such about invisibility) to a separate post. \$\endgroup\$ – Peter Cooper Jr. Jul 31 at 10:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ @RedMage By "in combat" I mostly mean "when tracking time closely using rounds". It may be that the invisible creature's allies are attacking guards while the invisible creature tries to sneak somewhere or otherwise influence people in ways other than attacking or casting spells. \$\endgroup\$ – Peter Cooper Jr. Jul 31 at 13:46
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You can't see yourself while invisible

As pointed out in the question, an invisible creature

is impossible to see without the aid of magic or a special sense

Spells only do what they say they do. The Invisibility spell does not grant any special sense. If it did, it would say so.

But this doesn't impose many penalties, under the rules

The other part of the invisible condition states:

  • Attack rolls against the creature have disadvantage, and the creature’s attack rolls have advantage.

This means that, far from it being harder to aim a bow while invisible, it's actually easier - you get advantage. Under a strict reading of RAW, this might even apply against enemies that can see you, but I wouldn't allow that argument as a DM.

As for your other disadvantages - such as it being difficult to find your footing or pick an identical potion out of a set, once again: If the condition did that, it would say so. Presumably, adventurers who have access to invisibility have the kinesthetic awareness to know where their feet are even if they cannot see them, and also have mnemonics to know which of their potions are which without looking. After all, they need to be able to do both of these in combat without leaving themselves open, presumably keeping their eyes on their enemies.

There is one drawback to invisibility, which is that you cannot use spells or abilities that target "A creature you can see" on yourself if you are invisible (or blinded, or in pitch darkness), because in order to target yourself with such an effect, you need to be able to see yourself.

As a general rule, don't limit your players' abilities unnecessarily

When adjudicating a player's ability, they should always work at least as well as the book says they do. In D&D, the players have very limited opportunities for agency as it is, with the DM holding most of the creative power, and your players are probably plenty excited to get access to Invisibility after gaining a couple levels. Don't take their fun away by slapping invisibility with a bunch of penalties.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ "Spells only do what they say they do. The Invisibility spell does not grant any special sense. If it did, it would say so" # "Presumably, adventurers who have access to invisibility have the kinesthetic awareness to know where their feet are even if they cannot see them, and also have mnemonics to know which of their potions are which without looking." Doesnt sound logical to me, but may be its my problem. \$\endgroup\$ – Sanctus Jul 31 at 12:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Sanctus If you wanted to imply that this is a contradiction: it isn't. The answer says that an adventurer who is experienced enough to have access to invisibility should generally also have the necessary adventuring competency regardless of whether or not they are invisible right now. \$\endgroup\$ – Philipp Jul 31 at 12:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Philipp, i knew it is not contradicting. Just doesnt sound too logical to me (again, it is IMHO) to make some assumptions on adventurer skills, that are almost magical in such context like kinestetic awareness of transparent body. Why just do not say in plain - yep, see your stuff, fine. As SW engineer, i do not like workarounds. \$\endgroup\$ – Sanctus Jul 31 at 12:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Sanctus There is nothing "almost magic" about this. Kinestetic awareness is a sense every human has and that an experienced adventurer has memorized where they carry which piece of their equipment so they can grab it without looking isn't far-fetched either. I mean I have memorized in which pocket I have my cellphone and in which pocket i have my keys so I can grab them without looking. \$\endgroup\$ – Philipp Jul 31 at 12:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ It is possible for level 1 adventurers to become invisible. Do they have the same "kinesthetic awareness" as a seasoned adventurer? However, besides that nitpick, I agree with your answer, that by RAW (and RAI based on this tweet from JC - twitter.com/JeremyECrawford/status/704476469746016256), you cannot see yourself, yet do not suffer any penalties related to that (aside from effects that have "that you can see" style target requirements). However, personally, I prefer Pathfinder's handling (paizo.com/paizo/faq/v5748nruor1fm#v5748eaic9qlj) and use that at home. \$\endgroup\$ – cpcodes Jul 31 at 17:16
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Can invisible creatures 1) see themselves and if not, 2) what are the consequences of that?

Thanks to @TimC, this appears to be a concise summary of what you are asking.

They answers are:

  1. No.
  2. What it says in the invisible condition. These are:
    1. it can't see itself,
    2. it has an easier time hiding from itself (assuming this is ever going to come up),
    3. it can detect itself by any noise it makes or tracks it leaves (again, unlikely to come up),
    4. attack rolls against it have disadvantage and attack rolls it makes have disadvantage. So, if it ever attacks itself these cancel out.

Given that the rules do only what they say they do, those are the sum total of the effects of being invisible. In particular, it has no effects on movement, or affects on its attacks (other than the advantage already mentioned) or finding invisible stuff on its person. If you want it to, you are in the realms of DM discretion, which is fine but all players should understand the house rules.

However, the house rule you are proposing is a distinction without a difference - apart from allowing it to see itself to shave or gaining advantage from another source on cutting its own head off, your rule simply return us to RAW.

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  1. Is my reading of the invisibility rules correct

Correct, they cannot see.

  1. Is it "typical" for a DM to treat this as a downside of being invisible

Disclaimer: question is about typical use, so your (or my) experience may vary

Intro: As DM I typically run hardcore dark fantasy campaigns/one-shots with fights in Combat as War style and as much realism as I can handle without spending days studying Material Science or History of Medieval Food. Think of it as good old rougelikes with immersive sim elements, where characters are dying often, but discover world in return. Obviously I/we tend to favor RaI in contrast to RaW.

From my experience as DM (sadly was not ever invisible as player), I will make everything possible to punish (*) you for being invisible. People tend to think if it is allowed by rules it is okay for the world. No, it is not. And as DM my role is to preserve consistent and believe-able world state or illusion of it.

Starting with making you blind if spell/potion includes your eyes too (While the eyes of the player under the effects of this powerup remain visible <...>. The human eye works by refracting light through itself, however if it becomes completely transparent (invisible), it will not be able to refract anymore and thus the wearer of the ring would be completely blind.). Then, obviously we agree on keeping eyes visible to not be blind, which gives enemies really non-zero but small chance to see you "floating" around. Also making your movement harder on rough terrain is always an option. However, I'm not pouring acid rains or blizzards to intentionally uncover invisible players, but if something like this happen - they will be uncovered by me, regardless of what rules say.

(*) Punish may sound harsh, but only for law-breakers, if you not trying to abuse mechanics it is harmless to you.

  1. Is there anything I need to be wary of if I decide to make it a house rule that people can see themselves and their things while invisible?

As with any house rules, answer really depends on your

  1. own DMing style
  2. Players mind-set
  3. Campaign-wide agreements (~manifesto)

If it fits your style and players are okay - state and fix it somewhere and follow this (we have our Manifesto, which we compiled once, and agree to use before each campaign).

If I would need to agree on Invisibility issue, I'll make it clear for players on session 0 that allowing you to see or to know your own inventory and belongings:

  1. is for the cleaner flow of the game and to focus on really important things instead of constant fighting with system (or making extra assumptions like @TimC recommends) to perform even simplest action
  2. and that any attempt to munchkin/abuse this for his own benefit will be cruelly countered or just vetoed by DM, because it contradicts with our general rule of "Role-play >> MinMaxing".

I.e, when it is okay to see your own stuff in backpack and choose potion, it is not okay to hug statue or artifact with your cloak in museum to make it invisible and steal this way. Dumb example, but idea should be clear.

As for examples, I had to solve this in my campaign at least once (that i remember well, was highly modified and localized DnD v3.5), however we were young and inexperienced at that time, so we did not had any kind of manifesto to solve it easily. However, we took reference from Herbert Wells and Quake and resolved this issue in way I wrote. Everyone was happy, and since then it is standard for my ruling in any campaign or system.

P.S.: (Non)Playable characters, creatures, golems, robots and everything that wants to see should have non-transparent eyes to have optical vision. Meaning, it can be detected by at least visible pair of floating eye(s), however it is super hard. Also silhouette edges may be revealed. Question has house-rule tag so why not.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Didn't down vote since I was able to extrapolate out what your meaning was, but just wanted to say that's a ridiculously harsh house rule. I would argue probably not typical as well, since you are actively sabotaging player agency. Also, how would Invisible Stalkers work in this system? \$\endgroup\$ – Red Mage Jul 31 at 14:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ @RedMage, at least you wrote something, others just down vote. Regarding stalkers - i linked how it was implemented in game 25 years ago - floating eyes. So if I want to have invisible sighted creature, and i will have such situation - ill ask them to do check to see floating eyes. \$\endgroup\$ – Sanctus Jul 31 at 16:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ First of all, is everyone here judging my DM skills or answer to the questions? Cause Im not sure what so wrong about answer. It has two parts, 1 and 2-3. Part 1 is about rules, and I was clear to not make any IMHO there. Parts 2 and 3 are speculative in question and TimC answer i see above. Second of all, if somebody thinks it is harsh or limiting, it is not the reason to down-vote, since I wrote explicitly: depends on your DMing style, party and agreements. We have our agreements and sometimes we even play, so my players are okay with hardcore. \$\endgroup\$ – Sanctus Jul 31 at 16:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Sanctus: Accepting an answer doesn't mean other answers are unwelcome, and it's never too late to improve your own answer. What I mean is, you're suggesting that you would handle this situation a certain way; have you tried handling it in that way before, and how has it worked? That's what marks the difference between, for instance, suggesting something you think works but have never tried, vs. suggesting something you've tried before and can explain how well it worked. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Aug 1 at 18:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ For actionable feedback: I think you've written two separate answers in this answer. One is "Invisible people can't see at all, (and should be punished for being invisible)" and the other is, "Each group should decide for themselves what the consequences of invisibility are and establish that before the game starts." I think the latter would be a good competing answer to mine, and if that was the only thing in your answer, I'd upvote it, but I can't recommend an answer that advocates "punishing" players for using the abilities the rulebook gives them. \$\endgroup\$ – Tim C Aug 2 at 7:00

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