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I've separately asked about the mechanics of whether an invisible creature can see themselves and their own gear in D&D 5E. And from a rules perspective, it's pretty clear that they can't. But from a more flavor and narrative perspective, I want to know if there are any descriptions of what an invisible creature sees when looking at themselves, across any of the D&D editions.

In any of the various D&D published materials (maybe in novels, movies, articles, or setting sourcebooks), does it describe how somebody does or doesn't see themselves when invisible?

I'm hoping there's somewhere that describes a character being surprised by seeing the ground through their own feet since they can't see themselves, or maybe instead it describes some ghostly effect where they can tell they're invisible to others but can see themselves to some extent?

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There are three different types of invisibility discussed in a Dragon Magazine article called Seeing is Believing contained in issue #105, which are physical, psionic and illusion. As psionic is a mind effect for other people, yes, the practitioner would be able to see themselves.

For physical, the only item they state that produces this effect is Dust of Disappearance. The description and interpretation given is:

This magic dust has the power to bend the rays of light as they pass near it. This causes light not to strike the object the dust is sprinkled over, rendering it invisible because no light reflected from it reaches the eyes of the viewers. This is the only real invisibility in the game, and is also the only power that can turn something non-living invisible. The other spells only affect a single living thing and any possessions being carried.

My interpretation on that is that since it states no light from what is covered in the dust (i.e. the player and their possessions) reaches the viewers eyes, that they would be invisible to themselves. It does state, however, that sound, smell, etc are not affected, so those may indicate the presence of the person/animal using the dust. However, reflected light from other objects will still be available to enable vision.

For illusion, it specifically addresses the viewability:

If my character is invisible, can he see himself?

Yes. The spell is an illusion which the recipient automatically disbelieves and so, for that matter, does the caster of the spell when the recipient is some other creature. By the same token, neither the recipient nor the caster will be immediately aware of the fact when the recipient becomes visible to others. If some viewers have disbelieved and others havent, the recipient might forget who can see him and who cant, which could cause problems.

It is a fairly detailed review, and goes into comparisons of physical vs mind effects, with DMG references and other supporting information.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ If the light doesn't reach their eyes, they'd be blind. \$\endgroup\$ – John Stoneman Aug 6 at 16:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ Going by the description of Dust of Disappearance, an affected person/animal should be blind, as light cannot strike their eyes. For the standard Invisibility spell, standard illusion disbelif effects may not apply, as it doesn't allow a save. \$\endgroup\$ – Michael Richardson Aug 6 at 16:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ The dust blocks the light from what it is covering to reach the eyes. It doesn't block light from other objects. I supposed you could argue that since the dust doesn't cover the eyes (Presumably eyes closed during application) that there is a pair of disembodied eyes floating around :) \$\endgroup\$ – JohnP Aug 6 at 16:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ Thank you. That article is a pretty detailed discussion of how invisibility worked in that edition. I wish somebody had put that much thought into how it might work in 5e. I was hoping there was a description in a novel or something too, what you dug up is probably the most I'm going to get to work from. I appreciate it. \$\endgroup\$ – user37158 Aug 9 at 15:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MichaelRichardson A save isn't always needed for disbelief. High Int scores, for example, provide immunity to illusion spells up to a certain level in some editions. \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Aug 11 at 5:18
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The answer by JohnP is great for AD&D 1e. Here is an answer for 3e.

The d20 system reference document states in the description of the spell Invisibility:

If you cast the spell on someone else, neither you nor your allies can see the subject, unless you can normally see invisible things or you employ magic to do so.

The key point is that the sentence starts with "if you cast on someone else", implying that if you cast it to yourself you should be able to see.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ By that same logic, casting invisibility on yourself would not work ... since you are the exception to being made invisible. I don't think that makes any sense, even in 3E. I don't think that is RAW or RAI. \$\endgroup\$ – Catar4 Aug 9 at 4:06

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