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From what I understand in the references in the MM and PHB to Truesight, it seems that a creature with this sense can see into the Ethereal Plane and see invisible things/creatures. However, does this allow the creature to see through solid rock, e.g. if a PC was out of typical line of sight, with 100% cover, hiding behind a large tree or a stone pillar?

There was some confusion about this in a recent campaign. The way I would interpret it is that having Truesight does not allow a creature to see through objects, e.g. like x-ray vision. For me, seeing the "invisible" does not mean the same as seeing the "non visible".

I would appreciate any RAW answers using 5e literature and/or experience on applying a house-rule regarding this matter.

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No, you can't see through solid objects just because of Truesight.

Thomas Markov's answer covers the ability's phrasing and the Border Ethereal topic sufficiently.

I want to add onto that, however; Xanathar's Guide to Everything features an eldritch invocation for warlocks called "Ghostly Gaze" (p. 56/57):

Ghostly Gaze
Prerequisite: 7th level
As an action, you gain the ability to see through solid objects to a range of 30 feet. Within that range, you have darkvision if you don’t already have it. This special sight lasts for 1 minute or until your concentration ends (as if you were concentrating on a spell). During that time, you perceive objects as ghostly, transparent images. Once you use this invocation, you can’t use it again until you finish a short or long rest.

This invocation elaborately describes gaining the ability to see through solid objects and how you perceive them (as it would be very inconvenient if you couldn't see solid objects at all while using the invocation).

If Truesight were intended to grant the same benefit, we would expect it to have a similarly accurate phrasing. Remember: in 5e, rules only do what they say.


As a sight note, if you want to see around corners or behind solid objects, Blindsight may be what you're looking for:

Blindsight
A creature with blindsight can perceive its surroundings without relying on sight, within a specific radius. Creatures without eyes, such as oozes, and creatures with echolocation or heightened senses, such as bats and true dragons, have this sense.

It's not explicitly stated that this allows looking around corners, but it's how I interpret it.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Note that echolocation cannot account for things behind corners either (in real life). It would require sound to bounce off another surface, travel behind the corner, bounce off you, then back to the first bounce location, then back into the creature's ear. If the creature can even perceive it, it's going to appear as if you are located at the first bounce location. This is mechanically equivalent to how you'd use a mirror to make it look like you were somewhere else. The creature would know you're somewhere nearby, but wouldn't know your exact location. \$\endgroup\$ – Flater Oct 12 at 9:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Flater that's why I said it's not explicitly stated. I'm not an echolocation expert, so I wasn't sure if it would be possible with that sense. Blindsight, however, doesn't only include echolocation. A dragon's "heightened senses", for instance, may just be superior hearing or smell, or simply magical senses, which allow the dragon to look behind corners. Point being, it's unclear and depends on the DM. \$\endgroup\$ – PixelMaster Oct 12 at 10:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ I know, I'm just mentioning it because your "it doesn't mention it but I interpret it" argument relies on real world common sense, no? I agree that "heightened senses" is vague, but I'd still argue that any non-magical sense is going to be directional and thus susceptible to the "mirror location confusion" (for lack of a better name). So unless the creature has magical affinity, I'd argue that it can't locate things hiding behind other things. \$\endgroup\$ – Flater Oct 12 at 10:38
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Truesight is not X-Ray vision, and invisibility is different from total cover.

Truesight says:

A monster with truesight can, out to a specific range, see in normal and magical darkness, see invisible creatures and objects, automatically detect visual illusions and succeed on saving throws against them, and perceive the original form of a shapechanger or a creature that is transformed by magic. Furthermore, the monster can see into the Ethereal Plane within the same range.

Nothing here says we can see through objects, and it is very plane to see that “invisible” is referring to creatures who have been made invisible by some sort of effect granting invisibility, not creatures with total cover. This is the important distinction: invisibility and total cover are distinct conditions. So the only question remains “what is it like to see into the ethereal plane?

I won’t reproduce the whole section on the Border Ethereal from the DMG, but I will comment that there does not seem to be anything that would imply the possibility of being able to see through solid objects, except for possibly this phrase:

solid objects on the overlapped plane don’t hamper the movement of a creature in the Border Ethereal.

While actually on the Border Ethereal, you can freely pass through solid objects, but it doesn’t say we can see through them while we’re there, and with Truesight, we aren’t even there, we are just peering in.

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No, you can not see through solid objects if you have Truesight.

The description of Truesight says

A monster with truesight can, out to a specific range, see in normal and magical darkness, see invisible creatures and objects, automatically detect visual illusions and succeed on saving throws against them, and perceive the original form of a shapechanger or a creature that is transformed by magic. Furthermore, the monster can see into the Ethereal Plane within the same range.

Nowhere it says that it allows to see through solid objects nor it makes solid objects transparent or translucent. In this contest, invisible is not a synonym for full cover.


The description of the Ethereal Plane (DMG, pag 48) says (emphasis mine)

The Ethereal Plane is a misty, fog-bound dimension. Its "shores," called the Border Ethereal, overlap the Material Plane and the Inner Planes, so that every location on those planes has a corresponding location on the Ethereal Plane.

The enlighten part states that a location on each plane has its counterpart on the Ethereal one: this means that for example also walls, doors and objects of a room in the Material Plane have the respective counterparts in the Ethereal Plane.

Consider the following situation (see figure): creature A is spying creature B, which is inside a locked room with thick walls. A spies B from the Ethereal Plane and from the outside of the room, even if it is in the Ethereal Plane. B decides to cast True Seeing because it suspects that there are hidden traps in the room. A becomes "virtually" visible to B as they were in the same plane, but since it is outside the room (i.e. it has full cover due to the walls) B can not see it, Truesight does not allow B to see through the walls. Once A enters the room in the Ethereal Plane, hence B can clearly see it (if True Seeing is still active).

B is in the Ethereal Plane and it is spying A, which is inside the room with thick walls.

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Not in general; Taken strictly, RAW has possible exceptions

Truesight says...

A monster with truesight can, out to a specific range, see in normal and magical darkness, see invisible creatures and objects, automatically detect visual illusions and succeed on saving throws against them,...

Without specific language otherwise, we must interpret "seeing" in normal and magical darkness to mean regular vision, as solid objects are not producing either normal or magical darkness... but the rest of the portion quoted can be interpreted differently.

There is an edge case for seeing invisible creatures and objects that are behind solid objects. A strict reading of the statement that "A monster with truesight can, out to a specific range, see invisible creatures and objects" is that they can see all such creatures and objects within the range. Note the language in the comparable See Invisibility spell:

For the duration, you see invisible creatures and objects as if they were visible, and you can see into the Ethereal Plane. Ethereal creatures and objects appear ghostly and translucent.

In the case of that spell, it specifies that you see them as though they were visible. This indicates that it follows the normal rules of visibility, simply ignoring the "invisible" status. Truesight does not use such language, and does not establish what may block the ability to see invisible creatures, only the range of vision.

An even stronger argument can be made for "automatically detect visual illusions", given that "detecting" doesn't automatically imply a line of sight, the way that "seeing" does...

RAI *

According to Jeremy Crawford (discussing whether truesight allows one to see a hidden rogue),

Truesight pierces invisibility, illusions, darkness, and false forms. It doesn't pierce total cover or make you hear better. #DnD

He makes clear, here, that Truesight does not pierce total cover. Therefore, the intended interpretation is that Truesight doesn't allow one to see through real, physical objects that one wouldn't otherwise be able to see through, for any of its effects.

* provided as RAW doesn't sufficiently clarify the edge cases

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