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One of my players asked me a interesting question today that I don't have an answer for.

He asked if it is possible to use an action to try and put a sack or bag over a creature's head to prevent that creature from casting spell, and what he would have to roll for?

One use for that would be when fighting a lich to use this to make it impossible for the lich to use spells that require line of sight.

If I make it a contest the lich wouldn't be able to use legendary resistances.

In the following round, the lich would then have to use its action to remove the sack but he proposed that a party could easily cast silent in the meantime and try to grapple the lich making the encounter super easy.

My question is: is that a viable strategy and if so what would you make the player and creature roll?

  • A weapon attack with the sack which then has to beat the armor class?
  • An ability check for the player and a save for the creature?
  • An ability contest?

It would be even more effective when fighting a demilich who doesn't have the arms/hands to remove the bag on his own.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Partially related on Called shots/aiming at specific body parts and Players want to call shots on Strahd, can they?. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch May 10 at 17:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ Just as a question, do they have a plan to keep the bag on it's head? Because to me, it's a simple object interaction to take the bag off the head without it being held down, strapped in place, etc. Notwithstanding the lich being a CR21 more intelligent than humanoid heights boss monster and how unlikely a plan of "put a bag over their head" seems to be able to pull off. \$\endgroup\$ – GuidingOlive May 10 at 17:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ Is there a reason that removing the bag isn't the one free "interacting with an object" from Chapter 9? You say that it requires an action, and I am not sure if that was your ruling, or, if that is you being not sure what action economy cost removing the bag needs to be. Also: is the player trying to hold the bag on the head of the lich, or, are they placing the bag over the head and not maintaining the bag once it's on the head? \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast May 10 at 17:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ Just a reminder, if you plan on answering, please remember that all answers need to be supported. You can find guidance on how to support answers in this question on our meta. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch May 10 at 17:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ Here is the related question - a similar question about restraining a spell caster: Is grabbing an opponent's arms to prevent casting within the “scope” 5e's combat? \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast May 10 at 20:24
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It will generally work, but leans into a highly technical, meta-game style of play. This is not an advantage for players.

First, the basics: destroying line-of-sight, by any means, is generally going to ruin spells which require line-of-sight to cast. Getting an opaque sack with a sufficiently tight weave (an important consideration your players might not consider in advance) over an enemy's vision organs will destroy line-of-sight. So would throwing up a curtain in front of yourself and moving back one space. It works, according to a strict interpretation of the rules.

But it works because of the rules rather than because of any obvious, innate rationale in-game. It's like a long rest healing virtually all injuries: if the rules did not specifically describe that effect, no one would try to use it that way.

It shouldn't be easy. If you decide to allow such a tactic at your table (and you would be well within your authority to forbid it), it should not be an easy-win strategy. Getting the sack onto the lich's head should involve an expenditure of resources (even if it's just time or surprise) and risk of failure with attendant consequences.

If they succeed they get some advantage by limiting what spells the lich can use for some amount of time. That's not unreasonable, as they took some risks to gain that advantage and faced a risk of being worse off if they had failed (even if the consequence is just wasted actions).

It shouldn't be unexpected. Liches are, by definition, not stupid. They are also highly accomplished scholars of magic and are avid magic users. Together, these indicate that a lich will be 100% aware of the possibility and consequences of having their vision affected like this. You would be absolutely justified, in-game, to have the lich be specially aware of this danger (making it harder to accomplish) as well as have some contingency plans to deal with it (making it less valuable even if players succeed). A Legendary Action casting of Mage Hand immediately after the sacking is enough to deal with this, for example.

It's doesn't make the lich easy to deal with. Liches have access to lots of spells, many of which don't require line-of-sight. Some of them might be particularly dangerous for the PC tasked with applying the sack as well. Thunderwave is bad news, and Cloudkill is enough to ruin your day if you'd imagined yourself safe from magic spells.

D&D is a game. Cleverness is great, and I always like to reward it at my table. But the point of a TTRPG is not to trivialize encounters with an "I win" button. Even if everything in the rules lines up to suggest that some tactic should always be effective, if it ruins the game then the DM's job is to change things up. If all the players want is a way to tip the scales in their favor against a lich, you can make up a quest to recover the MacGuffin Sack of Lich Blinding that does so. No amount of clever rule dissection should allow players to skip the game itself.

Wise players should fear this sort of rules-wrangling. Even if some (or all!) of your players are strong experts on the rules, the DM's control of the game world makes "technically-this-works"-style strategies a bad route for them to take. If my players want to split hairs with me for some hyper-specific scenario, I'm very likely to grant whatever it is they're trying to achieve. And then adjust the game world and contents to utterly savage them. They tend not to understand the rules as thoroughly as I do (so my hair splitting tends to hurt them more than their hair splitting benefited them, and more often), and I am totally unconstrained from presenting situations which specifically frustrate their meta-derived tactics.


Players tend to be attracted to tactics like this

At least my players seem to have a real passion for it. My typical approach to this, which I have explicitly explained to my players, is that clever plans and cute ideas certainly can work. As long as I haven't informed them that some aspect of the plan is forbidden they can rely on things that should technically work to actually work.

For a time.

Coming up with a clever tactic or novel solution to a problem is, in my mind, most of what these games are really about. In that spirit, they can get a nice benefit from a tactic that I consider to be cheesing the game at least the first time they pull it off. And maybe more times after it. But, like nacho dip at a party, the cheese just doesn't last very long.

I vary the setup to suit the narrative, but the advantages don't persist forever. Enemy organizations learn about the tactic and eventually respond in a way that nerfs the advantage. Or I design combats where the tactic is less effective or impossible to carry out.

My players have responded well to this. They like it more than simply having their idea banned. And there is some element of resource management to it: if they try the tactic every time they can, then they are a lot more likely to encounter situations where it doesn't work as they intend. It goes from a sure-fire approach to an idea good enough to try, but not to rely on too strongly. If they are a bit more reserved and only use the tactic from time to time they can be a lot more secure in thinking that it will tip the balance when they need it.


What I would do here

I've never had this exact situation, with a sack and a lich, but my players try things like this all the time. I try to funnel considerations about how well the tactic should work, rules aside, into existing game mechanics. So in this case I would lay out two broad options.

If they want to try to throw the sack onto the lich's head, I would treat the sack as an improvised weapon. This makes an attack roll harder to succeed with, and also provides a nice opportunity to get some benefit out of the Tavern Brawler feat (which I always seem to have one player take). I would also be very strict with the throwing range of the sack and with inventory management (once you throw the sack, you'll have to go pick it up if you want to try again).

If they want to jam the sack onto the lich's head manually, I would treat doing so as an opposed grapple, and almost certainly with Advantage for the lich. The lich is not going to just sit there and let the players run through whatever it is they want to do, and as above they would be very aware of this tactic long before the PCs ever tried it.

In either case, the sack is not going to be in place for very long. The lich can easily remove it themselves through a variety of means which don't require an action. The lich can also move out of the area affected by Silence pretty easily, and even if it can't has options that will make that spell hard to maintain (Paralyzing Touch and Disrupt Life are both problematic and available off-turn as Legendary Actions, for instance). I would also be extremely likely to give the lich a minion or two, making this strategy even harder to pull off and even less reliable.

In no case would I set up a combat encounter with a lich and allow the PCs to have a "super easy" fight with such a no-investment tactic.

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    \$\begingroup\$ And there's the whole issue that if the party does it to the lich, anyone can do it to the party. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch May 10 at 20:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for your detailed answere. You made a lot of points for me to consider that makes me more confident if anything like that ever comes up. \$\endgroup\$ – Nautha May 11 at 5:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure if I like this answer, specially the "meta-game" part of your rationale. I would agree with you if the player was using a mobile LOS-denying banner or other strange contraption, but shoving a sack into a spellcaster's head to stop them from casting spells is the type of solution I would expect from resourceful adventurers, specially on a 5e game. I would love if my players tried something like this. \$\endgroup\$ – T. Sar May 11 at 11:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ To me, it sounds like you would need one grappler and a second person with the bag, and throwing a bag on someone's head is completely out of the question. That's just based on real life experience. \$\endgroup\$ – Jasper May 12 at 7:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm with T.Sar on this one - powerful magic is something an adventuring party would want to avoid. It isn't meta to say the party knows certain spells have requirements - they don't have to know the Lich's spell list to assume that limiting what it can see will limit what it can target too. I understand that DMs get frustrated if an encounter is made easier by the players thinking outside the box, they prepped for that to be a trial for the party, not just standing round a blinded Lich pummeling it into the ground. Don't punish the players for having fun though - it isn't you against them. \$\endgroup\$ – Lio Elbammalf May 12 at 9:27
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There is no "sack" weapon in the rules, thus trying to hit someone with it would be a melee improvised weapon attack (without proficiency since the sack does not resemble a weapon).

However: Since the players expect something special to happen it can be a good idea to create some simple rules for how this would work.
The net is one of few non-magical items which applies a condition to its target instead of dealing damage. As such it makes a good starting point for this type of items.
As an example of creating a similar item using the net as a base I have previously made a gag that could be used to prevent a character from speaking. I added a Sleight of Hand check for both the user and the target based on the Sage Advice on tying knots and replaced the restrained condition with the effect that "the target cannot speak clearly" (there is no "Silenced" condition to apply). In that case I also required the target to be incapacitated when putting it on as it could not logically be used as a weapon.
Replacing the nets Restrained condition with Blinded should not upset the balance of the game (compare with the rules for "Modifying an Item" in the DMG (p. 284), which suggests changing damage types or capabilities of (magic) items is allowed). Since the target is not entangled in a net I would also replace the DC10 Strength check with a regular object interaction, unless someone is attempting to hold down the bag which would then be a Strength contest between the two opposing characters.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I like this concept of net as a parallel to the bag over head but the net is a thrown weapon and I don't think anyone is going to attempt throwing the bag at range and hoping to hit their target perfectly? I also think that putting a bag over someone's head is going to be much harder that hitting them with a weapon. \$\endgroup\$ – JeffC May 11 at 17:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ @JeffC, I agree and perhaps my wording is unclear, but I meant that you still use the sack as an improvised melee weapon (thus no proficiency bonus = harder to hit) and only change the effect. \$\endgroup\$ – Jave May 11 at 18:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ @JeffC: I'm picturing a bag on a stick, with a drawstring running along the shaft or held in your other hand, so you can pull the bag tight after "hitting" with an attack roll. A bit like a butterfly net, in that the solid part holds the bag open. (So this would take some custom building for the PCs). And unlike a butterfly net, with some of the bag fabric hanging down past the hoop for the drawstring to pull tight. \$\endgroup\$ – Peter Cordes May 11 at 21:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ @PeterCordes Kinda like a snake stick but with a loop AND a net. That's actually hilarious. I can just see some adventurer running at the Lich with this dog catcher looking contraption. I still think putting a bag over his head would be WAY harder than just an attack with disadvantage. I could pick up a sword with no training and have a decent chance to hit my target ANYWHERE which counts as a hit. Now contrast that with all the things that have to go right for me to not only hit just the head but also perfectly lined up with the bag open and facing the right direction, etc. \$\endgroup\$ – JeffC May 11 at 21:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Jave I love your approach, but I think just not having a possible proficiency bonus doesn't represent the difference enough between using a net weapon designed to entangle people, thrown at their whole body, and trying to use a bag to walk over to a foe in combat and get it over their head to blind them. Even if you had studied that at gladiator school, it's going to be a harder thing to pull off unless you've snuck up behind them or something. (Which is probably why it's a technique seen on Scooby Doo but not in arenas.) So I think it'd be much harder than not having weapon proficiency. \$\endgroup\$ – Dronz May 12 at 14:59
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Problem ignored by the question

You are asking if you can use a bag to blind a target. I read: Can I use a leather bag or wax-cloth sack or even a bag of holding to suffocate an enemy combatant. Because both actions would follow the exact same ruling.

Remember, suffocation is one of the hardest ways to become immune against, but also one of the slowest ways to kill a target. Unless you are undead, an aberration, or a construct, you generally can suffocate under the normal rules, even if it takes dozens of rounds.

Oh, and then there's the general rule of GMming: Whatever the party is willing to do, the enemies can and will do. If your party floods the monster lair with gasoline to burn out the enemyTVTropes, then the kobolds will turn TuckerDragon Magazine.

Straddling the balance

So, we need a ruling that keeps in mind that this isn't just giving the blind penalty, it also needs to keep in mind that the very same mechanic can put someone in the needed state to suffer from suffocation. So let's rule out things!

  • It's not imparting damage on its own, so a normal attack is out of question.
  • It is not acting the same as a net, which entangles any part of the other body.
  • A touch-attack would be way too easy, and not fitting how hard it is to get any item upon someone's head in a fight.

Now... how do you put a bag onto someone's head anyway? Let's look at movies... and whenever someone gets bagged, they are either compliant or helpless (chained to a chair, pinned down, KOed) in the first place! So why not take that as a basis?

Cinematic solution

To put a bag onto someone's head in combat, the target must be either willing, helpless or held in a grapple. It takes an action to put a bag on the head but the bagging person can be different from the grappler.

The target can attempt to remove the bag with a free "Interact with an item" action and - unless the bag is somehow secured, hands are not available or someone counters the attempt - they will succeed automatically.

That does not only offer the aimed solution, it also puts a considerable risk on the maneuver, balancing out the possible benefit of putting a living enemy "on the clock" with a possible but hard maneuver - which can be used outside of the fight against a lich too.

A similar situation I had

I tested a similar solution while playing Pathfinder 1e, and worked well enough to my liking.

The players wanted to use a bag of holding to try and get rid of a pirate. I asked if they could try to describe me how they wanted to do that, they came up with using a net to entangle the pirate so the barbarian could grapple him easier. I decided that this was good enough and that this allowed any other to use their action to bag the pirate head because the opening wasn't large enough for the whole body.

As the barbarian left the pirate alone after the bagging, he used his actions to first get rid of the entangled status from the net (blindly!) and then tossed off the bag of holding - surprising the party by rejoining the fight. Taking out the pirate's actions for some two or three rounds to get out of the net first did give them just enough time to reduce the number of crewmen involved.

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There's a reason that this doesn't work how they want

Not only is there not a written way to attempt this (which is very well covered in the other answers available), but it would be exceptionally ineffective (and the player characters should 'know' this).

Every character and monster, on their turn, gets one object interaction that does not count as their Action. Taking off the bag would be as simple as that... at best, they've prevented the enemy spellcaster from also drawing a weapon/wand etc.

If you still want to allow them to use it (and I don't recommend it personally, because it doesn't seem like a fun course of action to me), they will also need to find some way for it to take at least two object interactions to remove the covering.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Depending on turn order they could be blinded during several PC turns. Advantage and no OAs would be nice - learning they have blindsense would be even nicer :P \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch May 12 at 0:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yeah it could have other repercussions if added to play. But restricting spellcasting (except reactionary spellcasting, I suppose) would be low on the list of likely outcomes. \$\endgroup\$ – Ifusaso May 12 at 2:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ One of the players mentioned the idea to use the grapple action to hold either the bag or the lich in place. \$\endgroup\$ – Nautha May 12 at 7:13
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I've faced some situation in the past like this and I think you approach them in many ways, but all depends on who and when does this.

For the sake of the story, the party and the game, I discourage players to take this actions all the time, but I like this kind of ideas on speecial or "bosses" encounters.

So for example as DM I deny this on all creatures (animals and enemies will not stay still if you try to throw something at them, it's a reflex, so a very difficult roll ) and use against them (do you like this when they do this against the party all the time ?).

On the other side I like the idea against bosses. Think about the the avengers vs thanos fight ( here the point: https://youtu.be/6p9eptFxGkY?t=122 ):

  • party try to stop the omnipotent villain
  • warriors fails, thief fails, mages fails
  • so what ? Players start to find a way to remove the gauntlet and in order to do this, they try to block Thanos

I think as DM what do you want is to reward players to find ways to beat enemies ( in particular all enemies that can bring something to the story!) in creative ways.

Following avengers vs Thanos examples, not only their tactics works (Thanos blocked) but there is the tension to remove the gauntlet from him and a moment to speak with the big villain and that moment move forward the plot and give players a common goal to work on it.

Returning to your example, yes, let ONE player try to do this, try to put a sack on the lich, try to stop one moment, but be aware that:

  • the lich can easily destroy the sack on a lot of magics or using brute force, then another attempt is not possible
  • the lich can move, so party need to find another way to block it
  • the lich is a powerful wizard with a lot of tools, not only magic, like for example rings, amulets, staff etc.. deny his sight does not mean nothing
  • the lich can anticipate this fatal flaw and evocate some kind of magical extra body sight or have flying eyes or put some eyes inside a minion ( or inside another player.. what a plot twist! ) in the past.. and lich does not sleep so ..
  • you have to be near the lich to do this, and a lich does not like other living beings..

And always.. find the fun way to do this !

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