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I find the term "line of sight" to be a bit unclear. According to the Sage Advice Compendium, D&D 5e uses the English meaning of "line of sight":

Question: The frightened condition says “while the source of its fear is within line of sight.” Does that mean you have disadvantage on attack rolls and ability checks even if the source is invisible but you have a clear line to its space?

Answer: No. If you can't see something, it’s not within your line of sight. Speaking of "line of sight", the game uses the English meaning of the term, which has no special meaning in the rules.

Looking through various English dictionaries, I found the following definitions:

  1. Merriam-Webster: A line from an observer's eye to a distant point
  2. Dictionary.com: Also called line of sighting. An imaginary straight line running through the aligned sights of a firearm, surveying equipment, etc.
  3. Google Dictionary: a straight line along which an observer has unobstructed vision.

According to these English definitions of "line of sight", it is possible to have a line of sight to an invisible object, so long as the path between the observer's eye and the invisible object is unobstructed. This directly conflicts with D&D 5e's definition, according to which it is not possible to have a line of sight to an invisible object.

What English definition of "line of sight" is 5e using, then?

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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't know why this is downvoted-- it's not obvious, and the Sage Advice answer is terrible because it does not directly assess invisible targets, invisible obstructions, or the effects of various types of scrying or mirrors. Calling out the "plain English meaning of the phrase" is just not sufficient here-- so insufficient it actually irritates me. \$\endgroup\$
    – Novak
    Apr 18 at 3:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Novak there are usually multiple vernacular definitions that fit different contexts. Without a context picking the appropriate definition for a term or phrase is problematic. Often in English, there isn't a this always means that. \$\endgroup\$
    – GcL
    Apr 18 at 3:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ @GcL I want the "plain English" English definition of Line of Sight so I can figure edge cases such as those identified by Novak : invisible targets, invisible obstructions, scrying, mirrors, etc. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 18 at 3:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ @GuillaumeF. each of those contexts might lend themselves better to a different definition. English is a pain that way. \$\endgroup\$
    – GcL
    Apr 18 at 3:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ I am voting to close (but not to downvote) and I will explain why I think clarity is necessary: OP wants a general answer, a general definition of LoS according to comments and the question title. The answer to that question is, "It's badly defined and context sensitive." The body of the question fixates on a specific case, the Frightened condition. That question, I believe, has a specific answer (although scrying may still be an edge case.) I would not VTC either question, but I must VTC when the question is mixed like this. \$\endgroup\$
    – Novak
    Apr 18 at 4:16

2 Answers 2

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Generally applicable

When talking about the context of playing 5e and targeting or being the subject to an effect based on vision, the colloquial meaning that is most useful is:

within someone's view : where someone can see (something or someone)

I sat where I wasn't in his line of sight.

also : blocking someone's view

A large pole was directly in my line of sight.

It is copacetic with the SAC language, and works well with invisibility and hidden things. An invisible object is by definition out of sight, also no matter where it is, it is not somewhere it can be seen... because it can't be seen.

The frightened example

The example from the Sage Advice Compendium has been addressed by this stack as well here.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Would you say that "line of sight" and "can see" are synonymous? If not, how do they differ? \$\endgroup\$ May 3 at 15:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GuillaumeF. To me, line of sight is more specific as it indicates a direct line through space whereas someone might use any number of devices (scrying) to more generally see a thing. \$\endgroup\$
    – GcL
    May 3 at 17:23
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The English definition of Line of Sight is one that is consistent with the following rule regarding finding line of sight:

Line of Sight (DMG 251)

To precisely determine whether there is line of sight between two spaces, pick a corner of one space and trace an imaginary line from that corner to any part of another space. If at least one such line doesn't pass through or touch an object or effect that blocks vision -- such as a stone wall, a thick curtain, or a dense cloud of fog -- then there is line of sight.

In short, if vision isn't blocked, then you have line of sight.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I like this as a functional example of line of sight from the rules. You might want to explicitly handle the invisibility issue or explain how this does not pre-empt nor contradict the sage advice ruling. \$\endgroup\$
    – GcL
    Apr 18 at 4:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GcL That can be handled by the linked question, which the OP says does not answer their question: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/184103/… \$\endgroup\$ Apr 18 at 4:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ This quote is specifically from the section on using miniatures. You can probably improve your answer by noting that and stating how that would apply when not using miniatures. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jack
    Apr 18 at 16:44

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