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Many monsters have sight-based abilities that explicitly allow you to avoid the effect by averting your eyes:

Basilisk's Petrifying Gaze: A creature that isn't surprised can avert its eyes to avoid the saving throw at the start of its turn. If it does so, it can't see the basilisk until the start of its next turn, when it can avert its eyes again.

Medusa's Petrifying Gaze: Unless surprised, a creature can avert its eyes to avoid the saving throw at the start of its turn. If the creature does so, it can't see the medusa until the start of its next turn, when it can avert its eyes again.

Can you "avert your eyes" from just any creature to avoid seeing it? Or can you only avert your eyes from a creature if it says so in the creature's statblock?

Averting your eyes this way could allow you to avoid effects triggered by looking at the target, without requiring you to fully close your eyes and become blinded. One such effect is a Vampire's Charm ability:

Charm. The vampire targets one humanoid it can see within 30 ft. of it. If the target can see the vampire, the target must succeed on a DC 17 Wisdom saving throw against this magic or be charmed by the vampire.

If allowed, averting your eyes from the vampire would render you immune to its Charm.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Related: What does it mean to avert your eyes? \$\endgroup\$ Apr 18 at 8:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Jack I'm both a player and a DM, and I'm trying to understand the rules better. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 18 at 10:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ This seems like a good question to me: a singular feature suggests a general mechanic might exist that would be applicable to lots of things, and it seems like a normal thing characters could do any time, but if it's not mentioned anywhere else that's now strangely unclear. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 18 at 11:11

7 Answers 7

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Characters probably should be able to avert their eyes.

Technically, averting your gaze is an option granted specifically by gaze attacks that allow it. But that said, the rules as written are not the entirety of what your character can do! For example, the rules don't say you can choose to close your eyes to gain the blinded condition, but that's kind of obviously what would happen.

A savvy DM who knows about the "avert your eyes" rule in those monsters would very likely apply it as a general mechanic any time you're trying to avoid looking at something specific in your environment, even if it's not technically in the book as a general rule. A DM who isn't aware of it would need to just come up with their own ruling on how to deal with this scenario. But in no case is the answer "You can't do that!" It is obvious that choosing not to look towards something is a thing that a person can do, the only question is what mechanics you wrap around that.

In fact, recently in my home game, I used this very rule in an out-of-context way. My players had to get past a bunch of zombies wandering around in an area bathed in an eye-twisting purple light that could hypnotize anyone who looked directly at its source. I applied the avert-your-eyes mechanic to that -- each turn, you could make a wisdom save or avert your gaze, but the latter choice made it harder to fight the zombies. (The players ended up just backing out of the area and throwing a few spells to wipe out the threats instead of fighting in the light, which was a completely valid response to the situation, but cost them some spell slots they were probably going to need later.)

How will this impact the game?

For the sake of discussion, I'm just going to use the example given in the question and assume we're dealing with a vampire, but this all generally holds true for any creature you're avoiding looking at.

If we apply the "medusa rule" as it's written, then the character who is averting their gaze can't see the vampire. That means they will take disadvantage on attacks on the vampire, and grant the vampire advantage on attacks against them; and they can't target the vampire with spells or abilities that say "a creature you can see" (or any similar text).

The vampire, for its part, can see that this character is avoiding their gaze, so they can choose to do something other than trying that one specific action on that one specific character.

In close combat with the vampire, it's probably not a great choice, all things considered. Preventing a single action that the vampire might not have intended to use in the first place probably isn't worth the costs. It removes an option for what the vampire might do -- potentially a strong option -- but it doesn't make the vampire waste its action, so it's probably more painful for the PC than for the vampire.

It might be useful in a small subset of situations, where the PCs are busy fighting the vampire's minions (spawn, children of the night, etc.) and the vampire itself is generally staying out of things but using its Charm from the sidelines. In that scenario, this strategy would force the vampire to either stay out of it entirely or jump in and actually engage, which might be considered a good outcome, depending on what's happening. If I had the option, I'd probably rather fight the minions and then the boss rather than all of them at once, but it's possible there's a reason you'd want to get the vampire lord into melee range as fast as possible despite the risks.

But other monsters may have more ranged combat options than that one gaze-like attack, so this strategy might not do much to dissuade them from attacking at range, just changes what options they have.

It's potentially a useful strategy, but not so overwhelmingly good that I'd worry about balance impacts -- in most cases, it's probably more a self-nerf on the players than anything else.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ How does this work with the Frightened condition? You could just look away from the source of your fear, thus removing the disadvantage to attack rolls and ability checks? \$\endgroup\$ May 2 at 7:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think there are places where the DM will have to make some calls, but personally I wouldn't think "line of sight" and "can see" are synonyms. You still have a line-of-sight to a thing you aren't actually looking at in any given instant. That's just the general real world use of the term -- a line-of-sight means you could theoretically see a given point from a given location. It doesn't demand that there's actually a person there looking in the correct direction. \$\endgroup\$ May 2 at 13:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is not actually a disagreement with Sage Advice -- there is no line of sight to an invisible thing; it cannot even theoretically be seen, by definition. However, the Sage Advice ruling about this causes some problems for e.g. the School of Divination's Third Eye "see invisibility" power since it requires you to have line of sight to an invisible creature to see it. No matter which way you go, the rules are wonky about what a line of sight is. \$\endgroup\$ May 2 at 13:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ The Sage Advice Compendium is clear - "if you can't see something, it’s not within your line of sight.". So averting your eyes breaks the line of sight. \$\endgroup\$ May 3 at 15:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm aware, that's what I'm referring to. I believe the intent of what he was saying is "if a thing cannot be seen, then there are no lines of sight to it" -- which doesn't mean averting or closing your eyes breaks lines of sight. I don't think closing your eyes to avoid having a "line of sight" to the source of your fear makes any sense. That's "Bugblatter Beast of Traal" thinking. Anyway, point is that LoS as the rules describe it don't actually work properly. \$\endgroup\$ May 3 at 15:24
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You can certainly try. This is very situationally dependent and will require DM judgement and adjudication.

The DM will need to evaluate in the specific case.

Some factors to consider:

  • What exactly is the feature that the PCs are attempting to negate with eye-averting?
  • What is the tactical situation?
  • Does one side or another have surprise?
  • Do the PCs actually know that this creature can charm/kill/whatever with a look?

Note that all vision-based effects are not mechanically the same. For instance, the medusa's petrifying gaze causes a saving throw at the beginning of a creature's turn, whereas the vampire's charm is an action the vampire takes.

It's not even clear to me how many monsters have mechanics that require the target to be able to see the monster in order for the monster to charm/kill with a look. In some cases like the medusa it is called out that the target can avert their eyes, not sure how many other monsters besides the vampire can charm/kill with a look AND averting is not mentioned in the stat block.

In the case of the vampire, the vampire's Charm action says, in part:

Charm. The vampire targets one humanoid it can see within 30 feet of it. If the target can see the vampire, the target must succeed on a DC 17 Wisdom saving throw against this magic or be charmed by the vampire.

Players don't get a free pass to completely negate this ability by saying "we avert our eyes and so don't see the vampire". If they don't see the vampire, they are effectively blinded in regards to the vampire, and they are effectively trading negating the vampire's Charm for accepting disadvantage on attacking the vampire and giving the vampire advantage on attacks. Further, any spells or other effects that require you to see the target creature won't work, because you've blinded yourself.

But that is not to say it would never work. I think it will need to be adjudicated on a case-by-case basis. The vampire gets the drop on you, averting your eyes isn't going work. You go in carefully, maybe it could work, at least briefly.

Furthermore, vampires are typically significant villains, and it's reasonable that they aren't all just off-the-shelf. And, they're reasonably smart and wise. As a DM, on a case-by-case basis, I could see a vampire of significant stature starting to charm a character by just talking, at least enough to beguile them into peeking at the vampire. This is completely off-book, the point being, your little trick of not looking at me will not defeat my evilness!

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RAW: Yes, you can

The Vampire's ability requires that "the target can see the vampire". If the target has closed its eyes or is otherwise unable to see the vampire (blinded, under magical darkness etc.), including looking away, the charm effect cannot succeed.

The eye closing or looking away falls under the "other activity on your turn" component of the order of combat.

The only difference between this and the Medusa's effect is that initiative order will come into play -- if the Vampire is earlier in the initiative order, it can use this ability on the before the target has been able to look away or close their eyes.

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Sure you can avert your eyes, but the DM has to decide if it's reasonable in the situation

D&D 5e is an exceptions based game. This means you cannot use the existence of a rule to infer that it always happens unless the rule says it does. As a corrolorary, you also cannot use the absence of a piece of rules text in situations that rule isn't addressing to infer the opposite of the rule.

In this case, you are trying to do the latter. You are saying because these two monsters allow you to explicitly avert your gaze, does that mean you cannot avert your gaze in any other situation?

The answer to that question is patently no. D&D 5e is written in regular English, not legalese. This means that, unless a phrase is specifically defined in the rules it takes it's normal English meaning. In this case, averting your eyes is not defined, these monster abilities just say you can do it against their specific abilities, so averting your eyes has the normal meaning in English (looking away, closing your eyes or otherwise not looking at a thing). So long has a creature has eyes, they can choose to avert their eyes.

This is just something that creatures with eyes can do. You can choose to walk down the street with your eyes closed during the day, but you'll have a bad timeTM if there are any hostile creatures or obstacles.

So RAW, since sight (and creature's ability to voluntarily obscure their sight by averting their gaze) is not defined in the rules, they take on the normal English meaning and must be assumed to be inherent abilities of creatures with eyes.

Specific example of trying to avoid the Vampire's charm action

If we pre-suppose that a character averting their gaze is reasonable, then we should examine what happens in the situation described, with the Vampire's charm action:

Charm. The vampire targets one humanoid it can see within 30 feet of it. If the target can see the vampire, the target must succeed on a DC 17 Wisdom saving throw against this magic or be charmed by the vampire.

So, we have a few things here:

  1. The vampire has to be able to see the creature to use the ability
  2. The creature has to be able to see the vampire for the ability to be used on it

The important thing to note here, is that the creature needs to see the vampire, not look at the vampire's eyes, but just see any part of it. So, in order to avert your gaze to an extent that you can't see the vampire then effectively you are blind to the vampire's location. So, if a character chooses to avert their gaze (on their turn) so as to not fall foul of the vampire's Charm action, they are effectively making themselves blind to the vampire, and should have the blinded condition situation-ally apply while they are fighting or resisting the vampire (and still averting their gaze).

The blinded condition states:

  • A blinded character can't see and automatically fails any ability check that requires sight
  • Attack rolls against the creature have advantage, and the creature's attack rolls have disadvantage

This has a number of direct implications for the fight against the vampire:

  1. While they are averting their gaze, for the purposes of fighting the vampire, they have the blinded condition
  2. While they are blinded in this way the vampire has advantage on attacks against them and they will have disadvantage on attack rolls against them

This means the vampire is much more likely to hit with their unarmed strike (and thus be able to choose to grapple the target without a contest when they hit). This choice is an explicit exception to the normal grappling rules, since the vampire's unarmed strike ability says:

[...] Instead of dealing damage, the vampire can grapple the target (escape DC 18)

Then the vampire will also have advantage on their bite action (and legendary action if the initiative order complies), making them much more likely to crit on the bite (9.75% as opposed to the normal 5%).

The character is also unable to make opportunity attacks on the vampire, as they cannot see the vampire:

[...] You can make an opportunity attack when a creature you can see moves out of your reach. [...]

Finally, the spells the characters want to cast on the vampire that explicitly require the character to see the target cannot be cast (for the same reason).

All in all, this makes the vampire significantly more dangerous of a foe to deal with, due to how much of an increase in damage they will be able to deal. This would significantly increase their offensive CR (they both hit and crit more often than they usually would).

Is the character averting their gaze reasonable?

Not necessarily. It's worth remembering that knowledge in the default settings of D&D is hard to come by. It is most certainly not like our access to information here. Stories, legend, and misinformation on all sorts of topics would be rife, and finding the truth will require specific research or experience. We see this in one of the core assumptions presented in the DMG:

Much of the World is Untamed. [...] People know the area they live in well. They've heard stories of other places from merchants and travelers, but few know what lies beyond the mountains or in the depths of the great forest unless they've been there themselves.

So, unless the character has fought vampires, done specific research into vampires (and found this piece of lore), or seen vampires use this ability before the fight, they may not even know that the vampire can do this. If their character would have no way of knowing, then if the player wants to avert their gaze for this reason, then the DM is perfectly within their rights to say "No, your character wouldn't know to do this".

How would this DM rule a character averting their gaze works?

The player is giving up a lot to avoid this one ability. They have disadvantage on attacks, cannot make opportunity attacks on the vampire, the vampire has advantage on attacks against them, and the character cannot cast sight-requiring spells on the vampire (or characters near the vampire).

As a result, I don't think there are balance problems with allowing this. That being said, there should be limits on the use of it.

Specifically, this isn't something they can turn on and off "for free" during combat. They are actively trying to not see the vampire. So, if they choose to try and see the vampire, it should require some effort to reorient themselves.

Making it use up their free object interaction to switch between the two states would be reasonable. This means they wouldn't be able to, for example, choose to see the vampire for their attacks and then re-avert their gaze each turn. They must, like with the medusa and basilisk, make the choice once on their turn to avert their gaze, but unlike those monsters they can choose to do this more freely.

Additionally, as mentioned, they effectively have the blinded condition for the purpose of interactions with the vampire, along with all the disadvantages that brings. Alternatively, the vampire has, effectively, the invisibility condition with respect to the character (the only difference is in the ability check line).

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RAW, no

Monsters such as a Basilisk and a Medusa have special Gazes that cause special effects. As part of the description of their feature, you are granted the ability to avert your eyes. This is, in a sense, a game mechanic in that it has a specific consequence in a specific context. The Vampire's Gaze includes no such option. Monster Features do what they say they do - you cannot 'avert your eyes' from a vampire trying to Charm you, because no rule allows you to employ that mechanic.

But consider Rule 2

Of the four foundational rules of the game, Rule 2 is 'The players describe what they want to do.' D&D is a story-telling game; the players are supposed to have agency over their actions. They may not be able to avert their eyes where that is a specific game mechanic with a recognized consequence (as it is for the gaze of a Medusa or Basilisk) but they should very much be able to say that they want to try to 'look away' from the vampire, or 'close their eyes', or some other non-game mechanic phrase that describes what they want to do. Then, Rule 3 is 'The DM narrates the results of their actions'. That is, in the absence of a specific mechanic like avert their eyes, the DM must make a ruling for what the result is of their attempt to not look at the vampire.

Balance and Consequence

In applying Rule 3, the DM should make sure that there are consequences to the players' actions. Players should not get 'something for nothing'. Simply allowing them to be immune to Charm because they declare that they are not looking, with no cost, is not the way to go. If permitted, they will soon be saying that they can stand in the middle of a Hypnotic Pattern effect and just close their eyes at the right time. Then, faced with a Harpy, they will say that they are 'humming I-can't-hear-you' so loudly to themselves that they are immune to its Song. And so forth.

If, instead, the DM imposes some cost to the process of looking away, then the players have interesting tactical decisions to make, and the game is improved. However, the costs themselves are a ruling, not a rule. This is a DM's own implementation of Rule 3 for their world. We can't tell you what are the appropriate costs and benefits for your game, because we don't know your game.

What I would do

In making such rulings myself, I have a few things I try to keep in mind. As mentioned above, I try to give the players something of what they want while making sure that this comes at a cost, and I try to have the cost and benefit be of equivalent power levels (that is, balanced). In addition, I try to have the costs and benefits draw on the already-existing mechanics of the game rather than being 'new rules'. Thus they support the players' knowledge of how the world works and how we do things, rather than just being my idiosyncratic attempts at realism, for example.

In this particular case, if a player wanted to try to not look directly at a vampire but still keep their eyes open, I would give them advantage on a save against Charm. Vampires are Charismatic, likely more so than the character in question, and through sheer force of personality can demand that the character 'Look at Me!' even when the character is trying not to - they still might be able to Charm the character, although it would be more difficult if the character was actively trying to look away. The cost of this save advantage would be that the vampire would then have advantage on its physical attacks against the character. Vampires are Intelligent, likely more so than the character in question, and they will be quick to recognize when it is time to Strike a character rather than Charm them. If the vampire had minions adjacent to it, I might also give them advantage to hit a character that was trying to not look in their direction.

If, rather than simply looking away, the player said that they wanted to shut their eyes very tight so as to be sure not to be Charmed, I would permit that to make them immune to the Charm until their next turn. But the increased benefit would come at an increased cost - they have just imposed the Blinded condition on themselves until their next turn.

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Unadvisable even as a house rule, as that weakens the Vampire.


Following the same logic that appears everywhere, averting one's eyes work only if the stat block says so. If the vampire allowed averting one's eyes, it would state in the block.

Perkaps the petrifying gaze attacks requires more time to work than the charm. That's why Basilisk and Medusa's attacks work "at the start of one's turn", where the character can make the choice to avert their gaze.

The important bit that was left out of the ability you posted is that the Vampire's Charm is an action on the vampire's part. Allowing a player to trade disadvantage for the ability to ignore an enemy's actions is unbalancing.

Imagine that as a class trait that allowed one to trade disadvantage for an automatic miss of an enemy's attacks regardless of AC. We're back at the silly "I can't see you, you can't hurt me" child's game.

Compare that to the basilisk's ability, which is a passive. It doesn't cost the basilisk any action to use their gaze. It is a trait of this monster, and it will use its bite attack regardless.

Applying the "avert your eyes" to the vampire's gaze is not a good house rule.


But the golden rule exists for a reason.

If the DM wants to apply this rule, the vampire's gaze should become a passive trait and no longer require an action.

It is my belief that this may cause another balance issue favoring the vampire. Good luck fighting the bloodsucker now.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Downvoters, please say why you downvoted, so the answer can be improved. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mindwin
    Apr 18 at 19:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ If somebody is gonna take disadvantage on their attacks against a vampire to avoid the off-chance that the vampire tries to charm them, specifically, rather than use any of their other tricks... I mean, that's just self-nerfing. It's not brokenly good, it's literally the opposite. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 18 at 20:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ Remember: It ought to be obvious to the vampire if somebody is avoiding its gaze. It won't waste the action on a futile strategy, it'll just do something different instead. Like say, use the Advantage the gaze-averter is granting the vampire to make its attacks almost certain to hit. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 18 at 20:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DarthPseudonym: For a caster using saving-throw based spells, there's basically no downside. If they're also a caster that can break charm on other party members (e.g. a restoration spell, or a bard's countercharm), that's a overall positive, unless the monster can get to them to attack at advantage. But yeah, then it just becomes good strategy, still not brokenly good. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 19 at 8:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ @PeterCordes Not so! If we go by the medusa's gaze rule, "If the creature [averts its eyes], it can't see the medusa until the start of its next turn." Being unable to see a target is crippling for a save-based spell list because they almost all require you to target a creature you can see, except for like... area blast spells. Yes, you could just stick to thunderwave and lightning bolt, but virtually all the save-or-suck spells are sight-based. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 19 at 12:38
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They shouldn't, for balance reasons

There is no general rules for averting your eyes. Unless a creature's stat block explicitly says you can avert your eyes from it, being able to do so is solely the DM's prerogative.

It's tempting for the DM to focus on simulationism and conclude that it ought to be possible to avert your eyes from any creature. After all, there is no logical reason why it is possible to avert from your eyes from some creatures (Medusa/Basilisk/Umber Hulk) but not others such as a Kobold, an Orc or a Zombie.

However, granting the ability to avert your eyes from any creature has dramatic implications on game balance. Multiple features become neutered:

  • The Frightened condition's disadvantage to attack rolls and ability checks can be bypassed by averting your eyes from the source of your fear
  • Many powerful and thematic monster abilities, such as a Solar's Blinding Gaze, the Vampire's Charm, or the Mummy Lord's Dreadful Glare, become extremely easy to avoid

As such, you shouldn't be able to avoid your eyes from any creature.

Alternatives

I'll add that instead of averting one's eyes, it's always possible to close them instead. This gives the same benefits as averting one's eyes, but being blinded is a much steeper cost, which preserve game balance.

Another option is to adopt the optional facing rules in the DMG. With those rules, a creature cannot see in its rear arc, which accomplishes something similar to averting one's eyes. However, this prevents vision in a whole arc, and a creature that moves out of the rear arc becomes visible.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Interesting argument but seems to lack narrative justification, seemingly arbitrary ruling just for "game balance". To your point about Frightened, note that it's phrased as the creature being within your "line of sight", not just within your sight. I think narratively it's partly about knowing that the creature can see you and has a direct path to you, so unless your character genuinely believes in peek-a-boo (closing / covering your eyes means they also can't see you, or other out-of-sight out-of-mind), it's reasonable to rule that you still get disadvantage. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 18 at 19:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ Ruling that it is literally impossible for a character to turn their back and refuse to look at something is... certainly a choice. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 18 at 20:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ The narrative justification is rather simple: Its magic. Though you may avert your gaze or close your eyes, as soon as the vampire uses its charm on you, it is attempting to force you through magic to look into its eyes, and your saving throw is the act of resisting the urge to look or open your eyes. \$\endgroup\$
    – Anketam
    Apr 19 at 12:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also, attacking without being able to see the creature would give you disadvantage on the attack rolls you wanted to make on it, but it also means the other creature has advantage on attack rolls against you \$\endgroup\$
    – illustro
    Apr 19 at 12:34

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