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I'm wondering if a creature with no normal eyes, like a skeleton, who are not immune to petrify or other kinds of gaze attacks, could possibly "avert their gaze." How would a skeleton look away from a medusa? Or a water elemental? Also giant spiders have eyes all around their head. How do they "not look"?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already and see the help center or ask us here in the comments (use @ to ping someone) if you need more guidance. Good Luck and Happy Gaming! \$\endgroup\$
    – Someone_Evil
    Nov 26, 2022 at 0:34

2 Answers 2

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Here is the text of the relevant effect:

Confusing Gaze. When a creature starts its turn within 30 feet of the umber hulk and is able to see the umber hulk’s eyes, the umber hulk can magically force it to make a DC 15 Charisma saving throw, unless the umber hulk is incapacitated.
On a failed saving throw, [various bad things happen].
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 umber hulk until the start of its next turn, when it can avert its eyes again. If the creature looks at the umber hulk in the meantime, it must immediately make the save.

If the creature is not "able to see the umber hulk's eyes" in the first place, then the effect does not apply at all. So creatures that lack sight altogether are immune and don't have to avert their nonexistent (or non-functional) eyes. That also applies to creatures with blindsight, since the SRD explicitly states that it works "without relying on sight."

For a creature with many eyes, the rule simply states that it "can avert its eyes," provided it is not surprised. There is no limitation on the number or orientation of those eyes, so it is simply assumed that this is a thing the creature can do. The DM might reasonably rule that a specific creature is unable to avert its eyes due to particular circumstances applying to that creature (for example, if it has been restrained with its eyes forced open), but this goes beyond the scope of the rule and is well into DM interpretation territory, so the DM will have to consider the situation holistically. For example, a DM might rule that a beholder can either avert its eyes or target the umber hulk with its eye rays and/or antimagic cone, but can't do both in the same turn. As for the giant spider, I would tend to expect that it should be able to rotate its eyes in place to focus on something other than the umber hulk, but your DM might reach a different conclusion from me.

For a creature with "regular" sight, but without eyes, a very pedantic DM could adopt the interpretation that the creature cannot "avert its eyes" because it has no eyes, but the obvious intent of the rule is that the creature directs its field of vision away from the umber hulk by whatever means is appropriate. Most creatures that can see will be able to do this in some way or another, and there is no obvious reason that this response should be restricted to creatures with actual eyes.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The reason the question mentions spiders is because spiders aren’t capable of rotating their eyes; they just reorient their bodies if they want to look in a different direction. They also cannot close their eyes (they wipe their eyes with their legs to “blink.”) However, despite spiders’ multitude of eyes, they are generally (huge variation among different species) all located on the front of the spider, and do not provide vision to the spider’s rear (or underside). In contrast, the compound eyes of insects often do provide nearly all-around vision, and also cannot be rotated or closed. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Nov 26, 2022 at 5:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan: To put it bluntly: If WotC is going to expect a DM to incorporate that kind of real-world anatomical information into their rulings, then they should be putting it in the stat block. DMs may choose to use a more or less realistic interpretation of fantasy creatures, and their rulings should reflect that. Giant spiders in D&D are far larger than those in real life, and there are severe anatomical problems with "just" scaling up a real-world spider - for instance, the real-world spider breathes through diffusion, which is impossible at a larger scale. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kevin
    Nov 26, 2022 at 8:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ The spider was just one example, the bigger issue creature is something like a water elemental. I just find it hard to explain how a water or fire elemental can "avert its gaze." Like if a water elemental looks at an umber hulk. How does it look away? \$\endgroup\$ Nov 27, 2022 at 0:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ @LordThalimus: How did it look at the umber hulk in the first place? It does that, again, but in a different direction. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kevin
    Nov 27, 2022 at 0:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ @LordThalimus: As mentioned, the DM is free to adjudicate unusual situations such as the water elemental occupying the same space as the umber hulk as the DM sees fit. For example, you might impose disadvantage on use of Whelm or apply other penalties as might be appropriate to the situation. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kevin
    Nov 27, 2022 at 0:30
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"Unless surprised, a creature can avert its eyes"

The text of the ability tells you that any creature can avert its eyes to avoid having to make the saving throw. Other monsters with similar abilities (Medusas etc.) also contain this text in the ability.

So, unless the description of the creature tells you specifically that it cannot avert its eyes, it can do so -- no matter if that is possible for a creature in real life or not. D&D is not a physics simulation, it is simplifying things to limit the amount of rules text that is needed, and relies on the judgment of the DM to handle corner cases. If your DM knows that spiders are unable to avert their eyes, and wants to rule they cannot, that is their call.

Note that some game elements do say if you cannot avert your eyes, for example the magic item robe of eyes states:

The eyes on the robe can't be closed or averted. Although you can close or avert your own eyes, you are never considered to be doing so while wearing this robe.

The text of Umber Hulk further says

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 umber hulk until the start of its next turn, when it can avert its eyes again.

So the deciding factor here is if the creature can see the Umber Hulk (or Medusa etc.), not if it has eyes. As long as creatures with sight but without eyes avert their gaze, they will avoid having to make the saving throw.

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