This question was prompted by reading this answer.

That answer, and accompanying comments, indicate that a Warlock can curse the closest enemy that he can see, even if he's aware of enemies that are closer. This seems correct and reasonable, based on the first sentence of the Warlock's Curse description in the Player's Handbook:

Once per turn as a minor action, you can place a Warlock's Curse on the enemy nearest to you that you can see.


Therefore, if a Warlock wants to curse an enemy that is not nearest to them, they can fix this with positioning. They can simply move closer to the enemy they want to curse of course, or they could move so that they can't see the closer enemies. Seems simple enough, and it doesn't break the restriction because it encourages and rewards tactical gameplay.


That's not what I'm curious about though. Let's say I'm a warlock character. If I close my eyes, I'm blind and I can't see anybody. Ergo, I cannot curse anybody. Okay. What if I get out a spyglass and look directly at somebody across the battlefield. There are 10 enemies closer to me than the one I'm looking at, but that's the only enemy I can see. So can I curse that guy?

I'm thinking maybe not, since in 4E characters don't have facing and are assumed to be looking in all directions at once, and if that's the case how can I say that I'm looking directly at someone?

But I'm also thinking maybe so, because specific beats general and I can specifically say I'm looking in only this direction.


First and foremost, I'd be interested in a rules-as-written interpretation of this situation. Beyond that, rules-as-intended discussions and how one would handle this situation practically if one of your players tried it would be useful as well. Note that, if this is allowed, the proximity restriction completely disappears and you can curse whomever you feel like, just so long as you can see them.


4 Answers 4


Rules as written: the subtleties of "can see" you're reading into don't exist. Whether you "can see" something mechanically means "you have line of sight to it." This heavily implied by the Player's Handbook, and finally made explicit in the Rules Compendium's section of Line of Sight on p106:

A few powers do require a user to be able to see a creature to target it, however. For instance, a power might specify that it targets "one creature you can see." In other words, the creature must be within the user's line of sight.

So the Warlock's curse simply refers to those enemies to which you have line of sight. You have line of sight to someone simply if you can trace the corners of your square to the corners of their square, and that's it, so whether you're covering your eyes doesn't change anything. Since covering your eyes doesn't change your line of sight, the only RAW answer is: nice work, smart guy — you still have line of sight to all the other monsters.

The rules are built on the assumption your characters are generally trying to look around and be aware of their surroundings, and not pulling these tricks. If it doesn't make sense why you can't use a spyglass to affect who you can see and change your line of sight, it's because you've exited rules territory, and at that point the rules aren't expected to make sense.

The RAW way to eliminate line of sight is to manoeuvre around obstacles and eliminate it. So that's what a Warlock wants to do, if they want to get creative with limiting their Curse targets by vision.

How can this make sense or be explained in interpretation or story?

Before this, there's a big principle of D&D 4e to understand: it prioritises balance and fun mechanics above rules making total sense story-wise. Thus the mechanics do not bend or adjust to what makes sense simulation-wise: powers and features do what they say, and it's up to the story to make sense of that. There is no attempt to simulate things realistically, which is a major point of contrast to previous editions, and a contributor to D&D 4e dismantling the Omnipotent Wizardry Tier of classes.

So, given this 4e ethos, the axiom is that Warlocks can only curse the nearest enemy in line of sight (whether the Warlock's covering an eye or not). As BESW points out, this is a fun and interesting part of the Warlock's tactical decisions. It's up to the Warlock's player and their companions to make sense of why this is the case, which could be a pretty fun opportunity to flavour your Warlock or their magic.

  • It may be the nature of the curse. It refuses to be cast any other way, or picks its own target.
  • The Warlock may be capable of casting it another way, but have good reason not to. Doing so may lead to very, very bad juju. Doing so might be violating their pact.

How would I handle someone trying to do this?

How we'd handle it in our own games is a matter of opinion and style. Some would allow it (especially if they're a fan of rule-of-cool and it was cool). Others would ask the Warlock to put the telescope away. I'd probably do the latter, so as to not have the small headaches that might follow from wandering outside the rules into simulationist territory.

It is a fun feature for a Warlock to deal with (having played one myself), and truthfully, having read how BESW would approach this, I'd do as he does.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ So, what if for purposes of Cursing a specific enemy, at the instant before the curse is cast, the Warlock declares that every "enemy" other than the one he wants to target is not an enemy, until after the curse has taken effect? - and that he's defending against the "non-enemy" combatants because they are "incredibly clumsy and indiscriminate bystanders and he doesn't want to be hit"... There's a semantic way around any "nearest enemy" clause unless it is the GM who decides the target on the basis of who is trying to do what to whom. \$\endgroup\$
    – Monty Wild
    Commented Jun 25, 2014 at 3:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ Then the DM asks the player beside you to slap you. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 25, 2014 at 3:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ Emphasis on “can see”. Just because you selectively focus your attention on someone doesn't make them the closest person you can see. \$\endgroup\$
    – okeefe
    Commented Jun 25, 2014 at 4:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ @montywild While not explicitly defined in the rules, 4e pretty much runs on the assumption that Friendly NPCs and party members are "allies" and anything hostile is an "enemy" basically you are playing semantics to try to justify a feature that is already strong enough while completely undermining of how powers are written in 4e. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 27, 2014 at 2:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ There we go, now your answer actually answers my question. Downvote removed, +1. \$\endgroup\$
    – DCShannon
    Commented Jun 27, 2014 at 22:52

This is obviously unintended.

Any workaround which utterly invalidates a mechanic is probably unintended and should be treated with extreme caution. You say it yourself:

if this is allowed, the proximity restriction completely disappears and you can curse whomever you feel like

You're proposing something which effectively removes a restriction from a class feature. If that workaround were intended, why would the restriction exist in the first place? I strongly doubt this is an easter egg or cheat code hidden by the developers for us to puzzle out.

Your scenario is reasonable from a narrative standpoint, but it is inconsistent with the goals of the system you're using to interpret the scenario into mechanics. 4e is a tactical combat simulator, and its rules exist to create and enforce interesting tactical choices--making narrative sense has no place in its ethos. These rules are legalistic, self-contained, and explicitly divorced from a campaign's narrative logic.

When we try to apply narrative logic to a system that is predicated on non-narrative assumptions, one common result is exploits to trivialise parts of the game which are intended to be challenging. I think that warlocks using blinders to invalidate the restrictions on their class features falls under this category.

If a player brought this to me, I'd ask him why he felt the need to go to such lengths to remove an interesting tactical complication from his character. Perhaps I can help him with a new character build he'd prefer, or maybe we need to use a system that's better suited to his play style. There are countless "narrative first" games where the fiction informs the rules rather than the other way 'round like 4e handles things.


It might help to understand why Warlock's Curse works the way it does.

Premise: D&D 4th edition is, first and foremost, a combat game, not a fictional-life simulator. All the combat mechanics are designed to facilitate combat, not replicate reality.

4th edition is very much inspired by game design advances made in video game RPGs, particularly MMORPGs, and have taken note of the "threat" or "aggro" mechanics in these games, whereby players can control which of their party members the monsters are attacking. DND4e captures this mechanic in part through Marks placed by defenders and soldiers. The players use marks and controller powers to manipulate the monsters and the flow of battle.

Monsters, meanwhile, have relatively fewer mechanics, especially to control ranged player character attacks. They were able to offer each other cover, but the single biggest mechanic at their disposal was proximity: if the soldier monsters were in front of the artillery monsters, the soldiers could do some degree of protecting them, by making it treacherous for melee characters to walk past and negate ranged strikers from using their striker mechanic on monsters in the back row.

This, at least, was the PHB1 premise that DND4e started with.

It's worth noting here that PHB1 came with 3 strikers: Rogue, Ranger, Warlock. The Rogue's striker mechanic required combat advantage, which was either had through stealth or flanking. Flanking in particular was difficult to line up on the back row enemies, so the designers expected Rogues to work with the defender to take out soldiers.

Rangers and Warlocks had long-ranged attacks, and both had a striker mechanic they could place on a target: Hunter's Quarry and Warlock's Curse. Both had the "nearest enemy you can see" restriction. In other words, neither ranged striker could effectively use their striker mechanic on the enemies in the rear of the formation.

This, therefore, was the intention of the wording of Warlock's Curse: it was worded this way in order to give monsters the ability to use their formation to protect weaker members from strikers.

Why is it based on sight?

I puzzled over this a bit after reading the original poster's answer to his own question, and realized how important "sight" was to the question. The examples given are based on modifying sight, rather than distance, and the question lies in the importance of the sight requirement of the power.

I suspect the reason for the requirement is to prevent the power from being effectively blocked by a monster placed near the Warlock but cannot be attacked: for example, if one enemy were 3 squares away just across a wall while another were 4 squares away in plain sight, the one that can't be attacked would be the "nearest" enemy. If the designers originally wrote the power with only a "nearest" requirement, they must have been presented with this quandary and sought a rule to effectively turn the power from "nearest enemy" into "nearest enemy you can actually attack."

My intuition is that this power was created early on in DND4e's development process, and at that point they did not yet have the separate concepts of "Line of Sight" versus "Line of Effect." They may have merely had a vague concept that you had to see a target to attack it, and so thus that wording was a simple solution to the aforementioned problem.

Once the development process added extra layers of complexity and more terms were developed, this power was not readdressed. This results in a number of problems, such as being unable to curse invisible creatures (despite knowing what square they occupy when they are not hidden and being able to attack them), being unable to curse anything in complete darkness or when blinded, and being forced to curse an enemy you cannot attack if you can see it, for example if you have a Clairvoyance effect or are separated from it by a transparent wall.

This makes me think that the power ought to be worded "the nearest enemy to which you have Line of Effect" rather than "that you can see" as this would ensure that the cursed target can also be attacked with Eldritch Blast.

Thus I conclude that the sight requirement was there to prevent the power from becoming unusable in certain circumstances, not to actually limit its use or provide a means for players to limit it through creative manipulation of their current field of view. Perhaps the intention of the power would have been "nearest viable enemy" but how would one possibly define "viable" within the context of DND4e rules?

Is that wording still relevant?

DND4e has changed considerably with the addition of new classes, mechanics, and overhauls from things like the Essentials line of books. Many concepts and ideas have changed dramatically in the game's evolution, and many elements that still exist in the game don't serve the same function or otherwise aren't particularly valuable or important.

I would argue that the sight/range restriction of Warlock's Curse is one of those bits of legacy dead weight. No striker that has come out since PHB1 has had the "nearest enemy" restriction. The Avenger can apply their Oath of Enmity to any target within 10 squares (though they retain the problematic sight requirement). The Sorcerer applies their Sorcerous Power bonus to all attacks directly (with no sight requirement). Essentials variants of Rangers and Warlocks eschew the Quarry and Curse for direct effects (eg: Hexblade adds damage directly like Sorcerers and their pact boons trigger when the player reduces an enemy to 0, not when a cursed enemy is reduced to 0).

Since the logic for the mechanic (of forcing strikers to deal full damage to front-row monsters or lose their bonus striker damage to attack rear-row monsters) has been abandoned for classes developed since PHB1, it follows that the logic need not unduly cripple PHB1 classes anymore. However, this is just another fragment of DND4e's shambled mess of rules and yet another example of why the whole system ought to have been overhauled into a 4.5 rule set.

RP-wise, what can be said about this?

The nearest creature you can see is not the same as the nearest creature you are currently looking at

The rule isn't built around what you "are seeing" but what you "can see." In English, can specifically refers to the ability to do something, not the current state of doing it. When you ask someone "can I go to the bathroom" you are literally asking if you have the physical capability of urinating (consider instead "may I go to the bathroom" which is asking for permission). Thus, when the power says "the nearest enemy you can see" it means "the nearest enemy you have the ability to see" rather than "what you see with your current self-imposed viewing restrictions."

Again, from a strictly by-the-book rules-as-written, it refers to all enemies to which your character can trace Line of Sight.

Tactically, this does mean that you can intentionally block line of sight with a wall, and you can intentionally change what monster is nearest through movement (the teleporting warlock is particularly fun to play with this restriction in mind).

How can the power restrictions be explained? Perhaps the curse is an eruption of raw power from the warlock, which semi-autonomously seeks out the nearest victim. Keep in mind that the warlock gains its power through a pact with a higher source, and often a malicious one. That power source may have its own interests to satiate, and causing harm indiscriminately may play into any pact. The tactical struggle to get a particular enemy to be the nearest enemy in sight may represent the internal struggle the warlock faces in wresting control from its pact source. You might want to curse that archer back there, but the source is hungry for blood from that ogre right in front of you.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I've updated my answer with a definition from the Rules Compendium that states "can see" = "line of sight." Just fyi. I didn't actually realise it got so explicit about it. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 27, 2014 at 8:26

I think that some of the answers on this page might be conflating rules-as-written with rules-as-intended, and I want to try to put all this information into order in a clear manner. This answer will have three parts: Rules-as-Intended, Rules-as-Written, and Practical Measures.

In summary:

  • Rules-as-Intended: The phrase 'you can see' is intended to mean 'to which you have line of sight', meaning the clearly defined line of sight rule based on corners of squares. Warlocks can change who they can see through positioning and other effects that block line of sight.

  • Rules-as-Written: The phrase 'you can see' is not specifically defined, but we can extrapolate that it means 'to which you have line of sight' based on the 'Seeing and Targeting' section. This means that the 'nearest you can see' restriction is in full effect.

  • Practical Measures: Ignoring this restriction significantly changes the Warlock's operation, as well as any other ability -- including ones NPCs may have -- which uses 'closest you can see' as a restriction. Talk with your group about rules-as-intended and make sure they understand line of sight as it is defined in 4E. If a rules-lawyer convinces you to change how you're interpreting a rule for the PCs, change it for the NPCs as well.

So, in short, no.


The designers intended the phrase 'you can see' to mean 'to which you have line of sight'. Soulrift and BESW both have relevant answers here, which make it clear why we can conclude that this was the intention.

Line-of-Sight is clearly and objectively defined in the Player's Handbook (starting on page 273) in terms of squares and characters' positions. It is possible to block line of sight with blocking terrain, like walls. It is also possible to block line of sight with certain effects, like the zone from the Warlock's power 'Hunger of Hadar' (PH, p134).


My primary issue with the initial answers on this page was an apparent unacknowledged assumption that the phrase 'you can see' is equivalent to the game concept having line of sight. After a bit of digging, I found a section in the rules which strongly implies this equivalence:

  • Step 2 of the process outlined in the 'Making an Attack' sidebar (PH 269) says "Check whether you can see and target your enemies (page 273)". The 'Seeing and Targeting' section is on page 273.

  • The last sentence of the first paragraph in the 'Seeing and Targeting' section (PH 273) says "Figuring out whether you can see and target a particular enemy from where you're standing is important". The line of sight definition follows immediately.

  • Throughout this paragraph, the phrase 'line of sight' is almost never used, instead they use the phrasing 'you can see'. The most important line is "what you can see in an encounter area -- that is, your line of sight".

Therefore, the phrase 'the nearest you can see' means 'the nearest to which you have line of sight'. This means the warlock cannot arbitrarily select a curse victim, and any kind of shenanigans like covering an eye will have no effect, as it doesn't change line of sight.

Practical Measures

Since this doesn't actually work, this section is less important. However, the advice still applies if someone tries to pull a rules technicality that seems like it might work, but also seems like it breaks the system.

Doppelgreener makes some good points about how to handle this practically. We both agree BESW provides good advice on talking to a player about why they feel the need to break the system. Soulrift also has some interesting things to say regarding how relevant this restriction on the Warlock's curse mechanic still is.

The rule-of-cool is a good guideline. If somebody tries to pull a rules technicality like this, and your group thinks it's fun and cool, then great. Let it go.

However, note that allowing this particular rules interpretation would affect MANY things. Note how many powers say "each creature you can see in the blast" (emphasis mine). There would be no drawback to using these versus "each enemy you can see", as you could just not look at your allies. So, if you're going to change how you interpret the rules for the PCs, it's only fair you change them for the NPCs as well. Share with your players this rule-of-thumb which Doppelgreener attributed to BESW:

Anything you can break, NPCs can break better. But they won't until you do.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I actually edited out that last breaking-limit quote because it's not actually particularly threatening in this instance, and on reflection, not how I'd really handle the situation. As a GM I could have enemy monsters doing similar stuff anyway, and might well if it's fun for the players to fight against. They don't usually have features with these restrictions like the players do. Other breaking stuff is far more threatening. I think BESW's handling of a player asking to do this is probably the best, and what I'd really go with. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 25, 2014 at 4:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ TBH this seems more like a very extended comment than an answer. Also you need to link to the answers your referring to, people change their display names \$\endgroup\$
    – wax eagle
    Commented Jun 25, 2014 at 12:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ @waxeagle I added the answer references. Not sure what you mean about a long comment. This is well researched and complete, kind of the opposite of a comment. \$\endgroup\$
    – DCShannon
    Commented Jun 27, 2014 at 2:55

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