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One of my players, playing a Dex/Cha-based bard, wants his character to be completely blind.

I like to let them play whatever they feel enjoyable, even though I'd like to find out how to make it not too impeding as a disability.

The obvious effect for the character would be having the blinded state permanently on him.
That state makes you fail all checks that require sight and have disadvantage attacking enemies, and gives enemies advantage on attacks against you.

The first effect is obvious. The second, though, is too strong to be always there. My first instinct is to let him have the capability of avoiding this penalizer, since he'd learned to fight blinded. That, combined with the fact that he roleplays his blindness, seems fair enough, but I'd like to share it with rpg.SE community to check how to handle the situation.

So, how do I balance the PC so that he's still viable to play with the rest of the group and still have the character flaw?

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    \$\begingroup\$ What's your actual question here? Remember that SE deals in specific, answerable questions. Presenting a situation isn't asking a question. \$\endgroup\$ – Miniman Aug 13 '15 at 9:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ This would also depend on what class he wants to play. It would be much worse for a front line fighter than for a supportive party buffer. \$\endgroup\$ – Tim B Aug 13 '15 at 14:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ Warning: Blindness/Deafness can be cured by a second-level spell. While 'Remove Blindness/Deafness' may no longer exist, 'Lesser Restoration' does its job fine. \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Mar 28 '17 at 4:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ You could look at the oracle in pathfinder with the Clouded Vision curse to do a homebrew for 5th ed \$\endgroup\$ – Neuromancer Aug 24 '18 at 22:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ Good warning, @thedarkwanderer Actually, on the game, the character got cured of his blindness with that spell. Funily enough, on the very next scene he lost his right arm. \$\endgroup\$ – Masclins Aug 30 '18 at 12:36
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I played a permanently (from birth) blind character for a couple of years a long time ago in a 3.5 edition game. I was a fighter class.

The GM gave me +10 to listen rolls and the 'blind fight' feat for free, and allowed me to move at significantly reduced speed tapping a staff to find my way.

I was permanently flat-footed vs all ranged attacks, unable to do any ranged actions and automatically missed 25% of all melee attacks. This turned out to be cripplingly frustrating for me - I'd swing at the Big Bad Guy, roll a 20 on my d20 and a 1 on my d4 to determine a 'blind swing' - basically the attack would have crit if the character wasn't blind!

Listen rolls to determine where enemies were was never a problem with an elf's sense, the +10 bonus and all my skill points piled into it.

Eventually the GM found a reason for someone to give the character 5ft blind sight because the attack disadvantage was just too frustrating. So your instinct is correct, disadvantage on all rolls would be too much - such a character would probably not take up adventuring.

I think a fair compromise is having your player's character grant advantage for all ranged attacks aimed at them - they don't see that crossbow being raised at them - but letting him/her go toe to toe in melee without advantage / disadvantage being inflicted to either side - a built in blind-fighting feat. This also allows some interesting stuff to happen with spells like Fog Cloud, and also lets a player imagine their character trading blows like Daredevil, but equally being about as useful as Daredevil in a longer-ranged firefight.

Ultimately though, I don't understand how this could work with a bard's setup. They won't be able to see where their enemies are to land ranged spells or attacks, except possibly for big AOE spells, and being right up close in the action isn't a bard's forte. The possibility for collateral damage from AoE spells is very high. A Barbarian, Paladin or Fighter might make more sense for this form of blind warrior.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, likewise. Played a blind priest, and blindsight went a long way to making it playable. But not particularly powerful, because ranged attacks were still a real problem. As a bard, you'd basically cross off anything that required proper targeting, but party buffs and melee is reasonable. (Casting "Darkness" or similar worked nicely for me, but really annoyed the rest of the party ;)) \$\endgroup\$ – Sobrique Aug 13 '15 at 16:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for such a character would probably not take up adventuring \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Oct 3 at 14:49
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So it seems the best way is to handle it as if its a normal character with a bit of RP flavor. Of course, if they are looking for someone who is say wearing a red cloak they would be of no help there.

As far as combat, I'd leave it alone. You have adapted to your blindness so well as to pick up on the sound of bolts or arrows cutting through the air in your direction. You can use ambient sound to pick up on the location of those around you and you are paying such close attention that you keep track of not only your own location but that of your allies as well, leading you to not accidentally target them.

The big issue I see is if they get deafness cast on them. Immediately cause them to become totally disoriented not knowing who is an ally or an enemy. Roll percentile dice and develop a table for whether they target what they think they are targeting or not, dropping the odds for every round that goes by.

I myself am blind and you would be surprised how easy it is to navigate by sound. Sit down some time, next to a speaker, listen to a continuous tone, then place a piece of cardboard between you and the speaker. Or have a person step between you and it, notice the difference. That difference, with time and experience can tell you a lot, distance, shape, density, whether its porous, like a bush or solid as a wall, It's direction of travel etc. At this point in my life I don't need a speaker to be playing a constant sound to discern what is around me. You find over time silence itself is a sort of sound. That said If I were deaf I would have no clue what is going on.

Btw, the actual sensation of echo location is oddly more of a tactile one rather than an auditory one. It feels like an odd sensation running from the side of your forehead near the hairline above your eyebrow to the collar bone. Maybe make a rule like: Your acute senses have been honed by your training to give you a sense of your surroundings, you can discern shapes, distance, direction, and size of objects within 60 feet and approximate weight of moving objects you can hear at any distance. You must be able to hear them to discern weight. While a totally still or silent object still changes the background sound of the environment itself giving you an idea of size, shape, distance and direction.

So for the effect of deafness I'd completely eliminate all of the above aside from anything that might reverberate through the ground even a vibration in the air. Silence really should eliminate ALL vibration, if you argue it does not, then they should still be able to navigate while under the influence of silence. I'd argue it does eliminate all vibration in its area of effect, actually making it actually worse for a blind PC to be under the effect of.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for pointing out the issues the character would face if deafness were cast on them. \$\endgroup\$ – Tim Drake-Wayne Jan 18 '18 at 7:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ Interesting material, with real-life experience, but the rules you suggest to use don't seem to have been tested in game. However for a first post it's far from being bad, welcome to rpg.se! \$\endgroup\$ – Anne Aunyme Jan 18 '18 at 9:04
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According to the preliminary psionics rules, taking at least one level of Mystic (Order of the Awakened) and selecting the Third Eye discipline grants 30' blindsight. Clairvoyance would make an otherwise blind character quite viable and open up all the classic "blind seer" tropes.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I was going to suggest giving blindsight 15' or so as part of the package deal that comes with being a blind adventurer, but this works as well. \$\endgroup\$ – Andrew Aug 13 '15 at 12:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ There really should be some kind of warning for links to TV Tropes! \$\endgroup\$ – Shaamaan Aug 13 '15 at 13:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ Lots of monsters have feats to deal with the fact they live and thrive in darkness. Given similar initial conditions (long term blind) I'd suggest one of those as a good starting point. \$\endgroup\$ – Sobrique Aug 13 '15 at 15:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ Forcing the character to take Third Eye (always) will just make him weaper, as he can only concentrate on one discipline at the time and a mystic desperately needs all the combat prowess (psi-melee or psi-casting) they can get. \$\endgroup\$ – Mala Aug 13 '15 at 22:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ FYI: the latest revision of the psionics has changed that from blindsight to darkvision .. so no more blindsight there. \$\endgroup\$ – Ditto Mar 27 '17 at 20:11
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I think there are two ways to approach this.

Method 1: provide Blindsense

Here's a sample from the Rogue class, with a range of 10 feet.

Starting at 14th level, if you are able to hear, you are aware of the location of any hidden or invisible creature within 10 feet of you.

It's kind of sucky that you're giving away a high level Rogue ability, but it may be a fair trade-off given that the person is otherwise completely blind. And it only works within 10 feet, so they're still subject to disadvantage on ranged attacks.

Method 2: provide the Alert feat

This feat provides three bonuses:

  • You gain a +5 bonus to initiative.
  • You can’t be surprised while you are conscious.
  • Other creatures don’t gain advantage on attack rolls against you as a result of being unseen by you.

This deals with 50% of the attack problem. It make the Bard equally difficult to hit without granting them "normal" attacks. But it also has other fun trade-offs like the Initiative & Surprise bonus.

Both options allow the player to "play around" their limitation without grossly limiting the chance of survival. In either case, I would simply provide the benefit "for free" in exchange for being blind.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I was about to point out that "unseen" is different than "hidden", but Jeremy Crawford has tweeted that "The 3rd benefit of the Alert feat is imprecisely worded. It's meant to work against creatures you can't see." That might be a worthwhile link to include in your answer. \$\endgroup\$ – Gandalfmeansme Apr 18 '18 at 17:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ Alert has also since been changed in errata. The third bullet now reads: "Other creatures don’t gain advantage on attack rolls against you as a result of being unseen by you." \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Jan 5 '19 at 7:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'd go this direction as well, but lessen disadvantage on melee attacks to subtracting 1d4 from melee attack rolls. more or less a limited version of Bane. \$\endgroup\$ – JamesB Jul 9 '19 at 15:58
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There were rules options provided for this in the Adventurer's League DMG for Curse of Strahd that could be applied here.

In that document, under Death in Ravenloft on page 8, there were some options for the Dark Powers to provide resurrection to low level characters. But you had to take a 'dark gift'. One of those was:

The character’s eyes melt away, leaving empty sockets. He or she has disadvantage on Charisma (Persuasion) checks, but gains blindsight out to a range of 60 feet. The character is blind beyond this distance.

There were also some additional flavor items that went along with this (like milk souring at your touch, cats hissing, Ravenloft stuff).

I have played with these rules through three sessions at low levels and personally found this to be an interesting trade off. With blindsight to 60 feet, all the melee combat was very similar to before. Blindsight in rare instances was more powerful than sight. But I couldn't do much about some ranged combat. That sniper with the Heavy Crossbow--can't see her. It also made for some great roleplaying opportunities to be able to see everything near me but be useless at navigating both in town and the countryside.

For the specific question here, the disadvantage on Charisma seems inappropriate in this context. And that other flavor stuff is purely punitive for dying in Ravenloft in the first place. But a straight up change to being blind, but having 60-ft blindsight makes the game very playable.

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For reference, let's start with unpacking the blinded condition in D&D 5e:

  • A blinded creature 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.

The first clause that states you can't see is kind of obvious but the second part of that sentence is important, you automatically fail checks that require sight. This seems crippling, however if you play your character creatively you can bypass it by proving to your DM that the checks do not necessarily require sight.

For example: When your party makes perception rolls to spot an orc perhaps you can hear the sound of their breathing, smell their perspiration, or even feel the vibration of their footsteps across the dungeon floor. Or If you are trying to detect a trap you can feel across the floor to find it but make a Dexterity check to avoid triggering it, use a ten foot pole, it is your best friend, or perhaps you hear the tripwire in the wind, or smell the lubricant on the metal on the hinges of a mechanism.

I would recommend gaining expertise in, or at the very least being proficient in, Perception and Investigation at some point through feats or multiclassing or being a rogue or bard and having a decent Int or Wisdom - along with potentially getting a good Dexterity, as you will have to make a lot of Sleight of Hand and Acrobatics checks to prevent triggering traps or falling off of edges. It is recommended that you expertise those skills so that you can be able to more consistently pass the skill checks your DM will throw at you when you attempt to justify smelling the boot polish of an enemy soldier and whatnot.

The second clause however is the crippling part, the creature gets advantage to attack you and your attacks have disadvantage.

If your DM is willing to allow UA content, you can take a level in fighter, ranger, or paladin and take the Blind Fighting fighting style (from UA: Class Feature Variants):

Being unable to see a creature doesn’t impose disadvantage on your attack rolls against it, provided the creature isn’t hidden from you.

Or if you are not one of those classes that has a fighting style you can take the Fighting initiate feat (also UA) to get that fighter fighting style as well.

This would solve the problem of you missing 25% of all melee attacks because it would allow you to roll them like a regular character.

However, to deal with the second part of that clause (that all characters have advantage to hit you): as @gates-vp's answer and @V2Blast's comment on it mentioned, the Alert feat (PHB, p. 165) is also a great option as it removes that disadvantage and allows you to potentially survive a bit better. The description of the Alert feat says:

  • You gain a +5 bonus to initiative.
  • You can’t be surprised while you are conscious.
  • Other creatures don’t gain advantage on attack rolls against you as a result of being unseen by you.

(The third bullet point was updated in errata; it originally read "as a result of being hidden from you.")

However, if your DM does not allow UA materials and is not allowing feats, try to ask for blindsense or perhaps a bit of tremorsense as mentioned in other answers.

However I would not recommend blindsense or tremor sense as it could potentially allow you to see through walls and such, that is why if I ever was to dm such as character I would limit the blindsense or tremorsense to 5-10ft in order to limit that craziness.

It also does allow you to bypass or outright ignore most forms of illusion magic and certain frightening abilities which some dms might be wary of.

Tremorsense might be a better option than blindsense as blindsense is sight using other senses to a specific radius which is all well and good, but I feel it removes the disadvantages of bindness too much.

Tremorsense on the otherhand is a really nice ability as it is like blindsense, but it lets you feel the vibrations of the surface you are on which applies some limitations, you can't see if you are flying or jumping as you must be grounded to use it.

If none of the above options work, I would recommend that for martial characters, you look at the following class options:

  • Being a Barbarian and using Reckless Attack every turn to negate the disadvantage; the advantage to hit you is already there anyway so you don't have to worry about it, as in the PHB it states that no matter how many sources of disadvantage you have, they don't stack, and a single source of advantage negates them all.

  • A samurai fighter would allow you to gain advantage a limited number of times per rest to negate your disadvantage to hit and extra hp to stay up and kicking under many blows.

  • The Inquisitive rogue allows you to gain advantage on Perception and Investigation checks when moving at half speed at 9th level, allowing you to easily spot things. And being a rogue in general allows you to eventually get blindsense and such.

  • The ranger class in general particularly the UA revised version would allow for you to grab the blinding fighting style and eventually get blindsight, though it is up to dm ruling whether or not the seeing of invisibility applies.

However, if you are a full caster, half-caster, or even a one-third caster, you can look at the following options:

  • Grab the find familiar spell, allowing you to see through the eyes of your familiar. The beast sense spell would allow you to see through the eyes of a loyal pet and companion (a good reason to go Beast Master ranger).

  • Use buff spells such as blur, sanctuary, mirror image, blink, shield, invisibility, and such to negate the advantage to hit against you.

  • Use spells such as darkvision and true seeing to potentially grant you temporary sight.

  • Get divination spells to be able to see things that others cannot (i.e. detection spells such as detect magic and such to allow you to perceive certain things).

  • Get magic missile so you only have to locate the create to decimate them. Or spells that require saving throws such as vicious mockery, hold person, fireball, toll the dead, etc. so that you only have to locate the create to do damage.

  • Use faerie fire to get tasty advantage.

  • Use spells such as darkness to obscure yourself; you are blind anyway, so being shrouded in darkness and next to impossible to hit is nice.

  • Focus on spells and cantrips that use an area of effect, such as thunderwave, destructive wave, or thunderclap, so you do not even have to locate the target; you just plaster an AOE in their general direction. However, this could lead to friendly fire if you aren't an evocation wizard or sorcerer.

So without further ado, I present you the last contingency on the list:

  • Ignore the blinded condition entirely. If your DM allows it, just say you have learned to live with being blind and it doesn't affect you mechanically at all. However, I do not recommend this option as it does not let you be creative whatsoever in playing your character to bypass these limitations.

Have fun adventuring, I wish you luck in creating a blind ninja!

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    \$\begingroup\$ Many of the spells you suggest require a creature you can see and are therefore not applicable. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Sep 29 at 12:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch it says creature you can see, creatures with blindsight can still cast spells on creatures, so why would it not be applicable if you can percieve their location with one of your other senses. \$\endgroup\$ – Efialtes Sep 29 at 13:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ Have you ever given a PC blindsense or seen that used? What's the range of your blindsense that you're homebrewing for the PC? Can you discuss how giving blindsense of that range affects game you've seen or played in? \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Sep 29 at 14:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ And I"m not sure about the "dm being mean" is reasonable here. Not allowing blind characters because you don't want to come up with an alternate system that works for them and then having to managing that is not an unreasonable decision. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Sep 29 at 14:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch the dm being mean was just a euphemism for them not allowing your character, I was mainly adding it for comedic effect. And Yes I will add in the effects of blindsense. However for spellcasting, I would say perception of creature's location does not require blindsense at least as a dm, but that is obviously up to the GM ruling. \$\endgroup\$ – Efialtes Oct 3 at 12:23
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Give the character mystic as a background. And pick the bonus they get. I am.doing this for a little girl monk/druid who is blind. Going to simply give her the title "mystic". And the tremorsense perk that can be activated... Otherwise she has Magic Initiate and a bat so has echolocation until deafened; uses her action to see through bats eyes; uses bonus action for flurry of blows... The bat is not just some basic familiar either it has its own perks. But he never leaves her shoulder. She also has a headband tied around her eyes and once she reaches a certain level the party will discover herself has blindsight of 5'. (Homebrew item). Also have her attuned to her sense so she can only attune to two more magic items.

This is also a high RP game and may not work flavor wise for your games. Simply don't add a blind Chara to a murder hobo brigade haha although an NPC blind halfling bard that's basically Magoo would be a really fun and enjoy way to try get some murder hobos into the RP side of a game. Humor moves mountains in D&D.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Could you expand on why Mystic would help? How they get Tremorsense? It's good that you've played this way before, but you need to elaborate a bit more on your answer :) \$\endgroup\$ – Jason_c_o Aug 24 '18 at 20:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ Unfortunately, to activate flurry of blows she would need to take the attack action. So she could as an action use the creature's sense for rest of day I guess, however in my opinion it's a very unrelaible way to get sight as familiars tend to die really quickly in combat. One hit is usually enough to end them. \$\endgroup\$ – Efialtes Sep 29 at 13:54
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My take on a PC with a permanent, from birth, disability (in this case blindness) is that they would have learned to navigate their environment with this 'flaw'. Which makes it very different from say a PC with normal vision to be blinded by a spell. I mean, let's look at real life, people who are blind are quite capable, with some adaptations, of doing the same things as people with vision. In my opinion, with an enhanced listen skill and the appropriate listen checks, a blind PC would/should have very little limitations compared to a PC with vision.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Hi Li'lith, welcome to the site. Please check out the tour if you haven't already. It's a good way to get acquainted with the site, and how different it is from, say, a forum. About your answer, have you used this in your game? If so, how did it turn out? What, exactly, were the mechanical bits you give blind PCs? Any disadvantages to being blind? \$\endgroup\$ – daze413 Mar 28 '17 at 0:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ Hi Li'lith. I somewhat agree with your point of view (pun intented). Even though, in your answer don't really answer how to mechanically balance that PC. Giving him Advantage in Listen Skill is a way to approach it, but clearly doesn't balance having a permanent "blind" state (and you don't even clearly say to give that Advantage). I understand that the negative votes come due to that. Still, thanks a lot for your answer and I hope you can improve it so we can upvote it. \$\endgroup\$ – Masclins Mar 28 '17 at 6:42
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A rather simple solution is to simply encourage the player to avoid attack rolls, whether by or against him. Let the party find a Wand of Magic Missile or homebrew a Wand of Acid Splash. Most rounds can be spent casting buffs or spells with saving throws, and either wand would give the character something to do on other turns. The PC could drop prone if ranged attacks are likely to negate the advantage against him, and his allies could help him avoid melee.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Magic Missile, like many other spells, explicitly requires the caster to see the target. It would be completely useless to a blind character. \$\endgroup\$ – T.J.L. Apr 18 '18 at 14:13

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