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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\$ – the dark wanderer 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
  • \$\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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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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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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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 hidden from 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 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 at 15:58
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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
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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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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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