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Medusa and Umber Hulk and probably a number of other monsters suggest that a target can avert its eyes to avoid its effects.

For example, the 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. If the creature looks at the medusa in the meantime, it must immediately make the save.

I've scoured the books but I can't find what it means mechanically to avert one's eyes. I'm assuming it's related to partial blindness or concealment but I'm not sure. So what are all the things that happen when your eyes are averted? Can you cite the rules so that I can understand it as thoroughly as possible?

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Averting your eyes does exactly what it says it does: You willingly look away from your target.

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...

When you cannot see a target, you have disadvantage on attack rolls made against it (PHB p. 183) and many spells that require sight of a target will not work. If a spell indicates it affects a target that you can see, then it will not work if you avert your eyes. It's worth noting that averting one's eyes is not a common interaction in the game.

No, you cannot look at the floor and retain vision of her. If you avert your eyes, you cannot see her. If you choose not to avert your eyes, you might get turned to stone

Also, if you cannot see the medusa, she has advantage on attacks against you. PHB p. 195 :

When a creature can’t see you, you have advantage on attack rolls against it.

The same goes for monsters against you.

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My players have just walked into such an encounter in PotA, which has got me thinking about it this week.

I've decided that I'm going to treat it like being blinded, but just for the specific target that you're avoiding the gaze of:

  • You have disadvantage on all attack rolls against the target.
  • The target has advantage on all attack rolls against you.
  • Any actions, abilities, or spells that require sight of the target must be undertaken at disadvantage where possible, otherwise that action cannot be taken.

For example, a spell like Magic Missile indicates that it must be a target that you can see. It also doesn't have an attack roll so can't be used at disadvantage, therefore it cannot be cast against the target without meeting its gaze.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 that's exactly how three different AL tables running PotA treated it at my FLGS \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Feb 17 '16 at 23:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ The "that you can see" clause in Magic Missile is redundant, no spell can target a creature or point you can't see as per the basic spellcasting rules. \$\endgroup\$ – r256 Sep 14 '17 at 14:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ @r256: A late response, but you are incorrect. Spell targeting in general only requires a clear path to the target (i.e. "line of effect"), not line of sight. Specific spells that require line of sight will say so in the spell description. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Jul 25 '18 at 20:45
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When you avert your eyes away from a target, you are effectively granting that target the advantage normally granted by the heavily obscured condition:

This is darkness or heavy fog, or dense foliage. It imposes the effects of the blinded condition, which are auto failure of any check requiring sight, and advantage to attack you and disadvantage on your attacks.

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Different Approach

When my players decide to avert their eyes, I treat it as:

"I am looking by, but not directly at, the medusa, therefore she can't petrify me, but by that same token, I can't see her so well as to be able to deal a critical."

You can still see her, but you cant see her clearly, a mechanic I could apply to attacking a medusa by its shadow, its reflection, or what you can technically sort of see as you stare at its bellybutton to evade its gaze.

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I too would recommend Bromanov's approach. Stick with the rules as much as you can. And don't be afraid to make encounters brutally difficult, because that's where the adventure really shines. But you can also take this mechanic and open it up to a different playstyle:

For extra flavour; in the Medusa's example: if all players avert their eyes, You could just take the Medusa off the board and keep a personal map on where she is. Then make the players "guess" where she is, e.g. using perception (hearing) on where the Medusa might be. This might make for a fresh approach to the encounter, thus make it more of a tense game of hide and seek. That way you also make it more like a roleplaying adventure and less like a tabletop version of a videogame.

But it does raise a legitimate question which we should further explore: How would, say a "Fireball" spell or "Lightning Bolt" spell work with "Averted (or shut) Eyes"? We might be in different minds on this. Say a ranger is 70 ft away from the Medusa and thus avoids the Gaze-effect. The ranger knows where the medusa is. A wizard who was a bit careless, is suddenly "up close" at 15ft from the Medusa. The wizard says "I avert my eyes", so he shouldn't know where the Medusa is.

Now here's the rub. He doesn't exactly know where she is, But on the Wizard's turn, he says "I'll throw a fireball that hits spot X, thereby taking only the Medusa in the AOE... but how would he know? And how would he (blindly) know how to hit spot X? I have a wizard in my group who would say "I just throw it at a spot... uh... here..." -the spot being the perfect spot to both hit the Medusa and avoid friendly fire. But how would he look at the spot, whilst avoiding the Gaze? (And having the ranger say "oh, but I cry out where she is" seems like a very cheap encounter mechanic.) Though it could (maybe) be slotted into a "Help" action?

So when dealing with said problem, I give the Medusa advantage on the saving throw, and even make the player roll a DEX-DC to make sure he/she hits the intended spot. Thus mimicking the player's squinting eyes and averted gaze. The idea being that "you should compare it to trying to bolt/nail something to a wall or draw/write something with your eyes averted". It seemed the fairest approach to me... but I guess that's personal flavour. For me, "averted eyes" is supposed to generate tension, even frustrate the players somewhat.

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I'm gonna chime in on this one because as someone who does MAA and played football you don't need to look your opponent in the eyes to land a good hit on them. In fact, in football you are taught to watch your opponent's feet and chest to look for a good tackle.

Heck, even when shooting you are taught to aim for center of mass (chest area). I shot at expert level marksman in the military.

So I'm sorry, not looking directly into your opponent's gaze or face should not grant disadvantage to the attacker.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! I made an edit to clean up your answer a little. Please check that I haven't changed your meaning. While an interesting angle, I think perhaps you should connect this better to the actual rules of the game, but that might just be my preference. 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 Sep 15 at 13:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ Mechanically, this answer is simply wrong; the game feature itself says "If the creature [averts its eyes], it can't see the medusa until the start of its next turn" - and the rules on unseen attackers and targets are cited in the other answers. Whether you think that makes sense or not, it's exactly how the interaction is actually simulated mechanically. Also, given that your answer simply says that how it works mechanically is not how it "should" work, it reads more like a comment on another answer than an answer itself. Have you run it this way or seen it run? If so, how did it work out? \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Sep 15 at 20:02

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