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Can you use Invisibility, grab some gold, and have it then be invisible? Or does it only work on items on your person when the spell is cast?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Related (see first answer): Does an Arcane Trickster's Invisible Mage Hand Conceal Objects It Carries? \$\endgroup\$
    – nitsua60
    Commented Mar 26, 2016 at 0:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ Historical Note: In most earlier editions of the game, the invisibility spell specified that only items carried or worn by the target at the point when it became invisible would be rendered invisible. Items picked up subsequently would remain visible, but could be hidden from view by tucking them into invisible pockets or pouches - a fascinating detail that's spawned countless arguments over the decades. \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Commented Mar 19, 2022 at 21:41

4 Answers 4

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Unfortunately, the rule about this is a little ambiguous.

Anything the target is wearing or carrying is invisible as long as it is on the target’s person.

This has 2 interpretations that are, as far as I can tell, equally valid.

  1. Anything the target is wearing or carrying at the time you cast the spell is invisible as long as it is on the target’s person.

  2. Anything the target is wearing or carrying at any point throughout the spell's duration is invisible as long as it is on the target’s person.

Luckily, someone has asked Jeremy Crawford, lead rules designer for D&D 5e, and he gave his unofficial ruling:

Only items worn/carried when invisibility is cast are invisible, but I'd let you conceal something under them.

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    \$\begingroup\$ You could, however, put coins in your currently invisible coin pouch, and then ask if the invisibility is like camo and covers them, or xray and makes them float \$\endgroup\$
    – Nemenia
    Commented Mar 26, 2016 at 0:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ Fortunately, the rule is a little ambiguous. ;-) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 26, 2016 at 1:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Nemenia From what Crawford says that should work. \$\endgroup\$
    – Miniman
    Commented Mar 26, 2016 at 1:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is actually pretty huge because it means throwing e.g. a handful of flour/sawdust/sticky mud at an invisible creature 'reveals' them. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mookuh
    Commented Aug 31, 2018 at 19:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ Note that Crawford's tweets are no longer official rulings, just unofficial guidance. \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Commented Mar 29, 2020 at 23:11
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As written, items carried or worn are invisible.

The effect of invisibility for the duration of the spell is:

A creature you touch becomes invisible until the spell ends. Anything the target is wearing or carrying is invisible as long as it is on the target's person.

The conditions of the spell specify, an object is invisible if it is carried or worn.

  • Is the thing being carried by the target of invisibility?
  • Is the thing being worn by the target of invisibility?

The final phrase "on the target's person" serves to clarify that the things worn or carried do not remain invisible after they are no longer carried or worn by the target. Drop a coin, and that coin becomes visible. On the flip side, pick up a coin while invisible, and the coin becomes invisible as it satisfies the first criteria of the spell effect.

Jeremy Crawford tweeted advice

The tweet from Jeremy Crawford is advice against the above interpretation. The tweeted interpretation is not supported by a simple reading of the effect, and essentially adds the absent clause "when the spell is cast". An example of a spell effect where that clause is present and the expected wording would be faerie fire

Any creature in the area when the spell is cast is also outlined in light...

Creatures entering the area during the duration are not outlined in light as that specifically only happens when the spell is cast. Invisibility has no such restriction.

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    \$\begingroup\$ "When the spell is cast" is pretty important language, eh? \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Commented Mar 18, 2022 at 23:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ Upvoted. This is a great example of why JC's tweets need to be evaluated carefully..... \$\endgroup\$
    – Jack
    Commented Mar 20, 2022 at 22:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GcL Thank you, that is much clearer now. Re: "The final phrase 'on the target's person' serves to drive home that the things worn or carried do not remain invisible after they are no longer carried or worn by the target." Is it typical for spell descriptions to have redundant text 'to drive things home'? \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Commented Mar 20, 2022 at 22:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Kirt it seems more clarifying than redundant. It specifically avoids the interpretation of "anything the target is carrying at any time for the duration is invisible." \$\endgroup\$
    – GcL
    Commented Mar 21, 2022 at 1:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GcL Do you mean, 'It specifically avoids the interpretation of "anything the target carried at any time for the duration is invisible."' \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Commented Dec 22, 2023 at 6:25
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Not "really", but it depends.
According to designer Jeremy Crawford you cannot make stuff you pick up invisible, but you can hide it under your invisible clothes (or bags I guess, or inside your fist maybe?). The item is still visible if you put it back down (or hold out).
And remember that dropping your own items makes them visible too because "anything the target is wearing or carrying is invisible as long as it is on the target’s person."

I would also like to add that this is one of those cases where the rule is only a little bit muddy, but both interpretations are "balanced" and logical (not silly) and can potentially create interesting situations or solve/create different problems. I mean seeing an object flying on its "own" can lead to various stories and so can things disappearing. And you can even use both. Maybe one mage's version of invisibility works slightly different to another. You can even make it a (very) minor plot point. As long as you keep it somewhat balanced (in your player's eyes at least, they can get cranky at times).

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Invisibility is bestowed at the time of casting.

It cannot later be acquired.

Suppose the intent of the spell was that something you set down becomes visible, but becomes invisible again when you pick it up. That should be pretty easy to express simply. In this case, the spell could be written:

Any equipment the [creature] wears or carries is invisible with it.

And this is in fact how it is written - in the Monster Manual for creatures that have Invisibility as an Action rather than a spell1.

For the spell, however, both invisibility and greater invisibility, it is not written that way, and not written simply at all. Instead, they say:

[A/a] creature you touch becomes invisible until the spell ends. Anything the target is wearing or carrying is invisible as long as it is on the target's person.

Immediately we note two differences: First, the spell uses present progressive tense (is wearing or carrying) rather than the simple present (wears or carries).

Second, the spell uses "as long as it is on the target's person" rather than the simpler "with it". Curiously, it uses both 'wearing or carrying' and 'on the target's person'. Isn't that redundant? How could the target be wearing or carrying something if it was not on their person? How could it be on their person if they were not wearing or carrying it?

But this is not actually a redundancy, and the language in the spells is more complicated than the Monster Manual abilities because the expressions don't mean the same thing. The longer expression used in the spell description is needed to convey a more complicated concept. For the spells, objects become visible when they are set down, but do not become visible when they are picked up.

That this is the intent, that the spells do not let you make objects invisible when you pick them up, can be quickly verified by referencing a Jeremy Crawford tweet. Crawford's tweets are, however, unofficial, and there are good reasons to remain skeptical of them. You can reach the same conclusion just based on the text of the spell, but it does require pretty deep grammatical analysis and fine parsing of text, deeper and finer than many people are comfortable with.

Down the grammar rabbit hole

We can start with the seemingly redundant phrase, "as long as it is on the target's person". At first reading it might appear that the 'as long as' is describing the duration of the invisibility; such that items set down will become visible and objects picked up will become invisible.

However, this is not the correct reading, because a duration should not be written that way. If that were the intended meaning, we would need to add the word 'for', such that it would have to say:

Anything the target is wearing or carrying is invisible for as long as it is on the target's person.

Consider the distinction between 'We'll move the game inside as long as it is raining', and 'We'll move the game inside for as long as it is raining'. The first phrase is the conditional - if it rains, then we will move the game inside, but not otherwise. The second is a duration - when it does rain, we will then move the game inside for the duration of the rain, but we will go back outside when it stops.

Without the 'for', the spell description is not describing a duration, but rather a conditional clause2. However, knowing that it is a conditional clause makes the meaning of the phrase puzzling. In isolation, 'Anything the target is wearing or carrying is invisible if (conditional) it is on the target's person [which it much be, because as stated, they are wearing or carrying it]' is redundant.

So what is the purpose of the more complicated 'on their person' clause? The phrase actually links to the verb of the previous sentence of the spell description, "a creature you touch becomes invisible". The spell description is telling us that when you turn a creature invisible, everything on its person at that point in time becomes invisible as well. However, items it later picks up do not become invisible. "As long as it is on the target's person" means 'As long as it is on the target's person at the time of casting'. We are supposed to understand that even if the target later picks something up and is then "wearing or carrying" it, the object doesn't become invisible. The object invisibility is one-way; it can be lost but not gained. What would be an otherwise overly complicated and redundant phrase, if it only informed us about setting objects down, is actually necessary to tell us what happens when an object is picked up, and the spell covers both possibilities. This understanding reflects back on the Crawford tweet, where he specifically says "when invisibility is cast".

The connection between "as long as it is on the target's person" and the moment of spell casting is further emphasized by the use of present progressive tense. The Monster Manual abilities use simple present because it is enough that the creature be carrying an object at any moment in time for it to be invisible. But the spells use present progressive because they are specifying that the invisibility is bestowed to objects once only, at the point in time when the spell is cast (precisely at the moment when 'a creature you touch becomes invisible'). This is the present progressive usage:

To describe regular actions in relation to a particular time or a specified event, especially when those events interrupt something already in progress

Filling in all the implicit words in the spell descriptions, but changing the text as little as possible, they could be written as:

A creature you touch becomes invisible until the spell ends. Anything the target is wearing or carrying [now, or later] is [also] invisible [but only] as long as it is on the target's person [at the moment you touch them].

Thus, the RAI of the spell written more naturally would be:

A creature you touch becomes invisible until the spell ends. Anything the target is wearing or carrying at the time the spell is cast is also invisible, but only as long as it remains on the target's person.

Conclusion

If the spells meant for items you picked up to become invisible, they could have used the simple language found in the Monster Manual. The more complicated language used in the spell descriptions is only because they are conveying that objects not carried at the time the spell is cast do not become invisible when picked up.


1These creatures include the Duegar, Faerie Dragon, Pixie, Sprite, Quasit, and Imp.

2 As another example,
As long as you are leaving the house, could you pick me up some eggs? (conditional)

For as long as you are gone from the house, be careful on the roads. (duration)

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Is there an example in the D&D books where this happens? i.e. a character picks up an object while invisible - therefore turning it invisible. If there is, it would really bolster your argument. I'm not sure it is RAI. But, I would allow this as Rule as Cool - just because it could make for some interesting storylines. :) \$\endgroup\$
    – Thank-Glob
    Commented Aug 4, 2023 at 7:19

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