The PHB description of the spyglass (on p. 153) simply states that:

Objects viewed through a spyglass are magnified to twice their size.

This isn't restricted to just 5e; it is also the case in 3.5.

I've always been dissatisfied with this answer as it doesn't tell me what to do with that information, which makes it difficult to determine where the limits might be for this item. Given that this is a 1,000 gp item (for some reason), I feel that there should be a notable commensurate benefit to using it.

Due to the lack of rules on this, I would propose the following benefits when a player has access to a spyglass:

  • The character has advantage on any active skill check dependent upon observing something that is 30' or further away from them. If someone is hiding where you are looking, they have disadvantage on their Stealth check.

The basis for this is that the 1,000 gp price tag would put the spyglass' value in the realm of a low-end rare magic item. The uncommon magic item Cloak of Elvenkind essentially does the opposite of this by granting advantage to the hider and disadvantage to the observer. Thus, if you are using a spyglass, you are pretty much even with someone using the Cloak of Elvenkind.

Is this proposed house rule unbalanced?

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Hi Pyrotechnical, we don't do survey questions here. "Give me your house rules for this thing" falls under our questions to avoid, as it fits at least 3 of the bullet points of subjective questions to avoid asking. We're focused on solving answerable problems that can have a single best answer or a correct answer. Have you considered asking about this on a forum? \$\endgroup\$ Jan 11, 2017 at 22:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ Wasn't entirely sure since it seemed to meet the criteria for acceptable subjective questions as a 'right' answer would be derived from personal experience with a backing in the rules. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 11, 2017 at 22:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ The key here is, voting would just be "I like that!" rather than any sense of usefulness per answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – BESW
    Jan 11, 2017 at 22:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ I am primarily interested in "sharing experiences over opinions." Let me see if I can edit into an acceptable question. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 11, 2017 at 22:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ That's only a superficial gleaning from the good subjective guidance. There is no "right" answer here because there is no "right" house rule to solve a problem achievable here -- only many arbitrary suggestions. We have "right" subjective answers when they can advise an expert-met highly effective solution that provides good explanation of how to resolve a problem based on experience. This is not that. This is a discussion of "I don't like this item, tell me house rules for it" -- it's a bad form of list question, and a "brainstorm content for me" question. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 11, 2017 at 22:34

3 Answers 3


I'd say this creates an imbalance.

A spyglass is expensive not because it has magical powers but because it's very hard to make (using medieval technology) - making the right lenses with the right curvature and smoothness is very hard and only a select few jewelers would be able to make a good spyglass. In effect, a spyglass is equivalent to decent binoculars of the modern age (except it's 1 eye only).

The Cloak of Elvenkind helps the wearer hide better even when someone is right next to them. Looking at someone hiding like that through a spyglass wouldn't give you more - if you're looking from twice as far away you'd see what you'd see from half the distance without the spyglass. However, if you're next to the wearer, looking at them with the spyglass wouldn't make it easier to detect them - they're magically hidden and the spyglass simply magnifies the spot. You could just lean closer for the same effect.

On the other hand, if you're far away (2x), the spyglass wouldn't make the task of finding someone easier - you'd magnify what you're looking at but you still need to realize that someone is hiding at that spot.

You could definitely create your own rule that gives the spyglass an advantage but I think it just degrades the advantages of other magical items.

I hope I descrbed what I mean clearly enough. At the end, it's down to opinion - I can see arguments both ways.


I think it's balanced. In fact, it might be a bit weak

From a logical, real-world standpoint, I think that using a spyglass to try to find someone would be difficult, especially at 30-40ft, for the reasons that xxbbcc describes.

Moreover, as you point out, given the choice between a rare magic item or a spyglass, there's no reason to pick the spyglass. Even with your added benefit, I'm not sure that a spyglass is a good choice over a rare magic item. How often will a player try to boost their skill check for moderately far objects? Compare that to how often a player wants to see through walls, using the rare Ring of X-Ray Vision.

On the other hand, I've seen spyglasses be required in order to make perception checks over long distances. For example, a character trying to identify a ship in a port from a nearby mountain would be unable to unless they had a spyglass. In this way, the spyglass makes the impossible possible, just as the Ring of X-Ray Vision does. Additionally, this is the actual, real-world use of a spyglass.

If you want to codify it, you could set a maximum distance for a normal perception check, and say that a spyglass is needed beyond that distance. Incidentally, I wonder if this is the RAI use of a spyglass...


Advantage on distant Perception checks when using it is not only balanced, it is completely in accordance with the rules

The DM can also decide that circumstances influence a roll in one direction or the other and grant advantage or impose disadvantage as a result. (PHB p.173)

Being able to see things more clearly at a distance seems textbook advantage.

Causing disadvantage to a hider makes no sense

First, advantageous and disadvantageous circumstances should affect the roll of the creature they apply to: the spyglass does not influence the observed creature's ability to hide, only the observer's ability to see.

Second, it's silly to think that it is somehow harder to hide because you are being observed through a spyglass beyond 30 feet than being observed unassisted at 5 feet. The criteria for hiding is that you cannot be seen clearly- I can imagine situations where a spyglass can make a creature clearly seen rather than unclearly seen, however, that means you can't hide at all.


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