Tobold's Blog
Saturday, May 03, 2014
Seeing your enemies in Dungeons & Dragons

The latest session of my 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons campaign ended somewhat chaotically, after the sorceress had cast a cloud of darkness between the group and the enemies, cutting all line of sight. In fact we had made an old school mistake: Not fully knowing the rules, we had made rules up, based on real-world logic. Decades of experience should have told us that this is fraught with danger, as real-world logic is hard to apply to magical situations like clouds of darkness or invisibility. In fact, one of the big advantages of 4E is that it saves groups from arbitrary decisions by running combat like a game with fixed rules. Sometimes those fixed rules contradict logic, for example you can be freezing and on fire at the same time; but at least you don't get players arguing for an advantage based on some pseudo-logic applied to a fantasy world.

Now I have read up, especially the Rules of the Hidden Club, and the blog posts of the Online Dungeon Master on Line of Sight and Effect and on the Hidden Condition. It turns out that the 4E sight rules are comparatively easy, if not perfectly logical: You always know where everybody on the battlefield is, except for a hard to get "hidden" condition you can only achieve through the stealth skill. You could say that this works by sound or other senses (Many years ago a player in a campaign was a druid who could transform into an otter. Discussing on whether she could follow an enemy by sense of smell, she said "I smell like an otter". Hilarity ensued.).

That solves a lot of the problems of the combat we are still in and will restart in the next session: The players were afraid that behind the cloud of darkness there would now be the group of enemies with prepared ranged attacks, triggered on the darkness going away. But as both groups know where each other are, that won't happen. Darkness only gives total concealment, so the two groups could even still exchange ranged attacks, just with a -5 penalty. So in future fights that cloud of darkness won't really separate the combatants and cause a break in the combat.

The rule also has profound effects on how to handle invisibility. One combatant of this fight is a drow rogue, with a power to make himself invisible. But invisible isn't all that much of an advantage if the rule is that everybody always knows where everybody is. However as a rogue that character has stealth, and I thus rolled a stealth check for him. Now he is hidden, and that is actually what people usually imagine when they think "invisible". No enemy knows where the hidden character is, unless he beats that stealth check with a passive or active perception check. And then he only has a rough idea of the location, unless he beats the stealth check by at least 10.

I guess the wizard of my group, who has the invisibility spell, won't like the new rule. But it saves fights from going into a limbo situation where the combatants don't know where their enemies are any more. And for the current fight I can just move the enemies behind solid obstacles, so they are out of line of effect as well as out of line of sight. So I don't have to rewind the clock or replay a turn.

Despite playing other games which use a similar disconnect between "invisibility" and "hidden" (though more frequently even the ones that use spells which are termed "invisibility" actually state outright that they apply the equivalent of the Hidden condition), and while I understand what they were going for here – I really don't like the implementation of the spell Invisibility in 4th edition D&D.

(Full confession time: I don't really like D&D.Full stop. Which is probably the most heretical thing I can say considering that I've been in the RPG community as both a player and as a writer for almost 30 years now – but D&D has never been my favorite. Or even close to my favorite. 4th edition D&D has come closest to being "a game that I would be willing to play" in quite a while. So that's on the table in the spirit of full disclosure.)

It really just seems like a terrible excuse to introduce confusion into gameplay. In fantasy settings, no one imagines the-Predator,-only-far-more-visible-and-really-loud, which is exactly what the mechanics behind Invisibility suggest the wizard goes with – and that's silly. That's not to say that Total Concealment isn't something that you might want to spell effect to achieve; on the contrary, -5 to ranged and -5 to melee attacks is a pretty significant advantage, but it's the sort of thing given the context of D&D 4th edition combat that should be described as "Pillar of Smoke" or "Concealing Darkness." Or even "Multiple Images," to borrow from some older material.

Were it my game, this would be a fine time to house rule that Invisibility just works like the Thief's Hidden condition, and if you really think that it needs an extra limitation, make it need to be sustained. That gives it one more requirement that the Thief does not have and provides that extra little dash of specialness if it's a player that's concerned about that sort of thing.

The advantage of the game creators not staring over our shoulder is that we actually can fix the broken bits that they made. Arguably, and this is actually come up for me, you can still do so even if they are staring over your shoulder. But if you do the Three Stooges thing and poke them in the eyes? That seems to make them grumpy.

Just a few words of advice.
Tobold, I once had an encounter on my paladin where this baddie had both invisibility and teleport - so it was really hard to hit her.

The GM said that with my 'Sense Evil' aura, I could use that to get a vague idea of where she was. How it worked is that I could decide to swing in a certain location, but I had negatives to hit (usual way), and then if I did hit, also chance that I would miss (had to get 3-10 on a d10 to not miss). If I did hit, she would appear, which also allowed my team-mates to open up.

Would that be possible in D&D4?
In 4E the combination of invisibility and teleport does not prevent enemies from knowing where you are. Basically "invisibility" is a bit like in the film Predator, where you still see a blur moving around.

Your paladin in 4E wouldn't have a sense evil aura any more, in fact the whole concept of detecting evil has gone out of the window. Which is somewhat curious, because 4E here has a more realistic approach to what evil is: More a matter of personal morality than a magical aura that can be detected.

What does work in 4E is if an opponent is hidden, a single player who succeeds his perception check by 10 more than the stealth check can point out the exact position of the hidden enemy to his team mates, which can then hit him with a -5 penalty.
This post is like a textbook example on the reason 4E's mechanical approach to combat was so divisive among gamers.
Dont forget you're attacking the square with a -5 penalty that's in total concealment. If the target is not in the square its an automatic miss. If the targets smart, they would have moved once the cloud went up.
@Seajunk, was that comment directed to me?

I agree with one reminder - I could sense vaguely where she was due to my sense evil aura.

Basically, she had moved, but the GM would tell me she was somewhere in a defined 4-square area.

I know it's all mathematics, but it felt right from an immersion POV compared with doing nothing. A (0.25 x (normal hit chance - 5) x 0.8) chance of hitting is still better than 0.
D&D characters are hyper-sensitive. How else would you explain that they could be binded yet still suffer just a 25% increased chance to miss? Obviously their sense of smell/hearing/taste/aura detection is almost as efficient as their eyes.

In that regard, it would be logical that for a stealth character to hide, they would need to develop skills that overcome multiple senses while being invisible only defeats one.
Being blinded is a good comment as its treated the same way as no line of sight from the cloud.
Here's how we run it.
The moment you loose sight (blinded or blocked) you know where the target last was. If the target moves, they roll stealth, you roll perception to see if you can work out where they are now, presumably through sound or other means. You then attack the square where you think they are with a -5. If they're not in square, its a miss, otherwise still the modifier.
So you don't automatically know where everybody is you have to rely on your other skills.
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