A lot goes into running combat in Dungeons & Dragons 5e. And, it’s easy to overlook or forget about certain elements.
But, I see a bit of confusion on how heavily obscured works.
So, I’m going to clear things up with this complete guide on heavily obscured in DnD 5e.
Let’s get started with what the book says about it.
What Does Heavily Obscured Mean in 5e?
Heavily obscured means an area is entirely blocked visually.
Page 183 of the Player’s Handbook (here on DnD Beyond) in Chapter 8: Adventuring under Vision and Light defines it as:
"A heavily obscured area–such as darkness, opaque fog, or dense foliage–blocks vision entirely. A creature effectively suffers from the blinded condition when trying to see something in that area."
So, in short, creatures are effectively blinded while in and interacting with a heavily obscured area. Which means they fail ability checks that require sight, they have disadvantage on attack rolls, and attack rolls against them have advantage.
Now, here’s where the confusion begins.
Here’s what happens fairly often in DnD: you enter combat and your party’s Control character decides to cast fog cloud or darkness. The area of effect becomes heavily obscured engulfing all combatants in range. The rules state that your attacks are at disadvantage. But, attacks against blinded creatures are at advantage. So…what’s the deal?
Personally, I call spells and effects that do this "equalizers."
That’s because everyone suddenly loses any advantage or disadvantage. When you have advantage AND disadvantage on a roll, you just roll normally. So, heavily obscured puts everyone (allies and enemies alike) on more equal footing.
5e’s advantage and disadvantage system is…a whole other thing. Just know for now that if you have both advantage and disadvantage you have neither and roll normally. Which, in some circumstances, is a really good thing.
So, now that you kinda know how 5e’s heavily obscured rules work, let’s take a look at a couple common questions relating to it.
How Do Ranged Attacks Work with Heavily Obscured Areas?
When attacking into a heavily obscured area in 5e, you’re essentially firing blind. So, it works the same way as when you’re in the affected area.
You can’t see into a heavily obscured area (unaided, at least). So, even though you character might not be in the affected zone, you’re still effectively blinded when attacking something inside it.
You still get advantage on your attack against creatures in the area. But, you have disadvantage on the attack since you can’t actually see them. So, you cancel them out and roll normally.
But remember; spells and abilities that explicitly call out you need to see your target means you can’t cast or use it on things in heavily obscured areas.
Does Being Heavily Obscured Grant Cover?
Here’s where things get a bit muddy, too.
Rules as written, being heavily obscured doesn’t give your character total cover.
Page 196 of the PHB says this about total cover:
"A target has total cover if it is completely concealed by an obstacle."
But, wouldn’t being heavily obscured mean a target becomes completely concealed?
This is another instance where semantics come into play. Personally, an obstacle means something solid between you and your target like a wall or a large rock. But, heavily obscured refers to things like total darkness, thick fog, or murky water. You can still move within the space, it’s just hard to see.
So, I’d rule that heavily obscured does not grant any kind of cover.
That about covers everything concerning heavily obscured in 5e.
It effectively places the blinded condition on everyone who interacts with the obscured area. So, all combatants operate on more or less equal footing since advantage and disadvantage cancel each other out.
Just remember: while it might seem counterintuitive to basically blind your entire party, you can stop enemies from gaining advantage on their rolls by fighting in a heavily obscured area. It can be a great tactical move if your party is in a bind.
What do you think of spells or effects that heavily obscure an area? Do you think they’re useful or not worth it? Leave a comment and we can discuss it.