The Invisibility spell is a staple for the game in all of the editions. Being able to vanish from sight and move virtually undetected is a miraculous ability. Invisibility brings a significant advantage to almost every character class in the party.
The rules for Invisibility are found in the Players Handbook on page 254.
Illusion 2nd Level
Casting Time: 1 Action
Components: V, S, M (An eyelash encased in gum arabic)
Duration: Concentration (1 hour)
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 spell ends for a target that attacks or casts a spell.
At Higher Levels: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 3rd level or higher, you can target one additional creature for each slot level above 2nd.
The rules for Invisibility are simultaneously clear and vague. On the surface, you target a creature, and it becomes invisible along with its possessions. This means that objects cannot be made invisible on their own using this spell.
How Does Invisibility Work in 5e?
Invisibility is one of the most widely used and confused spells in the game. This stems from major changes to previous editions and new rules based around the format of the current edition. It is important to note Invisibility has always dropped when you attack or cast a spell, nothing has changed in that aspect.
The difficulties with the rules for Invisibility are based in the absence of logic in the rules. What it seems like it should do, it doesn’t, and what it seems like it wouldn’t change, it does. This is further complicated by the convoluted method used to determine outcomes and effects.
For example, Invisibility doesn’t provide advantage to stealth checks. Invisibility grants the target the invisible condition. For the purposes of hiding, this means the target is heavily obscured.
The heavily obscured environmental condition means that a creature effectively suffers from the blinded condition when trying to see something in that area.
The blinded condition causes the creature to automatically fail any ability check that requires sight. It also gives advantage (to the invisible attacker) on attack rolls against that creature and disadvantage on attack rolls against the (invisible) attacker.
In terms of hiding, there is not much more clarity. Normally the DM decides when the conditions are appropriate for a character to hide. When the character is invisible, they can always attempt to hide. The rules attempt to clarify the possibility of finding an invisible creature by the sound they make or the tracks they leave.
This makes sense if there is a base amount of noise made in any given situation. It fails to take into consideration an invisible character focusing on moving quietly as they know they can not be seen. This would be established by giving the character advantage on stealth or by giving a creature disadvantage on perception checks to see an invisible creature. However, this is not the case.
Does Detect Magic Detect Invisibility?
Detect Magic does not detect Invisibility. Casting Detect Magic will, however, allow the detection of any magic items worn or carried by the invisible creature if they are within range. Take note, though, that this will not allow you to pinpoint the creature’s exact location.
What does Invisibility do in 5e?
A creature affected by the Invisibility spell has the following:
- Can attempt to hide at any time.
- Has advantage on the first attack. This does not apply to subsequent attacks made with the same action.
- Has disadvantage on attack rolls made against them.
- Cannot be seen without magical means.
- Can be located using methods other than sight.
How to DM Invisibility
Players that use the Invisibility spell can often be frustrated at the results, and DMs who deal with players using the Invisibility spell can become just as frustrated. This is why it is important to handle in-game situations properly. If done correctly, the spell offers a chance to build suspense and create role-playing opportunity.
If a player is attempting to sneak past guards and rolls low on the stealth, unsuspecting guards might hear gear rattle and move closer to inspect. Based on the player’s reaction, the guards might be drawn to footprints or simply walk away, finding nothing.
In any case, the response should fit the action. If the player runs, the guards should pursue even if they can’t see the player. If the player remains completely still, perhaps the guards come within inches of the characters face, pause, and then shrug and walk away.
Overall, Invisibility is a great spell. It is useful in and out of combat. It is also one of the most disputed and possibly subjective spells in the game. It is important to set clear expectations and results right away with Invisibility and other similar spells. This will prevent the game from becoming bogged down mid-session. It can be frustrating but does offer many great opportunities for players and DMs to explore their creativity.