Monday, April 24, 2017

Blind Adventurer - 5e Dungeons and Dragons Homebrew Option

Blindness is supposed to be a major inhibiting factor in Dungeons and Dragons. There has never been an official set of rules for playing a blind character because there has never been the assumption that such a character would be one that someone would want to play. Despite this, blind mystics have been a feature of myth, legend, and fiction for ages and blind warriors have become rather more common recently.

To be fair, the majority of D&D's player base is not interested in playing such a character and there are plenty of games in existence that have systems designed to allow for playing characters with blindness or other such disabilities. It is entirely possible to adapt one D&D's settings to one of these other game systems and thus play your blind warrior or mystic in that way. However, it doesn't change the plight of a person who is getting ready to play a D&D game with friends and has this firm view of playing a blind person.

Now there are some considerations to be made when creating an option to play a blind character.

First, save for very rare exceptions, people who want to roleplay a blind character don't actually want to roleplay a factual or accurate representation of real-life blindness. This is exactly the same as the fact that most people are not interested in playing a factual or accurate representation of a real-life camping, marching long distances, or injury. A lot of the dangers and trials of real life situations are abstracted or else out-right ignored in every game with D&D being no exception. Impaled through the gut with a sword? No problem, you still have plenty of hit points.

If you look at the fictional characters who are blind such as Toph Bai Fong, Matt Murdock, Zatoichi, Geordi LaForge and the like, then you've likely noticed that they often have some means of compensating for their physical blindness. It could be a device such as Geordi's visor, or an ability like Murdock's and Toph's senses. In other cases it is a heavy amount of training such as displayed by Zatoichi or other individuals of the blind swordsman trope. Monvolio, the ranger who tutored Drizzt Do'Urden in the worship of Mielikki, worked with an owl that would hoot to point out enemies so he could aim with his bow. The blindness comes up occasionally as a difficulty or a bit of comic relief, but for the most part it is simply flavor.

That said, you can't just determine "my character is blind" and leave it at that in D&D. While the systems of a game like Fate takes that sort of thing into account and is designed to enable that, D&D operates on the interactions of discrete status effects. If you were to simply decide that your character was blind but that this had no effect on their gameplay, you'd run into a number of problems.

  • Visibility does not matter to the character. If they can't see, they can't see and adding an extra reason why they wouldn't be able to see does nothing.
  • Visual Illusions do not affect the character.
  • On first glimpse, Invisibility is ineffective.
  • Gaze attacks have no effect on the character. While there are relatively few monsters with gaze attacks, those that have them are usually built around the gaze as a primary ability
These advantages would have to be addressed.

  • There has to be a condition that afflicts the Blinded condition on your blind character. This could be cacophonous sound for Murdock or the inability to feel the ground for Toph.
    • Note that a spell like Sleet Storm is an assault on multiple senses. The sleet will still obscure matters for people using sight, sound, motion, or temperature based senses.
  • Auditory illusions still affect the character. An illusionist might even have an easier time making the effects realistic and believable.
  • Canonically, Invisibility works because the character is walking on the border of the ethereal plane. It makes sense that this would muffle other sensory effects thus requiring the same Perception check to notice the invisible person's presence.
  • Include analogous abilities that target other senses. Alternately, assume that creatures with supernatural gazes don't actually need you to see them to work, but require a willful refusal to look to turn the gazes aside. The conscious looking-away aspect of their mindset being what is needed and thus affecting all primary senses.
There's also the fact that an individual who wants to play a blind character might not want to have some level of blindness represented, just not all of it. In which case the above situations are not all needed. My suggestion for a blind adventurer character is as follows:

  • The blind character does not actually have the Blinded condition normally.
  • Must define what senses compensate for lack of sight. Phenomenon targeting that sense will afflict the normal Blinded condition. Once villains are aware of this, expect tweaked versions of the Darkness spell and similar effects to appear.
  • Is unaffected by effects that require being able to see. (whether this includes supernatural gazes or not depends on the GM)
  • Automatically fails ability checks that require sight and which their compensatory senses can't account for. If their compensatory senses can only partially compensate then they roll with Disadvantage.
  • Has disadvantage on ranged attack rolls beyond 30 ft. Cannot make ranged attacks further than 60ft. Special circumstances might remove this limit.
  • Invisibility and the Blindness version of Blindness/Deafness still operate as normal. Invisible characters are not wholy in the Prime plane and thus make it difficult for all senses, and the Blindness spell automatically targets the primary sense.
    • In the case that blindness is compensated for by hearing, then the blindness and deafness options of Blindness/Deafness afflict both statuses.

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