Fighting Blind

“It’s all fun and games until somebody loses an eye.”

So someone’s swinging a sword at a target they can’t see. This isn’t as unlikely as it seems! Aside from hiding beneath a blanket of invisibility or blinding foes with light or darkness spells, the party may simply find themselves in the dark without a torch.

What happens then? Various old-school rulesets have little to say on the subject, and they often disagree.


OD&D and Red Box don’t seem to cover the question of blindness.

The Rules Cyclopedia gives the following penalties to blind characters:
* -6 penalty to attack rolls;
* -4 penalty to saving throws;
* +4 penalty to Armor Class;
* Move at 1/3 speed (this is in feet, even outdoors); increased to 2/3 if led (this is in yards if outdoors), or to full speed if on a horse that’s being led.

Against an invisible foe, the Rules Cyclopedia only applies the -6 penalty to hit.

Labyrinth Lord imposes a -4 penalty to hit for both blindness and invisibility.

OSRIC and Swords & Wizardry impose a -4 penalty to hit for invisibility, but provide no rules for blindness.


In all cases, one must know the approximate location of an opponent in order to attack. Obviously this leaves a lot of room for DM rulings. If a distant opponent is standing in one place and making a ruckus, can it be targeted by a blinded character with a bow? If so, where do you draw the line at which you do or do not know a foe’s “approximate location”?

The Rules Cyclopedia seems to be a bit of an outlier in terms of the effects of blindness, but it also covers some bases that might be worth considering.


So here are my own tentative rulings on blindness in Red Box:
* -4 penalty to attack rolls;
* Move at 1/3 speed, or 2/3 speed if led—may attempt to move faster by making a 3d6 Dexterity or Wisdom check, whichever is better;
* May be backstabbed from any direction, not just from behind.

How do you see yourself handling blindness in your old school game?

18 Responses to “Fighting Blind”

  1. June 28, 2010 at 5:33 pm

    -4 to hit is about right. The movement penalty should come as a function of needing to move more carefully and feel your way around. You can move fast blind, it just might cost you.

  2. June 28, 2010 at 5:38 pm

    The movement penalty should come as a function of needing to move more carefully and feel your way around. You can move fast blind, it just might cost you.

    Hence the Dexterity/Wisdom check. I wanted to include a random factor, so that if you’re running blind you might get where you want to go, or something bad might happen—you trip and fall, run into a wall, go down the wrong passage, stumble into a fellow PC, etc.

  3. 3 nextautumn
    June 29, 2010 at 12:17 am

    Just out of curiosity, would you apply the same penalty to a character who was, say, trying to avoid a medusa’s gaze while attacking it? I happened to be playing in a 2nd ed. game the other day (I run Labyrinth Lord myself) and we came up against 2 medusae; because all the fighters had the blindfighting proficiency, the DM ruled half penalties (-2 to hit, no penalty to AC or saves). Thus were 2 awesome monsters easily squashed like little harmless bugs. Just didn’t seem right to me.

    In fact, now that your post has me thinking about it, the penalties for not being able to see have always seemed like a joke to me. The few times I’ve found myself in absolute darkness I bumbled around like a fool. Are we all assuming that hearing is a great way to pinpoint an enemy’s location, for the purpose of attacking it? Sorry for the long-winded reply, but I know if someone put me in a reasonably-sized room with an dangerous, invisible opponent, no matter how much noise it made I’d be dead in .5 seconds. Whereas a second level adventurer seems to have a really good chance of emerging victorious. Just food for thought.

  4. 4 Invincible Overlord
    June 29, 2010 at 12:38 am

    I agree with nextautumn that blindness and invisibility are usually nerfed by the rules. Blindness in particular should be utterly devastating — being 20% less likely to hit is a bummer, but blindness should be way past bummer.

  5. June 29, 2010 at 2:40 pm

    The rule that you must know an opponent’s approximate location to attack them is ambiguous in application, but it covers the issues you both raise. If your group wants blindness and invisibility to have more of an impact, you can be strict about this and rule that if your opponent is making an effort to be stealthy, you need to make an additional roll to see if you can figure out their approximate location round to round. Or you can be even stricter and say that you have no chance at all of hitting an opponent you can’t see, but not only does this make blindness a death-type spell, but it tramples all over genre examples of sword & sorcery protagonists fighting and defeating invisible foes.

  6. June 29, 2010 at 2:47 pm

    being 20% less likely to hit is a bummer

    Your math is off.

    -4 to hit only decreases your chance of hitting by 20% if you otherwise have a 100% chance of hitting (i.e. you hit on a roll of 1-20). In actual combat, your chances of hitting are less than 100% to begin with, so the -4 takes a bigger chunk out of your hit probability.

    • If you’re playing a starting character and fighting an AC 6 enemy, you hit on a 13-20, for a 40% chance of success. If you can’t see the foe, that drops to 17-20, for a 20% chance of success. This makes you 50% less likely to hit.
    • If you’re fighting an AC 3 enemy, you hit on a 16-20, for a 25% chance of success. Blindness or invisibility drops that to requiring a natural 20, for a 5% chance of success. This makes you 80% less likely to hit.
    • If you’re fighting an AC 2 or better enemy, blindness or invisibility reduces your chance of success to 0%. This makes you 100% less likely to hit.

    Of course this isn’t entirely realistic, but it does fit your parameters; against a well-defended unseen foe, the odds that your flailing around will draw blood are minimal.

  7. June 29, 2010 at 2:52 pm

    Nextautumn, I’d be interested in hearing more about that fight against the medusae. How many PCs were involved? What were their levels and gear? How is the blindfighting proficiency defined and justified in Labyrinth Lord.

  8. 8 nextautumn
    June 29, 2010 at 10:50 pm

    “How is the blindfighting proficiency defined and justified in Labyrinth Lord.”

    Sorry if I was unclear – the battle occurred during the course of a 2nd edition AD&D game in which I am a player (I DM a separate game, using the LL rules). There were 3 PCs – a lvl 5 fighter, a lvl 5 bard and a lvl 4 wizard – all AC -1 due to armor, dex, bracers, rings of protection, cloaks of protection, etc. Both the fighter and the bard fight paired weapons because (in my experience) in 2nd ed. everyone who can fight paired weapons does fight paired weapons.

    Because the DM used 4d6 reroll the lowest arrange as desired for stats (pretty standard for 2nd ed.), everyone’s got a great dex. – which off-sets the penalties for paired weapon fighting. Now add in str. bonuses, specialization (extra attacks for the fighter), etc etc (this is why I play LL, by the way) and now, with blindfighting (another thing everyone in 2nd ed. seems to take)the medusae – who have a lousy ac 5, 15 thaco (so a 16 to hit our characters)and 6 hd (24 hp average) are basically deprived of their only real weapon and slaughtered. One of them hit once, I think, with her snake hair, but the PC saved. My wizard (4th level) threw one volley of magic missiles.

    Sorry if this reply is a mess but I’m typing fast before I head out to work. I understand your point about genre examples and trying to avoid making blindness a death spell, I just think the penalties ought to be stiffer – maybe negative 6, as per the RC, or even -8 – and that it ought to be pretty difficult to pinpoint someone’s location, especially in a large area, using hearing alone.

  9. June 30, 2010 at 5:11 pm

    “Because the DM used 4d6 reroll the lowest arrange as desired for stats (pretty standard for 2nd ed.)”

    Here’s your problem sir. I feel quite sorry for the poor Medusae who was ambushed by these superhuman ninja freaks. I’m a curious why none of you were taking advantage of the three weapon fighting feat? Much more deadly.

  10. June 30, 2010 at 7:02 pm

    @nextautumn: As noted by Lord Bodacious, if you’re arguing that it’s unreasonable for ordinary people to fight while blind or hit invisible opponents, your argument is ill-served by using extraordinary people in your example. The characters in your example are preternaturally gifted and enhanced with magic to boot; it’s only natural that they’ll do far better than any ordinary combatant!

    As to the penalties you recommend, a -8 penalty leaves an ordinary fighting man a zero percent chance of hitting an unseen goblin or a human fighter in chain mail. This is no fun for the players, and the resulting imbalance is ripe for abuse on the part of infravision-using PCs.

    With regard to the ability to sense an opponent’s approximate location, I’ve presented a range of possible outcomes, but I haven’t advocated any of them. Neither do the rules give any guidance. It’s up to a given group to decide whether you can hit a mosquito at a hundred yards by tracking its buzz, or if you have no chance to hit someone who’s yelling in your ear from six inches away.

    Here’s my first draft for house rules on determining an opponent’s approximate location:
    1) If a creature attacks you in melee, you can attack it.
    2) If a creature not in melee with you stands in one place making a lot of noise, roll percentile dice; if the result equals or exceeds its distance in feet, you can attack it. (Otherwise your guess is off and you automatically miss.)
    3) If a creature is making a lot of noise but is also moving around a lot, roll as per #3, but roll a twenty-sided die instead of percentiles.
    4) If you point to a square on the map (or name a location in the environment) and say “I attack this spot,” then if the enemy is actually at that location, you can attack it. (Otherwise, you automatically miss.)

  11. 11 nextautumn
    July 1, 2010 at 1:25 am

    @Lord Bodacious: As Jamie Mal over at Grognardia recently pointed out, 4d6 reroll the lowest for stat generation seems to be the norm for most AD&D gamers. I personally prefer a lower power game, which is why I run LL, where my players roll 3d6 in order. But thank you for your reply.

    Eric: Yes, the characters in this specific example have better stats than most OD&D or B/X D&D characters; yes, at 5th level (which took forever to get to) they have accumulated some powerful magical items; no, I do not think that destroys the rationale behind my original argument.

    But I thank you for your thoughtful analysis, which has given me some food for thought. I agree that -8 is probably too much (although, to be precise, as a natural 20 is always a hit, the ordinary man in your example would have a 5% chance to hit an invisible opponent). I’ll probably end up going with the penalties outlined in the Rules Compendium, as detailed in your original post.I like your first draft rules for determining an enemies approximate location (#4 is my favorite), though I can think of lots of “genre examples,” as you called them, of invisible or unseen enemies attacking at a run, with the victim basically incapable of returning a blow.

    Thank you again for an interesting discussion. And also for contributing to this blog, which I read regularly and always with interest.

  12. 12 Invincible Overlord
    July 1, 2010 at 5:34 am

    “‘being 20% less likely to hit is a bummer’
    Your math is off.”

    No, it’s on, I’m thinking of subtraction and you’re thinking in multiplication.

  13. 13 Bargle
    July 1, 2010 at 8:48 pm

    A 20% penalty to hit (-4 on a d20) is not the same as being, “20% less likely to hit”.

    Your math or your English is wrong. Take your pick.

  14. July 1, 2010 at 10:09 pm

    “Your math or your English is wrong. Take your pick.”

    There are ways to write that so you don’t sound like a dick, but that wasn’t one of ’em.

  15. 15 nextautumn
    July 1, 2010 at 10:18 pm

    Quick edit to my former posts: I meant 4d6 drop the lowest, not reroll the lowest. Sorry for any confusion.

  16. 16 Invincible Overlord
    July 1, 2010 at 10:40 pm

    This little kerfluffle is my fault. Quendalon and I play together at the table and we can get testy there too, which is fine, but like so much it translates poorly to the net. Carry on.

  17. July 3, 2010 at 3:16 am

    It doesn’t come up all that often, but I go with the AD&D rule of -4 to hit/damage/saves, with a 0 or less to hit meaning you probably hit something else in the dark (like an ally).

  18. 18 Charlatan
    July 6, 2010 at 7:01 pm

    It seems like (I’m working back from narrative to mechanics) initiative has a role here: If you win initiative and decide to swing first, what are you swinging at? If you lose, where are you attacking? The defeat of an invisible enemy, in cinematic terms, requires some method of detection, even if it’s your face. Perhaps being clubbed allows you a general enough idea of where they were as they attacked for a -4 to work, as does seeing their footsteps in the snow, or following their trail of blood. So the invisibility scenario might be encompassed fairly by a combination of surprise penalty plus the -4.

    Darkness is trickier- it’s harder to spin a yarn about beating an enemy in absolute dark. Real blind-fighting seems like a kind of super-heroic feat, unless both combatants were at similar disadvantages.

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