Guidance – GMing 101: Blindness and You

Welcome to Guidance, Private Sanctuary’s source for tips and techniques for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, written by Everyman Gamer Alexander Augunas. Today, we’re going to be talking about the rules for blindness.

Do you know which rule set is incredibly complicated? The blindness rules.

Don’t believe me? Its totally true, but not for the reasons you probably think. Essentially, the rules for “blindness” are split up all over the place depending on what caused the blindness, even though its all essentially the same thing—blindness.

So today on Guidance, I’m going to take some time to sit back, relax, and explain how not seeing things works. This could either be super quick or super painful. Maybe both! Let’s do it.

The Blinded Condition

First thing’s first. When you’re blinded, you get a hampering condition called the blinded condition. This is referenced by spells such as glitterdust and blindness/deafness, and it even has rules in the appendix of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook. In order to understand what happens when you can’t see, we need to start by taking a minute to dissect this template.

  • “The blinded creature takes a –2 penalty to its Armor Class and loses its Dexterity bonus to AC (if any).” So when a creature is blinded, the first thing you need to do is to use the creature’s flat-footed AC –2 when determining how difficult it is to hit that opponent. For touch attacks, you’re going to be using 8 – the creature’s Dex instead.
  • “It takes a –4 penalty on most Strength- and Dexterity-based skill checks and on opposed Perception checks.” The condition actually doesn’t give you a good idea of what sort of checks you wouldn’t take a Strength-penalty on. I imagine it’s worded like this for GM adjucation.
  • “All checks and activities that rely on vision (such as reading and Perception checks based on sight) automatically fail.” This is INCREDIBLY vague and up to GM decision. Basically, if they absolutely need to see in order to do something, they can’t do that thing.
  • “All opponents are considered to have total concealment (50% miss chance) against the blinded character.” This is simple enough.
  • “Blind creatures must make a DC 10 Acrobatics skill check to move faster than half speed.” Creatures that fail this check fall prone. This is both nasty and not-so-nasty.
  • “Creatures who remain blinded for a long time grow accustomed to these drawbacks and can overcome some of them.” Again, more GM fiat territory.
  • “You can’t use the withdraw action while you’re blinded.” Fun factoid, this is never referenced in the rules of the blinded condition. This rule is found in the rules for the withdraw condition. See what I mean about the rules being all over the place?
  • Alright, so these are basic blinded rules. Do they get more complicated? Well, the answer is yes. Yes they do. The reason they get more complicated is that the blinded condition is generally for being blinded by an effect created by a character, rather by the environment.

Blinded By Darkness

So there’s actually some differences between having the blinded condition and being blinded by darkness, and the biggest fact is that the blinded by darkness rules never actually say that you gain the blinded condition. This is likely to try and prevent rules lawyers from saying that their 12th-level lay on hands ability allows their allies to ignore the darkness or whatever. Ultimately, this ends up making this a bit confusing, however. Let’s take a minute and go over EVERYTHING that the environmental chapter in the Core Rulebook says about being blinded by darkness.

  • “For the purpose of the following points, a blinded creature is one who simply can’t see through the surrounding darkness.” So all of the following references apparently only apply to creatures that are blinded by darkness.
  • “Creatures blinded by darkness lose the ability to deal extra damage due to precision (for example, via sneak attack or a duelist’s precise strike ability).” Right out of the gate we get something that isn’t ever said by the blinded condition. You’ll note that blinded includes a 50% miss chance as if from total concealment, which would turn off most of these types of abilities anyway. However, this flat-out statement means that even if you had an ability that would normally let you sneak attack a foe with total concealment, being unable to see because of darkness still turns that off.
  • “Blind creatures must make a DC 10 Acrobatics skill check to move faster than half speed. Creatures that fail this check fall prone. Blinded creatures can’t run or charge.” This is the same as the blinded condition, except for the final sentence. The blinded condition doesn’t contain the language about running or charging.
  • “All opponents have total concealment from a blinded creature, so the blinded creature has a 50% miss chance in combat.” This is the same.
  • “A blinded creature must first pinpoint the location of an opponent in order to attack the right square; if the blinded creature launches an attack without pinpointing its foe, it attacks a random square within its reach. For ranged attacks or spells against a foe whose location is not pinpointed, roll to determine which adjacent square the blinded creature is facing; its attack is directed at the closest target that lies in that direction.” Whoa, all new rules! Why this isn’t part of the blinded condition, I don’t know honestly. But this is a super adjucation-style ruling that may or may not apply to the general blinded condition. I guess its up to your GM.
  • “A blinded creature loses its Dexterity modifier to AC (if positive) and takes a –2 penalty to AC.” This is listed by the general condition.
  • “A blinded creature takes a –4 penalty on Perception checks and most Strength- and Dexterity-based skill checks, including any with an armor check penalty. A creature blinded by darkness automatically fails any skill check relying on vision.” This is also not new.
  • “Creatures blinded by darkness cannot use gaze attacks and are immune to gaze attacks.” This makes PERFECT sense, but isn’t part of the blinded condition.
  • “A creature blinded by darkness can make a Perception check as a free action each round in order to locate foes (DC equal to opponents’ Stealth checks). A successful check lets a blinded character hear an unseen creature “over there somewhere.” It’s almost impossible to pinpoint the location of an unseen creature. A Perception check that beats the DC by 20 reveals the unseen creature’s square (but the unseen creature still has total concealment from the blinded creature).” This is also a great example of rules text that should be about general blindness rather than just “blindness by darkness.”
  • “A blinded creature can grope about to find unseen creatures. A character can make a touch attack with his hands or a weapon into two adjacent squares using a standard action. If an unseen target is in the designated square, there is a 50% miss chance on the touch attack. If successful, the groping character deals no damage but has pinpointed the unseen creature’s current location. If the unseen creature moves, its location is once again unknown.”
  • “If a blinded creature is struck by an unseen foe, the blinded character pinpoints the location of the creature that struck him (until the unseen creature moves, of course). The only exception is if the unseen creature has a reach greater than 5 feet (in which case the blinded character knows the location of the unseen opponent, but has not pinpointed him) or uses a ranged attack (in which case the blinded character knows the general direction of the foe, but not his location).”
  • “A creature with the scent ability automatically pinpoints unseen creatures within 5 feet of its location.”
  • As you can see, the blinded by darkness section has a LOT more to say about what it means to be blinded, and the rules all make a lot of sense.

Spellcasting Blind

The rules about how blindness affects spellcasting aren’t well established, if we’re being totally honest. First, some kinds of spellcasting clearly fall in the category of “activities based on sight,” though this isn’t always obvious. If you go to the magic chapter and read about targeting spells, you’ll notice that spells that create effects or target one or more creatures or objects talk specifically about vision, but they always have “another way.” For instance, if a spell targets one or more creatures, you can still use the spell against a target that you touch even if you can’t see it. If a spell creates an effect, you either need to be able to designate the location that the effect takes place in by seeing it or defining it. So, you might not be able to “see” where you want your summoned monster to appear, but if you define that space as something you can define, like “in this square right next to me,” you can still do it. Even still, rays specifically don’t require sight to use (though they can still miss like weapon attacks made by blinded creatures).

Spread-based effects and Area spells are even vaguer; they only require the ability to designate a point, and nowhere does any of those spells state that you need to be able to see a point to designate it. I’m not sure if that’s the intent, because I don’t know if I like the idea of a blind wizard being able to chuck fireballs with perfect accuracy (I might make him make a Perception check to pinpoint a foe, at the very least). Then again those pinpoint rules aren’t included in this like blindness by glitterdust and blindness by blindness/deafness because those effects aren’t the same as blindness by darkness. So what does a self-respecting GM do?

Handling Blindness in Your Games

So what do you do about the two different types of blindness? Well, if you want my honest opinion, I don’t think there should be any difference between being blinded by something like blindness/deafness and being blinded by darkness, except for the obvious, “You can’t have your blindness removed until you have an appropriate light source,” bit for blindness by darkness. But generally speaking, the darkness by blindness rules are super in-depth and make a lot of sense. For all GMs, I recommend using them as general “blindness” rules, as opposed to the rules laid out simply by the blindness condition. Blindness can be super infuriating for players if you hit a bunch of them with it at the same time, so giving them ways to continue fighting (even if its super ineffectual) is a good thing.

And that’s all I have on the topic of blindness in Pathfinder. What do you think? What has your experience been with your PCs being blinded, or what has your experience been like getting blinded as a PC yourself? How do you handle the blinded rules? How would you adjucate them? Leave your comments and questions below, and I’ll see you next Friday for the final Dynastic Race Iconic Design article! Take care.

Alexander “Alex” Augunas has been playing roleplaying games since 2007, which isn’t nearly as long as 90% of his colleagues. Alexander is an active freelancer for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and is best known as the author of the Pact Magic Unbound series by Radiance House. Alex is the owner of Everyman Gaming, LLC and is often stylized as the Everyman Gamer in honor of Guidance’s original home. Alex also cohosts the Private Sanctuary Podcast, along with fellow blogger Anthony Li, and you can follow their exploits on Facebook in the 3.5 Private Sanctuary Group, or on Alex’s Twitter, @AlJAug.

Alex Augunas

Alexander "Alex" Augunas is an author and behavioral health worker living outside of Philadelphia in the United States. He has contributed to gaming products published by Paizo, Inc, Kobold Press, Legendary Games, Raging Swan Press, Rogue Genius Games, and Steve Jackson Games, as well as the owner and publisher of Everybody Games (formerly Everyman Gaming). At the Know Direction Network, he is the author of Guidance and a co-host on Know Direction: Beyond. You can see Alex's exploits at, or support him personally on Patreon at

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1 Comment

  1. Ben

    Since this question’s come up in a few games, what about characters who are currently not blind, but trying to pin-point a target in an area of illumination where they are blind?

    My thought is that they’d have a 2 threshold check, a relatively easy one to locate the “direction” of the attacker, and then another at +20 the DC to pinpoint the exact square.

    The other concern would be when the person in illumination can or can’t “react to the blow” for the purposes of things like sneak attack or the bonuses / penalties for attacking such a target.

    Do they get their Dex to AC back when they’ve realized the direction of the threat, pin-pointed the square of their attacker, or not at all until their attacker is in an area where they can be seen?

    Thanks for the post, informative!