[RPG] I’m on fire and I’m invisible. Can I be seen

dnd-3.5einvisibilityvision-and-light

The invisibility rules claim that "An invisible burning torch still gives off light". Does this mean that if I'm invisible and on fire, my position can easily be found by sight alone?

Best Answer

No.

The wording of the spell's description always uses the word "invisible" to describe the spell's effect on its target, and clarifies in its first sentence that becoming invisible means vanishing from sight. It is therefore impossible to see an invisible target, both by the common English definition of the word and by the game's own definition of the term.

The spell's description explicitly says, "Light, however, never becomes invisible, although a source of light can become so (thus, the effect is that of a light with no visible source)." This is where things get tricky.

We, as people raised and educated in the modern day, tend to think of light as something we see: We know that the light reflected or emitted by objects reaches our eyes, and is interpreted by our brains as images. To this way of thinking, the phenomenon described by the quote above seems impossible, as we assume that any object that is invisible must be so because it does not emit or reflect visible light.

However, this is not the only way to think about light. For a long stretch of human history, it was more common to think of light as something you see by: A light source was a phenomenon that, if brought near enough to an object, would cause that object to become visible. The detail that the image of the object is transmitted to our eyes by reflected light was irrelevant and (to a pre-scientific mind) inobvious.

If we use this second way of thinking about light rather than the first, the "light without a source" quote makes much more sense: A lit candle is a source of light, and illuminates its surroundings, and can continue to do so even if we can't see the light source itself, just as if the candle were behind our heads.

I suspect that this second way of thinking about light is probably more relevant to the invisibility spell than the first. Accordingly, an invisible person on fire (and the flames themselves) would be impossible to see, but would still shed light on their surroundings, allowing surrounding objects to be seen.

Shadows

Of course, this does also imply that an object illuminated by an invisible light source would cast a shadow in the direction opposite that light source. This means that if a flaming invisible person was rolling in the middle of a cluttered room, you might be able to guess their location by looking at the shadows cast by objects.

Being able to guess an invisible creature's approximate location by looking at secondary phenomena does not actually allow us to see the light source itself, however, and (as pointed out by Matthieu M. and KRyan in the comments) is already well-supported by the rules: A character who guesses a five-foot square contains an invisible creature can attempt to attack the creature, but will have a 50% miss chance due to not being able to see their target if it is present in the square, and no chance of all of hitting if the creature isn't there to hit.

Smoke

As pointed out by WakiNadiVellir's comment, where there's fire, there's smoke. It is unclear whether the smoke emitted by a flaming invisible creature is visible, as there are two lines of the invisibility spell that suggest two different answers.

The first of these lines is "items dropped or put down by an invisible creature become visible." Smoke is mostly composed of fine particulates that were formerly part of the flaming object, so you could argue that smoke consists of millions of tiny items, each of which is "dropped" by the flaming creature as it burns.

The second line is "any part of an item that the subject carries but that extends more than 10 feet from it becomes visible." This line suggests an alternative interpretation, where the "plume of smoke" emitted by a flaming invisible creature is a single item, of which any part that extends more than a certain distance from the creature becomes visible.

On the one hand, the rules often model clouds of smoke and gas as objects or effects that cover an area, rather than as configurations of smaller objects that must be handled individually (see gaseous form, pyrotechnics, obscuring mist, incendiary cloud, et al), and treating smoke as part of the creature and its gear is in line with treating fire as part of the creature and its gear; but on the other hand, the argument that a flaming creature is "carrying" its smoke plume sounds rather strange.

To me, both of these interpretations seem plausible enough to adopt. In the absence of any clear indication as to which is "correct," it is up to each individual GM to decide which they should use in their game.

Personally, were I were GMing, I'd lean towards the second interpretation. This is because when I'm adjudicating a spell's effects, I assume that spells are able to perform their stated function in "normal dungeon-crawling situations." In the case of invisibility, the function of the spell is to render the target invisible, and it's normal for low-level adventurers to carry light sources that emit smoke, so I presume that the spell renders the smoke emitted by an invisible flame non-visible until it gets ten feet away from the creature carrying it. Again, though, that's just my personal interpretation.

A Caveat

According to the rules as written, items picked up by an invisible creature "disappear if tucked into the clothing or pouches worn by the creature." Presumably, therefore, items picked up by an invisible creature that are not subsequently tucked into pouches or clothing remain visible.

I'm not sure whether a fire counts as an "item" or not. My gut says that it doesn't, and that it's instead a quality of the item or creature that's aflame - but if a fire is an item, and a creature catches fire after turning invisible, and catching on fire counts as picking up an item, then the flames will be visible even if the creature is not.

Of course, if they were already on fire when they turned invisible, this caveat is moot; the fire would definitely be invisible.