Limits of Vision

The first limitation on vision is how far away an object can be before it cannot be seen clearly. Size and weather have a great effect on this. Mountains can be seen from great distances, 60 to 100 miles or more, yet virtually no detail can be seen. On level ground, the horizon is about five to 12 miles away, but a character usually cannot see a specific object that far away. The limit of vision for seeing and identifying man-sized objects is much less than this.

Under optimum conditions, the maximum range at which a man-sized object can be seen is about 1,500 yards, if it is moving. If the object doesn't move, it usually cannot be seen at this distance. Even if it is moving, all that can be seen is a moving object. The character cannot tell what it is or what it is doing.

At 1,000 yards, both moving and stationary man-sized objects can be spotted. General size and shape can be determined, but exact identifications are impossible. It is not likely that creature type can be identified at this range, unless the creature has a very unique shape.

At 500 yards, general identifications can be made. Size, shape, color, and creature type are all distinguishable. Individuals still cannot be identified, unless they are distinctively dressed or separated from the rest of the group. Livery and heraldic symbols or banners can be seen if large and bold. Most coats of arms cannot be distinguished at this distance. General actions can be ascertained with confidence.

At 100 yards, individuals can be identified (unless, of course, their features are concealed). Coats of arms are clear. Most actions are easily seen, although small events are unclear.

At 10 yards, all details but the smallest are clear. Emotions and actions are easily seen, including such small actions as pick-pocketing (if it is detectable).

Of course, conditions are seldom perfect. There are a number of factors that can reduce visibility and alter the ranges at which things can be spotted and identified.
Table 62 lists the effects of different types of conditions.

All ranges are given in yards.

“Movement” indicates the maximum distance at which a moving figure can be seen. “Spotted” is the maximum distance a moving or a stationary figure can be seen. “Type” gives the maximum distance at which the general details of a figure can be seen--species or race, weapons, etc. “ID” range enables exact (or reasonably exact) identification. “Detail” range means small actions can be seen clearly.

There are many factors other than weather that affect viewing. Size is an important factor. When looking at a small creature (size S), all categories are reduced to the next lower category (except the “detail” range, which remains unchanged). Thus, under clear conditions, the ranges for seeing a small creature are “movement” at 1,000 yards, “spotted” at 500 yards, “type” at 100 yards, and “ID” and “detail” at 10 yards.

When sighting large creatures, the “movement,” “spotting,” and “type” ranges are doubled. Exceptionally large creatures can be seen from even greater distances. Large groups of moving creatures can be seen at great distances. Thus, it is easy to see a herd of buffalo or an army on the march.

The ranges given in
Table 62 do not take terrain into account. All ranges are based on flat, open ground. Hills, mountains, tall grass, and dense woods all drastically reduce the chances of seeing a creature. (The terrain does not alter sighting ranges, only the chances of seeing a creature.) Thus, even though on a clear day woods may hide a bear until he is 30 yards away, it is still a clear day for visibility. The bear, once seen, can be quickly and easily identified as a bear. The DM has more information on specific terrain effects on sighting.

As a final caveat, the ranges in Table 62 assume Earthlike conditions. Sighting conditions on one of the Lower Planes, or the horizon distance on another world, could be entirely different. If your DM feels he must take this into account, he will have to learn more about this subject at his local library or make it up.

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