Applying and running a game with Darkvision - by RAW

Jediking

Explorer
This thread is just for practical advice and experiences in running and ruling with darkvision by RAW.
*Not looking to discuss the balance of darkvision as a racial trait or if low-light vision is a better option. Also not looking for advice of "just handwave it as it's not worth it". I may do that if it doesn't work out , but looking to run a game where the environment can really pose a challenge to adventurers.

-how have you tracked it with multiple characters having different sight lines?
-what were some of the challenges in making darkness effective?
-do you feel it added value to the game, or bogged it down?
-were you or your players able to track it consistently, or did it cause more issues with pacing and gameflow than it was worth?

With my current campaign (as a player) in Tomb of Annihilation reaching the beginning of the end (we enter the Tomb next session!), I have been thinking about adventures or campaigns I should run. I have been planning on playing closer to the base RAW of DnD and starting to track a few more resources such as ammunition, rations, encumbrance, weather, terrain, and line of sight.
Typically, either I (as a DM) or any other DM I have played with has handwaved darkvision after the fourth or fifth session. Often at least one character gives up a free hand for a torch or light spell and that solves everything.

One of the major factors that I want to emphasise is the dark = scary and dangerous. Most civilised societies dread the dark, as it holds creatures that do far worse than just go bump in the night,

Has anyone tracked and used darkvision within their groups? Any tools/tips/advice on how to implement it cleanly?

Thanks for any help on this
 

Bawylie

A very OK person
Sure.

Primarily, you want to be sure that your scenario descriptions include a default “view.” I describe the setup from the default humanoid with no dark vision. When you’ve determine what your average Joe can see from their starting point, you then think about whether they can see at all - see below.

Second, you’ll need to think of obstacles to vision as a part of the challenge. (For myself, I’d keep a post-it with 3-6 conditions - I’m currently using time and weather so I get a mix of night/dark and natural clarity or obscurity such as fog or rain).

Finally, every player-generated light source runs out or expires every so often. In my games, stuff like that goes out hourly. Even if you lit your torch at the half-hour, it runs out on the hour mark. The light spell goes out on the hour mark. The hour is a hard reset in-game at my table and marks all sorts of other stuff (like random encounters). It’s consistent and the players know it, so it’s not so unbelievable as to break credulity. If you won’t track time, you’ll run into other problems.

Most of the dungeons and caverns have no lights except that people being with them. And most doors and chests are locked and many are trapped. Each player is responsible for managing their OWN sight, so it only falls to you to describe your scenario and periodically “turn off” the lights.

Areas that are well-lit usually signify civilization or safety. Lightedness itself then is a hint at how much danger there might be. Light also attracts attention - and it might be that the use of light means your party can’t ever get the jump on enemies that are adapted to the dark because they just see them coming so much earlier. The party sticks out like glowing thumbs.

But. If you’re unwilling (or disinterested) to write these scenarios up with these factors in mind, or unwilling to track in-game time, or to run through pre-generated conditions (day/night, weather), and you STILL want to play in the dark, then you’ve got two options. One, just make everything dark always and whenever a player hits a natural 1 on a d20, turn off all the players’ lights again. Or two, set an hourly reminder on your phone (real world hour) and turn off the lights every time the reminder goes off.

You just make darkness (as your prep indicates or as often as you can) and you let the players worry about how they handle that darkness.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Magical light sources make this a bit tough. Even low level PCs can have a cantrip to shed light, and at higher levels continual flame is always an option. Most light sources have pretty limited ranges, however.

As far as darkvision, yep it's kind of annoying. But it's only out to 60 feet, can't penetrate magical darkness or fog. Sometimes I'll just substitute darkness with other cover - think walking through head high grass with raptors ala Jurassic Park.
 

Nebulous

Hero
I personally have problems as DM with darkvision in the game. I would just as soon nobody had it all and left it to the realm of a magic spell slot when really needed. In LMoP the party just reached said dungeon. Two characters have 60 foot darkvision, one has 120 foot darkvision, two have zero darkvision and are using a light cantrip that gives a radius of 20 bright/20 dim. I also run map and miniatures heavy campaigns, so there is no way to really visually indicate what one character can see out to 120 feet vs. 60 feet vs. 20 feet. I have to constantly remind them (and myself!) you can't target that, no line of sight; you can't act on that, sorry, you can't see it; etc. Since the mine is mostly pitch black it should be scary as hell, but the battlemap is brightly lit and there's no good way to really do it other than that we have to pretend.

Would I like it any better if everyone had 60 foot darkvision? Not really. My players still complain when I tell them their Perception checks are at disadvantage in dim light. "But I have darkvision!" they argue. Sigh. Yeah, I know, man. Carry a torch or lantern with you to negate that penalty.

Having magical light so easily accessed negates needing to use a hand for a torch or lantern, and it seems like in the pseudo-reality of D&D no one wants to be bothered with that - or rations or water or encumbrance or counting arrows.

Honestly to track those conditions adequately would need a computer or a game with an adequate subsystem dedicated to gear and rations and arrows where monitoring your dwindling supplies IS part of the game. Although I haven't played it, the 5e/OSR clone Five Torches Deep does have such as a system.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
I use dynamic lighting on Roll20 which sorts this out. Players see what their characters can see. The only rule I need to enforce is that if the party relies solely on darkvision (no light sources), they have a -5 to their passive Perception in darkness which is lightly obscured for them. That's actually a pretty nasty downside to an all-darkvision party as it means they are less likely to notice traps and hazards as they travel and are more likely to be surprised. Few DMs use that rule in my experience which makes darkvision almost too good in my view.
 

Nebulous

Hero
My DM ran us through a dungeon in Roll20 with dynamic lighting. It blew my mind.
I'm getting ready to run Roll20 for the first time and super looking forward to the dynamic lighting aspect. If Fantasy Grounds can ever finish their darn Unity engine it is also supposed to have dynamic line of sight.
 

Nebulous

Hero
I use dynamic lighting on Roll20 which sorts this out. Players see what their characters can see. The only rule I need to enforce is that if the party relies solely on darkvision (no light sources), they have a -5 to their passive Perception in darkness which is lightly obscured for them. That's actually a pretty nasty downside to an all-darkvision party as it means they are less likely to notice traps and hazards as they travel and are more likely to be surprised. Few DMs use that rule in my experience which makes darkvision almost too good in my view.
If you don't really enforce the perception penalty then darkvision I agree is too good, Likewise, I don't know how other DMs do it, but for monsters that dwell in darkness I do not give them that same penalty. On the flip side though, maybe they should have a penalty at fighting in bright light, or just run from it. There are so many D&D monsters that operate solely in total darkness and never see light of day.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
If you don't really enforce the perception penalty then darkvision I agree is too good, Likewise, I don't know how other DMs do it, but for monsters that dwell in darkness I do not give them that same penalty. On the flip side though, maybe they should have a penalty at fighting in bright light, or just run from it. There are so many D&D monsters that operate solely in total darkness and never see light of day.
I give monsters the same penalty, but ultimately I only have to reference monsters' passive Perception when the PCs are attempting to be stealthy. Frequently, at least one character in the party has heavy armor and so they don't bother or only attempt it very rarely.
 

tommybahama

Explorer
I'm getting ready to run Roll20 for the first time and super looking forward to the dynamic lighting aspect.
I hate the dynamic lighting on Roll20. Our DM doesn't enforce a marching order and allows people to move their tokens willy nilly around the map until combat starts. This leads to the party being spread out when combat starts and several near TPKs.

If you do use it, try the advanced fog of war feature unless your party has a mapper.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
Tracking different darkvision radii without digital tools like Roll20’s dynamic lighting is a bit of a crapshoot. I’d recommend abstracting distances, as one might when running combat without a visual aid (aka “TotM”). Just treat things as near, far, or very far. With a light source, near objects are brightly lit, far objects are dimly lit, and very far objects are lit by whatever the ambient condition is. Small light sources like candles and hooded lanterns with the hood down only dimly illuminate near objects, and bullseye lanterns extend bright light to far objects and dim light to very far objects, but only within a cone. Without a light source, characters who lack darkvision have to rely entirely on ambient light, characters with darkvision can see near objects as if they were dimly lit, and characters with superior darkvision can see near or far objects as if they were dimly lit.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
I hate the dynamic lighting on Roll20. Our DM doesn't enforce a marching order and allows people to move their tokens willy nilly around the map until combat starts. This leads to the party being spread out when combat starts and several near TPKs.

If you do use it, try the advanced fog of war feature unless your party has a mapper.
Definitely gotta enforce marching order in my view - all PCs always stay behind Front Rank. If they want to stop and search a wider area other than what's on their travel path, then we go into an exploration phase for a period of 10 minutes (game time) and mark off the area that is being searched (about 1000 sq. ft), declaring specific activities while they stay within the bounds of that area.
 

Nebulous

Hero
I hate the dynamic lighting on Roll20. Our DM doesn't enforce a marching order and allows people to move their tokens willy nilly around the map until combat starts. This leads to the party being spread out when combat starts and several near TPKs.

If you do use it, try the advanced fog of war feature unless your party has a mapper.
Do you mean they move their tokens anywhere they want on a map they can fully see?
 

uzirath

Adventurer
Like @Charlaquin, I find it challenging without digital tools. With experienced players, I expect them to keep track of what their character can see. I generally add things to the grid when the characters with the best vision can see them. I expect other players to compartmentalize and they generally step up to the plate. (My adult players are happy to pile on the self-penalties; one of the many things I love about 'em.) With newer players (I play with a lot of younger newcomers to the hobby), I handwave the whole thing. Effectively, the party can see whatever the person with the best vision can see and that's that.

I do like the tradeoffs of light vs. darkvision. Anyone who has walked at night with or without a flashlight has experienced the tradeoff: light allows you to see better at close range, but the rest of the darkness becomes even more impenetrable. And, of course, a light source makes you a beacon that can be seen from almost any distance. To play this up in the game, I like to include occasional large spaces underground where the party's light can't make it to the far wall (or the ceiling). They can then be harried from beyond the circle of light without knowing what they are up against. Thinking ahead of time what the sounds and smells of the area might include will make this even more evocative.
 

Olrox17

Explorer
I use dynamic lighting on Roll20 which sorts this out. Players see what their characters can see. The only rule I need to enforce is that if the party relies solely on darkvision (no light sources), they have a -5 to their passive Perception in darkness which is lightly obscured for them. That's actually a pretty nasty downside to an all-darkvision party as it means they are less likely to notice traps and hazards as they travel and are more likely to be surprised. Few DMs use that rule in my experience which makes darkvision almost too good in my view.
Yep, the first group I DMed for in 5e made an all-darkvision stealthy party. First trap they met, blew up on their faces HARD. They immediately went back to using torches.
 

tommybahama

Explorer
Do you mean they move their tokens anywhere they want on a map they can fully see?
Yep. And as they move, more area is revealed so they keep moving until the DM notices. Soon your party is 100 feet or more apart. People forget that is at least two combat rounds before your allies can get to you.
 

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