D&D 5E How Darkness helps the dungeon crawl experience immensely.

Asisreo

Patron Badass
Light is often forgotten when playing D&D typically. It may be because a lot of mainstream adventure types are done outside during daytime hours, making light a non-factor. This can be relieving for both the party and DM since this means they don't have to track more variables to the game's state. However, I would like to introduce the benefits in faithfully tracking light that actually makes the game significantly easier for the DM and party, as well as more interesting.

Firstly, this applies mostly to dungeon crawls, however, even in other adventure types, this discussion may still prove fruitful.

Now, darkness limits the amount of description the DM must provide and narrows the focus of the party. Imagine a 100ft cubic room. In a completely bright setting; the DM has to describe the the scale of the room, all of the outstanding features, the relevant furnishing like chests, and everything else all at once. For players, this can be overwhelming information and for DM's, it can be difficult listing absolutely everything of relevance all at once. This might lead a DM to cutting back on the details of a room knowing that the room will be seen all at once.

But now imagine a completely dark room. The players may have a torch, darkvision, or a cantrip but the range is usually limited to around 40-60ft, not enough to cover the entire room. This essentially cuts the immediate details that players must retain at once in half. Plus, it gives a reason for players to say "I search the room" since not everything is apparent at a glance even for high-perception characters.

Next, it makes those tricky situations where a DM is setting up patrols or ambushes and makes them more reasonable and immersive to run.

Imagine a dungeon where the players are exploring through a corridor. They hear a noise in the far distance. Courageously, the move forward to investigate. Nothing...perhaps it was a rat? As they move forward, seemingly out of nowhere, a green hag appears and slashes her claws at them. Surprised, the party reels back and hurries to steel themselves for this sudden ambush attack. Everyone rolls initiative.

The noise was the hag who noticed the party's light from the darkness and became invisible to hide herself. Now, it's possible a perceptive party member could notice her and ruin her ambush, but that's also part of the fun. The most important part is that the hag had a real, sensible reaction to the party and wasn't simply standing still while invisible and waiting for the party to arrive.

Lastly, here is a few more examples where light can help increase immersion and enjoyment in the game:

  • Limiting the branching paths of a corridor for a more narrow focus ("As you walk through the corridor, ahead you see a wooden door to the right of the hall. You could go into that room or continue down."
  • Allowing for scouting PC's to see ahead of them without having to rely on torches/darkvision themselves.
  • Have flying creatures at night provide a unique challenge even to those with sharpshooter/long distance spells.
  • Force players to engage in the environment in creative ways.
 

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delericho

Legend
While I agree in principle, 5e in particular has a couple of issues that don't help with this: on the one hand, being in darkness is very debilitating for some characters, to the point where it may well cease to be a fun experience; on the other hand, it's too easy for other characters to utterly negate the issues with darkness.

Which is unfortunate - the first time I experienced true darkness gave me a real appreciation of how beneficial it could be to the game.
 


iserith

Magic Wordsmith
I make use of darkness a lot in my games, particularly as I use a VTT with dynamic lighting. What's on the screen is what your character can see.

In addition to providing the right atmosphere for a game of characters fighting back the darkness for gold and glory, I find that it increases the amount of decisions the players need to make and trade-offs to consider. What do we use for light sources? How many do we need to explore this big dungeon? Who holds it and do they have a free hand to do so? Do I take the light cantrip or something else? Do we rely on darkvision while taking disadvantage to Perception in order to get the jump on monsters - and thus miss things or risk surprise - or do we bust out a lantern? And so on. In my view, the more meaningful decisions players make per unit of game time, the more engaged they become.

It also makes for interesting tactical situations. If the party (or monsters) have a light source and the monsters (or party) doesn't, then that's great for ranged enemies to take advantage of - arrows flying out of the darkness, striking at illuminated targets advantage. What do you do about that?

In my next campaign, I'm actually removing darkvision as a racial option as one of the themes is a growing darkness coming to the world. Over the course of the campaign, even light sources will begin to diminish in radius, which will really increase the pressure and thus the creativity of the players.
 

delericho

Legend
In my next campaign, I'm actually removing darkvision as a racial option as one of the themes is a growing darkness coming to the world. Over the course of the campaign, even light sources will begin to diminish in radius, which will really increase the pressure and thus the creativity of the players.
I do wish they hadn't gotten rid of the low-light/darkvision split. Though I also wish they'd been much more stingy about who gets it - darkvision for drow and tieflings only, low-light for dwarves and rock gnomes, and that's it. :)
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
I do wish they hadn't gotten rid of the low-light/darkvision split. Though I also wish they'd been much more stingy about who gets it - darkvision for drow and tieflings only, low-light for dwarves and rock gnomes, and that's it. :)
Darkvision doesn't bother me because there's still a trade-off associated with it (penalty to Perception if no light) and the effects of that penalty can actually be quite bad - you may miss traps, secret doors, and there's a greater risk of being surprised. I'm only removing it for this one campaign as it plays into the theme.
 

Laurefindel

Legend
While I agree in principle, 5e in particular has a couple of issues that don't help with this: on the one hand, being in darkness is very debilitating for some characters, to the point where it may well cease to be a fun experience; on the other hand, it's too easy for other characters to utterly negate the issues with darkness.

Which is unfortunate - the first time I experienced true darkness gave me a real appreciation of how beneficial it could be to the game.
I too find it unfortunate, although I have no easy solution to propose. Darkvision aside, D&D's relation to light (or lack thereof) differ from my experience in a few ways:

There is darkness, and then there is DARKNESS. After a few minutes of adaptation, I find that I can see quite well in conditions that D&D would consider darkness (i.e. where I should be blinded). Enough to run, work, and - if my larping experience counts for anything - fight efficiently. On the darkest nights, range of vision becomes quite short however. Conversely, pitch darkness is particularly debilitating. Even on a moderately flat surface, walking alone is quite challenging, and thought of being grabbed at the ankle by a skeleton would be beyond terrifying.

Oftentimes, I end up being more generous with dim light conditions.
 
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pukunui

Legend
I make use of darkness a lot in my games, particularly as I use a VTT with dynamic lighting. What's on the screen is what your character can see.
I do not use a VTT with dynamic lighting, so trying to juggle who can see what can be a real pain.

I’m running Mad Mage for one of my groups. Except where specifically noted otherwise, all areas of the various dungeon levels are unlit. My party consists of two dwarves, one human, one half-elf and occasionally a warforged.

The dwarves both have 60-foot darkvision. The half-elf is a warlock with Devil’s Sight so she’s also got 60-foot darkvision but can also see out to 120 feet when it’s completely dark. She also recently acquired a sentient sword with 120-foot darkvision/truesight.

The warforged is also a warlock with Devil’s Sight. Not to be left behind, and so no torches are needed, the human has got a pair of goggles of night.

So not only can the entire party see in the dark, they don’t have to worry about penalties from it being dim light because at least two of them can see just fine all the way out to 120 feet, and thanks to the sword, they can easily see invisible creatures as well.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
I do not use a VTT with dynamic lighting, so trying to juggle who can see what can be a real pain.

I’m running Mad Mage for one of my groups. Except where specifically noted otherwise, all areas of the various dungeon levels are unlit. My party consists of two dwarves, one human, one half-elf and occasionally a warforged.

The dwarves both have 60-foot darkvision. The half-elf is a warlock with Devil’s Sight so she’s also got 60-foot darkvision but can also see out to 120 feet when it’s completely dark. She also recently acquired a sentient sword with 120-foot darkvision/truesight.

The warforged is also a warlock with Devil’s Sight. Not to be left behind, and so no torches are needed, the human has got a pair of goggles of night.

So not only can the entire party see in the dark, they don’t have to worry about penalties from it being dim light because at least two of them can see just fine all the way out to 120 feet, and thanks to the sword, they can easily see invisible creatures as well.
If I was running without a map or VTT (extremely unlikely), I would either light up the adventure location so it doesn't matter or remove darkvision and similar effects so that light sources were required for everyone. Either of these would make it a lot easier to adjudicate without a map or VTT in my opinion.
 

pukunui

Legend
If I was running without a map or VTT (extremely unlikely), I would either light up the adventure location so it doesn't matter or remove darkvision and similar effects so that light sources were required for everyone. Either of these would make it a lot easier to adjudicate without a map or VTT in my opinion.
I’ve considered it. Lighting up the dungeon is easier than removing darkvision, although I intend to do the latter next time I run Curse of Strahd in order to amp up the horror theme.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
I’ve considered it. Lighting up the dungeon is easier than removing darkvision, although I intend to do the latter next time I run Curse of Strahd in order to amp up the horror theme.
Basically D&D 4e's take was that even most subterranean denizens need light so the expectations is that there'd be a torch or brazier here and there or glowing crystals or mushrooms. Plus it was pretty cheap to have a sun rod which was like 20 squares of bright light that lasted for hours. This read to me like they just didn't want groups to deal with it very often and that does make it easier to run at the table.
 

Laurefindel

Legend
Basically D&D 4e's take was that even most subterranean denizens need light so the expectations is that there'd be a torch or brazier here and there or glowing crystals or mushrooms. Plus it was pretty cheap to have a sun rod which was like 20 squares of bright light that lasted for hours. This read to me like they just didn't want groups to deal with it very often and that does make it easier to run at the table.
Yes, the whole ecosystems developing around bioluminescence and fantasy underground landscape makes less sense if everyone and everything can get along just fine without any source of light.
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
The last time I really tried to use darkness in game turned out to be a huge pain. I looked at how far each party member could see, with their light sources and senses, and every turn, I would try to block whatever part of the map they couldn't currently see (I'm a battlemap guy). The juice was so definitely not worth the squeeze.

Plus, in 5e, given disadvantage on Perception checks, enemies need to see too, so it makes sense for them to use light as well. I remember, however, that Drow used to have special lanterns that only worked for infravision users, and I've considered bringing back things like that.

People treat darkvision like it's this "omg you see everything" and that's not the case- you will miss details if you rely on it consistently. That's why it's not a huge advantage, and is basically treated like a ribbon ability in race design, unlike the days where darkvision was a big deal for a race.

It's nice when you would otherwise be blind, but you really want light. Otherwise, you might be eaten by a Grue.
 


Horwath

Hero
If so many races didn’t have Darkvision, and it wasn’t so burdensome to implement in game I might agree on the use of more darkness in the game. As it is, it’s just an annoyance to the point all my dungeons are essentially prelit these days.
Well, if the dungeon has someone living and working there, it should be lit.

Most DMs, forgot to implement dim light penalties.

If you expand penalties outside perception,
I.E. investigation, Insight, tool usage, there would be more pressure to PCs to use light sources, even with darkvision.
 

Hussar

Legend
This really is one area where virtual tabletop actually glistens. When everyone is limited to exactly what their character can see - and Fantasy Grounds actually has dark vision only show up in black and white - it gets very interesting very quickly. Things like a warlock's Devil's Sight gets to be a HUGE advantage when you actually have LOS and lighting on a VTT.

On tabletop, it's a massive PITA to actually track.
 

I know it's unpopular opinion, but I just can't seem to grasp how hard it is for some people to use light & darkness. While I play on a VTT, I don't have the nifty Dynamic Lighting (which is a paid feature, and I'm cheap). All I do is give the general description to the group, and the players know if they can see it or not based on their character's vision. It's not any different than when a Darkness spell is cast. Maybe I've been spoiled by good players? Of course, despite having darkvision, most of our groups use light sources anyway, since the penalty for dim light can be problematic.
 

Asisreo

Patron Badass
This really is one area where virtual tabletop actually glistens. When everyone is limited to exactly what their character can see - and Fantasy Grounds actually has dark vision only show up in black and white - it gets very interesting very quickly. Things like a warlock's Devil's Sight gets to be a HUGE advantage when you actually have LOS and lighting on a VTT.

On tabletop, it's a massive PITA to actually track.
I actually have a differing opinion. As someone that hardly ever uses player-facing maps, using darkness helps me as a DM quite a bit. Putting aside potential glitches, virtual tabletop maps usually end up having the players feel like they're either playing a board game or a computer strategy game rather than a roleplaying game, though that's up to taste. Plus, I'm a little too busy (read lazy) to trace the maps and set up the dynamic lighting.

What's useful about it in analog, though, is being able to narrow down the focus. You can trace the path they walk with your finger and simply remember they can see 6 squares ahead. So you can state "you see a three-way intersection ahead."

For the concern about warlock's devil sight, they can simply see 12 squares ahead, more than most creatures, which allows you to say "You, the warlock, see a group of goblins patrolling in the dark about 120ft ahead, they haven't noticed you yet, what do you do?"
 

Oofta

Legend
When I was using VTT I used darkness on a fairly regular basis and it made a huge difference in how people interacted and their party coordination. Throw the darkness spell and tell them they hear a noise and then only "ping" the general direction? Truly terrifying. Area in total darkness that has multiple branching paths and corridors? Amazing how quickly the party can get split up. Another fun thing to do was have heavy mist so people can only see a sphere around them of 5-10 feet. Then have creatures with reach further than they can see attack. :devilish:

On the other hand I kind of hate playing remotely so those things just don't really translate well. Because of the ubiquity of darkvision (which is a mistake IMHO), the impact of darkness is largely ignored. It helps to remember that darkvision only grants dim light which imposes disadvantage on perception, but only so much. If anyone in the party relies on a light source, it does make ranged attacks from the darkness far more threatening, In some cases can make what would otherwise be a relatively easy encounter far more deadly, but that gets old if used too often.

It can still add to an air of apprehension and add to the tension but it's something I tend to use sparingly. If used too often when playing in person, unlike when doing VTT, it kind of feels forced. Like "ooh, the DM is trying to scare us" because people are so used to virtually ignoring it. Fun now and then, not something I use often.
 

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