D&D General Humans are Blind

James Gasik

We don't talk about Pun-Pun
Been diving into a lot of older D&D lately and while the exact implementation has changed over the years (infravision, low-light vision, darkvision, racial bonuses to Perception, free proficiencies in the same, racial bonuses to Wisdom, etc.), many races, and in fact, most of the "core" races in the game have some kind of special visual acuity beyond what humans possess.

And very few playable races (if any) have vision worse than humans. Thinking about what this means, in most D&D settings, exploring the wilderness, the unknown, and dark places is the norm. And humans are poised to be a major race in most settings.

Yet compared to most other species, humans are effectively blind, limited by torches, lanterns, and possibly magic to see anything, making them effectively blind in comparison. How did humans even evolve when having to compete with not only monsters (most of whom can see in the dark, and in fact, in OD&D, all could) let alone all the other species who can engage in nocturnal combat far better than they can, like goblins or orcs?

Sure, perhaps those species have light blindness, but many don't, and are equally capable of functioning in both day and night.

In our world, the answer is fire. We have it, nocturnal predators don't. But in a D&D world, humans are not the first to have discovered fire, nor do the have an exclusive monopoly on it's use.

I know the Doylist answer here is "because that's how D&D is", but I'm curious what a Watsonian answer might be.
 

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Kaiyanwang

Adventurer
Been diving into a lot of older D&D lately and while the exact implementation has changed over the years (infravision, low-light vision, darkvision, racial bonuses to Perception, free proficiencies in the same, racial bonuses to Wisdom, etc.), many races, and in fact, most of the "core" races in the game have some kind of special visual acuity beyond what humans possess.

And very few playable races (if any) have vision worse than humans. Thinking about what this means, in most D&D settings, exploring the wilderness, the unknown, and dark places is the norm. And humans are poised to be a major race in most settings.
Isn't most of Darkvision and such low-range? It can give you a skirmish advantage sometimes in certain moments of the day but not always in a large battle - say at long bow and catapult range, orcs are as blind as humans.
And after all, there are many locations in which humans essentially "lost" and don't venture much. The forests belong to the elves, the mountains to dwarves, orcs can be there or underground, the underground is full of horrible things.
Humans are numerous, potentially violent, and have means to dominate plains, hills and coastlines. But there are so many places that are off-limits for an actual settlement, in part because of the competition, and you listed one of the reasons.
 

Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
Isn't most of Darkvision and such low-range? It can give you a skirmish advantage sometimes in certain moments of the day but not always in a large battle - say at long bow and catapult range, orcs are as blind as humans.
humans also have to sleep, creatures with darkvision thus get to use night time stealth to sneak down into the plains get close to the sleeping humans, attack by surprise and then get advantage against humans being night-blind.

Its even worse when you consider that Orcs are as intelligent as humans but stronger and have better constitutions - theres really no reason why Orcs arent dominant
 

James Gasik

We don't talk about Pun-Pun
humans also have to sleep, creatures with darkvision thus get to use night time stealth to sneak down into the plains get close to the sleeping humans, attack by surprise and then get advantage against humans being night-blind.

Its even worse when you consider that Orcs are as intelligent as humans but stronger and have better constitutions - theres really no reason why Orcs arent dominant
This is basically what I'm getting at. Goblins aren't particularly stupid. They might not have the social awareness of humans, but they are presented as being able to work together and with other creatures, such as Worgs. While Goblins are small and weak, Hobgoblins and especially Bugbears are not. These creatures traditionally have great stealth, and I wouldn't say being able to see at 60' (when a torch provides a mere 15' of light and perhaps 15' of dim light, depending on edition) is not a large advantage.

This isn't a unique scenario in D&D, there are lots of reasons why humans shouldn't be as prominent as they are in most settings. It's just the reasons why they are aren't very well explored, and this seems like a big one. In our world, we're so accustomed to having light whenever we need it that I think a lot of people fail to realize exactly what a world limited by torchlight would be like, and often in D&D, we have our worlds function like the one we know- cities are well-lit, perhaps by lanterns, perhaps by continual flame spells. People stay up at night and don't go to bed when the sun comes down. Human cities are well-defended and well-guarded, with walls.

Of course, the fact that many creatures exist who wouldn't give a toss about a wall, and not every settlement has these kinds of resources is often handwaved. I've done it myself.

So let me be clear, this isn't an attack on D&D-isms or how people play the game; I know the reason why humans are prominent- it largely comes down to the fact that the players are (most likely) humans and this gives them a starting point, a sense of the familiar.

But if you do wish to explore the in-universe reasons for human dominance, there isn't really any justification given. You could say "well, the gods" but every species has their own gods, humans aren't presented as being especially pious compared to other species, so there's no real reason to think that the human pantheons are stronger (there does tend to be more human gods than other pantheons, but there's no real reason for it in-universe; out of universe, it's simply because human cultures are more well-developed than those of other species, mostly because we create analogues of real-world cultures to seed our settings with).
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
humans also have to sleep, creatures with darkvision thus get to use night time stealth to sneak down into the plains get close to the sleeping humans, attack by surprise and then get advantage against humans being night-blind.

Its even worse when you consider that Orcs are as intelligent as humans but stronger and have better constitutions - theres really no reason why Orcs arent dominant
Numbers. Humans tend to have greater numbers. Also, remember that in older editions orcs couldn't be most classes and had severe level limits in the few that they could have.
 

James Gasik

We don't talk about Pun-Pun
Numbers. Humans tend to have greater numbers. Also, remember that in older editions orcs couldn't be most classes and had severe level limits in the few that they could have.
Sure, but most humans don't have classes*. And since massing goblins and orcs are always a threat, I'm not entirely sure they have the numbers. Nor is there any reason they should- humans don't have any particular advantage over other races when it comes to health or survival rates. They're pretty much dead average in all respects.

Which does present a potential advantage for them, superior adaptation, but given that most other species can develop variants better suited to a particular environment than humans, and there's no "humans who see better in the dark" in the PHB (I'm sure they exist in some shadowed corner of D&D-dom), any time it gets dark, humans are at a serious disadvantage.

*How prevalent high-level humans are is another kettle of fish- some settings are lousy with high level humans, like the Forgotten Realms, others less so, like Eberron.
 

Vaalingrade

Legend
humans also have to sleep, creatures with darkvision thus get to use night time stealth to sneak down into the plains get close to the sleeping humans, attack by surprise and then get advantage against humans being night-blind.

Its even worse when you consider that Orcs are as intelligent as humans but stronger and have better constitutions - theres really no reason why Orcs arent dominant
Unlike everyone else, humans don't have a D&D style god getting them into random conflicts at best (Gruumish, Corellion, Garl Glittergold) or actively sabotaging them at worst (Lloth).

Upbringing counts for a lot and in terms of D&D species, outright neglect is the best you can ask for.
 

James Gasik

We don't talk about Pun-Pun
Unlike everyone else, humans don't have a D&D style god getting them into random conflicts at best (Gruumish, Corellion, Garl Glittergold) or actively sabotaging them at worst (Lloth).

Upbringing counts for a lot and in terms of D&D species, outright neglect is the best you can ask for.
In the Forgotten Realms, they absolutely have gods who get then into random conflicts, lol. Look at the conflict between the Mulhorandi and Untherian pantheons!
 


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