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5E Is 5e Darkvision A Good Design?

Is 5e Darkvision good/which parts are good or bad

  • Limited Distance Is Good

    Votes: 48 61.5%
  • Limited Distance is Bad

    Votes: 7 9.0%
  • Binary Darkvision (no separate low-light) is Good

    Votes: 31 39.7%
  • Binary Darkvision (no separate low-light) is Bad

    Votes: 32 41.0%
  • No Option for Darkness as Bright Light is Good

    Votes: 43 55.1%
  • No Option for Darkness as Bright Light is Bad

    Votes: 12 15.4%
  • I WILL NOT BE CONTAINED! (explain in thread)

    Votes: 8 10.3%

  • Total voters
    78

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
The question is simple, on the surface. Is it good design that 5e Darkvision has such a limited range, is mostly binary, and causes you to see in darkness as dim light and dim light as bright light, with no way (generally) to see in darkness without impairment?

But the question has several parts, once you actually look at it, so I will break it down in the poll.
 

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doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Personally, I think that the distance limits are bad than good. It adds to what we have to either track or handwave, and I can't figure out any benefit to the game whatsoever. It also creates wierd situations where the rules feel like they are limited PCs in a way that doesn't seem to make sense, doesn't add to the fun, and I at least can't see any balance benefit.

The other aspects I mostly like/agree with.
 

toucanbuzz

Adventurer
AD&D "infrared" caused a headache in so many ways (can I see the invisible person's footprints, does hiding behind a rock defeat my vision, etc.). While infrared is more realistic, Darkvision simplifies it much in the way a pair of military grade Night Vision goggles might do. "I see everything, but only to a certain distance similar to my normal vision and only in black & white." It's in no way at all based on physics (night vision tech amplifies some existing light source to make it appear black and white, or greenish, and D&D Darkvision can exist with ZERO light), but it is a simple rule.

With that said, I did like playing the AD&D infrared spectrum. Players looked for ways heat signatures would come into play, and any time players are putting on their thinking caps, the game usually gets better.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
I cordially detest Darkvision in all it's forms. I might be talked around to low light vision in the mold of amplifying existing light, but only maybe. The reason I detest darkvision is because I would prefer the whole party to have the same spendable resources. I want them to need torches or lanterns when they explore underground. I also find mixed parties annoying, as a DM and as a player. Who needs light, who doesn't, who can see what when and before whom. Blech. Mostly though it's because I want the party to fear getting trapped in the dark. I'm probably in the minority though, I'd imagine.
 


I cordially detest Darkvision in all it's forms. I might be talked around to low light vision in the mold of amplifying existing light, but only maybe. The reason I detest darkvision is because I would prefer the whole party to have the same spendable resources. I want them to need torches or lanterns when they explore underground. I also find mixed parties annoying, as a DM and as a player. Who needs light, who doesn't, who can see what when and before whom. Blech. Mostly though it's because I want the party to fear getting trapped in the dark. I'm probably in the minority though, I'd imagine.
No, I pretty much completely agree with you.

Well, I guess that doesn't mean you're not in the minority. There may only be two of us.
 

tommybahama

Adventurer
The reason I detest darkvision is because I would prefer the whole party to have the same spendable resources. I want them to need torches or lanterns when they explore underground.
I think darkvision is supposed to provide vision equivalent to dim lighting and therefore disadvantage on all perception checks. But I've never seen a DM use it that way. If they did then everyone would be carrying torches or lanterns.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
Special snowflake option.

Limited distance: I think the distance limitations on darkvision and other special vision types is bad in 5e, but the problem is with the way 5e handles distances, not distance limitations on special vision types. Measuring distances in feet works fine on a grid but is difficult to utilize without one. But if a hypothetical 6e took the 13A approach and did abstract distance bands, I don’t think limiting the ranges of special vision types would be bad.

Binary Darkvision: I think binary darkvision was a good design choice in theory, but in practice it’s not really binary, is it? You’ve got 60 ft. Darkvision, and 120 ft. Darkvision from race, and dark-to-bright Darkvision from the Devil’s Sight Warlock Invocation, and functional low-light vision from the Skulker Feat. So, in theory I think binary darkvision would be a good design choice, but since 5e doesn’t actually have binary Darkvision anyway, I think it’s a poor use of the game’s design space not to utilize the various Darkvision mechanics more.

Lack of Dark-to-bright: As noted above, 5e does actually have a dark-to-bright vision mechanic, it’s just that it only comes from one optional feature of one class. I don’t think the decision to have or not have dark-to-bright vision is inherently good or bad design though. Again, since 5e has it, I think it is poor use of design space not to have utilized it more. But whether to include it or not include it is a neutral choice, what matters is how it’s used.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Special snowflake option.

Limited distance: I think the distance limitations on darkvision and other special vision types is bad in 5e, but the problem is with the way 5e handles distances, not distance limitations on special vision types. Measuring distances in feet works fine on a grid but is difficult to utilize without one. But if a hypothetical 6e took the 13A approach and did abstract distance bands, I don’t think limiting the ranges of special vision types would be bad.

Binary Darkvision: I think binary darkvision was a good design choice in theory, but in practice it’s not really binary, is it? You’ve got 60 ft. Darkvision, and 120 ft. Darkvision from race, and dark-to-bright Darkvision from the Devil’s Sight Warlock Invocation, and functional low-light vision from the Skulker Feat. So, in theory I think binary darkvision would be a good design choice, but since 5e doesn’t actually have binary Darkvision anyway, I think it’s a poor use of the game’s design space not to utilize the various Darkvision mechanics more.

Lack of Dark-to-bright: As noted above, 5e does actually have a dark-to-bright vision mechanic, it’s just that it only comes from one optional feature of one class. I don’t think the decision to have or not have dark-to-bright vision is inherently good or bad design though. Again, since 5e has it, I think it is poor use of design space not to have utilized it more. But whether to include it or not include it is a neutral choice, what matters is how it’s used.
IMO, if an option only exists in an optional feature of a single class, it's true to generally say, it isn't an option, when talking about the system in general. Dark-to-bright vision isn't a vision option, it's a magical class feature effect that warlocks can get.

I kinda agree on the rest, though. Mostly. I think that it's a good call to have binary darkvision with some exceptions from special options. I don't think it would improve anything to have all those options be things that some races get. It's better to just have Darkvision. IMO, there being a couple different distances isn't really a difference. It's just improved darkvision, not a new or different ability. it doesn't work differently, like darkvision and low-light vision in the past, it just works the same but for a greater distance.
 

I think darkvision is supposed to provide vision equivalent to dim lighting and therefore disadvantage on all perception checks. But I've never seen a DM use it that way. If they did then everyone would be carrying torches or lanterns.
Even when they do run it that way (I do), disadvantage on Perception checks isn't enough of a penalty to offset the advantage of being able to function in complete darkness. That's just too valuable a capability. And it makes humans, halflings, and dragonborn a huge liability for the party in darkness: either they light a torch and blow stealth for the whole team, or they try to wander through blind.

I would much prefer for every PC race to have the same problem with total darkness and thus be on the same footing for the "Should we light a torch?" question. 3E-style low-light vision, which treats dim light as bright light and doubles the effective range of point light sources but is still blind in the dark, would have been a much more party-friendly way to model the eyes of elves and dwarves and the like. Maybe especially "dark-friendly" races like tieflings get a version of devil's sight on top of low-light vision: they can ignore magical darkness, but still need light to do it.

Once you get into class features and magical effects, I'm more okay with actual darkvision and devil's sight. Those are perks you earn. But the baseline assumption should be that everybody needs a torch or suffers the consequences for not having one together.
 

Stormonu

Legend
I can live with it as is, but unless I've got some tool or special need to worry about underground light, it doesn't even really come into play in my games.

Now, if I could come up with an easy-to-use template or somesuch to track it when I'm using miniatures, I might be more inclined to worry about it even off the grid. But right now the game hands out seeing in the dark so readily I rarely even bother with worrying about torches, lanterns, glowing swords and the like to illuminate the party's way.

Also, if I could I'd get rid of darkvision and have at best low light vision, and reserve it for a rare few monsters and animals. It would be interesting to try out a game where darkness is a threat and limit to how far you dare delve - as well as travel by night. Right now, my game has other worries - like how to keep the sticky-fingered Kenku in our group from walking off with all the local wizard's tomes and lorebooks, and keeping the ancient Sahaugin fortress from rising to the surface and unleashing a literal tidal wave of sea devils on the local countryside.
 

Laurefindel

Adventurer
No, I pretty much completely agree with you.

Well, I guess that doesn't mean you're not in the minority. There may only be two of us.
Nope, there are more

Give it to undead and devils. All others can cope without. Even the subterranean races. Let the drows actually use their dancing lights, and give a purpose to all these bioluminescent fungi and whatnot.

besides, a horde of 20,000 orcs bearing torches is more interesting narratively than 20,000 orcs that no one can see (because 99% will be out of range)

but aside from the fact that way too many PC races have it, it is my favourite iteration so far. The 60 feet fog-of-war can be an interesting narrative tool in itself, but it is often handwaved or ignored.

but now that I think of it,my issue isn’t so much with darkvision than regular vision. D&D darkness is so thick that a torch doesn’t reveal anything beyond 60ft. I’d revise that before revising darkvision...
 
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iserith

Magic Wordsmith
I think it's fine. It creates some trade-offs which I think is good for the game. Specifically, the trade-off is that either everyone goes with darkvision and can move around more stealthily or they can shed some light on the subject and be less stealthy and more perceptive. If the game has traps and secret doors, a party going with all darkvision and no light may be running into a lot of hazards and missing opportunities. But that might be worth it if gaining surprise is more important to them, given the situation.

I find darkvision is overvalued in games where the DM isn't applying the disadvantage to passive Perception in dim light and/or not including many lurking monsters trying to surprise adventurers, traps, or secret doors.
 

Voted other for the following reasons:

Having a limited visual distance with darkvision is good for gameplay, as it makes darkness and overall vision meaningful. However, I'll admit that the standard distances are a PITA, because it doesn't line up well with a lot of non-darkvision character options (light spell, torch, bullseye lantern), which can cause some problems. Our group currently has the DM describe everything visible by any player, with each player responsible for knowing if they can see it or not. I have considered a houserule to fix this: Darkvision does not work while in bright light, which would limit the usefulness when close to the party (but still excellent for scouting).

I liked the differentiation that 3E had with Low-Light vision. With that turning dim light to bright, and darkvision turning darkness to dim (and both turning everything to bright) would be a great setup. However, I understand that the binary setup is simpler and thus better for the majority of groups. There is nothing that prevents a DM from including this in as they see fit.

There are already options to see darkness as bright light, but only one of them is available to PCs, which I consider a good thing. Devil's Sight is the only method a PC can use, requiring a specific class plus resource from that class, making it a very limited option. The non-PC option is Blindsight, which usually has an extraordinarily limited range. Letting players see whatever they want whenever they want may make for simpler DMing, but it breaks the verisimilitude of the game IMO.
 

Li Shenron

Legend
The reason I detest darkvision is because I would prefer the whole party to have the same spendable resources. I want them to need torches or lanterns when they explore underground. I also find mixed parties annoying, as a DM and as a player. Who needs light, who doesn't, who can see what when and before whom
I also find this mildly annoying, and I believe it's one of the thing most DMs just decide to ignore eventually.

But see below...

I think darkvision is supposed to provide vision equivalent to dim lighting and therefore disadvantage on all perception checks. But I've never seen a DM use it that way. If they did then everyone would be carrying torches or lanterns.
A party where everyone has darkvision can choose what is more important between noticing threats (carry a light to avoid disadvantage on perception) or staying unnoticed by threats (don't carry a light).

I think disadvantage is a significant penalty and darkvision range is better than most light sources dim light range, so you would be able to negate disadvantage up to the light source full range, but so would your enemies.

The rules create a sort of minutiae I usually don't want to bother with, so I much prefer having a whole party with or without darkvision, but not a mixed one.

An interesting consequence of darkvision limited range is that a city of creatures with darkvision (e.g. drow in the underdark) still needs street illumination to be able to spot intruders from afar, but not indoor illumination.
 

Coroc

Hero
Much better than in older editions, Also in former editions some subrace of halflings had it as far as I can remember, maybe that one should be reintroduced? Otoh already many races have got it so it might well be left alone.
 

Iry

Adventurer
There is a radical difference between darkness and dim light. You go from having the blindness condition to being completely functional in combat thanks to darkvision.

That contrast seems way too steep for me.
 

Perun

Mushroom
Much better than in older editions, Also in former editions some subrace of halflings had it as far as I can remember, maybe that one should be reintroduced? Otoh already many races have got it so it might well be left alone.
Stout halflings had it, but only up to 30 ft. IIRC. Also, if you were using just the PHB, you could not choose your halfling subrace, but you had 30% chance at character creation to have Stout blood, and thus infravision. I might be misremembering, though.
 

Krachek

Adventurer
I cordially detest Darkvision in all it's forms. I might be talked around to low light vision in the mold of amplifying existing light, but only maybe. The reason I detest darkvision is because I would prefer the whole party to have the same spendable resources. I want them to need torches or lanterns when they explore underground. I also find mixed parties annoying, as a DM and as a player. Who needs light, who doesn't, who can see what when and before whom. Blech. Mostly though it's because I want the party to fear getting trapped in the dark. I'm probably in the minority though, I'd imagine.
Our table simply remove dark vision for all humanoid races, including the warlock.
work perfectly well
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
I don't think the range limitation is any more of an issue than it is with light sources. Either you enforce it strictly or you hand wave it.

I actually really like that in this edition Darkvision treats total darkness as dim light. It gives characters with darkvision a reason to use a light source, since disadvantage on Perception is a big deal (at least in my games). It still gives Darkvision users an advantage when there's a light source around, since they can treat the dim light range as bright.

As for too many races having Darkvision, it doesn't bother me. I don't see taking one of those races as being terribly distinct from taking the light cantrip. You're opting out of a resource management aspect of the game (which may signal that you find that aspect tedious). I've never (personally) found tracking light sources to be an interesting aspect of the game (and unsurprisingly, when I play a caster without Darkvision I frequently choose light for a cantrip).
 

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