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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

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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.
Knew I wouldn't have to look far down the thread before this was addressed. I think darkvision is the better alternative.
 

I think darkvision is fine as it is and see no reason to change it or remove it. This includes the rules for how it works though. If you ignore the drawbacks and just let darkvision works without penalty then it may be too good. But people houseruling darkvision to not give the penalty in the dim light is not the fault of the darkvision rules.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
I don't recall it ever really coming up. Either everybody has dark vision (in which case we just ignore it and everybody can see all the time) or only some have, so half the party has lanterns (in which case we just ignore it and everybody can see all the time).
 

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.
This is how I feel as well and I just went through this a session or two ago. After it was all said and done I told myself never again unless its a very pivotal situation. I don't even bother with torches, lanterns, darkvision, cantrips that emit low levels of light or moon light 9 out pf 10 times. I just assume as the DM that in most cases the PCs are taking necessary pains to see in the dark and if I think its warranted than I'll award surprise to one side or the other based on the current circumstances. If the players want to throw a fit then they best beware of aware of a Spectral Moe Howard eye poke.
 

Nebulous

Legend
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 don't know if you're minority or not, from the DM perspective. I hate darkvision for the same reasons you do. It's so good, a PC is at a disadvantage not to have it. And worse, players don't normally consider what darkvision actually looks like at the table; it's very dim, it's disorienting, it's limiting, and it's not something they would want to deal with long term (such as an endless underdark crawl). You would WANT bright light in many cases, but it's difficult to imagine at the table what sixty feet of diminishing light actually looks like.




The players have no idea they're looking at a bunch of troglodytes, it's just too dark to tell.
 


jasper

Rotten DM
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.
True Infravision kept changing as tech and movies changed. In high school it was just the body that glowed, and some the torches. Then A movie or two came out with the monster following some one foot prints and seeing hand prints.
 
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Fanaelialae

Legend
A light cantrip in a dark cave is an 80-foot glowing "I AM HERE" sign. Darkvision is not.
That's only the case if everyone in the party has darkvision (which almost never happens IME) or special circumstances (the rogue with darkvision is scouting ahead). Otherwise, someone has a light source regardless of who has darkvision (I suppose you could force the non-DV characters to walk blindly, but we've never done that as it would be very counterproductive should the party be attacked).

Sure, darkvision is better than the light cantrip, but that's missing the point. My point was that both allow you to circumvent the need to manage light resources. In that respect, light is actually preferable. Light enables the party to disregard management (although it's always good to have a backup) whereas darkvision only works for the individual.
 


Snarf Zagyg

Aleena died for your sins.
I hate darkvision in 5e. Many have already stated the issues with it, with which I agree. But I would restate the problem in terms of the history.

Originally, "darkvision" was a really special ability. In fact, there is still a debate about it w/r/t dwarf and elf PCs in OD&D.*

*It is really stupid and technical, and involves Chainmail, Supplement 1, and a level of rules parsing that I refuse to participate in!


But taking AD&D (1e) as a baseline, we get an expansion of races, with the twin (bad?) ideas that pretty much every demi-human (sorry, non-Stout halflings) gets infravision**, but the game itself remains stubbornly humanocentric. Which makes some sense (giving special abilities to the non-humans in exchange for level limits, etc.), but created this historical divide we see today.

**They also include ultravision, which is a cool concept, but don't bother making it available to any PC races, for reasons. Even though ultravision would make a lot more sense for forest-dwelling elves.

So the two big issues are that infravision was explained really poorly. If you read the 1e PHB and DMG, it is kinda sorta like infravision, but not really? It is in black and white, and detects heat, but can be active infravision, but ... so it's pretty difficult to run correctly. This issue is largely corrected by simplifying "infravision" to low-light darkvision.

The second issue is that not having dark vision becomes a significant disadvantage. Either you just kinda of "meh" it away (the never-ending torch/lantern) or you realize that it's a great default ability to have; so great, in fact, that they pretty much lard it on to all races so you don't have to keep up with the bookkeeping.***

*** That's why, when you look at those 5e "point buy" guides to making races, you don't have to spend anything for darkvision. It's just assumed.

....Except humans. Because we don't see in the dark.
 

As I said. Too many races have DV. With level restrictions I would not mind, but since those days are over, then there must be some drawback to DV. The drawback that I enforce is if a bright light source is brought up suddenly, you are blinded until you make a con save (at the end of your turn) to end the effect. The save is usually easy at 13. Most characters only need a 11 or better to save.
No save is required if you are in the dim light radius. This alone makes up for interesting tactics from the players and the monsters.
 

GlassJaw

Adventurer
I really dislike 5E darkvision for multiple reasons:
  • it negates the darkness threat in the DM's toolbox
  • it creates a massive disparity between the darkvision haves and have-nots
  • too many races have it
Vision needs to be split into low-light and darkvision in order to nerf darkvision and to better spread the vision types across the races. I simply do the following:

Low-light vision: You can see in dim light as well as you do in bright light. Dim light doesn't impose disadvantage on Perception checks relying on sight.

Darkvision: You treat darkness within 60 feet of you as dim light. When you do so, your vision is in black and white.

I'm ok with a race having darkvision and not low-light and vice versa. Cats can't see in complete darkness. Conversely, a creature accustom to pitch black conditions won't necessarily have the ability to see clearly and accurately at long range in shadowy conditions.

Also opens up the design space to give a race both.
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
IMO, it is common but hardly ubiquitous (even discounting humans).

If you look at the PHB common races, half of them don't have darkvision. If you include the uncommon races, 33% still don't have darkvision.

I get that some people would like it to be more rare (or nonexistent). Just pointing out that a fair portion of the races don't have DV.
 

the Jester

Legend
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?
I definitely preferred 4e's split of low-light and darkvision. On range, I think a limited range is not only fine, it's longstanding tradition.

As for "no way to see in darkness without impairment"- sure there is: bring a light. I'm absolutely fine with that one, and I think it's very good that everyone without blindsight of some kind suffers some degree of impairment in lightless conditions.
 

I picked the bottom option, because I think it's both a good design and a bad design, in different ways.

It's a bad default choice for how characters with "vision in darkness" work. The should have gone with a simple implementation of low-light vision as the default for most races. It's easier to work with RP and description-wise, makes more immediate sense, players understand it better, and it means torches and the like are a necessity for pretty much everyone, rather all these stupid situations occurring where one or two party members need a torch and everyone else "doesn't" (except they kind of do, if you actually understand the rules).

So it's a bad design in the sense that it was a bad choice for a universal mode of vision (given the above), and it's a bad design in that the rules it works by are not laid out as clearly as they could be (people are still constantly surprised to find out you have Disadvantage on Perception checks when operating with Darkvision, just look at how often it comes up on any D&D board, especially more mainstream ones), and it's arguably a bad design in that, because of the way it works, any being that has it actually would need to and want to light areas it lived in, which makes some lore around those creatures dubious.

On the other hand, getting past the error of using it as the default mode of "seeing in the dark", it's a decent implementation of Darkvision. It's almost a direct throwback to 2E's "standard Infravision" (rather than the more elaborate "thermographic" infravision that about 9/10 groups seemed to play with - kinda makes sense as the DMG devotes almost an entire page to the latter), so pleases grogs. It's pretty straightforward in terms of functionality (barring the slightly counter-intuitive darkness disadvantage issue), and the fact that almost everyone as a 60' range on it makes it easy to deal with.

So it's a mixed bag. Low-light should have been the default, with Darkvision for special races, after 3E and 4E, though, it really should. Dwarves should have been the only PHB race with Darkvision (arguably Tieflings too).
 

GlassJaw

Adventurer
I definitely preferred 4e's split of low-light and darkvision. On range, I think a limited range is not only fine, it's longstanding tradition.
I do as well. Also interesting that none of the core 4E races had darkvision.

/offtopic - I've come around on my view of 4E. There is still a lot I don't like but I appreciate its design evolution a lot more than I did at the time. I could almost envision a "4.5E", but using the core of 5E and moving back towards 4E. But that's a topic for another thread.
 

DMMike

Game Masticator
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?
Obviously, it's good design. Thousands of D&D Next players approved.

I wouldn't design it that way though. The 5e, rulings-not-rules, bounded-accuracy way to do it should be:

"Darkvision: you can see everything within 60 feet of you as though it were well-lit."
 



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