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D&D 5E Ruling Consideration on Darkness (both magical and non-magical)

Before you read the entire post, let me establish my intent for starting this thread. I am saying all of this for me, so that I can get this off my mimic chest. You guys can ignore this if you want to; I don't care.

So, recently I've been a little obsessed over figuring out what Dim Light would look like irl. I was browsing the web and I came across this thread, and it got me thinking about the rules for darkness. I've been looking at the rules for heavily obscured, normal and magical darkness. To start, heavily obscured says that "A creature effectively suffers from the blinded condition when trying to see in that area" (Appendix referral removed). The text says nothing about seeing outside the area that is heavily obscured. The text for darkness (non-magical) uses magical darkness as an example of when "[C]haracters face darkness," which means that an area affected by magical darkness is mechanically considered "heavily obscured." The only difference between magical darkness and normal darkness is that creatures "with darkvision can't see through" magical darkness (at least the magical darkness created by the Darkness spell). With that quote in mind, that really leaves only two interpretations: 1 being that creatures with darkvision can neither see within nor past the area of magical darkness, which would put creatures without darkvision at an advantage* (*overall, not mechanically for rolling two d20's); or 2, creatures can not mechanically benefit from their darkvision trait when looking at something within the area of magical darkness. Either way, there is no mechanical difference between either forms of darkness for creatures that lack darkvision: the area becomes heavily obscured, and the creature(s) without darkvision are effectively blind for the purposes of seeing something within the affected area.
As for the Devil's Sight invocation, weirdly, I'd think the only effect it has on the warlock is that they can treat areas of darkness within line of sight, both magical and not, as areas of unobscured bright light—or whatever the DM says is "seeing normally," though I think that ruling would provide great roleplay material lol.

Anyway, that's all I have to say. Thank you for reading this post as this is my first time "posting a thread(?)" or whatever you guys call it.
 

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keynup

Explorer
Just a few things to try and clarify. My answers.
Totally dark room, can a human see without penalty the area around a torch 100' away? Yes
Does magical darkness between the human and torch do anything? Technically no, but the rules also don't cover the previous question, so I'd rule that the torch is blocked.
I consider Magical Darkness to block light that would pass through it as well as prevent light from bouncing off of surfaces within that area.
Would Darkvision change any of the above? No.
And Devils Sight? They wouldn't even notice the room was dark or if any magical darkness existed.

How do you work awareness of things you can't see? This is what I'd consider the key component with darkness / blinded / heavily obscured. And I don't have a ready answer.
 

I consider Magical Darkness to block light that would pass through it as well as prevent light from bouncing off of surfaces within that area.
So, just so I'm understanding you correctly, are you saying that if Magical Darkness was interposed between a human and a torch that were 100-ft away, that the only thing the human would be able to see is whatever is in the illuminated area minus whatever is blocked by the silhouettes of the creatures and objects within the area of Magical Darkness?
Never mind, I didn't read that all the way through.
 
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DEFCON 1

Legend
Supporter
For me personally, I just treat the Darkness spell as a 30' diameter ball of "ink" that sits wherever it is cast. Anything inside that ball cannot be seen from people outside of it, and anyone inside of it can't see anything at all (not including beings with Devil's Sight, which is the exception to all rules.)

But in reference to the point above about a torch 100' away with a Darkness spell between the torch and the viewer... the viewer possibly could see ambient light in whatever the location was, depending on how large the area was around where the torch was (although that ambient light might only be seen narratively, but not actually effect the game mechanics of the situation). So for instance:

- A torch is in the middle of an otherwise pitch-black dungeon chamber that is 150 feet in diameter (75' radius). And someone is standing against the wall of that chamber 75' away from the torch.

In terms of game mechanics, a torch gives off Bright Light for 20' radius, and Dim Light for an additional 20' radius past that. Those mechanics apply to other things that require mechanics for adjudication (like Hiding, and Perception checks). But narratively, light keeps traveling out to the walls of the chamber, bouncing off and scattering across all surfaces. Light doesn't just stop at 40'. So the remaining 35' beyond the 40' radius of Bright/Dim Light of the torch's game mechanics will see light reflecting and bouncing off the ground and walls of the chamber by that person looking at it. Now there won't be enough light to change the game mechanics of the situation from that last 35' feet from being considered "darkness" mechanically, but there is just enough reflection to allow the viewer to see that for instance, yes, there are walls to this chamber. They won't be clear, and there might be some sections of the uneven walls where it might seem like there are openings because they are in shadow... but narratively I treat light like light does. The chamber is lit.

Now... in this situation should a Darkness spell (30' diameter) be cast on the ground between the viewer and the torch... from the viewer's perspective they now see a 30' wide / 15' high semi-circle of black "ink" wall in front of them. Anything behind that wall (including the torch) they cannot see. But the chamber itself can still be recognized as such, as the torchlight has brightened the room (however slightly) and that light has reflected off the walls and ground and bounced back to the viewer's eye around the darkness sphere (the same way a solid stone wall wouldn't stop the chamber from illuminating.)

Now if the Darkness sphere enclosed the torch itself... the chamber is now pitch-black because no torchlight is able to escape the sphere. Or if the torch was in a corridor 100 feet away from the viewer and the corridor's width and height was less that 30' in diameter... a Darkness spell cast between them in that corridor would also block all the torchlight and the viewer's section of corridor would remain pitch-black. There's no way for the torchlight to bounce around the Darkness to reach the viewer. But in any other situation where light can illuminate an area but the Darkness spell cannot encompass the entirety of anything that might reflect it... the area will be brighter and a viewer will see a semi-circle of black ink wall.

At the end of the day... I always find it important to keep the narrative of the story mostly separate from the game mechanics, because the game mechanics are an imperfect simulation of the reality of the world. They can't define everything. So I use the mechanics when necessary to settle disputes, both otherwise I use the narrative and the story of the world as the definition of what is actually going on.
 
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Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
I'm with @keynup on this one. Magical darkness is like an impenetrable fog of dark. Think of it like a pure black smokescreen. With devil's sight they don't even see the smokescreen.

Other than that, darkvision just gets you dim light which is what you get in most cities even if there are no local street lights or out in the boonies when there's a moon and no clouds. You can actually see well enough to navigate and get around for the most part.
 

Dausuul

Legend
Agreed on darkness. The cleanest way to make it work is to treat it as a zone where light is simply negated--whether that light is being generated inside the zone, or entering from outside, doesn't matter. So, from the outside, it looks like a sphere of absolute black*, and from the inside, you can't see at all. Darkvision is blocked because... well, tell me how you think darkvision works normally and I'll come up with a reason why it doesn't work here. :)

Anything else gets into a hairy tangle of figuring out what you can and can't see under what circumstances.

In a more general sense, it would be interesting to distinguish between "ambient light too dim for you to make out anything" (a dark night, a cave beyond the radius of your torch) and "no light at all" (a cave when your torch has gone out). It would be essentially a fourth category of illumination, in between dim light and darkness. But I'm not sure it's worth the cognitive overhead. The current system seems to get the job done pretty well... at least now that they've errataed the original rule that said creatures in darkness were blinded.

*You get mad props as a player if you can figure out a way to bluff enemies into thinking your darkness spell is a giant sphere of annihilation.
 
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Dausuul

Legend
Heh, I dunno why they would. It's not like the non-darkvisioned races are now overpowered compared to the darkvisioned ones when you take away the one darkvision perk. :)
Depends on whether variant humans are allowed.

Darkvision is not a huge deal, but V-humans are already well ahead of other races, so I'd look a bit askance at anything that nerfed nonhumans further and did nothing to compensate.
 

Iry

Hero
Another vote for Darkness = Ink. I treat it exactly like a solid object when calculating the effects of light.
 

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
I'm very glad that it's stated somewhere within the rules that sources of light can be seen much further away than they shed light. This is basic common sense, but from personal experience, some people out there have no idea how light functions.
 

Dausuul

Legend
I'm very glad that it's stated somewhere within the rules that sources of light can be seen much further away than they shed light. This is basic common sense, but from personal experience, some people out there have no idea how light functions.
Does it actually say that? I mean, it should, but I can't find it on a quick search. Of course, that may just mean it's stuffed away in some odd corner of the PHB or DMG that I didn't think to look in.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Agreed on darkness. The cleanest way to make it work is to treat it as a zone where light is simply negated--whether that light is being generated inside the zone, or entering from outside, doesn't matter. So, from the outside, it looks like a sphere of absolute black*, and from the inside, you can't see at all. Darkvision is blocked because... well, tell me how you think darkvision works normally and I'll come up with a reason why it doesn't work here. :)

Anything else gets into a hairy tangle of figuring out what you can and can't see under what circumstances.

In a more general sense, it would be interesting to distinguish between "ambient light too dim for you to make out anything" (a dark night, a cave beyond the radius of your torch) and "no light at all" (a cave when your torch has gone out). It would be essentially a fourth category of illumination, in between dim light and darkness. But I'm not sure it's worth the cognitive overhead. The current system seems to get the job done pretty well... at least now that they've errataed the original rule that said creatures in darkness were blinded.

*You get mad props as a player if you can figure out a way to bluff enemies into thinking your darkness spell is a giant sphere of annihilation.
I kind of liked the old "low light vision" used to have. Gave a bit more granularity on features and made more sense for elves and similar.
 

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
Does it actually say that? I mean, it should, but I can't find it on a quick search. Of course, that may just mean it's stuffed away in some odd corner of the PHB or DMG that I didn't think to look in.
See page 104-105 in the DMG :) (I had to search for it!)
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
Supporter
Depends on whether variant humans are allowed.

Darkvision is not a huge deal, but V-humans are already well ahead of other races, so I'd look a bit askance at anything that nerfed nonhumans further and did nothing to compensate.
Eh... I'd say that other than the standard six-ish(?) feats that most people say are overpowered (your GWM, SS, Lucky etc.)... all the rest are pretty much on par with the racial stuff the deminhumans get. So I'd say that even most V-Humans aren't going to be out ahead should Darkvision get removed from the demi-humans and not get replaced. But that's just me and what I see at my table, YMMV.
 

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