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Eliminating Darkvision

Aug 2, 2020 7:20 am
I was wondering if any DMs out there have thought about eliminating Darkvision from most races. I've been seriously considering it. Not to punish or hamper my players but because I keep thinking about mood-setting scenarios that will be completely ruined because half the party has Darkvision. I also keep thinking about how nonsensical the ability is for most of the races that have it. For example, Elves have it, in part, because they are "accustomed to twilit forests." Yet I don't recall human tribes in the deep jungles of the Amazon having Darkvision.

Anyway, I was wondering if other DMs have dropped Darkvision, and if they did, how they presented it to their players.
Aug 2, 2020 7:28 am
I find the hardest thing about dark vision is some characters having it and others not. I have run an all-human game and an all-dwarf game and in both there was some thought about the vision being equalized across the PCs. But like you say, the all-human group was mostly about mood - low magic, sword and sorcery, monsters are scary and inhuman. Much scarier if you can't see in the dark.
Aug 2, 2020 7:42 am
I'm currently a player in a game with seven PCs. My character is one of two without Darkvision. He's a Dungeon Delver/Observant skills monkey who is most often at the front of the group looking for traps and secret doors. His need of a light source effectively eliminates any benefit the rest of the group might gain by being able to see in the dark. That's partly what got me thinking about what would happen if only a select few races or subraces had Darkvision.

Another game I'm the DM for, half of the four PCs have Darkvision. I began thinking about a campfire scene where the PC with high Perception notices something at the edge of his vision, just beyond the campfire light. I thought how I would describe a possible creature that may or may not be out in the darkness and contemplated the tense moments as they try to determine what's there or if anything is there at all. Then I realized the entire setup would be ruined as soon as two of the players inevitably remind me that their characters can see in the dark.
Aug 2, 2020 8:02 am
I think Darkvision is fine if it's either the entire party that has it and it just becomes an assumed part of the campaign or if it's one character's special gimmick.

The annoyance comes in if half the party has it and the rest doesn't
Aug 2, 2020 12:06 pm
People always seem to forget that darkvision is the equivalent of dim light, and therefore imparts disadvantage on perception checks.
Aug 2, 2020 2:01 pm
It doesn't give any penalties in Pathfinder
Aug 2, 2020 3:00 pm
bowlofspinach says:
It doesn't give any penalties in Pathfinder
maybe it should
Aug 2, 2020 3:07 pm
In a game where a fear of the dark due to the unknown is important, stripping darkvision out seems appropriate. Be sure to replace it though with something racially thematic and cool, because it is a powerful ability.
Aug 2, 2020 3:29 pm
In my experience, Darkvision ends up either being very powerful or very pointless, due to a tendency to want to handwave concerns of vision and illumination. Kind of like encumbrance, we have other things we want to spend our time tracking, so we either make darkvision better than it is by treating it as full normal vision, or we let people without it get away with saying "I light a torch" and stop thinking about it.

In a game where illumination is actually important and you pay attention to the difference between dim lighting and full illumination (as well as being able to see color or not), I don't know whether it would actually be a problem. Assuming we're talking about 5e D&D, deciding between giving your position away with light and taking disadvantage on your perception checks when looking for traps or hidden enemies could be tough.
Aug 3, 2020 2:31 pm
Personally under normal circumstances I usually replace Dark Vision with Night Vision -- as there are absolutely no creatures in existence that possess that ability and that says to me that only truly magical creatures would possess such a thing, creatures such as dragons and other very magical creatures -- which are none of the normal races one can choose from.

Now if you are going to do that you might want to take into account that Dark Vision vs Night Vision is a step down and that any race that you do that to might need a compensator bonus thing to replace it. Of course as it currently stands this not 100% necessary since most of those with Dark Vision are over stacked with bonus features anyway and that would just bring them more into balance with the other races.
Aug 3, 2020 2:53 pm
I have gamed where i got rid of it except for some monsters.

In a game recently what I did but had to come up with an alternate light source for races like dwarves who live underground, it would be strange to have them always needing to have torches and huge lights to see by can be frustrating. I mean a party traveling underground for days will not be able to carry enough torches or lanterns to see for long periods of time except if magic is available.

So what I did is have the world have a bio-luminescent mold/fungi that most used to light passageways. The races could use potter or create groves in the hallways that they planted it for sight. It wasn't super bright but enough to see by. This meant that more powerful lighting sources were used especially in room but halls and passageways were not. Since this is a plant it was also found in caves and other places so there was some lighting in the deep places which helps negate the need for darkvision.
Aug 3, 2020 3:18 pm
Or the fire beetle eyes which could (or can) be non-magically be made into light sources that last a very long time and you just stick one in a lantern in place of using candles or burning oil -- that works too -- still dwarves only having night vision (being able to see better in dark conditions does make sense)

So yeah there are many ways to circumnavigate the issue of torches and oil burning lanterns -- a simple rock with a light (such as an everburning and/or continual light -- or even a cantrip light) spell placed on it would be sufficient for most situations.
Aug 4, 2020 7:07 pm
This was actually one of the more effective, interesting, features of 4th edition. No PC race had straight-up Darkvision (except "monster" races, who usually had light sensitivity), only Low Light vision, which necessitated at least some light source even for the dwarfiest PC group.

The ability to use darkness as both a strategic and story element adds a lot to the atmosphere of dungeon crawling. As (relative) surface dwellers, you have to bring light with you, and you are encroaching on creatures for whom the darkness is native. Sure, the logistics of it might not be as interesting in D&D as it is in, say, Torchbearers (see title), but illumination actually affecting everyone can add a lot of layers of texture to your dungeon design.

It also has the side effect of not nerfing the human/halfling when the party wants to go full stealth.
Aug 5, 2020 4:27 pm
Thanks for the responses, everyone!

I also posted this in another forum and got back a few similar responses along with some who thought Darkvision was only a problem because people don’t follow the actual rules of Darkvision and instead use it to handwave issues of needing a light source. Someone posted to a pretty decent video (once they actually got to the point) from the Nerdarchy guys pointing out any number of ways of getting around characters being able to see in the dark.

The point being made was that it seemed like most DMs were treating dim light (able to see “in darkness as if it were dim light”) as if it were just an overcast day instead of it being so dark that you can’t read by it or see in color. However, that’s not my problem with Darkvision. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a scenario where lack of color or being able to read was a problem. A creature appearing in black and white 60 feet away is just as visible as a creature in color 60 feet away. I think most DMs tend to handwave illumination anyway. As long as someone in the party has a torch or a lantern or the Light cantrip, you don’t really question what happened when the fighter drops his torch to pull out a sword.

Besides, I’ve yet to be in a game where there wasn’t at least one Human, Halfling, or Dragonborn. In those cases, Darkvision definitely still has its uses, but a lot of the advantages are taken away by the fact that someone in the party is bound to need a flashlight.

My issue, as I stated above, is it makes it much more difficult to set up a classic horror story scene where something goes bump in the night, putting everyone on edge. It’s hard enough to inject horror into an RPG without it being spoiled by Darkvision. I started thinking about it a few years ago when I was creating a homebrew world that had a slow rotation with extended periods of day and night. The lengthy nighttime was supposed to be a period of survival horror as creatures of the night came out of hiding to take back what’s theirs. The terror of extended fighting against creatures who call the night home is kind of ruined when the Elf looks up and says, “Oh, it’s just an Ettercap 60 feet away. Can’t read his nametag, though.”

Some have suggested offering an ability in compensation for largely eliminating Darkvision from the character races. I’m not sure a type of low-light vision or limited Darkvision is the solution I’m looking for. Any suggestions?
Last edited August 5, 2020 4:27 pm, a total of 1 time
Aug 5, 2020 5:17 pm
I mean, if an ettercap is trying to sneak up on the group at night, the Elf should still be taking disadvantage on perception checks (or -5 to passive perception) to see it coming. It's worth reiterating that darkvision isn't "see normally, only in black and white." It's more like when you're maneuvering around the house at night with only a little bit of light from the street. Sure, you can see the outline of the furniture, you probably won't stub your toe on anything, but you still might miss the cat that's lurking under the coffee table.

If you're trying to put the players on edge, then parties who think they can just walk around in the dark because they've got darkvision should be hit with one ambush after another. If you really want to be tricky, toss in a lot of traps that they can automatically see in bright light thanks to passive perception but are just a little too hard for their reduced passive to make out when it has the penalty for dim light.

I think if you do take away Darkvision, then VHumans are going to be heads and shoulders above the rest of the pack in terms of mechanical power. If that bothers you, you could also disallow it and force your players to use the standard human instead. Or talk to your players about what they might consider fair compensation (I know I can always be bought off with additional skill proficiencies, for instance, but others might not consider that a fair trade).
Aug 5, 2020 10:36 pm
McDunno says:
The terror of extended fighting against creatures who call the night home is kind of ruined when the Elf looks up and says, “Oh, it’s just an Ettercap 60 feet away. Can’t read his nametag, though.”
The elf would probably have failed his perception check and not seen the ettercap until too late. Disadvantage on the perception check ie -5 on passive perception. Those stealth checks become a lot easier to beat even the best perception optimized scouts.
Last edited August 5, 2020 10:38 pm, a total of 1 time
Aug 5, 2020 11:50 pm
Creatures on a world like you describe could have developed increased hiding in shadows ability, camouflage made for a shadowy world, even exude darkness for magical creatures.
Aug 6, 2020 5:40 am
Darkvision is not a problem. Its a benefit that Demihumans get and Humans just have to suck it up. I'm tired of PCs always playing Humans and then complaining that they cannot see in the dark. Well, don't play a Human. D&D has continually evolved to the point of nerfing any abilities that would upset game balance. That is bad.
Aug 6, 2020 6:49 am
It's a game not a simulation. We've probably all seen movies where the whole castle or dungeon is lit with torches - perhaps we've also wondered whose job it is to light and replace all those torches. But we probably also accept that it'd make for a boring movie without a little suspension of disbelief.

I'd judge it by the player expectations and the adventure's tone. If they're up for a spooky adventure in the dark, then we can nerf darkvision. If not, then I don't want to make an adventure frustrating either, so I'd just put glowing fungus and inexplicably lit torches around the place. I suppose it depends on whether it's a horror or an action part of the adventure. Does it enhance or detract from the story the players are trying to tell?

The problem is when players don't know ahead of time that their characters will be nerfed. If the player wanted to play a human barbarian with a two-handed sword, only to discover the whole adventure is in the dark and they'll need to carry a lantern... well... I wouldn't blame the player for quitting the game in frustration.
Aug 6, 2020 7:13 am
I would advise against removing darkvision because inevitably, the PC's are going to feel like your cheating them, and they have a point. Darkvision is kind of baked into the balance of the game. If you're going to take away darkvision from dwarfs, what are you going to give the player who picked a dwarf in return? Because when the designers were deciding who got what racial bonuses, they tried their best to make sure each race got an equal amount of goodies. Maybe they didn't do a good job, (I happen to think they did, but thats a different discussion), but the basic game still says that certain people get darkvision up to 60 feet, and if you tell your players they can't have that because it doesn't fit with the mood of your game, well.... I wouldn't be happy.

My best advise to you if you are trying to capture the horror tone, is don't try and do a horror game in DND, at least not 5E. It's just not the tone the game was designed to convey. DND is about feeling powerful, not feeling scared. I'm not saying don't do a horror game, they're fun, but 5E is not set up to run a horror game.

Having just finished saying "don't do horror in 5e" there are plenty of ways to make it scary. I just had a session where the PC's had a little detour into the underdark resulting from a comically badly timed critical failure. The players were definately scared of things that went bump in the night. Here are some of the tricks you can use;
[ +- ] Spoiler: I apparently write too much
TL;DR Darkvision is part of dnd and that poses challenges for a dm who wants to use horror. But there are plenty of clever ways to increase tension, even if the pc's can see in the dark.
Last edited August 6, 2020 7:14 am, a total of 1 time
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