A treatise on Darkvision


It’s called Darkvision these days. Before that it was Infravision, but the basic idea is similar:

Somehow, all demi-humans (except halflings in some editions) can see in the dark, most often 60 feet.

And I say it sucks.


Darkvision takes away the suspense of being in a dark creepy location far underground and moreover destroy the suspense for the human players who have to struggle with torches and lanterns.

My solution is to reduce darkvision and infravision to low light vision. That is, like a cat or other nocturnal animal, these characters need much less light to see due to their eyes being much more sensitive to light. This also means that there have to be at least some light for them to see. Pitch dark = no vision. If a a human can see 30 feet in torchlight, the demi-humans will see double that, or 60 feet.

I think that this little mod will increase the suspense of being alone in the dark!

And of course, this only goes for our demi-human heroes and other demi-humans and humanoids. Many monsters can see just fine in the dark, just like before…


3 thoughts on “A treatise on Darkvision

  1. I propose the conceit of giving Elves ultravision — letting them see into the near ultraviolet spectrum, which is listed as a vision type on p.59 of the AD&D DMG, but I don’t believe was ever actually assigned to any creatures. Per the DMG, Ultravision lets one see normally in darkness up to 100yds, and dimly out to 300yds, but only outdoors. This is probably a bit exaggerated, though, since it logically just amounts to a percentage enhancement of existing starlight — i.e., much less light than is generally thrown by the Moon. GURPS (4E), for example, allows a fairly minor (-2) offset to outdoor darkness penalties for Ultravision, which is roughly comparable to what you’re proposing as “low light vision”.

    An extra benefit of UV vision, though, would be a sort of “forensic vision”, permitting identification of certain plants, minerals, stains, and other traces not discernible to normal vision, and probably allowing the use of special inks and dyes visible only to the UV capable.

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  2. Thanks for the comment Umbriel. I like your ideas on ultravision and will definitely think this concept over one more round. Started thinking about this after our last game, which very much was built on a the suspense of being in the dark but didn’t play out the way I thought because of just the infravision thing.


  3. That is indeed a cool idea.

    Thinking along those same lines, I think you could potentially add some interest and fun at the cost of a little more complexity, by adding some narrow definitions of what *vision actually is. Here’s one quick top-of-my-head attempt.

    Low-Light vision: it’s like vision, only you need less light.

    Darkvision: well, there’s no light here, so you’re seeing some other way. And it’s not a magical ability. The rules don’t say it’s sonar, though… I’m going to suggest treating this as ‘shape vision’. That’s mostly for contrast with the other types below. Darkvision lets you see shapes and movement, and that’s it. No colour at all for you, very little detail. You can see the walls of the dungeon and the furniture, but you can’t read this parchment. Good for moving around safely, and lets you defend yourself, though you can’t easily tell who’s the bandit and who’s your ally.

    Infravision: it’s actual infrared you’re seeing here. What this fundamentally gets you is heat. When there’s no normal light to distract you, you can make out sources of heat and cold, but very little else. This lets you see creatures in the dark, though not undead or constructs. You can make out surroundings to a limited extent because different substances react differently to heat – a wooden table and a stone wall will look a little different. Very hot objects seem so bright that it’s difficult to see anything else nearby. A major benefit is you have a chance to see creatures that are lightly hidden, say behind a cloth or leaves.

    Ultravision: thanks Umbriel! This requires a source of ultraviolet light, typically faint starlight or moonlight. The character can see most objects dimly in shades of grey, while many plants and animals (especially insects) have rich ultraviolet patterning. Some mineral substances, such as many poisons, are visible to ultraviolet.

    This sort of thing would make the *visions always better than none at all, and give them some specific niche uses as well, but they wouldn’t leave humans in the dust so much. I’d also tend to rule that it generally takes a few seconds at least for eyes to switch between *visions, in the same way we have to adjust to dark rooms and bright sunny days. So when the lantern goes out, the elf and dwarf aren’t just completely unaffected – they get to spend a round blinking and cursing too.

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