Within Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition (5e), darkness often serves as a formidable obstacle for players to conquer. However, there is an ability, sometimes a natural ability, sometimes a magical enhancement, called Darkvision that allows player characters and monsters to shed light on and better perceive these shadowy realms, making them slightly less daunting. This comprehensive article aims to demystify Darkvision in D&D 5e, unraveling its essence, mechanics, and profound impact on gameplay.
Table of Contents
What is Darkvision 5e?
Darkvision empowers creatures to see in darkness, modifying the prevailing light level within a specified radius. With Darkvision, total darkness is transformed into a dimly lit environment, while dim light becomes brightly illuminated. This capability lets creatures discern their surroundings even when traditional light sources are absent.
In DnD 5e, most creatures typically enjoy normal vision in bright light, except for dark-dwelling creatures like the Drow. When confronted with dim light, an area is lightly obscured, imposing a disadvantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks due to reduced visibility. On the other hand, darkness creates a heavily obscured area, rendering creatures effectively blinded as they cannot see within this environment.
It is helpful to familiarize yourself with the rules regarding Vision and Light. If we are going to explore how Darkvision changes the rules, you need to know what those rules are, to begin with.
Normal Light and Vision Rules
The locations and landscapes, rooms and realms in which you will find yourself are vast and varied, and so is the potential for various degrees of obscuration. Lightly obscured areas, such as dim light, patchy fog, or moderate foliage, pose challenges for creatures relying on sight by imposing disadvantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks.
Heavily obscured areas, such as darkness, opaque fog, or dense foliage, obstruct vision entirely. When attempting to see within such areas, creatures are considered to suffer from the blinded condition.
The presence or absence of light decides the level of illumination in an environment and comes in three distinct types: bright light, dim light, and darkness.
Bright light facilitates normal vision for most creatures. This illumination can be found even on gloomy days and is provided by torches, lanterns, fires, and other illuminating objects within a defined radius.
Dim light, known as shadows, creates a lightly obscured area. Typically found at the boundary between a source of bright light, such as a torch, and surrounding darkness, dim light can also be experienced during twilight, dawn, or under the soft glow of a particularly radiant full moon.
Darkness, on the other hand, creates a heavily obscured area. Characters encounter darkness during nighttime, including moonlit nights, in the depth of dark dungeons (a favorite haunt of adventurers) or subterranean vaults, or when faced with magical darkness.
How Darkvision Affects Gameplay
In fantasy gaming, numerous creatures, particularly those residing underground, possess the extraordinary ability known as darkvision. Within a designated range, creatures with Darkvision can perceive their surroundings in darkness as if it were dim light and dim light as if it were bright light.
As a result, areas cloaked in darkness are lightly obscured, while dimly lit regions appear brightly illuminated for these creatures. It is important to note that in darkness, such creatures perceive the world in shades of gray, lacking the ability to discern colors.
Superior Darkvision is an enhanced version of regular Darkvision, boasting an expanded radius. Certain playable races and formidable monsters possess this upgraded trait, granting them an extended field of vision in dark environments.
As a trait, Superior Darkvision adheres to the same principles and rules as regular Darkvision regarding seeing in dim light and darkness. However, it provides an increased range within which creatures can perceive their surroundings.
For instance, Deep Gnomes, as outlined in the basic rules, possess Superior Darkvision with an impressive radius of 120 feet. This expanded sight allows them to navigate and explore dark realms with heightened clarity.
Despite its enhancements, it’s important to note that Superior Darkvision does not confer immunity to the challenges of direct sunlight, which is addressed separately by traits like Sunlight Sensitivity, which usually comes as the downside of this ability to perform so well in the shadows.
Furthermore, it’s crucial to understand that Superior Darkvision does not grant the ability to see through magical darkness on its own. Instead, it functions similarly to regular Darkvision and with the same restrictions, albeit with an extended reach.
Using Darkvision on Adventures
Darkvision significantly impacts gameplay by reducing the challenges encountered in dimly lit or dark environments. While it doesn’t render these encounters trivial, creatures with Darkvision are spared certain disadvantages during combat and exploration.
However, on its own, Darkvision doesn’t heavily influence gameplay mechanics. Although it simplifies seeing in the dark for many player characters, it merely necessitates slight adjustments to puzzles and encounters to accommodate this trait. Nevertheless, it is essential to provide opportunities for players with Darkvision to showcase their (albeit fairly common) abilities, as it is a special trait that adds depth to the gameplay, and everyone should be famous for fifteen minutes (or about 1/4th of a standard candle!)
Darkvision primarily affects gameplay in two of the Three Pillars of Play: combat and exploration.
Combat: Darkvision grants a significant advantage when engaging in combat within darkened areas. Fighting in dim light no longer imposes disadvantage on attack rolls, and creatures with Darkvision can perceive total darkness as if it were dim light. Consequently, Darkvision enables creatures to fight effectively even in complete darkness.
To clarify, combat in well-lit or dimly-lit areas doesn’t substantially differ. Well-lit areas generally allow creatures to see normally, while dimly lit areas only impose disadvantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks, not attack rolls or saving throws.
However, Darkvision becomes significantly more crucial when fighting in total darkness. Creatures lacking Darkvision become effectively blinded in darkness, suffering a disadvantage on their attack rolls, while attacks made against them gain an advantage. In contrast, creatures with Darkvision can perceive the darkness as if it were dimly lit, avoiding the drawbacks of blindness.
For instance, consider a scenario where a human Paladin confronts a goblin in the pitch-black basement of a ruined temple. The Paladin, lacking Darkvision, effectively fights as if blinded, resulting in attacks against the goblin being made at a disadvantage. Conversely, the goblin, benefiting from Darkvision, can see the Paladin as if in dim light, avoiding the disadvantage of their attacks.
Hence, Darkvision proves crucial in combat situations involving darkness but offers limited assistance in dim light.
Exploration: Darkness does have a bigger on exploration than combat. Even dim light makes observing an area more challenging. Darkvision proves invaluable during exploration by enabling creatures to perceive dimly lit and dark places more easily, as they can actually see in those areas.
Total darkness is perceived as dim light for creatures with Darkvision. However, even in dim light, creatures with Darkvision still suffer a disadvantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks, making observation more difficult if relying solely on sight. But it is better than not being able to see at all, especially if you are exploring the lower levels of the Thieves Guild building, the one headed up by Tantalus the Tricky, the most notorious building of booby-traps of the current age. You are going to want to be able to see exactly where you are putting your feet.
Furthermore, creatures with Darkvision cannot perceive colors in darkness, only perceiving shades of gray. This limitation poses challenges when identifying specific objects based on color, such as pulling a red lever, locating a green book, following color patterns on the floor, or activating a trap that relies on color-based triggers. Without a light source, creatures with Darkvision cannot discern these color-dependent elements.
So Darkvision significantly aids exploration, facilitating perception in dim and dark areas. While it plays a role in specific combat scenarios, its value is helping adventurers navigate and observe their surroundings when light is scarce.
What Character Races Have Darkvision?
In D&D 5e, many character races possess Darkvision as a notable trait, typically with a range of 60 feet. Please don’t say it when they are around, but possessing Darkvision doesn’t make you as special as you might think!
Darkvision is almost a prevalent trait among character races in 5e, offering players ample opportunities to create characters with this ability. Out of the 46 playable races and lineages (excluding subraces), a total of 20 races possess Darkvision as a distinct trait, accounting for slightly less than half of the options available.
List of Races in 5e with Darkvision
|Dwarf & its subraces||Player’s Handbook|
|Elf & its subraces||Player’s Handbook|
|Gnome & its subraces||Player’s Handbook|
|Orc||Volo’s Guide to Monsters, Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount, Eberron: Rising from the Last War|
|Leonin||Mythic Odysseys of Theros|
|Dhampir lineage||Vampire: The Masquerade – Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft|
|Hexblood lineage||Vampire: The Masquerade – Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft|
|Owlin||Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos|
|Genasi (Fire subrace only)||Elemental Evil Player’s Companion|
|Aasimar||Volo’s Guide to Monsters|
|Bugbear||Volo’s Guide to Monsters|
|Goblin||Volo’s Guide to Monsters|
|Hobgoblin||Volo’s Guide to Monsters|
|Kobold||Volo’s Guide to Monsters|
|Tabaxi||Volo’s Guide to Monsters|
|Triton||Volo’s Guide to Monsters|
|Yuan-ti Pureblood||Volo’s Guide to Monsters|
|Shifter||Eberron: Rising from the Last War|
|Simic Hybrid||Guildmasters’ Guide to Ravnica|
|Vedalken||Guildmasters’ Guide to Ravnica|
In addition to this, three playable races can benefit from Superior Darkvision, the Grey Dwarf (Duergar) subrace among the Dwarves, the Dark Elf (Drow) subrace among the Elves, and the Deep Gnome (Svirfneblin) subrace among the Gnomes.
Obtaining Darkvision in D&D 5e
While playing a race or lineage with Darkvision is the simplest way to acquire the ability to see in the dark, there are a few other methods available in D&D 5e for those who still need to enter the world with it built in.
In addition to selecting a race or lineage with the Darkvision trait, there are alternative options for granting your character the ability to see in darkness. Certain classes or subclasses provide features that bestow Darkvision upon characters. The Darkvision spell is another option, although obtaining it requires playing a suitable class or collaborating with a character who possesses it. Finally, the game includes magical items that confer Darkvision when utilized.
A limited number of class features offer Darkvision to characters. While these features vary in their capabilities, most provide a permanent form of Darkvision upon reaching the required level. Some classes grant basic Darkvision, while others extend its range or allow characters to see through magical darkness. Although activating these features might require an action or resource expenditure, they provide player characters with varying degrees of vision in the dark.
Class and Subclass Features that Grant Darkvision:
|Feature||Class & Subclass||Sourcebook|
|Devil’s Sight Eldritch Invocation||Warlock||Player’s Handbook|
|Umbral Sight||Ranger: Gloom Stalker||Xanathar’s Guide to Everything|
|Eyes of the Dark||Sorcerer: Shadow Origin||Xanathar’s Guide to Everything|
|Ghostly Gaze Eldritch Invocation||Warlock||Xanathar’s Guide to Everything|
|Eyes of Night||Cleric: Twilight Domain||Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything|
It’s worth noting that the Warlock’s Eldritch Invocation, Devil’s Sight, is the only version of Darkvision that enables characters to see through all forms of magical darkness. The Shadow Sorcerer’s Eyes of the Dark allows them to see through their own darkness spell by expending Sorcery Points, but it does not provide vision through all magical darkness. In such specific scenarios, Devil’s Sight proves to be highly effective.
The Darkvision Spell
Within D&D 5e is a spell, handily also called Darkvision 5e spell, specifically designed to grant a creature the ability to see in the dark. This spell bestows Darkvision with a range of 60 feet, allowing the recipient to navigate dimly lit environments for eight hours.
If you need to grant Darkvision to another creature, such as the visually impaired Paladin in the party we mentioned above, this is the spell for that. It does exactly what it says on the tin… I mean scroll.
Magic Items to Illuminate the Darkness
In the realm of D&D 5e, certain enchantments bestow Darkvision upon those who wield or attune to them. These magical items grant the ability to see in the dark and may also possess additional advantages.
While the number of magic items that provide Darkvision is limited in 5e, they can be found scattered across various sourcebooks, making compiling a comprehensive list often challenging. Furthermore, some of these magical items require attunement, occupying one of the three slots available to a character.
Fortunately, even within the Basic Rules, three magic items stand ready to grant Darkvision, providing Game Masters with convenient options to incorporate them into their campaigns, even if they haven’t opted to play advanced or expanded versions of the game.
Magic Items Bestowing Darkvision:
|Belt of Dwarvenkind||Player’s Handbook|
|Goggles of Night||Player’s Handbook|
|Robe of Eyes||Player’s Handbook|
|Axe of the Dwarvish Lords||Dungeon Master’s Guide|
|Dragon Mask||Tyranny of Dragons|
|Helm of Underwater Action||Ghosts of Saltmarsh|
|Shadowfell Brand Tattoo||Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything|
|Wreath of the Prism||Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount|
|Verminshroud||Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount|
|Silken Spite||Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount|
|Orb of the Veil||Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount|
How to Get Around Darkvision
Overcoming Darkvision in D&D 5e doesn’t have to be a daunting task. While Darkvision provides advantages, there are ways to counter its effects and introduce challenges that keep the game engaging for all players. Here are some strategies for Game Masters to balance encounters and puzzles when dealing with a party full of characters with Darkvision.
Exploit magical darkness: Most forms of Darkvision only function in natural darkness. Spells like Darkness or areas of magically created darkness can nullify the benefits of Darkvision for creatures. This levels the playing field and creates a more balanced combat scenario. A cursed or desecrated area emitting supernatural darkness can also achieve a similar effect.
Color-based puzzles: Darkvision doesn’t allow characters to see colors in darkness. Incorporate puzzles or objectives that rely on identifying specific colors, such as retrieving items of certain hues or deactivating traps based on color patterns. This adds an extra layer of challenge for characters with Darkvision who need to find alternative methods to discern colors.
Environmental obstacles: Don’t solely rely on light levels to challenge characters with Darkvision. Introduce obstacles like morning fog, dense foliage in forests or swamps, or other environmental factors that obscure vision regardless of Darkvision. This ensures that even characters with Darkvision face difficulties navigating or detecting hidden threats.
Invisibility and stealth: Enhance encounters by granting enemies some level of invisibility, forcing characters to rely on other senses or abilities to detect their opponents. This will undoubtedly challenge characters with Darkvision who depend heavily on their sight.
Selective use: While it’s important to introduce challenges for characters with Darkvision, avoid consistently conspiring against them. Doing so may diminish the significance of Darkvision and make players feel frustrated, and after all, it isn’t a “you against them” sort of game, so having introduced a concept such as Darkvision, it seems a bit redundant to go out of your way to block it at every turn. Instead, selectively incorporate these challenges to keep the game balanced and enjoyable for everyone.
Darkvision 5e FAQs
What is Darkvision in D&D 5e?
Darkvision is a trait or ability in Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition that allows creatures to see in darkness as if it were dim light and dim light as if it were bright light. It grants the ability to perceive shapes and objects without light, but it does not allow the ability to see colors in darkness.
How far can Darkvision see in D&D 5e?
The range of Darkvision varies depending on the race, class feature, or magic item that grants it. The most common range is 60 feet, but some races or items may provide a longer range, such as 120 feet. It is essential to consult the specific rules for the source of Darkvision to determine its range.
Can Darkvision see through magical darkness?
No, Darkvision does not allow creatures to see through magical darkness. Darkvision only functions in natural darkness or dim light. Spells like Darkness create magical darkness that blocks Darkvision. However, certain class features or magic items may allow seeing through magical darkness as an exception.
Final Thoughts on Darkvision 5e
Darkvision is a valuable trait in Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, allowing creatures to see in darkness and dimly lit environments. It enhances gameplay by reducing the difficulties and disadvantages associated with low-light conditions. While Darkvision has its benefits, it does have limitations. It does not allow creatures to see through magical darkness; color perception is absent in dark settings.
Game Masters have plenty of tools to counterbalance Darkvision and maintain challenge and suspense in their adventures if they need to. They can incorporate magical darkness, fog, or dense foliage to obscure vision, creating obstacles even for creatures with Darkvision. Additionally, color-based puzzles and traps can provide unique challenges that require alternative solutions or sacrifices in stealth.
Balancing the use of Darkvision is crucial to maintain a fair and enjoyable gameplay experience. Overly negating its benefits can make players feel their characters’ abilities are invalidated, so it is vital for Game Masters to selectively incorporate challenges while still allowing Darkvision to shine in appropriate situations. With thoughtful implementation, Darkvision can enrich the game and add depth to encounters and exploration in the darkness-filled realms of Dungeons & Dragons.
Kendra has always been a hardcore fantasy nerd. Growing up in the worlds of Tolkien, Sanderson, Jordan, and Abercrombie, DnD & board games just came naturally. She and her husband, Bryan, started GameCows.com in 2018 as a fun passion project that just took over their lives. An avid board gamer since childhood and chronic DnD chronicler for more than two decades, she loves to play, write, travel, and learn dead languages. She is also a professional content writer at SlashGear.com