Darkvison Ruins The Fun Again

In my Where Hell Comes To Prey Nightwick campaign (latest on that campaign here), I have recently changed the way I track light from using an overloaded encounter die to using a "light dice pool" mechanic from DURF by Emiel Boven which represents the total light the party has among torches and lanterns. Every round this pool is rolled along with the encounter die and lose any die with a "1". Lose all of your light die and you have an encounter regardless of the encounter die-- now in the dark!

Now, combat in the dark in Nightwick Abbey would be a terrible proposition. But I started to wonder if I should ratchet up the tension of a depleting light pool further by requiring everyone to roll on an Escape The Dungeon table instead of combat (if you are unfamiliar here is an example).

This would ratchet the tension up and simplify the whole procedure to a "1" or "0" state: if you have light, keep exploring; if you don't have light, you run for your life. This sounded exciting! And certainly, keeps in the horror vein of Nightwick Abbey. And make the light spell and its cousins far more useful. 

But then my thoughts came to a skidding halt: what about dwarves and changelings with darkvision? Ugh. I expressed this lament in a Discord and Josh of Rise Up Comus suggested the dark vision should be taken out back and shot. I had to agree with another "ugh". 

The biggest problem for me with darkvision in old-school games is that for anything you do with light and sight in a dungeon a DM almost has to create two states for the party: one for the humans who can't see and then for the 2-3 demi-humans who can. But often both are present at the same table so you are giving "hidden" information in the open. Nothing is interesting here and a lot of DMing brain power goes toward maintaining these states.

Now, while complaining about darkvision is no doubt one of the 5 most common perennial discussions in the old-school scene, this one spurred a good discussion out and two tools useful for my game: 

  • darkvision as magic item
  • alternatives for darkvision that could be applied to different

Darkvision As A Magic Item

Azure Lotus Drops allow a character to have 6 exploration turns of darkvision with an additional 1d6 turns rolled in secret by the DM on the last turn. If use more than once a day, make a Save vs Spells or become blind for 6 exploration turns plus 1d6 additional turns.
  • They are commonly used by thieves so possession is suspect
  • Manufacture requires rare arcane components; the most widely known is azure lotus necter

Alternative Special Senses to Darkvision

Here is what I mean by "alternatives to darkvision". Its not necessarily a different type of sight, but instead different senses that could be used that are useful but not as "complete" as sight.
Last Note

So, I don't know if I'll end up enforcing the Escape the Dungeon roll, I'll have to see what my players think of that. Maybe if a few combats don't go well in the dark this is a good alternative and maybe I'll see how they feel about the light situation.


  1. I've always felt old school infravision is more game-friendly than darkvision—you can justifiably rule that it doesn't let you "see" in the dark but rather just make out rough outlines and silhouettes, which has a practical benefit for PCs but still keeps light a necessity.

    Another alternative is from a GM I know who rules that infravision only grants additional range to light sources. It can conceivably create that two-state problem you mentioned, but it's a workable method for keeping the spirit of demihuman sensory advantage alive without reducing the importance of light or adding a bunch of new rules.

  2. I profess to having long railed against bothering to track torch depletion, and for related reasons have given up on darkvision/infravision as well. I feel these are vestigial game elements that much effort is put into rehabilitating, for very little return, and I would rather direct my efforts to the aspects of play that already provide good return on investment. Randomly encountering the nastiest denizen of a dungeon, and being chased out like a bat out of hell, potentially dropping your pack or light sources depending on the situation/fiction (same thing) seems preferable to me than all this other futzing. _Do not go gentle into that good night._