The Red Box Blog

Ramblings about D&D.

Rules Quirks – Infravision/Darkvision

The advent of 3E brought a major overhaul to the way certain non-humans get to see in the dark; infravision (and its lesser known cousin ultravision) was replaced by low-light vision and darkvision. Ostensibly this was removing some of the confusion that surrounded how infravision worked. While I was never one to be confused by applications of infravision, I may not be a representative sample (I was a physics major in university).

By and large I was quite happy with the represention of infravision in the early versions of the game; it made perfect sense to me that a fantasy creature might have eyes that can see lower frequency EMR than a human can. I was not nearly so happy with the strict distances that infravision was limited to, and so never enforced them (though they are easily justifiable). I liked infravision because it had a very distinct flavour to it; when a character found himself relying on his infravision the world looked very different. On the one hand some things that were completely invisible to a human became obvious, but at the same time many things obvious to normal vision could not be seen.

Low light vision is also a rule that I quickly grew to like. It is easy to apply and makes perfect sense to me; a race with low light vision just has more cells in its eye (not unlike felines).

On the other hand darkvision has always rubbed me the wrong way. Darkvision is never really explained in a way that makes sense; a character can see visible light even when there isn’t any? At first I thought the black and white aspect of it was the authors trying to demonstrate an understanding of the varied roles of rods and cones, but if that were the case then darkvision would not work in total darkness. Clearly this was not a matter of biology, and more likely it was the authors envisioning the races of the underdark having nightvision goggles built into their eyes.

So from my perspective this was taking two mechanics which serve the same purpose, and trading the one that had both flavour and a degree of believibility and trading it for the one that was bland and unrealistic.

The Remedy

The simple fix for the newer editions is to treat darkvision as infravision. Much more time consuming (in terms of figuring out who has access to it), and as yet untested by me, is a way to put low light vision in to old school games.

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September 15, 2010 - Posted by | Dungeons and Dragons, Rules Quirks | , ,

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