Light and Vision Tables

Some confusion is understandable when managing dark environments in 5th Edition D&D. There’s a few different rules you need to put together, and your roll can be affected differently depending on whether you’re trying to see or attacking. Plus, it may not be the same for each player!

In order to simplify that process, here’s a couple tables that can assist you in play. It’s not a bad idea to print them out and tape them to your DM screen, if for no other purpose than to remind you to use lighting to set the mood.

Seeing in Darkness

Light and Vision breaks down like this:

  • Lightly obscured means you have disadvantage to see it.
  • Heavily obscured means you can’t see it.
  • Dim light is lightly obscured (disadvantage).
  • Darkness is heavily obscured (can’t see).

One of 5e’s most misunderstood rules is darkvision. Many players figure that if you just have darkvision, you’re gravy. But, that’s not the case. Darkvision only makes you a little better at seeing.

  • A normal PC has disadvantage to see in dim light, and cannot see in darkness.
  • A darkvision PC can see normally in dim light, but still has disadvantage to see in darkness.

Other features enable you to perceive creatures who might not otherwise be visible, such as truesight (which even lets you see into the Ethereal Plane), tremorsense (which lets you sense creatures in contact with the same surface), and blindsight (which lets you see without seeing).

Attacking in the Dark

Notably, even when you have disadvantage to spot a creature, you can still make an attack roll against them normally. Disadvantage is imposed on attack rolls against creatures who you cannot see, no matter how well you roll. The exception is the Drow and Duergar’s Sunlight Sensitivity, which imposes disadvantage on both attack rolls and ability checks. As normal with attacks, disadvantage can be cancelled out by advantage from another source (such as being unseen yourself!).

Rule of Thumb

To recap, the general rule(s) of thumb are:

  • If you can possibly see it, roll a normal attack.
  • If you are guessing where to attack, roll with disadvantage.
  • If you have Sunlight Sensitivity, don’t be in direct sunlight.

If you enjoyed this content, check out the results of our Darkvision survey, which will make you rethink which 5e races should get darkvision, and support us on the ThinkDM Patreon!

3 thoughts on “Light and Vision Tables

  1. This doesn’t address the issue I arrived with. Sometimes things can create “dim light” and some things are only activated during “dim light” conditions (there are actually a fair few but some examples include: domain bonuses like the Twilight Cleric, some enchantments like Hellfire Rapier, or spell effects like Shadow Blade). If you caused dim light to appear and someone cast darkness it states that the darkness negates the dim light condition which was nice and straightforward. However, if someone casts bright light in your dim light area I’m unsure if the bright light area overlaps and camouflages the dim light area or if the dim light area is negated. Additionally, anywhere there is bright light is just an empowered version of dim light, so an argument can be made that all bright light contains (or is even made up of) dim light as well causing the condensed bright light to transition into dim light as the empowered dim light areas range is X distance less than the range of the underlying dim light area distance.

    So…
    1. Does lights brighter than dim light automatically contain dim light as dim light is a component of brighter lights?
    2. Does brighter lights just overlap and conceal dim light?
    3. Does brighter lights negate the dim light condition entirely?
    4. Is there something else that affects this that I wasn’t aware of…?

    Additional reference:
    Dread Lord
    “At 20th level, you can, as an action, surround yourself with an aura of gloom that lasts for 1 minute. The aura **reduces any bright light in a 30-foot radius around you to dim light.**.”

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    1. Some features work in darkness. Some features work in bright light. Some features work in dim light. Think of dim light as a combination of darkness and brightness, if that helps. Features that are intended to work in darkness or dim light (i.e. Twilight Cleric’s Steps of Night) clearly require some absence of light. So, no, they shouldn’t work on bright light unless specifically permitted.

      And yes, I would rule that bright light overrides dim light, unless you have a specific class feature (i.e. Dread Lord) that specifies otherwise.

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