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.