Nerfing Infravision/Darkvision, your houserules & ideas?

There is a meme “Infravision was a mistake, change my mind”. I agree with the sentiment and feel even Darkvision is still too powerful.

To me, having one or several PCs that can see rather well in pitch dark for about 20 meters and absolutely perfectly in dim conditions for same distance is suspense breaking/OP. -> 5E says:

“Darkvision. Accustomed to life underground, you have superior vision in dark and dim conditions. You can see in dim light within 60 feet of you as if it were bright light, and in darkness as if it were dim light. You can’t discern color in darkness, only shades of gray.”

This rule leads to odd situation where characters that have infravision always have to scout ahead in dark environments or that torches are not needed, or that people want to play certain races purely for this very advantageous game mechanic/advantage. I mean even if you really want to RP an effective dungeon delving or cat-burglar thief, and from a purely RP perspective would prefer to play a human, you might still never pick human and lose out on Darkvision, it is just too big a disadvantage.

I am not into resource management much, but in terms of needing torches or oil lamps or spells in any oppressive, dark, underground and dangerous places, or else having to be extremely careful, I am into that. I think it substantially adds to atmosphere and the good kinds of risk or scary situations.

What are your house rules? Do you know any blog that came up with far “harder” and less OP infravision or darkvision rule?

My own houserule:

" Infravision (Darkvision) for PCs is very limited and does not detect temperature in any way. It is akin to having a small candle in your hand, except you barely see colour, you see primarily shades of grey, objects and things (very) close by are very clear, anything beyond a few meters rapidly gets fainter and fainter, harder and harder to make out. The maximum range for infravision in pitch dark is 20 meters, beyond that you can not make anything out at all /it is like having no infravision. Torches, lamps or other light sources are important for any character, if to a slightly lesser degree for PCs with infravision."

Perhaps it is too harsh? Any tweaks?

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and in darkness as if it were dim light.

In 5e dim light causes perception checks relying on vision to be at disadvantage. Very not OP. No one remembers this. Sending darkvision only characters ahead to scout is not very affective. Still not happy with how “powerful” DV is, could extend disadvantage to any check requiring sight such as sneaking…

Your description “akin to having a small candle” sounds very much like dim light to me.

In a non 5e OSR game; Infravision, meh the characters are at risk of death, have everything stacked against them, I have no problem with giving them “super” powers. Infravision is pretty niche as far as powers go.

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A few options:

Being able to hear heartbeats perfectly, useful for detecting prey, fear etc.
Being able to talk to stone a set number of times per day (my preferred one for dwarves)
Being able to shine light out of your eyes

I just don’t give infravision/darkvision to player characters, period.


Thanks for answer, first post right? Welcome. :slight_smile: The reason why I uses the candle and my description is because the way 5e describes it, it makes no distinction between how well you see with Darkvision 2 meters in front of you or 18 meters (= the limit of 60 feet) which I find both illogical and suspension breaking and somewhat OP. Especially because in Dim light you see perfectly.

In most dungeon scenarios or even many caves it will be rare that being able to see more than 18 meters is really needed. In essence any PC with Darkvision will not (truly) need any torches in almost any dungeon setting/room/area.

You make a good point about the perception checks/disadvantage, but I am trying to get away from more rolls and checks, ideally more towards description on my and the players part,. conversations about how dark the environment is, how exactly the players navigate this darkness. Still, a check is certainly a way to make it more dangerous.

One of the problem I have is, that if there is an Orc just standing silently in dim light, in middle of a hallway, 17 meters away a character with Darkvision as per 5E would always and absolutely see the Orc as clear as day. And no check would be allowed if I followed the rules to a T. If same situation but pitch black, the PC would still interpret the rules as it being very unlikely the PC would not see the orc. Of course I could force a check and even give disadvantage but the PC would likely feel I was doing them a bit dirty, due to RAW.

I am trying to play OSR with a bit more survive-ability than Gygax but I am also dispensing with any rule that is OP and in 5e I find most of them to be that way. Plus Infra or Darkvision has been a problem in almost every edition.

It’s still a WIP but, my rules for light sources and vision are taking this shape:

Condition Perception Check
Pitch Black Automatic fail
Very Dark -6
Dark -4
Dim Light -1
Bright 0
Very Bright -1
Strong light -4
Blinding -6
Staring at the sun Automatic fail

Basically, you can see decently only in Bright condition, in every other situation there is either too much or too little light.

Infravision, means that every situation has the light condition moved up one step (so you basically get from Dark to Staring at the sun), while Darkvision moves it up by two steps.

Torches and lamps move by two steps (but never above Bright), candles by one (again, never above Bright).

This way Infravision/Darkvision are still useful (but not that powerful), but have some drawbacks (you start having malus earlier when the light increases). Plus, you can fit sunglasses in your world :sunglasses:

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This guy goes deep and explains some of the science behind infravision as well as how each D&D edition (mis?)handled it:

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In my game, infravision doesn’t actually do anything unless the individual is in complete darkness and takes a full turn for their vision to adjust. Even then, it’s only in a blurry black and white, but can reveal body temps, heat trails, and potentially other hidden details.


I also feel that demi-human characters seeing in the dark is problematic. It creates an issue where you are saying things like “Okay, everyone with infravision can see this much stuff, while everyone else can only see this.” I lean heavily towards ‘humans only’ in my games for this reason, as well as it helps create the sense of baseline reality; it’s more exciting to run across an elf if you haven’t had one in your party since day one.

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I, too, don’t allow non-humans. (Except my young daughter gets to play an Elf. I couldn’t say no.)

There are many gains in a “humans only” game, including the excitement at meeting a non-human of any kind, as Zack_Wolf says. But also you don’t need to deal with situations where some PCs can see what’s going on and others can’t. If your game is primarily a dungeoneering story, any kind of seeing in the dark is a huge advantage.

Did Tolkien’s dwarves see in the dark?

“Far over the misty mountains cold
To dungeons deep, and caverns old
For ancient king, and elvish lord
There many a gleaming golden hoard
They shaped and wrought, and light they caught
To hide in gems, on hilt of sword”

Golden hoards and gems and sword-hilts don’t gleam in the dark. I think they had fires to see, but Tolkien scholars around here may know better.


Great points. I always envisioned dwarfs as having big roaring fires in larger chambers, plenty of smelters and not a ton of torches or lamps everywhere but at least some in every room they were going to spend any length of time in. Established underground burrows or cities would certainly have some (semi) permanent magical lights in important areas.

My own house rules concerning Infravision are meant to reflect this. Dwarves can! navigate total dark somewhat and far better than humans, but only with very limited range, which means they would never get lost underground due to the dark, but that they wouldn’t thrive without torches or other light sources. They would need good lightning, not so much to get from room to room or down into the mine, but instead to effectively mine and then craft the finest weapons and ornamental items.

As you say, the fact that a gem that seems to have it’s owner inner magical light, or (Elven) swords that glow in certain situations being extremely prized by Tolkien Dwarves suggests they want to have light around, when it matters.

To further extrapolate, I could imagine Orcs and other races (Drow, Kobolds, etc) that spend almost their entire lives solely underground having even far better infravision than Dwarves and rarely using light sources other than a fire, though even the Drow illuminate their large cities with thousands of lights. This superior infravision would perhaps also be one explanation why Orcs could be real threats to Dwarves. The Dwarves usually are not numbering that many, yet they do have great weapons, defenses, discipline, courage, strength and tactics. If Orc foes can fight better in completely dark tunnels, that is dangerous for the Dwarves. They would need to carry items, spells or magical weapons that provided light if they went into battle in totally dark areas.