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In D&D 3.0, the darkness spell was a sphere of blackness, impenetrable even to darkvision, which was terrifyingly powerful (except against demons and devils).

In D&D 3.5, it's a zone of 20% concealment, even to creatures with darkvision, which is annoying and frustrating for PCs of races with darkvision.

In Pathfinder and Trailblazer, it's a reduction in light level… which usually generates concealment but doesn't apply to creatures with darkvision, which makes it pretty weak given how common darkvision and low-light vision are.

How did the spell operate in earlier editions of D&D? Did it affect creatures with dark- (er, infra-) vision? If it did, is it known why it was designed in this way?

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In 2nd edition, it's an impenetrable sphere that infravision can't see through. For all intents and purposes, nothing can see through while the spell is active, although other detection methods still work –  Dakeyras Nov 28 '12 at 22:25
    
It might be important to note that in Forgotten Realms, the Drow have this as a special ability, and that 3.0/3.5 was largely based on that setting. –  Garan Jul 5 '13 at 13:07
    
Yeah, the 3.5rd edition's ability to generate light in already dark places was kind of counter-intuitive. Every GM I ever met houseruled it as doing something else. –  GMJoe Jul 8 '13 at 5:17
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up vote 16 down vote accepted

Here is the AD&D first edition version.

First, it depends on whether you are talking about the clerical or mage version. The clerical Darkness was actually the reverse of the Light spell. The PH makes no mention of how it affects infravision or ultravision... only the duration and area of effect.

Now the Mage spell, Darkness 15' radius, does state that "total, impenetrable darkness in the area of effect. Infravision and Ultravision are useless. Neither normal nor magical light will work unless a light or continual light spell is cast. In the former event, the darkness spell is negated"

Why was the spell nerfed? To provide more challenge to the players one must assume.

Now here's the original reference to Darkness. There was no Darkness spell in (basic) D&D. It was added in the Expert D&D expansion, and was referenced as a reversal of the Light spell. It was considered the same for both cleric and mage. It was described as a circle of darkness 30' in diameter that would block all light, but would allow infravision to work. A light spell cast on it would cancel it, and a failed save after casting it on someone's eyes would blind them.

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Hmm... interesting. I had a theory that the darkvision condition was added so that it would actually be useful against the large number of monsters with darkvision, and it was removed in later editions because PCs with darkvision were frustrated with having it used against them. Thanks for the response! –  lorimer May 5 '12 at 17:28
    
Well.. there was no "darkvision" in the original D&D (basic or expert)... just infravision. In AD&D 1st edition, they added Ultravision. Darkvision (neither infravision nor ultravision, but black and white only) didn't come into the game until AD&D 3.5 (to the best of my knowledge) –  Bon Gart May 5 '12 at 17:37
    
Darkvision was introduced in D&D 3.0. It was intended to avoid the complications that arise from giving a pseudo-technological explanation of how infravision works in earlier editions, as part of the larger 3e design goal of making the game rules unambiguous. –  SevenSidedDie May 6 '12 at 21:27
    
I knew it was somewhere in the third edition.. thanks! :) –  Bon Gart May 6 '12 at 21:30
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