For creatures without Darkvision, can they discern colors in dim light?

I can't find anything that explicitly say so, only the part about Darkvision that seems to hint that Darkvision "upgrades" the capability to see in normal -> dim light -> darkness, by one.

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.


4 Answers 4


It is difficult to know for sure, but it is likely that you couldn't discern color well, if at all.

The only reference we get to the working of dim light comes from this excerpt in the Player's Handbook:

Dim light, also called shadows, creates a lightly obscured area. An area of dim light is usually a boundary between a source of bright light, such as a torch, and surrounding darkness. The soft light of twilight and dawn also counts as dim light. A particularly brilliant full moon might bathe the land in dim light.

Using the few explicit examples of dim light we have, twilight, dawn, and moonlight provide much less light than the sun, and it would therefore be more difficult to make out color (except perhaps bright reds and blues).

While we can't extend the real world directly into the game world, it is a good starting point. Next we have to work with the "lightly obscured area" bit.

In a lightly obscured area, such as dim light, ... creatures have disadvantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on sight.

Extrapolating from the Ability Check system

Identifying color would, fundamentally, be a Wisdom (Perception) check of very low DC (while in bright light at least):

[Perception] measures your general awareness of your surroundings and the keenness of your senses

but in dim light that DC may change as it could be classed as a Hard or Very Hard task (as assumed from the examples of what constitutes dim light) and you would have disadvantage due to the light obscurement:

The more difficult a task, the higher its DC.

Essentially, since the light is dim and therefore lightly obscured, identifying color moves from a DC 0-5 perception check (which is easily covered by anyone's Passive Perception) to a DC 20-25 with disadvantage.

TL;DR: Identifying color in dim light requires exceptionally high Perception or reasonably high Perception and active focus on the object/area whose color you are trying to identify.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Reds and blues are the hardest colors to see in low light levels - green and yellow are much easier. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dale M
    May 24, 2018 at 20:55
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Rods and Cones... I just treat Darkvision as a much higher density of Rods since they are not sensative to color. Also, I don't allow normal vision and Darkvision to function at the same time, always seemed silly to me to do so. \$\endgroup\$
    – Slagmoth
    May 25, 2018 at 12:29


Technical based on human vision

The visual system that allows humans to see in dim light does not detect color. This is relevant as it's the common experience of the people playing the game. Lacking a fantasy setting description that addresses this, assuming it's similar to the experience of the players is reasonable.

Real-world logic

The game rules do not explicitly rule on color in dim light. The rules don't cover a lot of things. Assuming those things function as the people engaged with the story are accustomed to in reality is expedient in most cases. Using the low light experience of reality also makes darkvision that much more fantastical.

  • \$\begingroup\$ D&D is not a physics simulator, so "real world" references are of dubious value. \$\endgroup\$
    – T.J.L.
    May 24, 2018 at 14:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ @T.J.L. Remember the full version of that aphorism: D&D’s rules aren’t a physics simulator. Given that, where the rules are silent, it’s not really a relevant observation. Further, the rules are silent in many places and expect us to apply our own understanding of how basic things work, else the game doesn’t function as a RPG that lets us play plausible fantasy scenarios, like seeing distant but bright lights at night \$\endgroup\$ May 24, 2018 at 14:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie Hence the specific choice of the word "dubious". \$\endgroup\$
    – T.J.L.
    May 24, 2018 at 15:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ And that’s a good softenening of the statement to make it less absolute. But I maintain that it’s not applicable at all. :) \$\endgroup\$ May 24, 2018 at 15:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ Much better :) My next suggestion would be to include some sort of logic saying why and how it is good to apply real-world logic to this rules discussion. You could probably mention, for example, that the rules (as far as I'm reading here), do not rule on this one way or another, but I would try to go into as much detail why this should be applied as possible as there are plenty of places in which applying real-world logic even in the case of a rules hole could not be an acceptable option. \$\endgroup\$ May 24, 2018 at 16:21

To Some Extent

Questions like this beg the DM and players to evaluate the spirit of the rule, not the ultimate logical conclusions the rules as written could lead to.

I see what you're going for and your logic is sound. To specify that players with darkvision cannot discern colors in darkness, but can see fine in dim light, does (in some ways at least) imply that characters without darkvision should have the same shortcomings in dim light as those who possess darkvision have in darkness.

While this all logically follows, I would hesitate to apply it as a hard-and-fast ruling. Without considering the benefits of darkvision, a regular schmo looking at a book on a table barely illuminated by a faint light could probably still tell you what color it is. Or at least what colors it isn't (he's not going to mistake a navy blue book as bright pink, but he may not be able to tell if it's jungle green or jet black or navy blue, etc).

The important thing, I've found, is to simply ensure that darkvision continues to hold some benefit to players/NPCs that do have it. So if your DM is letting regular-eyesight people see that the book is actually deep maroon in color, he should (in my humble opinion) be proactive in throwing the darkvision characters a bone and saying something like "and if you have darkvision you can clearly read the title as well".

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    \$\begingroup\$ I agree with your answer, but not sure I really get the point of the question as such. Surely this falls under the purview of "like real-life unless otherwise noted"? i.e. Without magical/enhanced senses you can assume a character has 'normal' vision and as such would see as well as a normal person would in real-life (which is diminished but still existing color-vision in dim light). \$\endgroup\$
    – PJRZ
    May 24, 2018 at 14:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ I imagine they asked the question because the conclusion they could extrapolate out of a written rule seemed to contradict what would fall under "like real-life unless otherwise noted". My answer basically amounts to "stick with what the rules are and don't think too hard about them beyond that." Getting pseudo-rulings based in logic from rules that were never meant to apply to that specific scenario is a slippery slope. \$\endgroup\$
    – Euch
    May 24, 2018 at 14:56

To the best of my belief, yes, they can.

I searched the DMG, PHB, XGtE and SCAG for the usage of the word "color", and except in passages about darkvision, it never occurred with any relation to dim light.

A google search didn't yield any results, either.

Therefore, since one can obviously discern color in bright light and nothing contradicts this for dim light, creatures without darkvision can indeed discern color in dim light (and so can those with darkvision, of course).

As the DM, you can obviously rule differently. After all, RAW, nothing is explicitly specified, and you can overrule any official rules anyways (which are more like guidelines, really).


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