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Create Bonfire (XGtE p152):

You create a bonfire on ground that you can see within range. Until the spell ends, the bonfire fills a 5-foot cube. Any creature in the bonfire’s space when you cast the spell must succeed on a Dexterity saving throw or take 1d8 fire damage. A creature must also make the saving throw when it enters the bonfire’s space for the first time on a turn or ends its turn there.

I am aware that spells only do what they say they do, but usual bonfires do create light. While illumination is not mentioned, it is hard to imagine a bonfire without flames and light, and the spell does not indicate in any way that this is not a usual bonfire.

It should be brighter than a torch for sure, but how much exactly?

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Fire makes light

In the basic rules section on vision and light it states:

Bright light lets most creatures see normally. Even gloomy days provide bright light, as do torches, lanterns, fires, and other sources of illumination within a specific radius.

All fires create light. Create Bonfire creates a magical bonfire. In 5e spells do what they say they do; this spell creates a bonfire. You can cook on this bonfire, the fire burns you, you can see by its light, the fire ignites flammable objects, the fire keeps you warm in winter.

There is no mention that this fire would be, for example, a room temperature fire that gives off no light.

Some may argue this is a fake bonfire or an illusion, however, this cantrip is a Conjuration spell:

Conjuration spells involve the transportation of objects and creatures from one location to another. Some spells summon creatures or objects to the caster's side, whereas others allow the caster to teleport to another location. Some conjurations create objects or effects out of nothing.

The object is real, it has been created by magic.

There are no rules for how much light it gives off

A normal torch gives off bright light in a 20ft radius, so we can expect it to be at least this much. How much exactly is up to the DM, but 20ft bright light is a reasonable starting point.

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Since even a normal, non-magical bonfire is absent from the list of light sources, you (or the DM) will have to make it up.

As you mentioned, strict "spells do only what they say they do" reading suggests no light at all, but other than that, about a torch level should not break the game.

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    \$\begingroup\$ @Euch you raise several points. 1) I am not saying they need to stack, lightsources do not stack , not in DnD and not in real life, at least not the way you present it. (If I wanted them "stacking" I'd add maybe extra 5 ft per extra torch?) 2) You really cannot put concentration aside 3) Daylight does much more, it's portable and able to dispel lesser magical darkness \$\endgroup\$ – J.E Jun 15 '18 at 15:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure what to make of the part of your answer where "a few torches worth [of light] should not break the game" then. I don't know how much light that is. I would argue with the Daylight doing "much" more part... it's primary utility is to illuminate 120 feet worth of stuff. It's being portable and dispelling darkness aren't negligible to be sure, but I would venture that most players who take the spell want it for the light it sheds. \$\endgroup\$ – Euch Jun 15 '18 at 16:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ Spells only do what they say they do, and Create Bonfire says it creates a bonfire. Fire in 5e creates bright light. \$\endgroup\$ – jgn Dec 17 '19 at 1:23
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No one has really given an answer to the actual question you asked, so I will take a shot.

How bright is a bonfire?

We can't consider real-world examples because we have to be mindful of breaking all the other light sources. Instead, lets look at a few light sources:

  • Light Cantrip: 20 ft. Bright / 20 ft. Dim
  • Torch: 20 ft. Bright / 20 ft. Dim
  • Hooded Lantern: 30 ft. Bright / 30 ft. Dim
  • Bullseye Lantern: 60 ft. Bright / 60 ft. Dim (only casts light in a cone)
  • Produce Flame: 10 ft. Bright / 10 ft. Dim.

I have excluded Daylight because it has the added benefit of injuring or impairing any creatures with Daylight Sensitivity. That said, we must consider that a bonfire would realistically be brighter than a torch, simply on account of its size. To that end, one could put it at about 40 ft. Bright / 40 ft. Dim without totally breaking the game.

But that makes it better than all other (low level) full-radius light sources!

Well, not exactly. While the Hooded Lantern only sheds light for 30 ft. / 30 ft., it also does not require concentration. True, a hand to hold it is also a resource, but it is not nearly as costly as concentration. Casting Bonfire to shed light during combat would require the use of an action (if the characters has entered a new area and hadn't been ambushed / lured enemies into their ambush) as well as preventing the casting of any concentration spells. The Hooded Lantern requires only a hand to hold it, and a relatively inexpensive resource (oil). Does this make the lantern less appealing? Absolutely. I don't advise this option for everyone. But if you want a realistic bonfire, this is what I would recommend.

What I would do:

As per NautArch's answer and his line of reasoning about the remainder of fire spells that do not shed light, I personally would not have the Bonfire shed any light. I would specifically describe it as having a strange color for a fire (dark red, almost the color of blood) and would state that it glows enough to be seen in darkness, but not enough to cast light with which to see (like a red LED on a PC in a dark room).

I advise this option because, as you can see from our attempts to assign light to Bonfire, it would obviate other spells / light sources or make them much less appealing. In fact, adding light to Bonfire at all practically renders Produce Flame completely useless (it was almost useless anyway, so I count this a small loss). I don't like making changes that cascade into breaking other features of the game, so I wouldn't mess with it. But you are welcome to, and no, it wouldn't be the end of the world.

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    \$\begingroup\$ @DavidCoffron While that much is true, you can just keep zapping your bonfire to a new spot 40ft. ahead of you every few moments. Annoying, yes, but it would become possible. Thus is largely makes Produce Flame irrelevant - the only benefit of Produce Flame is that it doesn't cost an action to move. But who is holding Produce Flame in the middle of combat? I think Produce Flame would become a very poor choice if Bonfire can produce so much light. \$\endgroup\$ – Joshu's Mu Jun 15 '18 at 20:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ Produce Flame doesn't need to be held, and Produce Flame can still be used for reliable damage unlike Create Bonfire. Produce Flame can also be dismissed as an action. does not require concentration, and lasts 10x longer. \$\endgroup\$ – jgn Dec 17 '19 at 2:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ Suggested addition is the range of Produce Flamle's light radius. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Dec 17 '19 at 18:00
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Ultimately a DM decision, but it's more than reasonable for it to provide some illimunation

The case for light: Fire provides light.

This one is pretty simple. It's a bonfire. Fire has light. Pretty simple.

Bright light lets most creatures see normally. Even gloomy days provide bright light, as do torches, lanterns, fires, and other sources of illumination within a specific radius. (Basic Rules, p. 68)

The problem arises in how much light ("specific radius") it gives, and that's entirely up to the DM to determine. It can be as much as or as little as they'd like and it can be narrated in either direction. (For reference, a torch's specific radius is 20' bright light, and 20' more dim light beyond that).

It's frustrating that the spell (and other adventure modules) references "bonfires", but there are no specific mechanics around them. There are also references to campfires which have the same problem. It's fine that it's up to the DM, but it makes things squirrely when there appears to be a mechanic (bonfire/campfire), but no specific rules for their radius.

The lack of clear illumination radii can make it possible for another reading of the spell that is significantly stricter.

The case for no light. A very strict reading that requires that the mechanics for a given spell/effect/item are completely provided.

But is it? It's magical fire and may have different properties. In fact, there are items like the flame tongue (DMG< 170) and the spell flame blade (PHB, 242) that specifically say how much light the magical fire provides. This suggests that in order for magical fire to shed light, it must be included in the description.

At a top level magical fire is distinct and the properties it has are determined by the text of the spell. Some magical fire provides light because it says so. Other spells don't state that there is light, but there is still fire.

Because of the fact that there are specific examples of fire spells that provide light, the implication is that fire spells that don't state they provide light don't provide light. Otherwise, why have the specific light mechanics for those that do?

Create Bonfire doesn't say that there is light. Just that it is magical.

Spells do what they say, and no more. Create Bonfire (Elemental Evil, 152) states:

the magic bonfire fills a 5-foot cube

This is a magic fire, and not a real fire. This magic fire may simply not shed any light, or not enough to be of any mechanical consequence. There are spells that utilize fire AND provide light, but they are a small subset of the fire damage spells and Create Bonfire is not included in them if looking at RAW this strictly.

If magical fire always provided light, then it wouldn't have been necessary to include it in the spells that have it. You either got it or you don't. And this don't.

Comparing against similar spells

Mechanical Consequences may be the guide here. There spells that deal fire damage that do not also have a light aspect to them. Some do have light, like Fire Shield and Produce Flame.

In areas where there is darkness, this is going to make a difference as an extra bonus to the spell that isn't actually there.

If you look at Fire Shield (a 4th level spell), you get both Light and damage.

Produce Flame (a cantrip), gives you Light and 1d8 damage (increasing with levels). Once the spell is used for damage, it ends.

Create Bonfire (a cantrip), gives you the same damage structure of Produce Flame at the same cost, but the trade-off is that Create Bonfire remains after dealing damage. Adding Light increases the value of Create Bonfire because now you've got the damage of Produce Flame, but you can keep it going for the duration.

Why not allow it to shed light?

At face value, it probably wouldn't do much harm to allow some light since it creates a fire, but there may be an increase in the spell's value if you include illumination with it.

Choosing Cantrips is a cost in itself. You are often limited by the choices you've made and can't swap them out when leveling. If you can get a single cantrip that sheds light and can deliver damage over the duration of the spell,then this increases the value of Create Bonfire.

Ultimately, it's very reasonable and makes in-game and mechanical sense for it to provide light. But it's also reasonable to read this very strictly and only provide mechanics for what's described specifically in the spell's text.

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    \$\begingroup\$ It would be good if your answer would address why you think magical fire doesn't follow the rules for vision and light (which state that fire produces bright light) \$\endgroup\$ – illustro Dec 17 '19 at 11:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ @illustro I added some more detail and updated my lead. I agree that mundane fire is mundane fire and that sheds light. But given that there are a significant amount of fire related spells and objects and many of them specifically state they give light, the ones that don't definitely stand out as "may not give light". \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Dec 17 '19 at 14:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ D&D is an exceptions based game not an inference based one. Just because some spells are explicit in the amount of light they produce does not mean that spells without that explicit text do not follow the general rules for fire. Saying magical fire doesn't shed light is like saying that the water created by Wall of Water doesn't make you wet because the spell doesn't say it does. \$\endgroup\$ – illustro Dec 17 '19 at 14:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ @illustro You are right in that it is an exception-based game. And when nearly all of the other fire-based effects include light range, why wouldn't this be the exception? THe Wall of Water comparison also isn't reasonable because no water spells talk about being wet. Most fire spells/items do talk about illumination. When it's not included, I don't think we should ignore that. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Dec 17 '19 at 14:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ In order for magical fire to be an exception to the general rule, that exception needs to be explicit. As in the text for the spell would need to say that the fire does not give off light. You can't use missing text to infer a general rule about magical fire because there are no hidden rules. What you are suggesting with your reasoning is that there is a hidden rule (ie magical fire doesn't follow the regular rules for fire but has some secret rules which you have to infer from the text of other fire based spells) \$\endgroup\$ – illustro Dec 17 '19 at 14:44
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The rules for Vision and Light say fires give off bright light and thus it gives off light

The rules for vision and light are (emphasis mine):

The presence or absence of light in an environment creates three categories of illumination: bright light, dim light, and darkness.

Bright light lets most creatures see normally. Even gloomy days provide bright light, as do torches, lanterns, fires, and other sources of illumination within a specific radius.

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.

Darkness creates a heavily obscured area. Characters face darkness outdoors at night (even most moonlit nights), within the confines of an unlit dungeon or a subterranean vault, or in an area of magical darkness.

A bonfire is a fire, thus it gives out light. Simple, straightforward and consistent.

How much light a bonfire gives off on the other hand is a question of DM judgement.

The bonfire created by Create Bonfire occupies a whole 5ft cube. To determine how much light it gives off you need to compare it to the other primary documented light source that is similar, a torch (which in many respects is just a mini bonfire).

A torch gives off a 20ft/20ft bright/dim light sphere of light. Thus a bonfire should give off more than this. 40ft/20ft or 40ft/40ft is reasonable as an estimate in this DMs opinion.

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