PHB ch. 8 states that a creature in a heavily obscured area (e.g. a completely dark area, if the creature does not have darkvision) effectively suffers from the blinded condition. The definition of blinded is "A blinded creature can't see and automatically fails any ability check that requires sight" and "Attack rolls against the creature have advantage, and the creature's attack rolls have disadvantage."

I am a first-time DM running Lost Mine of Phandelver. The party is exploring the Cragmaw Hideout, which is completely dark in most places. Two PCs have darkvision and three do not. In a combat with a group of goblins, the last surviving goblin fled and the party gave chase. I struggled with how to handle the characters without darkvision chasing the goblin through the darkness. None were carrying a torch. Dancing Lights was cast, but they could only be moved by the caster on her turn (I kept things in initiative order throughout the chase).

Per the rules I quoted above, the only hindrance that the darkness gives the PCs without darkvision is that they have disadvantage when attacking, enemies have advantage when attacking them, and they automatically fail ability checks related to sight. The Cragmaw Hideout contains such things as stairs, narrow passages and a rickety bridge, but I couldn't find any rules reason why the characters without darkvision couldn't traverse those just as easily as the characters with darkvision. The rules don't even say that heavily obscured areas are difficult terrain. I suppose I could have come up with some ability checks, which per the rules would have automatically failed, but that didn't feel right either.

Am I missing something that would have made this a straightforward thing to handle?


Use Dexterity Checks

tl;dr Use dexterity or acrobatics checks to see if the blind characters can remain on their feet while moving at full speed.

Running blindly over terrain at least qualifies as "tricky". From using dexterity scores:

A Dexterity check can model any attempt to move nimbly, quickly, or quietly, or to keep from falling on tricky footing.

Acrobatics reiterates the point:

Your Dexterity (Acrobatics) check covers your attempt to stay on your feet in a tricky situation...

  • \$\begingroup\$ Using an acrobatics check when going above 1/2 speed was what was required for previous editions, with a failed check causing them to fall prone (they tripped in the dark). However this was also mitigated by having a guide, so you could certainly rule that the players with darkvision can effectively guide those without it in a pursuit situation. With this being the case, they could not do so silently as verbal communication should be required to do so. \$\endgroup\$ – Mathaddict Oct 3 '18 at 16:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Mathaddict those with darkvision could always take the aid action to help the blind instead of dashing. That would at least give their ally advantage on the "don't fall on your face roll". \$\endgroup\$ – GcL Oct 3 '18 at 18:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ I agree, but at that point you run the risk of too much mixing current mechanics with old ones, its a fine line, but it makes sense to do or at least say something to promote realism because otherwise it kind of breaks the illusion (which is one of the downsides of 5e). \$\endgroup\$ – Mathaddict Oct 3 '18 at 18:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Mathaddict That's straight 5e. Moving at full speed in the darkness is "tricky". Darkvision ally aids character with help action. Character gets advantage to avoid falling on their face. \$\endgroup\$ – GcL Oct 3 '18 at 19:09

The Cragmaw Hideout contains such things as stairs, narrow passages and a rickety bridge, but I couldn't find any rules reason why the characters without darkvision couldn't traverse those just as easily as the characters with darkvision.

This is a situation that is (intentionally) left to DM fiat.

Things like "safely cross a bridge" won't often have terribly difficult ability checks, to the point that most [reasonable] DMs won't even bother calling for a check unless there's something exceptionally dangerous about said bridge.

Crossing a rickety bridge while blinded would probably constitute making said bridge "exceptionally difficult".

But how that manifests falls within DM purview. Maybe there's gaps in the bridge, and the character has to make sure (through Acrobatics checks) they don't slip and fall into them; but being unable to see them makes it that much harder to avoid. Since Lost Mine of Phandelver is a module for early level characters, I wouldn't pose a risk of dying on this check ("Sir Gregory, you failed the acrobatics check, so you're now stuck between two floorboards of the bridge."), but that's just my perspective. Like I said, DM fiat.

There's a few other things to take into consideration:

  • The bridge might have a built-in check to navigate safely. A DM might rule that crossing this bridge while blinded requires making the check with disadvantage.
  • Same goes for checks to scale a difficult set of stairs or navigate a narrow passage.
  • A creature hiding on the bridge or in a narrow passage can be especially dangerous if the PC can't see them before encountering them.

Take the scenario into account, and make adjustments to deal with the circumstances that the players encounter.


Perhaps surprisingly, there is no movement penalty indicated in the rules for moving in darkness or while otherwise blinded.

I have to admit, I assumed there was, but I must have been thinking of previous editions.

As a DM of course, you are free to house-rule something. Ruling that moving in an unfamiliar location while blinded counts as 'difficult terrain' (each foot of movement costs an extra foot, effectively halving speed) would be reasonable assuming that the PCs are moving more carefully due to their blindness. A PC would still be entirely free to move at normal speed while blind, but perhaps this would require ability checks to avoid bumping into an obstacle or falling down stairs.

You would also then have to factor this in to the difficulty of any encounter (chasing those goblins would have been much more difficult!)


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