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I play a shadow sorcerer in a group with an arcane trickster. I have been thinking about casting darkness onto the blade of a dagger then sheathing/covering it and giving it to the rogue.

The rogue can then scout ahead or try to infiltrate in disguise. If she gets caught or ambushed, she can use her free item interaction to draw out the dagger and surround herself in the darkness. Even better, she can re-cover the object at the start of her next turn, attack with her other hand, and then use her bonus action to pull the object back out.

But mostly the spell is just intended to buy the rogue some time if she is compromised, so the group can catch up to her position.

I was curious how, as a DM, most would rule advantage/disadvantage on this strategy. It seems that when you cast the spell it causes disadvantage for attacks against those or from those in the sphere... but the fact that been blind and hidden from sight also stack more advantages/disadvantages, everything just goes back to natural rolls....

  1. Since those in the circle are "blinded", all attacks against them would be at advantage. But since they can't be seen, those attacks would also be at disadvantage. So being in the circle just makes attacks against you roll straight?

  2. And the rogue's attacks against others in the darkness would also be a straight roll too, for the same reason. Right?

  3. And attacks you make against those outside the circle would be at disadvantage, unless you use the Hide action. Then you get a straight roll because you are "unseen".

Personally, I'd probably rule that attacks made within or into the darkness are just at disadvantage, because that seems in line with reality even if it isn't RAW. If someone wanted to use their familiar or quickly hide/unhide the object to perform an attack, I might allow a straight roll depending on how they described it (but not a roll at advantage).

But I'm curious what others think and if I'm getting the RAW correct.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Related to this question about advantage/disadvantage in a heavily obscured area. \$\endgroup\$ – Red Orca Nov 7 '18 at 22:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ Why would the darkness spell be suppressed when the dagger is sheathed? I would have expected the darkness spell to not be blockable via non-magical means. \$\endgroup\$ – Kieveli Nov 8 '18 at 14:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Kieveli RAW: Completely covering the source of the darkness with an opaque object blocks the darkness. It'll take the DM ruling that (a) the sheath is opaque enough and (b) that you can cast it on just the blade. But it doesn't have to be a blade/sheath, that's just for flavor. There is another bit which is that you can't choose "a point" that is "being worn or carried" by someone else. The DM could rule this doesn't allow the rogue to carry it, but most seem to think the wording is only about the time of casting. \$\endgroup\$ – Adam Zollo Nov 8 '18 at 17:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ Ahh! PHB 230: "Completely covering the source of the darkness with an opaque object, such as a bowl or a helm, blocks the darkness". And the worn / carried section seems trivial to circumvent. I wonder why that exception is in there. \$\endgroup\$ – Kieveli Nov 8 '18 at 18:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ @AdamZollo Cast it on the tip of an arrow, and then get a blinded lucky shot, and you get the same affect. At least you have the difficulty of hitting them with it first. \$\endgroup\$ – Kieveli Nov 15 '18 at 19:31
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Darkness (usually) cancels out all Advantage and Disadvantage effects for people affected

This is because of two basic rules that affect how combat resolves.

For the person outside the Darkness:

  • They cannot see the target (even if they know their location, which they do unless the target uses the Hide action), so they have Disadvantage on their Attack Rolls
  • Their target cannot see them, so they have Advantage on their Attack Rolls

This is symmetric for the person inside the Darkness as well: they cannot see anyone they attack, and anyone they attack cannot see them either.

The semantics of these rules are found in the Unseen Attackers paragraph of the Making an Attack section of Chapter 9 of the Player's Handbook:

Combatants often try to escape their foes' notice by hiding, casting the invisibility spell, or lurking in darkness.

When you attack a target that you can't see, you have disadvantage on the attack roll. This is true whether you're guessing the target's location or you're targeting a creature you can hear but not see. If the target isn't in the location you targeted, you automatically miss, but the DM typically just says that the attack missed, not whether you guessed the target's location correctly.

When a creature can't see you, you have advantage on attack rolls against it.

If you are hidden—both unseen and unheard—when you make an attack, you give away your location when the attack hits or misses.

Since Advantage and Disadvantage cancel each other, and you don't consider stacked effects (i.e. 2 Advantage sources + 1 Disadvantage source doesn't result in net Advantage), Darkness almost always results in all advantage + disadvantage being negated for all affected creatures.

Shadow Sorcerers, Devil's Sight, and True Sight break this Symmetry

There are three features in 5th edition D&D that alter this situation.

  • When Shadow Sorcerers cast the Darkness spell using their own Sorcery Points, they are explicitly permitted to see through their own Darkness spell
  • Any creature that has the feature Devil's Sight (most high CR Devils, and Warlocks that take the Devil's Sight Eldritch Invocation) can treat all Darkness, even magical Darkness, as Dim Light (which has no effect on Attack Rolls)
  • Any creature that has the feature True Sight (some creatures, as well as anyone who has the Truesight spell cast on them) may ignore Magical Darkness entirely, as though it's not there

In each of these situations, the Unseen Attackers rule comes into play, where the creatures that have at least one of these features will have advantage against any creatures that don't when attacking them, and said target creatures when attacking will have Disadvantage against their better-sighted assailants.

So what's the point?

Well, for starters, it does negate Advantage that your opponents might have. That's one good use.

Secondly, it makes it easy to Hide. Hideing requires some kind of cover, or some ability to stop the enemy from seeing you. So long as that dagger is out, the creature trying to evade the enemy can Hide as an action whenever they want, and if their Dexterity(Stealth) roll is high enough, their location becomes unknown to their enemy (though known to be somewhere inside the Darkness bubble), which will make it much harder to hit them, even without Disadvantage on their attack rolls.

Resolving the unknown location, mechanically, is DM fiat; generally, the DM makes creatures target random points within the bubble, and if they're more than 5' from the creature, they're not close enough to hit them. Otherwise, they use their Action to use the Search action, and if they roll high enough, they're able to know the location of their target

Another important use of Darkness is to prevent spellcasting that requires visible targets. The vast majority of spells, especially single-target spells, require visibility of the target in question; obscuring vision with Darkness makes such spells unusable.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Something else to add under "what's the point" is that many spells, several monster abilities, and a variety of class features also require seeing the target in order to work. One mechanic that applies to everyone is opportunity attacks - neither allies nor enemies can make an opportunity attack when a creature moves away if they can't see the creature do so. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Nov 8 '18 at 2:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ @V2Blast All of which I'll consider adding if this question gets reopened. ;) \$\endgroup\$ – Xirema Nov 8 '18 at 2:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ Haha, yeah, I was considering whether to wait until it was reopened to suggest that, but I figured I'd do so before I forgot. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Nov 8 '18 at 3:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks! Good stuff and it clarified a lot. I like the bit about how DMs typically resolve unknown locations. That's helpful to think about. The V2's note about opportunity attacks is also hella useful. Cancelling out OAs alone makes it a worthwhile "plan b". \$\endgroup\$ – Adam Zollo Nov 8 '18 at 4:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ Alert feat and blindsight could be added to the list of exceptions. \$\endgroup\$ – AntiDrondert Nov 8 '18 at 8:22
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If it were my ruling, I would disregard the books for this scenario and say that all attack rolls coming from within this sphere have disadvantage. Attack rolls coming from outside going in also have disadvantage. Conversely, attack rolls coming from within the sphere going out have disadvantage as well. However, creatures with blindsight or truesight would have advantage when targeting a creature in the darkness, while creatures with tremorsense would make a standard roll.

To me, this simply makes the most sense. Imagine yourself fighting somebody. Now imagine they pull out a void colored dagger that darkness seeps from. You cant see your hand in front of your face, much less your target. Landing a hit would be much harder in this scenario than an open battlefield.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already, and check out the help center for more guidance. Have you tried this house-rule? How has it worked, in your experience? \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast May 5 at 5:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yea. I agree RAW isn't the best way to handle this spell. I'd also let all sorts of things happen based on context. Like if a monk runs into the bubble and successfully grapples the caster, I'd let them make attacks without disadvantage. Or if someone goes prone in the darkness while fighting a melee opponent, I would still have attacks against them be at disadvantage. Sure, they're technically prone (giving the melee attacker advantage) but the melee attacker doesn't even know that. \$\endgroup\$ – Adam Zollo May 6 at 18:09

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