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I am homebrewing a post-apocalypse style world for D&D 5E, intended to be a mashup of Mutant Year Zero and D&D 5E. Thematically, one major point is that the world has been thrown into a perpetual night. I want this to matter to the player characters, and be central to problems they face. That means more emphasis on managing light sources and that special forms of vision that bypass darkness should be exceptional.

I'd like to alter the standard playable races with darkvision, replacing it with low-light vision (the ability to see normally in areas with dim light), plus some compensating factor, which I will probably choose thematically for each race. The goal is that these races should still be solid choices, as valid as before, but that they don't overshadow (no pun intended) races without darkvision due to the setting.

I am not quite sure what the downgrade darkvision -> low-light vision is worth in terms of reasonable compensation from an extra race feature. A proficiency? A known language? A situational bonus? I'm guessing that it is around this level in a normal setting.

In the setting, areas with dim lighting will be a very common adventuring environment (basically outside at night on 50% of nights), so low-light vision is still a noticeable benefit. Perhaps this fact means that I should not need to compensate anything? As despite the fact that I am strictly downgrading the ability, in the setting the new ability will be relevant a lot of the time, perhaps just as much as darkvision would be in most other settings.

I have seen the question What would happen if I removed darkvision? and that helps me understand that removing darkvision entirely makes for a workable game. However, I don't want to short-change players choosing a Dwarf or Half-orc PC at the start of the game. I will of course be sharing homebrew changes and setting details before play starts . . . so this is more about having players who would naturally choose, say, a Dwarf, feel that the race was just as viable as in any non-homebrewed setting.


Please note I am not asking for suggestions for replacement abilities - I will decide those. What I am struggling with is how to pitch the power level. Too low and I may have nerfed half the playable races, too high and I have made them too good.

Advice along the lines of "the standard race design suggests racial darkvision is equivalent to a resistance or other conditional Advantage" would be ideal.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ there is a campaign aspect to this, in a campaign that is mostly set outdoors it won't matter at all, in an underdark campaign it it a significant change. \$\endgroup\$ – John Dec 24 '18 at 4:56
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I spent about an hour looking, but I can no longer find the article, interview, video, or tweet I'm looking for. However, I'm certain that at some point there was a discussion with the designers about how much a given PC race's vision type counted for balance, and the response was basically, "none at all." In other words, the game designers did not rank PC darkvision as being significantly more valuable than normal vision for balance purposes, and treated it as a flavor component of each race.

I know a lot of players disagree, probably because every player seems to have a self-sufficiency reflex. And the Darkvision spell seems anomalous until you realize that it's 2nd level because it's specifically for when the narrow uses of darkvision exactly come into play. It's the same reason Knock and Spider Climb are 2nd level. They're not needed all that often, but when they are they're very useful.

Keep in mind that if you're following the game's rules that complete darkness is dim light to a character with darkvision, then characters with darkvision wandering around without a light source is only slightly less stupid than it is for characters with normal vision (-5 to passive Perception and disadvantage on Perception rolls). Such a party is all but guaranteed to trip every trap in the dungeon, and tasks like reading are likely going to be flat out impossible unless the print is particularly large. Even a party of Dwarves should be using a light source in an unfamiliar tunnel. Though light sources can be seen by other creatures, sound is often a bigger giveaway about the presence of other creatures.

Bottom line is that, from a design perspective, it's apparently not worth very much. At that level, I would grant an additional language, vehicle proficiency, or tool proficiency. Alternately, you might grant perception advantage in certain circumstances (e.g., Dwarves and Rock Gnomes underground, Elves and Forest Gnomes in the wilderness, etc.).

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    \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for the answer. I really like "every player seems to have a self-sufficiency reflex" - definitely rings true for me and my group, and probably why I am struggling with understanding what the balance point here is. By pure mechanics, the ability is not that great, but in terms of player choices, it seems high on the wish list for new characters \$\endgroup\$ – Neil Slater Dec 24 '18 at 8:51

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