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Darkvision is, apart from being black and white (presumably, greyscale is what they mean, because vision in exactly two shades is very different to how creatures see things in the daytime), "like normal sight". But the way we see things is dependent on where light sources, what kind of light they shed, are and how shadows are cast by that light.

So would, for example, an apple on a table look completely different to a human as to a dwarf, so that you could immediately tell if a painting of the apple was done by a human (there's a shadow of the apple opposite the light source, which looks like the color of the table but darker) versus a dwarf (the apple either doesn't cast a shadow, or the shadow has less color because the dwarf sees the shadowy area in black and white)?

(I know there's an answer to a similar concern in 5e rules, but that edition's darkvision treats darkness as dim light, which seems pretty different from how the generally less-abstracted 3.5e describes it)

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No. Page 292, 3.5 Dungeon Master's Guide, emphasis on bold:

The presence of light does not spoil darkvision. If a character has darkvision with a 60-foot range, and he stands within a 20-foot radius of light, the character can see normally in the light, and 40 feet beyond the light because of his darkvision.

Because under the rules there is no distinguishable difference between what, for example, a dwarf sees in natural light and what a human sees then it is evident that dark vision has zero effect on how things are perceived in lighted conditions.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Can you please elaborate, when do conditions qualify as "lighted"? When it is bright light and daylight? \$\endgroup\$ Jan 31 '20 at 14:46
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I’m not aware of any source that really gets into solid details about what darkvision actually looks like, especially when it isn’t dark. The lack of anything saying so would suggest that creatures with darkvision can be assumed to be getting at least as much information from their eyes as creatures without it, which for most humanoids (and frankly, most everything else, since very few creatures define themselves as having different kinds of sight aside from simple things like bonuses and penalties on Spot checks) is going to mean we’re talking about human vision as the standard. (And presumably 20/20 human vision since corrective lenses don’t seem to be a thing even in the settings which should reasonably have them.)

Certainly, no mention is made of dwarves being incapable of perceiving shadows or relative light levels—that would be a serious handicap, realistically, since eyes literally evolved for the purpose of detecting relative light levels and everything on top of then is, in a sense, gravy. Without any such handicap mentioned anywhere in the books, I think it’s unreasonable to assume it.

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