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For this question let's consider Dwarf racial feature Darkvision although the same wording is used for a number of different races.

The Dwarven Darkvision racial feature reads:

Darkvision
Accustomed to life underground, you have superior vision in dark and dim conditions. You can see in dim light within 60 feet of you as if it were bright light, and in darkness as if it were dim light. You can’t discern color in darkness, only shades of gray.

I understand that conventionally this means within 60 ft of you you can see in the dark/dim light. Reading the specific wording of the feature, however, it doesn't seem to put a limit on the range of seeing in darkness as opposed to dim light?

"within 60 ft of you" appears to only modify the area that you can see in dim light. Removing that section leaves "You can see in darkness as if it were dim light." which provides no limitation on range.

You can see in dim light within 60 feet of you as if it were bright light, and in darkness as if it were dim light.

Compare this to

Within a range of 60 ft you can see in dim light as if it were bright light, and in darkness as if it were dim light

or else

You can see in dim light within 60 ft of you as if it were bright light, and in darkness within that range as if it were dim light

Am I grammatically confused or does the RAW text disagree with the commonly accepted RAI interpretation?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ You might want to establish why you think the 60 foot limitation to both is the "commonly accepted RAI interpretation" \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Feb 21 at 6:37
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That text is poorly phrased

English supports either of your two readings so we have to look to context to see which is correct.

Fortunately, we have the general rules on Darkvision (Basic Rules p 68):

Within a specified range, a creature with darkvision can see in dim light as if it were bright light and in darkness as if it were dim light, so areas of darkness are only lightly obscured as far as that creature is concerned.

So, the range applies to both aspects.

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I think that it fits the published rules appropriately, and I haven't seen an errata entry suggesting otherwise.

There is no fundamental, explicit limitation on how far any character can see under ideal conditions. There are implicit limitations, such as one suggested by the Barbarian class' level 6 feature Aspect of the Beast (Eagle totem variety) which allows a character to see up to one mile away as though it were no more than 100 feet away. This suggests that typical characters' visual ability is not good enough to allow them to see so far or well.

With regard to lighting, darkness creates a heavily obscured area, and heavily obscured areas block vision entirely. It doesn't matter how far the darkness extends because darkness blocks all vision anyhow. Nearsighted people, farsighted people, and sharpshooters all see equivalently in pitch darkness, which is to say "not at all".

This is what Darkvision overcomes: darkness no longer creates heavily obscured areas (for the creature with that trait). Darkness never blocks your vision, because you can see without the benefit of illumination. But you are still presumably limited by your visual ability in general; 5e just doesn't simulate that range. Most characters with Darkvision can see as far as the DM feels is appropriate. A Barbarian with Darkvision and Aspect of the Beast (Eagle totem) could presumably see things a mile away even in pitch darkness.

So as far as they can see in darkness, they have a chance to perceive things visually (albeit with Disadvantage)-- it still counts as lightly obscured for them. Dim light, in turn, goes from lightly obscured to not obscured at all for them. This seems consistent, as it is the obscuring nature of dim lighting and darkness that blocks vision for most. With Darkvision every mundane darkness is effectively at least a little bit illuminated for you.

It's always questionable to apply reality to ambiguities in D&D rules, but the real-world mechanics of vision absolutely require some light to bounce off of something and into an observer's eye. Light from a single source eventually fades to darkness at some distance. Darkvision, by allowing sight in total mundane darkness at all, doesn't have such a limitation. If darkness (and its accompanying heavy obscurity) doesn't totally prevent vision within 60 feet, I don't have a good sense of why it would (non-arbitrarily) prevent vision at 120 feet. There certainly isn't a defined mechanism for it.


So why the distance limitation on dim lighting? I can only speculate. It could be that, because that darkness is the lack of illumination and dim lighting is a limited amount of illumination, dim lighting can only illuminate darkness to a certain distance. Darkness may continue indefinitely, but lighting from a single source cannot.

I don't find that totally satisfying, but as far as I can tell in officially published material there is nothing that delineates ability to see from one patch of darkness to some other patch of darkness.

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