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Darkvision is so prevalent among races that the spell Darkvision rarely sees use. Even with casters who do not have darkvision, it still seems unlikely to be taken, as a cantrip is able to provide light, and the situations where the caster without darkvision cannot use light sources are rare enough that it does not justify the spell slot or even having the spell prepared/on their spell list. To add more value to the spell, I'd propose the following changes (bolded below):

Darkvision
2nd-level transmutation
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: Touch
Components: V, S, M (either a pinch of dried carrot or an agate)
Duration: 1 hour
You touch a willing creature to grant it the ability to see in the dark. For the duration, that creature has darkvision out to a range of 60 feet. This darkvision is able to see through magical darkness.

There are 2 changes present:

  1. Duration: With the other proposed changes, if this spell remained an 8 hour spell it would become a must have, basically ensuring multiple allies (Through multiple castings) can see through any darkness for a full adventuring day. Keeping this down to 1 hour puts pressure on using it at the right time, and the spell will not remain active through a short rest.
  2. Magical Darkness: This is the big change, that I think gives the spell appeal. If you are expecting magical darkness you can be prepared, or if you are planning on using magical darkness you can ensure you and maybe some allies are still able to function within it.

Does this appear balanced as a second level spell? Would it be better suited at a higher level? I think second level is still viable, as the other methods of obtaining darkvision in magical darkness are available to the Warlock at 2nd level (Devil's Sight), and the Sorcerer at 3rd level (though only through their own Darkness spell).

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  • \$\begingroup\$ @DarthPseudonym Whoops! corrected now thanks. \$\endgroup\$ – Jon Aristotle Mar 11 at 5:13
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It'll certainly be confusing

Spells like Darkness make explicit mention that "a creature with darkvision can't see through this darkness".

As such it may make it more clear if you remove the term "darkvision" from the spell's description entirely. You can replace it with something along the lines of this: "... for the duration, that creature can see in darkness, both magical and mundane, as it were brightly lit, out to a range of 60 feet."

But it's not unbalanced

Darkvision is a spell that already teeters on the verge of uselessness, as you've described in your question. Giving it a niche application like this is unlikely to cause any problems, as it requires the caster to spend a spell slot of equal level as the initial spell being cast. This is similar to spells like See Invisibility, a 2nd level spell that counters another 2nd level spell (Invisibility).

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Do you think making this a feature of a 2nd level spell would devalue the Warlock's Devil's Sight incantation? \$\endgroup\$ – Darth Pseudonym Mar 11 at 14:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DarthPseudonym I chose not to consider that in my answer as that's less of a balance concern and more of a social contract issue (does the table value uniqueness of responsibilities/skills?). In any case Devil Sight is readily available via a feat so I personally wouldn't see it as an issue. \$\endgroup\$ – Andrendire Mar 11 at 15:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ I am somewhat concerned about your suggestion. Though it grants better clarity, it means that certain anti darkvision abilities would not work against the darkvision granted by the spell (such as gloomstalkers invisibility to darkvision). While there does not appear to be any monsters that are invisible to darkvision, this may not always be the case. \$\endgroup\$ – Garret Gang Mar 12 at 2:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ @GarretGang what you're describing is exactly the kind of situation where a "middle ground darkvision" like this would be confusing. A PC that spends a spell slot on this (rather than relying on a passive ability) is certain to feel confused when the DM notifies them that their proof-against-darkness spell failed to illuminate an enemy that wasn't invisible. \$\endgroup\$ – Andrendire Mar 12 at 3:49

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