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I have an idea for a character who would often use the Darkness spell in combat - with either a Warlock's Devil's Sight or a Sorcerer's Shadow Magic to remain unaffected. That way the character would get advantage on attack rolls against nearly all enemies (except those that have truesight or blindsight) while the enemies would have disadvantage to hit the character.

My concern is how much this would affect the other players, since most of them won't have the ability to see in magical darkness. Can someone share their practical experience from a campaign where one of the players used this? Was it bad, or did the party make it work?

For those of you who have done this in a party and made it work, how did the party make it work?

I'm not interested in speculation or assumptions, just actual experiences.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't know if this fits the Q & A nature of StackExchange. This is just a request of anecdotal stories. It might be possible to tighten the question to be more specific. \$\endgroup\$
    – MivaScott
    Sep 25 at 20:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ Have you asked your fellow players at all? Builds like this tend to ruin relationships if not handled with respect for your table. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 25 at 20:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ I have edited this question to make it a bit more stack friendly, as I think that's your intent: you want to know how to make this exploit of darkness/sight work as a party, right? (See Miva's and Stop's comments for why). Have the other players chosen their characters yet (have they created them) and if so, what class and race are they? If they have not, is a proposed party building scheme within the scope of answers that you are looking for? \$\endgroup\$ Sep 25 at 20:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ This could be interesting for you. The answer explains the RAW method of running such a combat: Speeding up combat inside a Darkness spell \$\endgroup\$
    – 3C273
    Sep 25 at 21:22
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It depends a lot on how closely your game sticks to RAW. Under RAW, everyone who can't see will attack and defend with disadvantage. If neither the attacker nor the defender can see, the disadvantage for attacking blind and the advantage for attacking someone who can't see you cancel out and the darkness doesn't actually do anything to most attack rolls. Unless a character is using the Hide action, darkness doesn't actually conceal their location, so there is no need to guess where enemies are or attack squares blindly (sometimes DMs will house rule this). So combat will mostly play out as usual despite no one being able to see.

One side effect is that any extra sources of advantage/disadvantage (like ranged attack in melee) get blanked because multiple sources of dis/advantage don't stack. Another effect is that attacks of opportunity no longer happen, because they require vision.

Darkness does have a big impact on spellcasting. A lot of spells require vision to be castable (notably Counterspell). This can be useful for shielding the party from enemy spellcasters (although note Fireball doesn't require vision, and can be devastating to a party huddled inside Darkness). Your party's other spellcasters may want an angle where they can step outside the Darkness to cast their spells, so keep that in mind when you position the Darkness.

Conclusion: RAW, the main impact darkness will have on your party is interfering with spellcasting (which can be tactical, or annoying) and blanking advantage (like Barbarian's Reckless Attack). If your DM is using custom rules for unseen characters, such as automatically Hiding them, then Darkness is much more likely to be an annoyance.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks! Pointing out that advantage and disadvantage cancel out for other characters is quite important. Which then made me realize the main downside for our party: Rogue won't be able to use Sneak Attack. \$\endgroup\$
    – enumag
    Sep 26 at 12:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ Where is the experience in this answer that OP requested? \$\endgroup\$
    – NautArch
    Sep 26 at 14:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ This answer does not address what it is like when one of the party members is unaffected by the negatives of darkness \$\endgroup\$ Sep 26 at 15:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm addressing the XY problem. I felt that this answer would be most useful to the OP, given their main concern is impacting other players. My experience in this campaign is just what you would expect (always having advantage on Eldritch Blast and making enemies attack with disadvantage is pretty good). \$\endgroup\$
    – hpp3
    Sep 27 at 9:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already, and check out the help center for more guidance. \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Sep 27 at 23:44
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Darkness: Useful for solo missions

The party I currently run has a warlock with darkness and Devil's Sight.

Unlike Dale M, my party doesn't use a magical light source. Rather, they have three of six members with racial darkvision, and they use the Darkvision spell on two of the humans (the third human is the warlock with Devil's Sight).

While the advantage / disadvantage mechanic of fighting in magical darkness can be powerful for the warlock in melee, in practice it is not used that often.

The principle reason is because it is just too costly. Even at 10th level the warlock still has a meagre two spell slots, and using half of them on a darkness spell is seldom worth it even in the most opportune of conditions.

Early on the warlock was pact of the blade, but quickly realized that he did not want to hang in melee with the party tanks and take as much damage as they were. (The tanks are a wolf totem barbarian who is a damage sponge / advantage generator and a champion fighter with maxed Con, magic plate, and AC20).

Since the warlock switched to pact of the tome, generating advantage for himself in melee is seldom desired, and generating effective disadvantage for others to hit him is easier done by staying at range, using cover, and being prone (none of which cost scarce spell slots).

Even when the warlock was experimenting with being a melee fighter, though, constrained battlefields often meant that his darkness interfered with the others' sights. Since there were more of them than him, and since the dedicated melee characters hit harder than he did, that ended up being a net loss for the party.

The darkness is occasionally useful, but it is situational.
One time the party found themselves in a close range missile ambush, with the enemy behind hidden and fortified positions. In this case the warlock put up darkness, and the other party members entered it to protect themselves until they could formulate a response.

Other times the warlock has used darkness is when he is forced to be solo. He is not the party scout (that is the Stealth-maxed lore bard), but when he finds himself on his own, he can profitably use darkness to both avoid detection and to protect himself if detected.

Sometimes he is charged with holding the flank or rear of the party when they need to restrict access to the battlefield to prevent reinforcements from arriving. Since he will be fighting alone, that is a great time for him to whip out the darkness.

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    \$\begingroup\$ My plan is actually to multiclass Shadow Sorcerer with Hexblade Warlock. So I'll be casting it with the Sorcerer spell slots, keeping Warlock spell slots for Eldritch Smite. Also I want to use Elven Accuracy feat so getting the advantage is actually quite important for the character. \$\endgroup\$
    – enumag
    Sep 26 at 11:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ @enumag That build does get around many of the disadvantages my party's warlock faced and has an added bonus for the advantages. However, I can not touch on it with actual experience as requested. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Sep 26 at 22:32
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My experience: Darkness doesn’t work once the party has magical light sources

While I have not had the particular scenario you pose, I am playing with a group that has a Wand of Wonder that seems to disproportionately hit the Darkness spell (well, it’s happened twice).

Several of the PCs do not have Darkvision and see using light from magic weapons such as a Mace of Disruption which sheds light while you hold it.

A very important part of the darkness from Darkness is “nonmagical light can't illuminate it”. The light from the mace (and some other items they have) is magical so it can illuminate it. Mace: 1, Darkness: 0.

It’s sounds like a fun concept but my experience is that the circumstances never happen.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Good answer although for now we're low level so this doesn't apply to my case. And it could in fact be a good thing because the Mace of Disruption doesn't dispel the Darkness, just illuminates a part of it. It works fine as long as the character using it doesn't get too close. Darkness character gets his advantage while the human isn't affected. \$\endgroup\$
    – enumag
    Sep 26 at 11:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ @enumag in theory but not in practice. Darkness is only 15 foot radius, magical light sources are typically 40 foot. “Not getting too close” usually means not getting in the room where the fight is. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dale M
    Sep 26 at 21:49
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My experience: Darkness requires coordination in advance, otherwise it will be an annoyance to the party.

I gave one of my players a wondrous item with the following traits, which I thought were a really neat twist on Darkness (Please excuse some of the weirdness in rules text caused by us playing on Roll20 with specific settings). The player kept the ability secret and used it in a critical moment as a big reveal:

Devil's Sight. While wearing this armor, you can see normally in darkness, both magical and nonmagical, to a distance of 120 feet.

Shadow Magic. While attuned to this item, you know the spell Darkness. It counts as a spell of your class, but doesn't count against the number of spells you know. While wearing this armor, when a creature you can see hits you with an attack, after you see both attack rolls, you can use your reaction to cast Darkness. This may cause the attack to miss.

However, to my surprise, when the player activated this effect and cast Darkness, it caused a lot of havoc on the battlefield and annoyed the other players. One player could no longer see the targets they wanted to see, and had to learn the rules about magical darkness in order to cope with the new obstacle. Another player no longer had intelligence about what the enemies were doing, which was a serious obstacle to deciding on a course of action during their turn. Note that it is totally normal and expected for an adversary to create these kinds of obstacles, but it creates in-group friction when an ally creates them.

So, I would recommend that if a party member plans to use the Darkness spell, the party (in-character, probably) practice some tactics involving it, so that when the spell is used, it doesn't feel like one player is having fun by creating obstacles for the other players. That's the DM's job.

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5e Advice

When I first started, I was going out of the AD&D, and there was a passage I'm going to have to dig up to the tune of "if you cast silence and invisible on your whole party, they're going to trip over each other a lot". Your own party can get in your way. The long and short of it, is that both the attacker and the person between the attacker and their target need to coordinate. While 5e lacks a "shooting into combat" caveat that I can find, I would rule that characters who don't know whose way to get into or out of are essentially cover without that coordination. The attacks (for functionally blind characters) are also coming in at a disadvantage, so that +2 for cover can go quite a long way.

COVER: A target with half cover has a +2 bonus to AC and Dexterity Saving Throws. A target has half cover if an obstacle blocks at least half of its body. The obstacle might be a low wall, a large piece of furniture, a narrow tree trunk, or a creature, whether that creature is an enemy or a friend.

Anecdote 1

One of my first forays into fighting in darkness came because another player had marbles that emanated Darkness. Our plan to siege some fortified enemies involved throwing these marbles in front of the doors and (ground floor) windows and rushing the building under cover. The DM made us to save against spell not to run into a wall, causing a cool 1d6 damage and ending our respective turn on any failures. Once we came through the other side everything was cool again. We apologized to the party members behind us who were forced into the darkness to avoid crossbows from the upper level.

Anecdote 2

Another time, in 3.5e, I was DMing. I added melee attacks to the "shooting into melee" rule. It got a little complex because I was using Listen checks to tell if anyone was close enough, and not saying friend or foe until they started coordinating. They could attack wildly and I would roll to see who got hit, or they would attack a specific direction and that's who got the attack (friend or foe). Back then we had a very "8bit JPRG" mindset to battle, so being required to think about more than "Does X hit?" was pretty big at the time.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ A DM ruling your characters as stupid enough to run into a wall head first isn't what I would call usual (or fun, but thats an aside) and in 5e the default is knowing where people are unless they take the hide action (albeit that is contested) - I am not sure either of your scenarios really applies. Also I am not sure how darkness affects the cover rule you quotes; characters in the way are always cover. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Sep 27 at 18:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SeriousBri: We were sprinting into a building we didn't know and couldn't see, so I understand where the DM was coming from. As for 5E, if you fail sight-based checks automatically, and have nothing else to compensate, any knowledge of party location is purely meta. If there's a specific rule you're citing, I'll gladly edit my answer. As for the application of my anecdotes, OP asked for times when Darkness was used by a party member, and how it was handled. With my notion about cover, the sighted character still has to establish LoS around blind people. \$\endgroup\$
    – CatLord
    Sep 28 at 11:15

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