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This question is for the first edition since the site tags do not yet differentiate between the two.

I am running a game, and part of it will take place underground. I can only find one reference in the core rule book about specifically Goblin Archers being able to see in the dark. Other orcs/goblins do not contain this as part of their description, and neither do other races or enemies.

The Goblin Archer description on page 240 states:

Goblin Archer is an Orc chosen for his keen eyes. His ability to see in the dark, coupled with a steady hand, lets him shoot arrows with precision by night or day

Does this extend to all goblins or is this why the movies seemed to depict torches being used everywhere underground? What about spiders? Trolls? The player races including dwarves do not seem to have the ability to see in the dark either.

I looked for this information in the past and could not find any references to anyone, and only noticed this one when prepping for a combat.

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Orcs have low-light vision, some may have darkvision

Movies are not the authoritative source on what the various Tolkien races can do, Tolkien is. If you are playing The One Ring, then the rule books / source books may be more relevant to you than the original source in Tolkien.

To sum this up: Only some kinds of orcs are likely able to see or operate in total darkness. All of them should be fine at starlit night conditions, as should be elves.

For The One Ring, the he Lake-Town Sourcebook states that Hobgoblins can see perfectly well in total darkness. From Tolkien's works and statements this is not unambigously resolvable.

Elves

Elves do have superior vision and low-light vision, enabling them to see in starlight. For example, Legolas kills a fell beast with a single shot across the Anduin river at night, with no moonlight to aid his shot. Elves also first appeared in the world before sun and moon were made, when only stars existed, so they must be capable of seeing in starlight. But they do not appear to have darkvison.

Orcs

The next question is about the origin of orcs. Tolkien offers multiple different theories, the most common one, given in the Silmarillion (p.40) is that they are perverted elves, which could indicate they have at least the vision abilities of elves.

Quendi who came into the hands of Melkor, (...) in prison, and by slow arts of cruelty were corrupted and enslaved; and thus did Melkor breed the hideous race of the Orcs in envy and mockery of the Elves (Silmarillion)

This would mean that orcs have low-light vision, but no darkvision, in general. On the vision ability of Orcs the following passage confirms that orcs at least have low-light vision that allows them to see well in starlight, similar to elves, but that they need starlight:

It was dark, but not too dark for the night-eyes of Orcs, and in the star-glimmer they must have offered their cunning foes some mark (LotR Book 2, Ch. 9)

Goblins

Orc and goblin are just different words for fundamentally the same race, maybe referring to slightly different variants, with goblin referring to the subraces at home under the Misty Mountains:

"Orc is not an English word. It occurs in one or two places but is usually translated goblin (or hobgoblin for the larger kinds)." (The Hobbit, Preface)

The sword "Orcrist" also means "Goblin-Cleaver", and in Lord of The Rings, the Uruk-Hai orcs are described as "goblin-soldiers of greater stature", when first introduced. The folloiwng is said about the goblins of the Misty Mountains:

It was deep, deep, dark, such as only goblins that have taken to living in the heart of the mountains can see through. (The Hobbit, Ch. 4)

the dwarves had gone on again, a long, long, way on into the dark tunnels of the goblins' realm. When the goblins discovered that, they put out their torches and (...) chose out their very quickest runners with the sharpest ears and eyes. These ran forward, as swift as weasels in the dark (ibid.)

So it seems that at least the goblins of the Misty Mountains have adapted to the dark to an extent where some of them can see in utter darkness.

Dwarves

Dwarves cannot see in the dark. There is a scene in the hobbit that states even hobbits have better vision (Bilbo being a hobbit, and Thorin, a dwarf).

"Bilbo kneeling on the brink and peering forward cried: "There is a boat against the far bank! Now why couldn't it have been this side!"
"How far away do you think it is?" asked Thorin, for by now they knew Bilbo had the sharpest eyes among them. (The Hobbit)

However, Dwaves still may be better able to tolerate darkness and operate in darkness, when they travel through the mines of Moria:

Gimli aided Gandalf very little, except by his stout courage. At least he was not, as were most of the others, troubled by the mere darkness in itself. (LotR, Book II, Ch. 4).

Trolls and Spiders

I have no quotes on troll or spider vision specifically.

Given that trolls turn to stone in sunlight, it would seem reasonable they also have at least low-light vision.

Spiders in LotR may be indirect descendants of Ungolianth, representing darkness. Shelob cannot stand the bright light of Frodo and lives in lightless tunnels. Even normal spiders can have pretty good low light-vision.

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Groody goes into more detail with citations (and gets an upvote from me), but I'd sum the humanoid races up like this;

  • Human vision works like our own,
  • Dwarves have rather poor vision and do not have low-light vision, but they are comfortable without vision, lacking the fear and hesitation other races exhibit in the dark,
  • Halflings vision work like that of Men,
  • Elven vision is sharp and works in poor light conditions, somewhat similar to low-light vision,
  • Orcs are descendants of Elves and share their vision,
  • Goblins are Orcs,
  • Half-orcs are Orcs cross-bred with Men, and have vision somewhere between elves and men,
  • Uruk-hai are Orcs with a small amount of the blood of Men in their heritage, leaving their vision closer to that of elves than Half-orcs,
  • Trolls have poor vision but an excellent sense of smell.

Dark vision, as used in D&D, does not exist within Tolkien's writings, though it could be construed as a summation of various alternate sensory modes used by, for instance, spiders. In D&D terms, though, I'd prefer to use Tremorsense for Tolkien spiders, coupled with an excellent sense of smell and hearing to make up for their poor vision.

Have some discussions of the topic, for further elucidation.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I'll mirror the upvote, this is a pretty nice and comprehensive list. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 14, 2022 at 12:50

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