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My character in a 5e campaign (High Elven Arcane Trickster 13/Divination Wizard 2) recently helped out a celestial who in return granted him True Sight and the ability to cast the Darkness spell at will. There are three other party members, one of whom has True Sight (Changeling Hexblade 15) and two of whom don't (Dragonborn Gloomstalker 5/Fighter 10 and Halfling Life Cleric 15).

I'm trying to figure out whether and how this can be useful without handicapping the party. I'm interested in hearing about effective/creative uses of Darkness by a party some of whose members can't see through the Darkness.

(FWIW, the campaign is Curse of Strahd and we've just entered Castle Ravenloft.)

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Use it as a situational, localized advantage field for combat

Our level 13-14 party has a paladin/sorcerer/warlock that has the ability to create and see in magical darkness, while the rest of the party has limited blindsight or truesight from various sources. This answer is based on our experiences with it.

My key message is that darkness and Truesight for several party members can be a strong situational tactic even if not all party members benefit from it (or even are somewhat hampered by it). However, it won't be the right choice for all fights.

Benefits

Party members within it are effectively invisible and therefore, as defined by the invisible condition, enjoy the following benefits, even if they are not hidden:

Attack rolls against the creature have disadvantage, and the creature’s attack rolls have advantage.

Against opponents who lack blindsight/tremorsense/truesight/devil's sight, which is about 70% of all monsters in the MM, darkness in combination with high AC makes it very hard to hit you, and if you can see within it, a lot easier for you to hit those opponents. We had battles where a hundred opponents tried to shoot the paladin down, and failed to make much of an impact. Battles can become quite lopsided.

Because opponents cannot see you, you are also immune against many spells that require the caster to see you, or see the target point in space. And if the darkness-bearing character positions themselves well, he can also block line of sight to the rest of the party. Depending on how your DM rules the combination of normal sight, Truesight and Darkness, you also can stand in darkness and if your Truesight range is long enough to cover the darkness, you can cast or shoot out of it while enjoying these same benefits. So for the divination wizard and the hexblade, casting darkness in combat and then using these advantages works well.

Against a vampire, party members hidden in magical darkness will be able to avoid the vampire's charm attack, which in itself may already be worth it to stumble around as blind as the opposition.

Issues

The main problem of the darkness is that it blocks long-range vision to cast spells into or through it for us as much as for our opposition, so if your life cleric wants to cast healing word, on someone within, they cannot. And if your gloomstalker wants to shoot through or into it, they and their target will be invisible to each other, canceling out the advantage/disadvantage.

Because of these downsides, we found that its use is situational, and depends on the terrain and positioning of enemies. There are fights where it makes great sense, for example a 1:1 duel, or approaching enemies that have long range missile weapons over a distance, and others where it does not. It's not a simple solution for all fights that you can pull off unthinkingly -- if used in the wrong situation, blocking sight for the other two party members may do more harm than gaining protection and advantage for the two that are safe is worth.

Timing. One tactic to deal with this is time the use of darkness, depending on the initiative order. For example, we had fights where the paladin held off on casting it in their first round, to give our wizard time to set off area damage or control spells. The team within is not deafened, so you also can coordinate with the other members when to drop it again, which is easy as it's a concentration spell. (However, casting it in combat also costs an action, which is a real opportunity cost).

Cleric. For cleric, if their role is that of a tank, they could walk out in front the boundary to see out and cast spells against the opposition. Inside the darkness, the advantage/disadvantage would cancel out for them.

Gloom stalker. For the gloom stalker, if the environment is one of normal darkness, they will be invisible anyways, and probably do best to stay outside and attack invisibly that way.

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The Darkness spell description offers at least two avenues of interest:

  1. "If the point you choose [to cast Darkness upon] is on an object you are holding or one that isn't being worn or carried, the darkness emanates from the object and moves with it. Completely covering the source of the darkness with an opaque object, such as a bowl or a helm, blocks the darkness."

  2. "If any of this spell's area overlaps with an area of light created by a spell of 2nd level or lower, the spell that created the light is dispelled."

Sage Advice from game designer Jeremy Crawford adds:

"Light from any magical source can illuminate the area of a darkness spell, but the darkness spell can dispel light created by a spell of 2nd level or lower, not light created by a non-spell."

So an overlapping area of magical light from any magic item or spell higher than 2nd level illuminates the 15-foot-radius of magical Darkness. You can cover the source of the darkness to temporarily block the effect. And you can move the source of the darkness.

Based on all of that, a few possibilities come to mind for how a party might deal with your PC's magical darkness. I'm sure, with a bit of creativity, you might imagine more, but consider these as a starting point:

  1. Use light from magic items to lift the magical darkness in small areas. A melee combatant might function pretty well with just enough light to reveal adjacent squares, assuming you're playing on a grid. Some options:

    • A common magic item, a Coin of Delving, casts 5' of dim light.
    • The Magical Tinkering feature of an Artificer sheds 5' of bright light plus 5' of dim light.
    • Another common magic item, a Candle of the Deep, sheds 5' of bright plus 5' of dim.
    • Yet another common magic item, a moon-touched sword, goes larger, shedding 15' bright plus 15' dim.
  2. Cast Darkness on a weapon that you can sheathe to block the effect. Draw the weapon for free as part of the Attack action and you get the Advantage from attacking in darkness. After you attack, sheathe the weapon as your Free Interaction With An Object. You lose the protection of the Darkness for incoming attacks and targeted spells in exchange for allowing the rest of the party to function normally.

  3. Give the source of the magical darkness to a flying familiar. The familiar flies 20 feet over your head, just far enough to keep the darkness 5 feet off the ground, and descends on your command. The spherical shape of the effect on a grid template lets you apply the darkness at ground level to a 10x10 foot area, a 20x20 foot area, or the maximum possible area, depending on whether the familiar is respectively 15, 10, or 5 feet high.

You can get magical light sources with an Artificer level dip or by using the standard rules for magic item creation. All of this is subject to DM approval of course.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Just would add that 2 and 3 border on shenanigans, so use those at your own risk. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Commented Oct 18, 2022 at 12:57

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