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Primary Questions
  1. Is there a difference between "daylight" and "bright illumination"?
  2. Where is the dividing line between bright and shadowy illumination?
My Interpretation

Daylight seems pretty obvious to me -- it's when I walk out my door in West Texas, into 100 degree weather and a cloudless sky, and the sun is scorching my eyeballs.... That's daylight!

But from what I've found, D&D recognizes three illumination levels (bright, shadowy/dim, and darkness), and bright light encompasses daylight. But the "bright" light of a torch and daylight are a far cry from each other. Do the rules differentiate between daylight and bright light normally? (An example of when it does is the Shadow Blend supernatural ability of some shadow creatures and templates.)

On the other end, when is bright light no longer bright? What exactly is dim light?

Bright light seems to encompass a huge range of light, from brightest daylight to relatively dim light.... just not dim enough to be a hindrance. Given the examples for "shadowy illumination", and the fact that you can easily hide in dim light, I gather that dim light is pretty dang dim? Like, the walk-through-the-house-and-hurt-yourself-on-furniture-corners level of dim?

Musings

It seems to me D&D could make do with at least one more light level, if not two:

Bright (hurts your eyes to look into the source):
  • high-noon-in-summer daylight
Normal (no eye strain while reading):
  • cloud-cover,
  • near a torch in darkness, or
  • a brightly-lit room
Dim (harder to see detail, so eye strain while reading, but large details are still easy to discern):
  • thick forest cover
  • several feet away from the torch, or
  • a low-lit room
Gloomy? (difficult to make out large details):
  • a ways into a cave with only faint light from the entrance,
  • a clear, moon-less night,
  • even further from the torch, or
  • a dark room with moonlight spilling in

Darkness (no perceivable light)

Any two levels (except darkness) could probably be combined as far as game effects go, but I do feel some game effects are hard to figure out with only three.

Context of Question

The reason I ask is that I'm planning a sneaky character, and I'm trying to wrap my head around when exactly he can sneak, especially when factoring in special abilities like the Shadowdancer's Hide in Plain Sight, the Shadow Creature's Shadow Blend (Lords of Madness, p. 167), or the Telflammar Shadowlord's abilities (Unapproachable East).

I am well aware, RAW, that he needs to be in dim light to make a hide check, but how dim is dim enough? What constitutes the "some sort of shadow" (other than his own)* that a Shadowdancer's HiPS requires? What constitutes "an area with at least some shadow" that Shadow Jump requires?

* I disagree with those who claim that "shadow" in this context is equal to "shadowy illumination". Since his shadow will never, on its own, create an area with dim enough illumination to count as "shadowy illumination", I feel that by including this qualification, the designers assumed the ability would be used in brighter conditions than, say, moonlight. Otherwise they could have just left it off, since moonlight is already "shadowy illumination" and he can already hide, no more shadows needed.

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For Vision, Daylight and Bright Are The Same

For vision and hiding purposes, there are only three levels of light, as you mentioned. Bright, Shadowy, and Darkness.

"Bright" in this case means it's bright enough that there is no hindrance to vision at all. "Shadowy" grants concealment, and Darkness creates effective blindness if you can't mitigate it.

So yes, for these rules, a torch you're holding and the sun are the same thing, within the "bright light" range of the torch (20'). Outside of that range, the torch stops providing bright light. Get some distance on someone with a torch and you move into shadowy illumination against them instead. (If you have different vision modes than they do, you could actually have different conditions to see them then they have to see you, depending on the light.)

example:

If you're holding the torch, you're in bright light and can't Hide without Cover.

If someone else is holding the torch and you're 5' away from them, you're in bright light and can't Hide without Cover.

If someone else is holding the torch and you're 25' away from them, you're in shadowy illumination. That grants you Concealment, and you can Hide.

The same rules apply for any light source, you can use the Vision and Light table for the effective ranges of different light sources.

So what's Sunlight do?

The sun creates both bright light and bright sunlight. The difference is only in the case of monsters or effects that mention something related to that, like an Orc:

Orcs are dazzled in bright sunlight or within the radius of a daylight spell.

A torch doesn't generate bright sunlight, so in this case it's different.

This Creates Lots of DM Interpretation

As you noticed, this gets confusing pretty fast when Shadowdancers get involved. Just what is "some sort of shadow", and where is it? Ask your DM. It's relative to the light, the position of the light source, the size of the thing casting the shadow, and the rules don't have anything to say on the matter whatsoever.

How big a shadow do you need to use it? Doesn't say. How much shadow is enough shadow to shadow jump? Doesn't say. How long is the shadow being cast by the enemy in front of me? Doesn't say. (This is probably why Pathfinder changed the wording on some of these abilities to be near "dim light" instead, which is more of a known rules thing than "some kind of shadow.")

As a DM dealing with a player who uses these abilities, it can get pretty confusing to try and sort out. It's actually easier in a dungeon with no light of its own, because if some player is carrying a light source, we can map it out on the board pretty easily relative to them and see where the shadowed areas would be (and which direction the player shadows are going, if you want to hide in the shadow of the Wild Shaped Druid).

But in an outside area at 5pm? Where are the shadows in that? It's a lot of work to sort out exactly how it all works, and it's often easier to come up with a simple rule of thumb and apply that rule of thumb consistently.

Hide

The one exception you mentioned is "how dim is dim enough?" In order to use Hide, you need concealment. Shadowy Illumination provides that. So you need to be in Shadowy Illumination, which is going to depend on what the area's light sources are (but most of those have a radius of providing light, and the table in the first link I provided has those distances).

You also need to be not being observed. If they're watching you, even with Shadowy Illumination, you can't use Hide. "Watching you" basically means they can see you at all, because in D&D vision is omnidirectional: characters are looking in every direction on every turn.

That's part of what makes Hide in Plain Sight so good (with HiPS, you can use Hide while being observed).

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Daylight specifically states that it doesn't produce sunlight effects, despite the name. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan May 16 '14 at 13:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan Whoops, fixed. \$\endgroup\$ – Tridus May 16 '14 at 13:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Zachiel On the exploration table, it's called bright light for torches and lanterns. Clear illumination isn't defined there, but they use that term elsewhere. Probably to be confusing. :) \$\endgroup\$ – Tridus May 16 '14 at 14:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ I didn't think of creatures who are harmed by sunlight -- that's a good point! Although I mentioned the Shadowdancer, I wasn't meaning for that to be the focus of things. I was more confused on mundane hiding -- what's dim enough? As to Pathfinder's change to HiPS, it took an already situational ability of a weak PrC and made it even more situational, and nearly useless. Especially since specifying the light level as "dim light", and not "dim light or darkness", makes some RAW-lawyers claim you can't use it in darkness.... which is ludicrous. (Interestingly, PF did NOT change Assassin's HiPS.) \$\endgroup\$ – Marcus Hughes May 24 '14 at 22:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MarcusHughes Sorry I didn't make that part clear. You need Concealment, which you get when the light is shadowy illumination. If you're 25' away from someone else who is holding a torch, you're in the torches shadowy area of light, thus have concealment and can hide. The light source table lists the various ranges of light sources for this purpose. \$\endgroup\$ – Tridus May 24 '14 at 22:24
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There's a much shorter answer to this:

Bright = light without shadows nearby (no hide available)

Shadowy = less light, shadows are available (this is where stealth characters live, hiding begins here)

Darkness = no light (automatic success on hide checks against search, but not listen - unless the target searching can penetrate darkness with magic/racial/other)

So when you're playing on a game board / grid / whatever, you can just use an outline for Bright areas and Dark areas, and ensure your players know the zone in between the two is shadowy. Since light almost exclusively appeals to stealth checks, the three levels are all that is needed. For flavour you could add more, but these levels are more for rogue types than anything else, since they need to know where the shadows are.

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