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I am about to begin a campaign with a party of characters who can see in the dark - a half-elf ranger, a half-orc barbarian, and a drow elf warlock.

... and a human monk.

Especially considering the drow's sunlight sensitivity, I suspect this party will want to stick to dark areas and nighttime quite a bit, which could cause a problem for our human monk player.

So it's likely she will need to see in the dark. Of course, she could carry a torch along, but that feels so mundane. What other options are available?

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Embrace it

I play a human cleric in a party full of characters with darkvision. Granted, we don't find ourselves in pitch darkness all that often, but it happens enough.

Rather than find a way to level the playing field, I find that embracing this difference makes for some interesting narration and adventuring.

Roleplaying

I have to trust at least one other character enough to have them lead me through darker areas. The DM can get creative about how this works, without being adversarial. For example, they might say, "those with darkvision see some slippery ground up ahead." But if whoever is leading me forgets to explicitly relay this information to me, it's DEX saving throw time.

This is actually a plot point: there is one character in the group I've known for longer, and so I trust them more, and usually have them lead me. This is just one more little detail that adds to the reality of our world.

It's important to note that this is something we'd discussed ahead of time — don't just spring this on your players. Even though I, as a player, hear the DM say something, I am perfectly happy to go along with my character not knowing it. Your monk might find it silly, and not like the idea.

Establish, through a couple of examples, what might be reasonable in such a situation. Maybe they don't want to constantly be saying "I tell the monk about that thing you just said. I tell the monk about that thing too. I tell the monk about this other thing." You might all agree that unless there's a reason to be quiet (eg. stealth situations) it's said by default.

Sometimes it's an advantage! My cleric will often try to use other senses eg. explicitly telling the DM "I listen carefully for sounds of activity above," or "I inhale slowly through my nose, trying to smell anything other than the dankness of the cave." On more than one occasion it's led to sensing something no-one else did, because they were all looking for something. Again, this was a detail the DM thought about in advance. You should think about your settings, and identify things that the characters could sense, but would miss without specific attention.

Combat

Combat is tricky but not impossible with appropriate tactics. Encourage your players to think about this in advance. Many of my cleric spells have "a creature you can see" as a valid target, but not all, so I have to plan what I might do if I can't see anything. Maybe the monk has abilities that will work blind.

Being a cleric, I can use the light cantrip on my own mace or shield; maybe your party has someone who can do that too. If they do this, describe the combat to your players! Think about how bizarre this would be — a glowing mace or quarterstaff flashing around, flying from creature to creature! Shadows of goblins and kobolds dancing large and small on the walls! You've really got some opportunities for creativity here.

Mundane doesn't have to be boring

Torches are mundane, but you've still got to remember to buy them. And if it's been a long time since the last town, your monk may have to decide whether this is the time to use their last one.

Many solutions may have a price: will the whole party want to risk breaking cover just to accommodate the monk? Again? (Don't foster PvP sentiment just for cheap conflict, but this can still be interesting).


It's already a given that your party comprises characters of different classes with different abilities in combat, and during roleplaying. Sometimes this can cause issues and make a single player feel a bit useless, it's true. Completely levelling one of the senses to get around this might smooth over exploration and combat, making things more fun; OR it might close off a bunch of opportunities for the party to work together, strategise and build the reality of their world.

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Spells

Darkvision is a 2nd level Druid/Ranger/Sorcerer/Wizard spell that lasts for 8 hours (no concentration).

It is also available to 3rd level Monks who take the Way of the Shadow monastic tradition at the cost of 2 ki points.

Unfortunately, if you don't pursue the Way of the Shadow, the only person in your party who can cast that is the Ranger, who will need to sacrifice a spell known and a 2nd level slot. Also, he won't gain access to that spell until 5th level.

Magic Items

The DM Basic Rules (p 59) include an uncommon magic item goggles of night which grant 60 feet of darkvision and don't require attunement. If your DM is generous, you may be able to find or buy these somewhere.

Assistance from NPCs

The Wizard Transmutation Tradition (Player's Handbook) grants a Transmuter's Stone at 6th level which can have one of a variety of effects. One such effect is:

Darkvision out to a range of 60 feet, as described in chapter 8

A Wizard can give you his Transmuter's Stone, but he can only have one stone active at a time, so finding a Wizard willing to part with his permanently probably isn't feasible.

Multiclassing

At 2nd level, a Warlock gains access to the Devil's Sight invocation, which grants an upgraded darkvision that goes out 120 feet and pierces magical darkness.

You will need at least 13 Dexterity, Wisdom, and Charisma to qualify for the Monk/Warlock multiclass.

Non-mundane Torches

You expressed distaste with torches (which are insanely cheap, though heavy in bulk), but if it's the mundanity that is problematic rather than the bright light illuminating you and your friends, there are magical means to replicate that simple effect.

A Bard, Cleric, Sorcerer, or Wizard can cast the light cantrip to create a torch's worth of light on any object for an hour. Similarly, a Cleric or Wizard can cast the 2nd level spell continual flame to create a permanent magical torch.

Alternatively, a Bard, Sorcerer, Wizard, or any Drow can cast the dancing lights cantrip to create dim light around you or around a target in the distance. Note that you will have disadvantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks to see in the dim light.

Of these, dancing lights is probably your best bet, but this will monopolize your Drow Warlock's concentration, which he may prefer to use for hex. If your DM allows, you may be able to pay a Cleric or Wizard to cast continual flame for you, but this spell requires 50 gp worth of ruby dust, and you could buy 5,000 mundane torches with that money instead.

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I too am DM to a party where the only member without darkvision is a human monk. Most of the time I "account for the discrepancy" by ignoring it. If necessary I can produce a lame excuse: "Well, there's a moon out." "Well, the sewer walls are covered in luminescent fungi." "Well, you've been in this crypt for three days, so his eyes have had time to adjust." But my players are easygoing and helpful, and unlikely to make a stink about it.

In a few situations, being without darkvision has made things more interesting for the monk (and the rest of the party) than they would have been otherwise. He prudently waits at the top of the stairs, comically unaware of the combat raging in the basement; in a Roll20-enabled maze, he's the only character who can't see all the way to the end of a dark corridor. I can decide on a case-by-case basis whether "remembering" that he doesn't have darkvision will be worth the trouble.

A within-the-rules, realism-enforcing solution would be fun, and I'm sure many groups would insist on one. For my group, though, the "Eh, don't worry about it" option has worked splendidly.

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How about turning your monk into Zatoichi? Ask the GM if they will allow the monk to be blind, but to gain blindsight out to 60 feet, based on heightened senses.

I checked the 5th Ed D&D Basic Rules, and it has entries for both Blinded and Blindsight:

Blinded

  • A blinded creature can’t see and automatically fails any ability check that requires sight.
  • Attack rolls against the creature have advantage, and the creature’s attack rolls have disadvantage.

Blindsight

A creature with blindsight can perceive its surroundings without relying on sight, within a specific radius. Creatures without eyes, such as oozes, and creatures with echolocation or heightened senses, such as bats and true dragons, have this sense.

[Addendum to Blindsight from the DM Rules]

If a monster is naturally blind, it has a parenthetical note to this effect, indicating that the radius of its blindsight defines the maximum range of its perception.

Basically, Blindsight should remove the advantage/disadvantage combo from the Blinded condition, and the monk no longer relies on light to perceive their surroundings. It may also allow them to perceive invisible things, though that's up to the GM - the rules don't cover that any more.

The disadvantage is that they fail all sight-based ability checks.

If the blindsense is based on heightened hearing, then the player would be especially vulnerable if deafened, since they'd lose their blindsight totally.

However, the only examples of blindsight being removed by deafening in the DM rules is in the case of creatures that use echolocation - basically bats and whales. They have the following special rule:

Echolocation. The [creature] can’t use its blindsight while deafened.

Other creatures, like true dragons who use "heightened senses" for blindsight, are not subject to the same restriction.

The GM may thus allow the sense to be based in "heightened senses" such as proprioception (sensing currents in the air, and tremors in the ground), and therefore not subject to deafening attacks.

And remember, you can fool the blind man, but you cannot fool his sword cane!

(Apologies for using 3.5ed mechanics the first time around.)

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Eyes of Night

A one level dip into Twilight Cleric (if your DM allows it) will get Eyes of Night

You can see through the deepest gloom. You have darkvision out to a range of 300 feet.

If you have other party members without darkvision, you can even share it with your allies, but only when they are within 10' and only for an hour, once per long rest.

Devil's Sight

You can gain the Eldritch Invocation Devil's Sight with the Eldritch Adept feat or with two levels of warlock.

You can see normally in darkness, both magical and nonmagical, to a distance of 120 feet.

Eyes of the Dark

A one level dip into Shadow Magic Sorcerer will get Eyes of the Dark

Starting at 1st level, you have darkvision with a range of 120 feet.

As Josh mentions, you can also get it from spells like Darkvision and magic items like Goggles of Night. If you have an Artificer in your party, at 2nd level they could use their infusion class feature to Replicate Magic Item - Goggles of Night.

Does it matter?

That is entirely dependent on your DM and your group. In my experience, there is a wide spectrum from DMs that never consider vision, light or even surprise, to DMs that assume that all enemies hide by default and start every encounter after determining surprise. Your DM's interpretation of the hiding rules will also impact whether this matters.

Some DMs specifically design encounters considering whether the enemy has darkvision, whether they are using light, line of sight and lanes of approach.

Some parties try to always travel using Stealth, even traveling at night when outdoors. Stealth is available to every character at 1st level through existing backgrounds and if you can't find one you like, through a custom background.

To be fair, the hiding rules are somewhat challenging. Tabletop builds has a nice article by Icebrick that covers most of the challenges and makes some good recommendations.

Gaining surprise can be one of the best strategies in the game, but again, this is entirely dependent on your DM and whether your party tries to use Stealth. See Pack Tactics video on Surprise featuring Treantmonk for an excellent overview and explanation.

Avoiding Surprise

Even without darkvision, there are ways to at least prevent getting surprised. For example, with a bullseye lantern.

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Simple human choices

At level 1: if you are a Variant Human, take the feat Eldritch Adept (if available at your table) which provides Devil's Sight (an eldritch invocation). It's better than darkvision. (My human warlock uses it).

If you can wait until level 3 (take torches along during level 1 and 2 adventures) then you can choose the Way of Shadows Monk which allows you to cast the darkvision spell using ki points. It has some other great sub-class features.

Those are two the simplest ways to achieve this end. The multi-classing suggestions in other answers will slow your progress in the monk class, although multiclassing is one way to work around this.

Bullseye lanterns are also a nice "turn on/turn off" light source.

A slightly customized human option / concept

You could also choose a slightly different origin / race. Rather than "human" you could choose a "custom lineage" (Tasha's Cauldron of Everything, if that optional rule is available, check with your DM). When so doing you get to choose some features, one of which is darkvision.

That would get you darkvision at level 1. If being human is a role play based choice, you can basically be "a human with darkvision" as 'custom lineage' in this case. You can work out the 'why' with your DM so that it makes sense 'in-world' as an explanation. This also lets you choose a different feat: something like Alert, Mobile or Resilient (Wisdom) might fit your character concept.

Magic Initiate feat: a somewhat convoluted path

Using either custom lineage (Tasha's) or Variant Human (PHB), you could take Magic Initiate feat (Wizard) at level 1 and choose as one of your cantrips the light cantrip. This spell is 'at will' and lasts for an hour per casting. You'll have a light source when you need it. I'd further suggest taking the level 1 spell Find Familiar. With this spell, you can add another scout (your familiar) like an owl or a bat - which can see in the dark - for the party. For the second cantrip, I'd suggest either mage hand or minor illusion. Those are both excellent utility spells.

Best of luck, and have fun.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Custom Lineage is a fantastic option. While not strictly "human", it is, by definition, customizable as a human. It would not qualify for "human" with regards to pre-reqs (are there any?). twitter.com/JeremyECrawford/status/1367309850707849216?lang=en \$\endgroup\$
    – Wyrmwood
    Commented Sep 22, 2023 at 17:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ human is plain vanilla, no pre reqs. @Wyrmwood \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 22, 2023 at 18:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ There aren't many, but there are a couple. The Prodigy feat and human Dragonmarks, \$\endgroup\$
    – Wyrmwood
    Commented Sep 25, 2023 at 16:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Wyrmwood I don't use the Eberron source material, and I do not gate feats behind race. (Most of the Xanathar's feats are not available at my tables; prodigy is allowed, however, as a substitute for Skilled). Which means that I'd not have thought of either of those. Thanks for the correction/update. 😊, \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 25, 2023 at 17:57

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