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Drow vs. Elves in a dungeon with no natural light. Torch light for elven party. If a drow drops a darkness spell on an object in the middle of the party are they effectively blind? If they had a dancing lights spell in the party does the darkness dispel the dancing lights, or just nullify it until you move it out of the darkness?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Wouldn't Torch Light... be natural? \$\endgroup\$
    – Ruut
    Sep 16, 2015 at 15:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Ruut In common usage, "natural light" is sun and moon light, contrasted with artificial (that is, "created by [human] artifice") light like torches, candles, and magical glowing wires. I imagine this is the source of the distinction in the question. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 30, 2015 at 16:38

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Darkness

Normal lights (torches, candles, lanterns, and so forth) are incapable of brightening the area, as are light spells of lower level. Higher level light spells are not affected by darkness.

Dancing lights

Evocation [Light]

Since dancing lights is a light spell of a lower level than darkness, it does not light any area within the darkness. Higher-level light spells, like daylight, would overcome darkness and light the area in spite of darkness.

It is unclear whether or not the dancing lights are, themselves, visible as points of light. Darkness prevents them from lighting any area, but they could be visible themselves without illuminating any surrounding area. Up to you, as DM, to decide that. If the lights themselves are visible, they could be used for signaling and silent communication within the darkness.

Carrying, Movement, and Exploration > Vision and Light

In areas of darkness, creatures without darkvision are effectively blinded. In addition to the obvious effects, a blinded creature has a 50% miss chance in combat (all opponents have total concealment), loses any Dexterity bonus to AC, takes a -2 penalty to AC, moves at half speed, and takes a -4 penalty on Search checks and most Strength and Dexterity-based skill checks.

So yes, the party is blind. Note that this includes those who do have darkvision, despite the bolded statement above, because darkness includes the following special case:

Even creatures that can normally see in such conditions (such as with darkvision or low-light vision) have the miss chance in an area shrouded in magical darkness.

So not only are the humans, elves, gnomes, and so on blind, but so are the dwarf and half-orc. But perhaps most importantly, so are the drow. Thus, for the drow, darkness is much more effective for misdirection, retreat, or divide and conquer strategies.

The ability to see in magical darkness is generally reserved for devils; even magic that grants this ability is often named after devils, such as the devil’s sight invocation in Complete Arcane.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ As I see it, Drow and Elves would see as under shadowy conditions, as Darkness "causes an object to radiate shadowy illumination" (PHB, p. 216) suffering 20% miss chance. Why would they the Drow or the Elves be blind under such conditions? \$\endgroup\$
    – Giorin
    Sep 13, 2021 at 20:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Giorin Because Darkness will switch off all light sources present (it may be questionable, but it is taken as true by this answer). This effect is kind of independent of producing magical darkness. So, both sides will face two 'obstacles': total consealment from mundane darkness of the underground without any light (darkvision negates this) and consealment from magical darkness the spell creates. Worse applicable counts. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 15, 2021 at 16:02
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No, Darkness can't dispel Dancing lights.

The spell Darkness states that it can be used to dispel spells with the "Light" descriptor. However, to dispel something, the spell must affect the same target. For your case light sources created by Dancing Lights spell can't become targets of Darkness spell, so they can't be dispelled by it.

This is, however, not of much help for your elves.

Light created by Dancing Lights can't illuminate the area of magical darkness. If light sources created by Dancing Lights are brought to the area of magical darkness they are suppressed. And even if Dancing Lights' light sources are positioned near the border of magical darkness, overlapping area would be excluded from what they can illuminate per the description of the Darkness spell. And if normally Darkness spell provides only a humble dim illumination (and associated 20% concealment), in the areas which are naturally dark, it would preserve that initial state.

So if it helps, elves can cast Dancing Lights spell with it's point of origin being outside the Darkness spell's effect. So, if drow planned to shoot elves with their crossbows from say 80 feet, they will now only have disadvantage, as darkness would provide 20% concealment for elves, but drow would stand in more or less well-lit area.
Note that darkness effects doesn't hamper your ability to see through them or from inside of them. What matters is what illumination is in the point where you are looking at.
Of course, elves must first figure out where drow are, at least general direction and estimated distance, in order to "catch" them in the area illuminated by Dancing Lights spell.

But if drow are melee combatants, the above tactic won't help, as they probably will try to close up as fast as possible to fight elves in area of magical darkness.
Drow, thanks to darkvision, would ignore natural darkness and would only suffer from magically evoked dim illumination, which their darkvision is incapable of piercing. But normal-sighted elves would become unable to see what is going on in the area.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks that gets what I was looking for, move the dancing lights out of the darkness, move out and you can see. \$\endgroup\$
    – Nathtfm
    Oct 3, 2015 at 22:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ "And if normally Darkness spell provides only a humble dim illumination (and associated 20% concealment), in the areas which are naturally dark, it would preserve that initial state." Where do you take that from? The spell specifically states that it "causes an object to radiate shadowy illumination". I see no rule that prevailing darkness trumps this shadowy light. Well, it seems strange for a darkness spell to light up a room, but judging from the text, it is what the spell does. \$\endgroup\$
    – Giorin
    Sep 13, 2021 at 20:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ Shadowy illumination is about making things darker. Your state is the same as saying going with a torch in the light of the day will lower the illumination from a day light to a bright light in a torch's radius. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 14, 2021 at 22:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Giorin specifically, shadowy illumination from [darkness] spells, I mean. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 14, 2021 at 22:42

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