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Ebon Eyes is a level 1 spell from the Spell Compendium (page 77) that says:

The subject of this spell gains the ability to see normally in natural and magical darkness, although it does not otherwise improve the subject's ability to see in natural dark or shadowy conditions. The subject ignores the miss chance due to lack of illumination other than total darkness. (truncated)

This is considered one of the most confusingly-worded spells in the game (and in particular, in the Spell Compendium), because it would appear to mean that it negates all negative effects both magical and non-magical darkness.

What does it actually do?

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The 1st-level Sor/Wiz spell ebon eyes [trans] (Spell Compendium 77) is a confusing mess, because, as written, it does allow the affected creature to see through natural and magical darkness. As the core rules place an otherwise high premium on the ability to see without a light source through natural darkness and even higher premium on the ability to see through magical darkness, it seems strange that a 1st-level spell should obviate both, but the spell ebon eyes does, and the spell does so apparently to the limit of the affected creature's normal vision.

"So ebon eyes is awesome?"

As written, yes. While there are many ways of gaining darkvision, gaining darkvision to the limits of normal sight is otherwise the sole the province of the obscure 4th-level Sor/Wiz spell superior darkvision [trans] (Unapproachable East 53). And while there are a handful of ways of gaining the ability to see through magical darkness, only the equally obscure 7th-level Sor/Wiz spell fiendish clarity [div] (Fiendish Codex I 94) allows seeing through magical darkness as if it were normal darkness, hence to the limit of the affected creature's darkvision (yet the spell itself only provides, among other effects, darkvision 60 ft.). For further comparison, the 3rd-level Fiendish Codex II spell devil's eye and the spell true seeing only allow seeing through normal and magical darkness out to, respectively, 30 ft. and 120 ft. Further, note that these spells are the best ways of almost duplicating the effects of the spell ebon eyes; domains, feats, and magic items are, objectively, worse at the task.

This makes the 1st-level spell ebon eyes the best see-in-the-dark spell printed for Dungeons and Dragons 3.5.

For a more conservative approach to seeing in the dark

It's true that the game overvalues the ability to see in the dark without a light source, and it's true that the game overvalues the ability to see in magical darkness. However, just because such abilities are overvalued doesn't change their values.

Thus a conservative DM may view the spell ebon eyes as, perhaps, a little unbalanced.1 For such a cautious DM, below are two options.

Consider using the original version of the spell ebon eyes...

When the spell appeared in the Dragon #322 article "Patterns of Shadows and Light: Same Coin, Different Sides" by Jason Nelson, it looked like this:

Ebon Eyes

Transmutation
Level: Assassin 2, Clr 2, Sor/Wiz 2
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: 1 standard action
Range: Touch
Target: Creature touched
Duration: 10 min./level
Saving Throw: None
Spell Resistance: Yes (harmless)

The subject of this spell gains the ability to see normally in magical darkness and magical shadowy condition [sic], although it [the spell] does not otherwise improved the subject's ability to see in natural dark or shadowy conditions. While the spell is in effect, a jet-black film covers the subject's eyes, a visual effect that gives the spell its name.

Material Components: A pinch of powdered black gemstone of any type.

In other words, the Dragon magazine version is a low-level spell that grants the subject the ability to see normally only through magical darkness, to the limits of the affected creature's own vision. For example, in an area of magical darkness that's also naturally dark, a creature affected by the spell ebon eyes that lacks darkvision still can't see without a light source, but a creature possessing darkvision can see to the limits of its darkvision.

...Or just changing the first natural to unnatural

As written, the full Spell Compendium description of ebon eyes is, honestly, borderline gibberish, but change the first natural to unnatural and the spell's effect is a bit clearer:

The subject of this spell gains the ability to see normally in unnatural and magical darkness, although it does not otherwise improve the subject’s ability to see in natural dark or shadowy conditions. The subject ignores the miss chance due to lack of illumination other than total darkness.

Emphasis mine. A conservative DM could do worse than make this minor change.


1 Such a DM should, however, note that only the most unusual campaigns will be ruined by allowing such a low-level see-in-any-darkness spell. For example, in the core rules, even a low-level party can pay a 20th-level spellcaster 1,850 gp to cast on an object continual flame heightened to a 9th-level spell therefore eliminating most worries about magical darkness unless the object's specifically targeted by other effects.

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It is very confusingly worded, in fact it is self-contradictory and pretty much meaningless mess. But I think some of its self-contradictory nature can help us trim off wrong interpretations. That said, it is such a mess, it is probably best to pretend it does not exist, houserule something, or take Hey I Can Chan's advise and just use the original version of the spell (which is fairly simple and straightforward), as this is a good example of the popular saying "garbage in, garbage out".

Phrases:
A. “the subject of this spell gains the ability to see normally in natural and magical darkness,”
B. “although it does not otherwise improve the subject's ability to see in natural dark or shadowy conditions.”
C. “The subject ignores the miss chance due to lack of illumination other than total darkness.”

The main crux appears to be the first clause, specifically what “see normally” is supposed to mean. The DMG does not help as it uses this phrase in difference places to mean many different things.

  1. Darkness (magical and non-magical) appears as full light to you (theoretically partial darkness is effected in a similar fashion).
    B: This phrase is confusing and mildly redundant in this interpretation.
    C: This phrase is extremely redundant.
    Summery: Because of C, in particular, this cannot be the correct interpretation of A.
  2. Normally, aka non-magically. You can see though magical darkness, but not non-magical. AKA: The opposite of Darkvision.
    B: This phrase makes perfect sense with this interpretation, it is exactly what you would expected to clarify that this power only effects magical darkness.
    C: A completely different power just appended on the end, and it sort of/almost contradicts B.
    Summery: Hmm, it works, but C is just a little weird.
  3. It removes extra impediments added onto darkness effects. For example, the spell Darkness would only appear as a normal dimly lit area to you, and the extra effects of not being able to use abilities/spells to see though it would no longer apply.
    B: This phrase makes perfect sense with this interpretation.
    C: A completely different power just appended on the end, and it sort of/almost contradicts B.
    Summery: Same as 2.
  4. Normally, as in this spell changes nothing at all in how you see darkness.
    B: Completely illogical and redundant.
    C: In this interpretation this is the only sentence that does anything.
    Summery: Because of B this cannot be the correct interpretation of A. Though it is interesting to consider if B or A came after C everything would make perfect sense.

So by a process of elimination 2 or 3 appears to be the only possible interpretations. The English works fairly well in both, but it is a stretch to interpret "normally" in this way. They appear to be the only possible RAW, but I am far from confident that either are RAI.

As per Hey I Can Chan's answer. This could fit with the original version of this spell and arguably could make it act identically but with the added effect of also ignoring the mentioned miss chance.

Note: I almost want to hazard a guess that the author meant 4. It is the only interpretation that seems to produce a logical and consistent effect. But from my interpretation while it gets rid of one effect that disables sneak attacks (miss chance), it does not get rid of the underlying concealment, which disables sneak attack in its own right, so that spell would seem perhaps too useless.

In Conclusion: There are no English Language rules, or DnD language rules, that allow us to parse this paragraph with any sort of certainty. The text is for all intents and purposes meaningless, IMO. And trying to draw any deeper meaning from a paragraph written so poorly is simply foolish.

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The no light spell is a 0-level spell, the darkness spell is 2nd-level, the darkvision spell is 2nd-level, while the ebon eyes spell is 1st-level. This means that logically ebon eyes should be (in a general sense) more powerful than the no light spell, but less powerful than both the darkness spell and the darkvision spell.

A common misinterpretation of the ebon eyes spell is that it eliminates all negative effects of both non-magical and magical darkness. This can't be true because then it'd be even more powerful than the darkvision spell.

To understand the ebon eyes spell, you first have to understand how non-magical darkness and magical darkness work, and then apply some common sense to how relevant spells would interact with eachother and with the real world if they existed in the real world. Admittedly, we're going to have to use some RAI-like (Rules As Intended) thinking to get a solid answer since the RAW for all of this wasn't robustly-worded.

First off, to prevent confusion, "shadowy illumination" refers to a dim lighting condition. It's a lighting state, not an effect. There are only 3 lighting conditions in D&D 3.5: fully-lit, shadowy illumination (dim lighting), and total darkness. Effects that produce light generally have a reduced benefit farther out, just like real world light sources. Effects that produce darkness generally have a uniform effect all throughout.

Magic can be used to create non-magical darkness. The no light spell (BoVD page 100) transmutes the nature of ordinary light such that it can no longer illuminate the area.

Normal light sources cannot illuminate the area, but darkvision allows a creature to see within the area. (truncated)

As for magical darkness, the darkness spell states:

This spell causes an object to radiate shadowy illumination out to a 20-foot radius. All creatures in the area gain concealment (20% miss chance). 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.

Normal lights (torches, candles, lanterns, and so forth) are incapable of brightening the area. (truncated)

The darkness spell actually does two things:

  1. It creates an effect that prevents any non-magical light source from brightening the area. This, logically, creates a zone of non-magical pure darkness all on its own. A common misinterpretation of the darkness spell is that it reduces the area to dim illumination (not total darkness), but this is wrong because the the non-magical light sources that were lighting the area explicitly can't do so.
  2. It creates an effect that hampers those that could normally see in non-magical pure darkness, in that targets within the area-of-effect still keep that 20% miss chance. You can think of this as if there's an inky black fog that is hard to see through, regardless of whether there was a light source lighting the area or whether you could normally see in the dark.

All ebon eyes really does, when you consider all of this, is eliminate you from being personally affected by effects that produce magical and non-magical darkness. It does absolutely nothing to your natural requirement of needing light to see. Non-magical light sources can't light up the area affected by a darkness spell, so unless you already have darkvision (either racially or through some other effect) the ebon eyes spell is worthless in the magical darkness produced by that spell. This conditional usefulness is befitting of a 1st-level spell.

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    \$\begingroup\$ There's no clause in the game (save for human logic, which is sometimes alien to D&D) that mandates low level effects have to be worse than high level effects. But in this case, the shorter duration of ebony eyes should be enough to make it weaker than darksigh, even if it did something more. \$\endgroup\$ – Zachiel Sep 26 '15 at 16:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ Although the focus of this answer is on the 2nd-level Sor/Wiz spell darkness [evoc] (PH 216), the spell ebon eyes just as easily sees through areas of magical darkness that are indisputably actually pitch dark, like the 3rd-level Sor/Wiz spell blacklight [evoc] (Spell Compendium 30) and the 4th-level assassin spell assassin's darkness [evoc] (Complete Scoundrel 95). The game's internal logic should prevent ebon eyes from penetrating these darknesses, but the spell's (likely erroneous) phrasing makes that possible. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Sep 30 '15 at 15:41

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