Many people hold to the interpretation of the spell Darkness that it is an area of total darkness.

But this is not how I would interpret it, to me it appears as if the spell creates an area of dim lighting.

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, as are light spells of lower level. Higher level light spells are not affected by darkness.

If darkness is cast on a small object that is then placed inside or under a lightproof covering, the spell’s effect is blocked until the covering is removed.

Darkness counters or dispels any light spell of equal or lower spell level.

Vision And Light
In an area of shadowy illumination, a character can see dimly. Creatures within this area have concealment relative to that character. A creature in an area of shadowy illumination can make a Hide check to conceal itself.

As you can see, the spell says it radiates illumination. But more than that this 20% miss chance mentioned corresponds to partial concealment, not total (50% chance) as you would expect from total darkness. And low-light vision is mentioned as a condition which would overcome it normally, which would not be true if it were total darkness. Am I missing something?

So what lighting effect does the spell Darkness create?

Also, can you use the this spell to dimly light up an area of total darkness?

  • \$\begingroup\$ "Shadowy illumination" is, reflecting now, perhaps a very poor choice of words. However, I think that the author meant to convey that the magical darkness is like an "anti-light" that "radiates" with darkness, based on the historical behavior of the spell, and the fact that you can cover the darkness-emitting object to "cover the area in light." \$\endgroup\$ Sep 29, 2015 at 17:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ @LucasLeblanc I would agree with you 100%. Except "Shadowy Illumination" is the official phrase to describe dim lighting, as quoted above. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jonathon
    Sep 29, 2015 at 20:26

1 Answer 1


How I usually see this ruled:

1) The Darkness spell causes the area in which it is placed to be limited to Dim Light, as you spell out clearly. It is, however, not a [light] effect and furthermore does not add to the lighting level, rather setting the cap on illumination in the area to Dim Light. This is usually equivalent to creating a region of pitch-black magical darkness in the situations where the spell is likely to be cast, because the spell also prevents lower level spell-based magical lighting from working at all so there's usually no viable source of light functioning in the area of effect. Mundane light sources, however, are merely limited to not being able to raise the light level above dim. Most adventurers don't bother carrying any mundane light sources past about level 2, however.

2) No, you'd need a light source for that.

RAW, as I understand it:

1) Yep!

2) Yep!

  • \$\begingroup\$ So according to your (RAI/houserule)? low lever light spells do nothing, while mundane are capable of raising the level of light to dim? \$\endgroup\$
    – Jonathon
    Sep 29, 2015 at 3:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ @JonathonWisnoski Yep! We don't feel the need to enforce "magic>everything else" any more than the system already does. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 29, 2015 at 3:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ Normal lights (torches, candles, lanterns, and so forth) are incapable of brightening the area, as are light spells of lower level. => I don't see any difference of treatment between mundane lights and magic ones, both seem just limited to "Dimly Lit". \$\endgroup\$ Sep 29, 2015 at 12:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MatthieuM. Actually, that was my understanding as well. Darkness can be used as an alternative (alternative to the same spell, that is) counter spell to light spells of the same level and lower, but that would be using it to counter a spell casting, not create darkness. As far as I know, darkness has never been an anti-magic field that only works on light. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 29, 2015 at 17:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MatthieuM. Well! rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/69243/… \$\endgroup\$ Sep 29, 2015 at 17:52

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