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Reading the PHB sections on races, e.g. Dwarf p. 20, it says ...

Darkvision. Accustomed to life underground, you have superior vision in dark and dim conditions. You can see in dim light within 60 feet of you as if it were bright light, and in darkness as if it were dim light. You can't discern color in darkness, only shades of gray.

But at PHB p.184 it doesn't mention dim lighting conditions, only what Darkvision does in full darkness. It says ...

Darkvision: Many creatures in the worlds of D&D, especially those that dwell underground, have darkvision. Within a specified range, a creature with darkvision can see in darkness as if the darkness were dim light, so areas of darkness are only lightly obscured as far as that creature is concerned. However, the creature can't discern color in darkness, only shades of gray.

So the various character races can see in darkness as if it were dim, and in dim light as if it were bright, whereas "creatures" can only see in darkness as if it were dim?

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Interesting point regarding the description of darkvision on PHB p. 184. However, the Monster Manual on p. 9 says:

Darkvision

A monster with darkvision can see in the dark within a specific radius. The monster can see in dim light within the radius as if it were bright light, and in darkness as if it were dim light. The monster can't discern color in darkness, only shades of gray. Many creatures that live underground have this special sense.

This definition matches the PHB definition on p. 20. Comparing the PHB p. 20 and MM p. 9 definitions on the one hand with the PHB p. 184 definitions on the other, the only part in discrepancy is the part about "see in dim light within the radius as if it were bright light." The omission from p. 184 is only that, an omission. It isn't a contradiction.

It's reasonable to conclude that by RAW darkvision is darkvision, and works the same for every creature, unless otherwise noted in the creature's description.


The description on PHB p. 184-185 was corrected in this errata, which says:

Darkvision (p. 185). The definition of darkvision here now matches the definition everywhere else in the game (6th printing).

In summary, the definition of darkvision listed on p. 20 of the PHB is correct, and the omission on p. 185 was corrected in errata.

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  1. PHB p183 Darkvision:

Within a specified range, a creature with darkvision can see in darkness as if the darkness were dim light, so areas of darkness are only lightly obscured as far as that creature is concerned. However, the creature can’t discern color in darkness, only shades of gray.

  1. PHB p.20 racially specific (e.g. dwarf) Darkvision:

You can see in dim light within 60 feet of you as if it were bright light, and in darkness as if it were dim light. You can’t discern color in darkness, only shades of gray.

  1. Monster Manual p9 "monster" specific Darkvision:

A monster with darkvision can see in the dark within a specific radius. The monster can see in dim light within the radius as if it were bright light, and in darkness as if it were dim light. The monster can't discern color in darkness , only shades of gray.

RAW, using the rule of specific beats general:

  • if you have darkvision without any further description it follows rule 1. (i.e. you don't get the dim light is the same as bright light benefit). This includes the spell Darkvision PHB p.230
  • if you are a dwarf or elf or gnome etc. with darkvision it follows rule 2. as it is more specific than rule 1.
  • if you are a "monster" it follows rule 3 as it is more specific than rule 1. This is functionally the same as rule 2. The term "monster" used here is poor as it is not a well defined in-game term.

While I know of no errata or sage advice regarding this, common sense and the way darkvision is referred to throughout the rules strongly suggests to me that darkvision is intended to be consistent and it is an oversight that rule 1 does not contain the description about dim light.

As an example of what I mean by "the way the rules are written" is this case: a Githyanki, a "monster" from the monster manual, has a darkvision spell cast on it. RAW it means it gets better darkvision than a human character with exactly the same spell: specific beats general and the Githyanki is a "monster". Clearly an unintended consequence and completely solved by darkvision being made consistent.

It is therefore a house rule in our games that darkvision follows rule 2 regardless of the source, unless specifically stated otherwise.

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Darkvision states:

you can see in dim light as if it were bright light, and in darkness as if it were dim light.

Page 183 of the PHB (under "vision and light") says dim light creates a lightly obscured area:

A lightly obscured area, such as dim light, patchy fog, or moderate foliage, creatures have disadvantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on sight

It's simple, a creature with darkvision has disadvantage on perception checks trying to see in total darkness, a creature without darkvision in total darkness is essentially blind (because darkness creates a heavily obscured area), really it is all there on page 183 and 184 of the PHB.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! This question is about which of two appearently different rules are correct, whereas your answer only explain how one of those rules say darkvision work. Take the tour if you haven't already, and check out the help center for more guidance. Good Luck and Happy Gaming! \$\endgroup\$ – Someone_Evil Apr 23 at 16:06

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