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After receiving answers on this question, reading forums, and talking to my current players, I have come up with a few replacements to darkvision:

  • Removing the section on darkness (becoming dim light), but leaving dim light becoming bright light.
  • Advantage on perception checks in darkness (i.e. hearing) dim light (this would negate the disadvantage)
  • Advantage on all perception checks
  • Proficiency in perception checks made in darkness (i.e. hearing) dim light (much like stonecunning for dwarves)
  • Proficiency in perception checks

To what extent are the above replacements objectively more or less powerful race features than darkvision?

If you want to advise replacing darkvision with something not mentioned here, then it would probably be better for you to answer the original question.

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Increased perception in darkness (hearing, smell) seems like the best option to me. I would probably consider all your options less powerful than full darksight, although hearing and smell boosts would allow the user to gauge what's ahead in a winding cave (hearing machinery, smelling goblins and so forth).

If I was a player used to running with darksight, this would still feel like a nerf, but if you were to temper it with one of your suggested boosts it should be fine.

You could also simply reduce the distance the darkvision players can see, keeping your claustrophobic vibe without removing their power entirely.

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