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I thought this was a moot point, settled and done, but a recent errata opens up the question for me again.

Vision and Light (p. 183). A heavily obscured area doesn’t blind you, but you are effectively blinded when you try to see something obscured by it.

This corrects the following rule:

A heavily obscured area–such as darkness, opaque fog, or dense foliage–blocks vision entirely. A creature effectively suffers from the blinded condition (see appendix PH-A) when trying to see something in that area.

Now, this errata implies to me that being within a heavily obscured area does not prevent one from seeing OUT of the area, merely from seeing INTO the area. For instance, a rogue in an area of deep shadow would be heavily obscured to the guard standing by the streetlamp, but the rogue could easily see the guard. (Substitute thick foliage and elf for a less light based situation.)
On the other hand, the rogue would be effectively blinded to anything else in the same area of darkness.

So, what in the Darkness spell specifically prevents one from seeing OUT? The only indication I can see is that "A creature with darkvision can't see THROUGH" it and that doesn't really convince me. Can Darkness be interpreted as simply a mobile, impenetrable shadow?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I fully acknowledge that this interpretation makes Darkness incredibly OP. I also know that the interpretation at WotC (via Sage Advice) is that Darkness is a two-way block to vision. \$\endgroup\$ – Will Rhodes Aug 9 '16 at 20:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ Related followup question by you: Does the Darkness spell block vision? \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Dec 27 '19 at 8:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ The errata you mention got changed - now it reads “A creature effectively suffers from the blinded condition (see appendix A) when trying to see something in that area.” \$\endgroup\$ – Guillaume F. Jan 4 at 0:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ Guillaume F, I think that wording more strongly supports my assertion that you can see targets outside a heavily obscured area from inside the area. \$\endgroup\$ – Will Rhodes Jan 10 at 21:15
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Caveat: I don't think this is incredibly clear from the wording of the spell, so my answer will be subject to some semantic parsing.

No, that errata does not impact the effect of the Darkness spell.

The fact that "darkness" as opposed to "the effects of the Darkness spell" is listed as an example of a heavily-obscured area and that the spell description doesn't describe it as creating "a heavily obscured area" means that errata is kind of a red herring in this case.

The spell description says that a creature with darkvision can't see through it (which requires the logical leap that creatures without darkvision also can't see through it :) ), which means someone in the area of effect can't see out, since that would require seeing through some portion of the darkness.

A more grody scientific explanation would say that since "nonmagical light can't illuminate it," you can't see something unless light bounces off that thing and hits your eyes, and light that does do that would potentially be illuminating something in the darkness, so...no on that front as well (though if your game gets to the point of debating the nature of light itself, you might want to call it a day already).

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'd disagree with the difference between "darkness" and "the effects of the Darkness spell", since the effects of the Darkness spell is an area of "Magical darkness", which isn't defined elsewhere in the rules, so would default to the definition of "darkness", except, ya know, "magical". The fact that Darkvision doesn't see through it does indeed require a logical leap to apply the same to normal vision. See, Darkvision specifically references "darkness", so this reads to me like "It's so dark, even Darkvision doesn't let you see into the dark area like it normally would." \$\endgroup\$ – Will Rhodes Aug 10 '16 at 0:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ Of course none of that negates the bolded part of your answer, which indicates that I asked the wrong question. \$\endgroup\$ – Will Rhodes Aug 10 '16 at 0:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, that's why I was really cautious about my answer, since it is super-vague. I'd still say that if you can't see through it, that means you can't see through any of it, but that's more of a "here's how I'd rule at my table" than an ironclad answer. \$\endgroup\$ – Polisurgist Aug 10 '16 at 3:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ I just noticed that the description of darkness on PH183 specifically mentions "magical darkness", which is the same wording used by the Darkness spell. \$\endgroup\$ – Will Rhodes Aug 10 '16 at 22:26
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Normal darkness (lack of light) is not a heavily obscured area.

You can see out of normal darkness. For example, an archer in the darkness can attack targets next to the campfire with no penalty. Normal darkness does not block vision. For example, people at two different campfires can see each other clearly even though there is darkness between the areas of light around each fire.

However, anyone trying to perceive the archer in the darkness is effectively blinded (though they don't actually have the blinded condition).

Heavily obscured areas (darkness spell, hunger of hadar spell, fog cloud spell, dust, smoke, fog, foliage, etc) block vision. You can't see into them, you can't see out of them, and you can't see through them. Any situation where an area of heavy obscurement is between you and something else, then you are effectively blinded trying to see it.

For example, two people on either side of darkness or fog cloud cannot see each other and would be at disadvantage to attack rolls against each other.

The easiest way to think of it is that the darkness spell creates a big cloud of squid ink. :-)

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    \$\begingroup\$ Where do you get the description of it as being like a big cloud of squid ink? I can find nothing that distinguishes "Darkness" from normal darkness, other than the reference to Darkvision. \$\endgroup\$ – Will Rhodes Aug 10 '16 at 17:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Will Rhodes, from my imagination. :-) It seems like a good way to think of a heavily obscured area. The darkness spell is not normal darkness, because "nonmagical light can’t illuminate it." (Basic Rules page 86). \$\endgroup\$ – Greenstone Walker Aug 10 '16 at 22:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ The problem is that normal darkness also creates a heavily obscured area. "Darkness creates a heavily obscured area. Characters face darkness outdoors at night (even most moonlit nights), within the confines of an unlit dungeon or a subterranean vault, or in an area of magical darkness." (PH183) Note that it even references the term "magical darkness". \$\endgroup\$ – Will Rhodes Aug 10 '16 at 22:24
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The wording is very clear for 5e Darkness spell. Darkvision can't see through the Darkness spell. It is magical. You need a vision type that can see through magical darkness like True vision or the Warlock's invocation Devil's Eye.

So you can't see out, with darkvision, but what people are REALLY missing is that this spell says through. Which also means without aforementioned special visions you can't see what is behind the area of darkness either. Because unlike older versions that decreased the light level this one is straight up a visual barrier.

These guys dont just write random text, they are very careful with wording. If it had been a light lowering effect it would have stated as such in the description.

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