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In discussing this question, I came to realize that the real question was whether Darkness blocks vision or merely creates "darkness".

Per the wording of the spell:

Magical darkness spreads from a point you choose within range to fill a 15-foot-radius sphere for the duration. The darkness spreads around corners. A creature with darkvision can’t see through this darkness, and nonmagical light can’t illuminate it. (emphasis mine)

Normal darkness is defined in the game as creating a heavily obscured area and the only description added to the darkness is that it is magical, which (to me) just means that it is created by magic and is subject to the magical rules.

Darkvision is defined in the game as basically being able to see in darkness as if they were seeing in dim light. So, the text "darkvision can’t see through this darkness" merely means that it affects darkvision in the same way it affects normal vision. (See earlier versions of the spell below, which had similar wordings.)

I see nothing there that implies it is a barrier to vision, just an active and utter absence of illumination.


Previous editions have varying descriptions. What's the history of the Darkness spell? and this wiki article give accurate accountings of the various versions.

  • The 1e Wizard version seems to actually imply a sphere of opaque blackness that even blocks infra/ultravision, while the 1e Cleric version is a reversal of the Light spell and creates totally normal darkness, with no block to special visions.

  • The 2e version is similar to the 1e Cleric spell. It creates an area of darkness "equal to an unlit interior room".

  • The 3.0e version comes closest to the 5e version. It "causes an object to radiate darkness out to a 20-foot radius. Not even creatures who can normally see in the dark (such as with darkvision) can see in an area shrouded in magical darkness." Still no reference to any sort of opacity and the wording makes it clear that darkvision is being treated specifically here.

  • 3.5e Darkness is similar, although instead of darkness, it creates "shadowy illumination". This affects darkvision as well as normal vision.

  • 4e doesn't have a Darkness spell, but rather a Cleric Utility called Veil of Darkness, which creates "a zone that is heavily obscured and blocks line of sight." So, finally, a reference to opacity, in "blocks line of sight", although I question if opacity was the intent.

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I see nothing there that implies it is a barrier to vision, just an active and utter absence of illumination.

You are quite right - there is nothing in the spell that says it blocks vision, just that the area is in Darkness.

However, a strict reading of normal darkness means you can't see through that (PHB p.183):

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.

And a Heavily Obscured area is (PHB p.183):

A heavily obscured area—such as darkness, opaque fog, or dense foliage—blocks vision entirely. A creature in a heavily obscured area effectively suffers from the blinded condition (see appendix A).

Which has been erratad as:

A heavily obscured area doesn’t blind you, but you are effectively blinded when you try to see something obscured by it.

So, darkness (magical or otherwise) creates a heavily obscured area. A heavily obscured area "blocks vision entirely".

Now, while it is clear what this means for "opaque fog, or dense foliage" is simple and straightforward - you can't see into this stuff and you can't see through it to stuff on the other side of it.

Applying this to darkness, however, seems to result in nonsense because, in the real world, darkness isn't a thing. In the real world darkness is the absence of light hitting your eyes from a certain direction. This can be because of an actual absence of light (underground) or because, even though the region is full of light none of it is coming your way (space). But this isn't the real world, is it?

So you have 3 options:

  1. Darkness works just like it says in the book - you cannot see into it or through it. This would be really cool for a gothic horror campaign even though it would make navigating at night ridiculously hard.
  2. Darkness (magical or not) works as it does in the real world - you can't see into it but you can see through it to illuminated areas beyond. I think this is what the rules intended even though they and the errata were poorly drafted.
  3. Normal darkness works like 2. Magical darkness works like 1. There is no support for this in the Darkness spell description but this is how it worked in prior editions.

Its your world - make it fun.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The errata means that you can see through/past/out of (nonmagical) darkness, just not into it. ie, like real life. But that doesn't answer what magical darkness does. (see OP's linked question) \$\endgroup\$ – Adeptus Aug 11 '16 at 2:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Adeptus you could read the errata that way but what it actually says is that if you try to see something obscured by the heavily obscured stuff you are effectively blinded. As I say, this makes sense for solid stuff but not so much for "darkness". \$\endgroup\$ – Dale M Aug 11 '16 at 3:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ I guess it depends on how you define "obscured by". Could mean "in", could mean "in or behind". In 5e's case, it probably means "ask the DM". \$\endgroup\$ – Adeptus Aug 11 '16 at 4:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ For options 2 & 3, if there is an area of darkness between two areas of light, are creatures within the darkness "silhouetted" as dark shapes by the light background behind them, or are they simply invisible? \$\endgroup\$ – Imaginary Aug 11 '16 at 16:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ @WillRhodes to get really technical, darkness (as in impenetrable shadows) is a relative thing. The human eye can see across an absolutely enormous range of illuminance levels, just not all at once. A dark alley in daylight is much brighter in physics units than the Main Street at night, however, in human perception it is much "darker". \$\endgroup\$ – Dale M Aug 31 '16 at 1:59
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5e clearly states;

A creature with darkvision CAN'T SEE THROUGH this darkness, and nonmagical light can’t illuminate it.

Implying it is in fact a visual barrier, as it clearly says "through". So, seeing what's outside the darkness spell from within is just as much of a problem for anyone outside looking into the spell's area or what's behind the area.

The only ones that can see through it are people wielding -magical light- (Not normal light) outside the radius to illuminate into it (Light entering the zone will immediate snuff out all magical/non light), and creatures/players with something like True Vision which can see into magical darkness.

Or Warlock Invocation; Devil's Sight, which lets you see through magical and nonmagical darkness normally up to 120 feet. Cast darkness on yourself (Darkness will move with an object if cast upon it) and just troll the battlefield with the disadvantage anyone attacking you now has.

Should be noted older version of the spell work very differently. Pathfinder drops the light level by 1 in the area so no impact on people with darkvision other than normal lighting penalties. 3.5 anyone inside gains a 20% dodge chance, even if the attacker has darkvision.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I explain why the phrase "darkvision CAN'T SEE THROUGH this darkness" doesn't logically support this conclusion in the post. Can you address that point? \$\endgroup\$ – Will Rhodes Jan 10 at 21:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ "darkvision CAN'T SEE THROUGH this darkness" means that darkvision cannot see though the sphere of darkness that was created. \$\endgroup\$ – James May 22 at 6:38
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You are viewing the darkness spell as the removal or something (illumination) rather than the manifestation of something (darkness).

just an active and utter absence of illumination.

I see nothing that says it removes normal illumination. Rather I see text that says darkness spreads. A darkness that is darker than any mundane illumination.

Magical darkness spreads from a point you choose

What's the difference between spreading darkness and removing illumination? Removing illumination is like turning off a light source. In the case of this spell, however, darkness is spreading from a point. Darkness is emanating from a point the way light emanates from a point - that's the magic. Darkness is normally the absence of light, but here darkness is being created. This is further backed up by saying that the source of darkness can be covered,

Completely covering the source of the darkness with an opaque object, such as a bowl or a helm, blocks the darkness.

much in the same way a source of light, radio waves, heat waves, etc, can be covered. It is magically making the darkness into a thing instead of being the the absence of a thing (illumination) as your conclusion suggests.

Now that we have darkness, a thing that is being created, magically spreading from a point in all directions to form a sphere, we can look at the properties of this magical darkness that is forming a sphere.

I see nothing there that implies it is a barrier to vision

I see the definition of Darkness (which now exists in a 15ft radius sphere,

Darkness creates a heavily obscured area. Characters face darkness ... or in an area of magical darkness. (emphasis mine)

and the definition of "a heavily obscured area"

A heavily obscured area ... blocks vision entirely.

That says there is a block (or a barrier) to vision.

Further, the description of the spell says that

A creature with darkvision can't see through this darkness, and nonmagical light can't illuminate it.

In order for you to see through the darkness to the other side of the darkness, light would have to pass though the area of darkness or your vision would have to pass through the darkness. If the light passes though but makes silhouettes, you are illuminating the area not occupied by physical objects. Even though that area that does not have objects in it is still covered by darkness. You would not be able see the difference between an object and open space. In order to see the open space, your vision would need to pass through the darkness to see what is on the other side. Imagine walking through a building at night with the lights off. You don't know if you are going to walk into a wall or an open door. Only adding light would let make that determination visually.

In short, the entire space (occupied or not) within the area of the spell effect is covered by darkness that does not allow vision to pass through.

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Darkness does not block vision, magic or otherwise

The Darkness spell has a bit that we can dissect. Firstly calling it magical darkness. Magical darkness itself is not defined in any way in the rules but we can define magical and darkness separately. Magical is defined in the Sage Advice Compendium as thus:

In D&D, the first type of magic is part of nature. It is no more dispellable than the wind. A monster like a dragon exists because of that magic-enhanced nature. The second type of magic is what the rules are concerned about. When a rule refers to something being magical, it’s referring to that second type. Determining whether a game feature is magical is straightforward. Ask yourself these questions about the feature:

Is it a magic item? Is it a spell? Or does it let you create the effects of a spell that’s mentioned in its description? Is it a spell attack? Is it fueled by the use of spell slots? Does its description say it’s magical? If your answer to any of those questions is yes, the feature is magical.

according to this defining it as magical simply means it meets the requirements set above to be classified as magical thereby targetable by effects such as dispel magic and affected by anti-magic zones.

Darkness itself is also defined:

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.

Then of course heavily obscured because that's mentioned:

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

We all know that darkness does not "block vision". in fact the DMG contradicts this on pg.105 allowing us to see "through" darkness:

Bright light in an environment of total darkness can be visible for miles

so, thus far we've covered that being magical just means its darkness created by a spell, and the darkness it creates should be treated as normal darkness. But the spell description goes on to add some more effects:

A creature with darkvision can’t see through this darkness, and nonmagical light can’t illuminate it.

Now remember that a general rule to follow is that a spell does, what the spell says it does but this is where it gets tricky. "Darkvision can't see through this darkness" written as is, implies that only darkvision can not see through it. I do not think that this is the intended effect. so we can assume one of two different paths is the intended effect. Either the wording can mean "Normal vision and darkvision can't see through this darkness" OR "Darkvision can't see into this darkness". I believe that the intended effect is the latter, especially with the errata change to heavily obscured areas.

Lastly, I would like to make a comparison between the wording of the Darkness spell and another spell that has clearly defined wording with a similar effect, Hunger of Hadar.

You open a gateway to the dark between the stars, a region infested with unknown horrors. A 20-foot-radius sphere of blackness and bitter cold appears, centered on a point with range and lasting for the duration. This void is filled with a cacophony of soft whispers and slurping noises that can be heard up to 30 feet away. No light, magical or otherwise, can illuminate the area, and creatures fully within the area are blinded.

The clear wording of Hunger is that the sphere is blackness and creatures fully within are blinded. These keywords could have easily been added to the darkness spell. If WoTC had intended Darkness to work as a black void they certainly had the ability to have said so.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ "Darkness creates a heavily obscured area." Then we have the definition of "heavily obscured area" which is "A heavily obscured area--such as darkness, ...--blocks vision entirely." Sure, you aren't actually blind, but you cannot see what is in the darkness that is created. You can see around the darkness, but the spell creates darkness from a point the same way we understand a torch to create light from a point. So the spell creates a sphere of darkness that blocks vision. The entire volume of the sphere is the darkness that was created. \$\endgroup\$ – James May 22 at 6:50
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I would argue that darkness let's you see illuminated areas beyond it. This thread has already made a good job explaining why from a real world perspective but I'm going to use a specific vs general argument based off how the darkness created by hunger of hadar specifically states creatures inside are blinded, despite other identical terms being used in the description. Notably the 'no light. Magical or otherwise can illuminate the area' part of the text.

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If creatures in darkness can be seen in silhouette by a creature via light from the other side of the darkness area of effect, then they are seen. Ergo, light cannot be perceived through the area of magical darkness.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! You may want to take the tour or visit the help center to learn more about the site. Around here, we usually want answers to back it up, so if I were writing this answer I would add a citation for the claims. Can you find a source to prove it correct? If you have one, edit it in. \$\endgroup\$ – Bardic Wizard Jul 19 at 19:35
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Yes, darkness does block vision.

There's a lot of answers to this question already, supporting both sides, but this seems like a good place to put the only "official" answer I was able to find, a tweet from Dan Dillion, here:


Is the area of a darkness spell opaque, i.e. blocks line of sight? So, can two creatures in a large well lit room standing on opposite sides of the area of a darkness spell see each other? I’m guessing not but just trying to reconcile the spell against how normal darkness works.

Without some ability to see through darkness, whether magical or mundane, that area is impenetrable to vision (heavily obscured, in game terms).

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Hi Zach Man and welcome to the RPGSE! That's a great find with regard to designer intent. However, designer tweets (not even those of the venerable Jeremy Crawford) are considered official. Per the official Sage Advice Compendium: "The public statements of the D&D team, or anyone else at Wizards of the Coast, are not official rulings; they are advice." You might consider revising your answer to clarify that, while valuable, Dan Dillon's tweets are not actually "official." Again, welcome and take the tour if you haven't yet. \$\endgroup\$ – Rykara 17 hours ago
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The rules imply all darkness blocks vision, but actually only the magical kind should.

First off, let's look at the RAW with respect to seeing through the magical darkness to a light on the other side:

Magical darkness spreads from a point you choose within range to fill a 15-foot-radius sphere for the duration. The darkness spreads around corners. A creature with darkvision can't see through this darkness, and nonmagical light can't illuminate it.

Sadly, it does not just say "Darkvision can't see through this darkness". It actually says "A creature with Darkvision can't see through this darkness". Not a creature using darkvision, a creature with darkvision. So, RAW, elves can't see through it even using normal vision, and humans and the like can see through it fine. I contend that this interpretation is illogical, and at the same time totally consistent with the text. It's an indicator to me that I am unlikely to get any satisfaction from debating the wording of the spell alone. The rule does not support my fiction as written.

Also, the spell doesn't actually say anything more about how this darkness effects vision. This leaves us to rely on the Environment section of the PHB (p. 183) to tell us how to interpret "darkness" (emphasis mine):

A heavily obscured area-such as darkness, opaque fog, or dense foliage-blocks vision entirely. A creature in a heavily obscured area effectively suffers from the blinded condition (see appendix A).

Outside the context of the Darkness spell, this description seems a bit off as well. We know in the real world that opaque fog and foliage can do this, but darkness does no such thing. I struggle to imagine rationalizing a set of universal laws for my game world where this is a fact without ending up writing a thesis in alternative physics to deal with the consequences.

My objective, then, is to make a change to give me a ruling I can work with. Ideally, I want to make the simplest change I can to the various rules elements (vision, darkness, heavily obscured) to make them all work together smoothly and create a rule system that doesn't break immersion by being illogical in some way, or create an environment so foreign that its rules are cumbersome to implement.

So here's my solution:

First off, we want to treat darkness, ordinary lack-of-light darkness, just as you would in the real world. Objects in darkness are heavily obscured unless you have special senses that don't require the light, and illuminated objects on the other side of an area of normal darkness are visible with normal sight, as implied in the DMG (p. 105):

Bright light in an environment of total darkness can be visible for miles...

So, if we change the wording of the PHB section on environment to instead say:

Creatures and objects inside a heavily obscured area cannot be seen with normal vision. Some heavily obscured areas-such as magical darkness, opaque fog, or dense foliage-block vision entirely. A creature in a heavily obscured area effectively suffers from the blinded condition (see appendix A).

This gives us a few critical things:

  • Ordinary darkness works as expected.
  • We have specifically defined the effects of magical darkness.
  • The Darkness spell creates a clearly magical, but completely understandable and consistent effect; it blocks vision entirely, so light does not pass through the area.

That creates me a plausible, workable solution that ties up the lose ends for me.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The question was "Does the Darkness spell block vision?" Could you please add a short summary at the beginning, that answers the question? Like "Yes", "No", "the rules do not specify" or similar. \$\endgroup\$ – enkryptor May 26 at 8:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think you're overlooking the specific-beats-general situation where the specific trait that is Darkvision overrides the general rule for darkness blocking vision entirely. A rule can't account for all the possible exceptions that exist or may ever exist. Specific exceptions clarify how they break the normal rule(s) and Darkvision adheres to this: *areas of darkness are only lightly obscured as far as [a creature with Darkvision] is concerned." Also, this answer doesn't seem to answer the question but instead skirts the issue by proposing a homebrew solution. \$\endgroup\$ – Rykara May 26 at 17:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Rykara This has nothing to do with specific vs general. Non-magical, real world darkness clearly does not stop any of us regular mortals from seeing something that is illuminated just because the dark area is between us and the light. If there's a campfire a mile away from you you can see it just fine even if it is an overcast night. \$\endgroup\$ – Cubic Jun 1 at 17:52

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