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From the PHB, p. 152:

Lantern, Hooded. A hooded lantern casts bright light in a 30-foot radius and dim light for an additional 30 feet. Once lit, it burns for 6 hours on a flask (1 pint) of oil. As an action, you can lower the hood, reducing the light to dim light in a 5-foot radius.

PHB errata says that you are not supposed to be "blinded by darkness", but can't see anything that is concealed by the darkness:

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.

But when you are in the darkness yourself, you can see things that are not. That means that a hooded lamp will be visible, since it still creates a lit area around.

Assuming that your foes will see the light at any range regardless, what is the point of reducing the lit area?

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I realized my comments were better suited as their own answer.

You are absolutely correct that a hooded lantern would be visible in the dark from any distance. Assuming you had direct line of sight on the lantern.

So if you are in an open empty field, or a very large open cavern, then you are right...there's no point to a hooded lantern.

However, you can only see light if you have line of sight on it. And, when seeing 'light' there are two things you may be seeing. You may either be seeing the source of the light (the lantern) or you may be seeing the area illuminated by the light.

So, where this becomes useful is in areas that do not have clear, long-distance visibility. Such as in a building, or a cave, or a forest, or city streets, or literally anywhere that is not an open field.

The way this works is this: If you have a hooded lantern and you have the hood up, you are casting a Sphere 60' aura of light around you. In an area with corners, doors, or any other obstruction that blocks line of sight, this means any creature that can see any part of that 60' radius aura of light...can see your light.

However, if you hood the lantern, that drops it to throwing off a radius 5' aura of light. Bearing in mind that spheres include their origin as part of the radius...this means that only the single square that the lantern is sitting in is illuminated, with a bit of bleed-over into the neighboring squares. This means that unless a creature gets line of sight on the squares immediately around the one the lantern is in, they cannot see the light.

There are several practical uses for this. While dungeoneering, the party can dim the lanterns to sneak up to a corner. If each party member carries a lantern, they can each see where the other is, and see the ground under their feet so they don't trip or anything...but no one around that corner can see them coming, because none of the light created by the lantern reaches around the corner to become visible. Then the elf sticks their head around the corner, using their Darkvision to see what's there...all without ever showing any light to the creatures around that corner.

On the other hand, if you wanted to try the same trick with a non-hooded lantern, the party members that can't see in the dark would have to stay 60' away from the corner, so that the light created by their lanterns didn't go past it and reveal their presence.

So, in summary...

Yes, a light is visible from a tremendous distance, IF you have line of sight on the light source, or anything the light source is illuminating. In an open field, this means dimming your light doesn't help much. But in an area with obstructions, dimming your lantern means you reduce the aura that is visible in the dark from a 60' sphere, to a 5' sphere. And given that this aura can shine past corners, under doors, through windows, and so on....reducing your light aura is very useful in areas with obstructed vision.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Older versions of the game (at least) had the rule that a light is visible from 5 times its illumination range. Going by that, it makes a lot of sense to want to dim it for precisely the reasons given. \$\endgroup\$ – Weckar E. Jan 30 '17 at 9:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ Minor point ... 5' radius would give a sphere with 10' diameter, which depending on how you run orthogonal and diagonal , could be 2x2 squares, not 1 square \$\endgroup\$ – SteveC Jan 30 '17 at 17:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for content, but could you add some section headers to break it up visually? \$\endgroup\$ – András Mar 26 '18 at 15:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SteveC You could even rule a 3x3 square (all within 5ft of the centre). That's how it worked in 4e, and some effects are very difficult to argue against this interpretation. \$\endgroup\$ – Taxi4Dave Sep 24 at 9:56
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There's very little point in an open field, but in a dungeon reducing the light radius to 5ft can easily be enough to make sure it doesn't shine across the next corner.

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    \$\begingroup\$ On an open field at night it may make a difference depending on how "realistically" you want to model things in your game. A bonfire in such a situation is visible much further than a candle (at least a few miles further actually provided a clear line of sight). I'm not aware of any specific rule about long-range visibility of light sources though. \$\endgroup\$ – David Foerster Jan 28 '17 at 11:06
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A hooded lamp's light is easier to cover than a standard lamp. It allows for quicker dousing of light without actually dousing the lamp.

Imagine you're carrying a torch in a dungeon. You hear a commotion up ahead. You don't want to be spotted. You douse your torch. You're seen anyways. You have no light.

Now with a hooded lamp.

Imagine you're carrying a hooded lamp in a dungeon. You hear a commotion up ahead. You don't want to be spotted. You hood your lamp. You're seen anyways. You unhood your lamp. You have light.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ You miss the point. It's obvious why do you want to "switch off" light when you are hiding in a dungeon. But why anybody would hood a lamp, since it doesn't help to conceal the light anyways? \$\endgroup\$ – enkryptor Jan 27 '17 at 14:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ Which has also been addressed. "A hooded lamp's light is easier to cover..." \$\endgroup\$ – Bryant Jackson Jan 27 '17 at 16:12
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What makes a light visible to the eye? It's not the intensity of the light, it's your ability to pick it out from its surroundings.

Imagine a someone shining a flashlight against a white wall in direct sunlight on a bright, sunny day. That reflected flashlight beam will not be visible from very far away. Or imagine a street light that's lit, but directly between you and the sun. You may not even be able to tell it's lit.

Now imagine standing watch on a cloudy, moonless night. You will see someone taking a drag from their cigarette from a very great distance.

Those two examples show it's not about the light receptors in the eye, it's about the ability of the brain to spot variances in the visual field. Camouflage works by the same principle.

In World War II, car headlights were equipped with hooded covers, very much the same as hooded lanterns. The covers prevented direct line of sight to the headlight from the air while still casting light on the road surface. This was so enemy aircraft would have a hard time identifying roads by watching the headlights travel down them.

The same concept logically holds for hooded lanterns. Hooding it denies you direct line of sight to the light source - all you have a chance to see is the (very dim) reflected light from the area of the light. Because the difference between the dark background and this reflected light is very small, the eye will have a hard time picking it out.

In my games I try to take all this into consideration. Assuming the players are in a pitch-black environment, my rough rule of thumb is that their light is visible at 10 times its farthest range. So if a lamp casts dim light to 60 feet, it can be spotted from 600. A hooded lantern in my game could be spotted within 50 feet. That number changes considerably in the players' favor if there's ambient light around them.

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Another factor: When the light is bright it illuminates everyone in range of it--letting them be targeted by foes in the darkness. Dimmed it illuminates only the lantern carrier, denying the enemy any knowledge of the rest of the party even if they see the lantern.

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It is pretty basic. A hooded lantern, when compared to a lamp, casts bright light in a 30' radius (versus 15' for a lamp) and dim light to 60' (versus 45' for a lamp). It can also be hooded (obviously). So it is a brighter omnidirectional light source and can be dimmed quickly, differentiating it from a lamp or a torch.

A BULLSEYE lantern is directional light, so obviously is more practical for adventuring (it may only announce your presence to anyone within eyesight who is also in the cone of light projected from the lamp). But it is more expensive and would be less practical for illuminating a room.

Depending on how rigid your DM is on the light rules, a bullseye lantern may not illuminate an area very well for combat purposes since it technically only illuminates a specific cone area, not a 360 degree sphere. So you NEED a hooded lantern (or lamp or torch) in order to light an area well enough for non-darkvision characters to be able to act normally. Hooding it could shroud an area in darkness (except for the dim light around the lantern), hampering enemies and allowing darkvision characters to have an advantage.

How light is detected within a dungeon is sorta vague in the rules, but I imagine most DMs would allow the hooded lantern (5' of dim light) to be more stealthy than the unhooded lantern, lamp, or torch.

Playing a virtual table top like roll20 that has light sources and shadows will quickly illustrate the differences between light sources and how critical they can be. When in a room the hooded lantern is far superior for allowing non-darkvision characters to act unimpeded, and the fact that it can be hooded when stealth is necessary and unhooded for combat or investigations is a fine quality versus the lamp, torch, or light cantrip.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ "it can be hooded when stealth is necessary" - how hooding the lamp helps, since according to the description the lamp still emits light, hence, reveals you? \$\endgroup\$ – enkryptor Jan 27 '17 at 16:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ @enkryptor Stealth in a general sense. Maybe the folks with the hooded lamp can walk by a sentry without attracting as much attention, or the light won't be as visible around a corner, or would blend in to other dim light sources like luminescent muschrooms, etc. The DM has to make a judgment call but there is clearly a difference between 5" dim light and 30" of bright light even if the rules don't address it directly. \$\endgroup\$ – Jason K Jan 27 '17 at 17:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ Especially if you had to walk 10-25 ft behind the sentry in a dark or dim lit area, the 5ft of dim light wouldn't reveal you, but 30/60ft of bright/dim light would. \$\endgroup\$ – KumosAgosta Jan 27 '17 at 19:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KumosAgosta I think enkryptors concern is that regardless of the amount of light emitted, by RAW anyone with line of sight, no matter the distance, can see the light. I think this is open to DM discretion and even if they can physically see the light, will an observer actually notice it or be suspicious of it? In a pitch black cavern they might, but most environments have enough ambient light around that a 5' dim circle of light from far away may not arouse suspicion. \$\endgroup\$ – Jason K Jan 27 '17 at 19:18
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The lantern is more than just a point of light. It illuminates everything in a specified area. The errata helps slightly to clarify the intent of the rules, namely that the visibility/obscurity of an object is dependent on the lighting condition of the object, not the observer. You are not actually blinded, but effectively blinded with regards to a heavily obscured object when trying to see that object. When can infer from that errata that the conditions for dim and bright light apply to objects when trying to see them as well.

If you have direct line on sight on the lantern, hooding it won't hide it - it's not useful in an open field, for example. On the other hand, if you're in a dungeon and you're carrying an unhooded lantern, everything within 60 feet will be lit with either bright or dim light. That includes walls and floors. You'll see the wall of an upcoming corner from 60 feet, but that also means that someone around the corner will be able to see that those surfaces are illuminated and will know that someone or something with a light source is around the corner. Hooding the lantern lets you move about and control what you reveal to things hiding in the dark.

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if your playing a way of shadow monk (and are trying to save ki by not self casting darkvision) you can hood your lantern allowing you to shadow step since in it's open state you in bright light where you can't step but hooded your in dim where you can this also applies to warlocks with the one with the shadows invocation or a rogue without darkvision trying to sneak (perception checks (that rely on sight) are made at disadvantage in dim light)

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    \$\begingroup\$ Hi broran, and welcome to RPG Stack Exchange. Check our tour to see how we work here. Please bear in mind to use proper punctuation and capitalisation on our site; you have all the time in the world to edit your post before submitting it. When you reach 20 reputation, you can join us in Role-playing Games Chat. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jun 12 '17 at 9:53

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