The rules say that creatures in a heavily obscured area "effectively suffer from the blinded condition".

The blinded condition states:

Attacks rolls against the creature have advantage, and the creature's attack rolls have disadvantage.

So when the Darkness spell (to use one example) is cast, combatants gain advantage and disadvantage when attacking others who are also inside the area, which cancel out.

Since they then cancel each other out and attacks are made normally, what really changes?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Ohhh, I see. "Why is fighting in darkness functionally equivalent to fighting in the light?" \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Commented May 15, 2017 at 22:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks very much for working with us to get the question clear to everyone! \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 16, 2017 at 1:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie you have gained inspiration, thanks for the great editing! \$\endgroup\$
    – Piero
    Commented May 16, 2017 at 4:37

6 Answers 6


It levels the playing field

Casting darkness will cancel out both advantage and disadvantage, due to the way they stack.
If your opponent has advantage and you have disadvantage, then cancelling both will be good for you, and bad for them.

It benefits those who can see through magical darkness

Some characters (eg, Warlocks with Devil's Sight) can see normally in magical darkness.
So, their opponent will be blinded, but they won't.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I never thought of that aspect you mention, you are absolutely right, it is an interesting use of the spell, negating other sources of advantage and disadvantage, when they arent helping the casters side. Clearly devil sight makes the darkness spell a straight forward benefit even against nemies with darkvision, but your answer brings a new light to the darkness, for non devil sighters at least. \$\endgroup\$
    – Piero
    Commented May 16, 2017 at 4:23

If you cannot see your opponent then you cannot use any spell or feature that says "that you can see".

For example, you cannot:

  • Use Protection fighting style.

  • Use Uncanny Dodge.

  • Make Opportunity Attacks.

  • Cast any spells that require a target you can see.

Your attack rolls will be at normal (the advantage for the target not seeing you is negated by the disadvantage for not seeing your target) but the combat will play differently because of these unusable features. In particular, fights in the dark will usually be more mobile since you don't have to worry about opportunity attacks.

This is assuming everyone is in the dark! If one combatant can see in the dark then the combat will be very different (and probably very deadly).

  • \$\begingroup\$ Note: "Cast any spells that require a target you can see" covers pretty much all the targeted ones except Dispel Magic; even 9th level spells like Power Word Kill. Many spell-like powers like Beholder eye rays fail too. Also, not even True Sight helps against a Fog Cloud! \$\endgroup\$
    – Doval
    Commented May 16, 2017 at 13:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ This is a big reason why a Bladelock's favorite spell ever is Darkness. Nobody can see but them. So they get to be immune to virtually all targeted spells, Attacks of Opportunity, plus they get the benefit of getting to attack blind targets. It's just not super party-friendly. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 16, 2017 at 15:00

Mechanically, this gives a bonus to those who can see in the dark.

You're right that if both combatants are just stumbling around blind, there's no net benefit, but if one of the combatants can see in the dark, using Darkvision or Devil's Sight, then they suddenly gain a significant edge in combat, because they get advantage in attacks against their enemies but their enemies have disadvantage against them.

In terms of the fiction, you can imagine that there are two blinded people fighting: they don't know where to strike, but they also don't know where the strikes are coming from. Thus, the relative advantages and disadvantages cancel out, and you're back to a neutral contest. However, if one of the combatants can see and the other can't, the one that can see is going to have a much easier time in attacking and defending.

Effectively, darkness imposes a circumstance in which seeing in the dark actually confers some kind of bonus, as opposed to fighting in bright light, where that ability does very little.

  • \$\begingroup\$ You mention using Darkvision and Devil's Sight, I assume in the context of seeing thought Darkness (as in "the spell effect", not just an area with no light), have I understood that right? If so, Devil's Sight specifically says it can see through magical darkness but the Darkvision spell does not so Darkvision wouldn't help in this case, right? \$\endgroup\$
    – NathanS
    Commented May 16, 2017 at 7:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ You are correct on the devil sight/darkvision difference, devil sight works even in magical darkness, darkvision does not. Both work on natural darkness. A curious note is that devil sight doesnt work on dim light, darkvision does. Also devil sight allows you to see in darkness, even magical darkness, as if it was bright light, darkvision allows you to see as if it was dim light, and dim light as bright light. Also the warlocks devil sight is different from the ability of the same name that actual devils have. Game designers probably laugh and think how else can we mindblast these guys? \$\endgroup\$
    – Piero
    Commented May 16, 2017 at 8:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NathanS, I mention both of them because they both work in my example--whether the darkness is magical or not doesn't affect the blinded condition. a character with darkvision would be able to gain this advantage in mundane darkness, such as in a dark cave. \$\endgroup\$
    – Icyfire
    Commented May 16, 2017 at 15:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Icyfire My assumption was that you were referring to magical darkness because that was the example used in the question. Saying that, since the question merely uses that as an example and isn't specifically about magical darkness, then if you're only referring to mundane darkness, my earlier comment doesn't apply. Just wanted to clarify that :) \$\endgroup\$
    – NathanS
    Commented May 16, 2017 at 15:19

It gives opportunities to those who can utilize stealth

Being unseen allows creatures to hide. Targeting a hidden creature requires you to guess where they are. A rogue who can use a bonus action for cunning action to Hide and Attack every round is going to have an edge over a creature that must choose to Hide or Attack.

To clarify, an unseen creature is not hidden - everyone knows exactly where the creature is, they do not have to guess. How they know is irrelevant, maybe they can hear, smell, or taste them: whatever.

An unseen creature has met the preconditions to take the Hide (bonus) action. If they do so they are hidden from every creature whose passive Wisdom (Perception) score is less than their Dexterity (Stealth) check. Remember that for a creature that relies predominately on sight (i.e. most creatures) their Wisdom (Perception) check is at disadvantage, for a passive check this is a -5 penalty. That is, whatever senses they used to know where the unseen creature was are inadequate to locate the hidden creature. Of course, if they rely exclusively on sight (I don't think there are any) then they automatically fail the check as per the Blinded condition.

If you move then these creatures do not know where you are - they have to guess if they want to attack you - only if they guess correctly are you at risk but they still have disadvantage on the check (and advantage if you can't see them). Alternatively they can spend an action to Search and engage their active Wisdom (Perception) to try and find you but this probably means giving up an opportunity to do damage this turn: if you can hide again on your turn, they have effectively done nothing.

  • \$\begingroup\$ but why hide from the blind? maybe by hiding you mean the older editions "move silently" now conveniently grouped with actual hiding under stealth skill, but again why do it if they already have to guess your location? as you pointed out. Thats one question i had to remove, as it was correctly pointed out to me that it refers to targeting and not the canceling out part, but its all wrapped up when you are behind your screen and people on the other side rely on you to bring to life the setting where they will be able to build an epic story, god i love this game \$\endgroup\$
    – Piero
    Commented May 16, 2017 at 4:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ @PieroManavella Hiding means that not only can't they see you, they can't hear, smell, feel or taste you. Unless you are Hide, no one guesses your location - they know where you are even if they can't see you. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dale M
    Commented May 16, 2017 at 5:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ could you point me where are the rule references you are using? both for hide and targeting while blinded by a heavily obscure area. If what you say is backed up somehow in the rules, it really would change my concept of the stealth skill and further diminish my concept of magical darkness \$\endgroup\$
    – Piero
    Commented May 16, 2017 at 7:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Piero See What advantages does hiding have? \$\endgroup\$
    – Dale M
    Commented May 16, 2017 at 11:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ I just looked over and over but couldn't find where hiding and/or sneaking removed your smell, texture and taste. Sneak is considered to be either unseen or unheard, allows movement. Hide is both, and seems to assume you are somewhere motionless. So a creature with blindsight or scent could easily find you. When I asked why hide from the blind? I meant that in the darkness they already can't see you, a sneak (move silently to be unheard as well) beats hiding as it also allows movement, guessing where you are gets harder if you can change locations. \$\endgroup\$
    – Piero
    Commented May 17, 2017 at 3:37

In addition to what has been said above, creatures that do not rely on sight, are immune to the blinded condition or can see in magical darkness will be able to attack without any disadvantage. Thus allowing them great advantage over those that do not.

a warlock with Devil's sight can use darkness to make enemies have to guess where it is while it has free reign to do as it pleases. A villain in charge of a dungeon could cast darkness on the party allowing the slimes to do their work, etc. and in a place filled with traps, the denizens would know where the traps are while the party can't see them and are far more likely to fall into them.

creatures that have sunlight sensitivity can also use magical darkness to level the playing field during the day.


In addition to all the other answers, which cover the big details, there is another key difference.

Advantage and disadvantage to attacks do not always even each other out, there can be situations where the advantage/disadvantage tradeoff is useful even without an ability to see through darkness.

The big benefit comes from placing your target in darkness but not yourself. Your target is blinded no matter what, You are effectively 'blinded' if you attack your enemy in the darkness as well, but your enemy has disadvantage when attacking you through the darkness and if you attack him with a long range attack your disadvantage even's out with his advantage to give you a net gain.

Thus any situation where your enemy has long range attacks you can benefit from casting darkness on where they stand. In the best case scenario, where they can't move out of the darkness, you now have forced disadvantage on every range attack they do for the entire fight. Worse case scenario you force everyone in the darkness to spend an action to move out of the darkness wasting actions.

So some situations in which it's useful to put your enemy in darkness:

Ranged attackers that you can't reach

Imagine fighting in a courtyard with enemy archers attacking form some overhead wall. Casting darkness on them would work wonders, it wouldn't affect you but they would either have to spend several rounds moving down to the courtyard, and closer to you, or put up with constant disadvantage.

You are retreating

You won't make any attack rolls, you just want to survive the volley of arrows/spells until you make it to safety

To protect vulnerable people at a critical moment

Maybe one or more of your party members just sustained some major injury and is near death. You're enemy goes next and is going to try to finish them off. If you have no other option a darkness spell can increase the odds that your team survives the next attack so it can heal/regroup.

Alternatively maybe the enemy is attacking civilians or your on an escort quest or simply is smart enough to all focus their ranged attacks at one vulnerable ally who's doing something plot critical. The situation is all the same, at the moment you want those people safe.

Total defense has its uses

Any situation in which a total defense action would make sense, darkness would as well. Since total defense would not be an attack roll, it means you get high defense and your enemy disadvantage giving you a very good chance of negating every attack.

Imagine a situation where your fighting or doing something else important in a particular room, and know that a large number of slightly lower reinforcements will be summoned when you do that could easily overwhelm your team before your done. You have your Warrior stand in front of the door, making total defense actions, and cast darkness so it covers just the doorway. Now instead of fighting a large force that could easily defeat you your highest defense teammate with a total defense boost and advantage on defense has to guard against the attack of only one foe that can fit in the doorway, and the enemy may already be just low enough to have a lower attack. Your warriors defense is already higher then enemies attack and disadvantage favors whoever has the statistical advantage so your warrior can pretty much stall those reinforcements indefinitely buying you a long time to do whatever you need to do.

You need to prevent them from accomplishing a skill check that requires sight

Your enemy is about to read the ancient runes of evil to summon the demon from beyond and you just need a few more rounds to stop him, cast darkness on those runes and you have that time. Lots of skill checks have to happen at a specific place and blinding that area keeps your enemy from doing whatever they intended to do there.

Uses beyond RAW tactics

There are plenty of uses for darkness that aren't explicitly spelled out in RAW but which any GM is likely to allow. For example it increases stealth and ability to sneak around, though another answer already mentioned that.

You could use it to spook or scare someone. Or to obscure your face when negotiating with someone whom you don't wish to know your identity, or to prevent someone from making some sort of check that requires eyesight that it's imperative he fails to make at this moment, etc. There are a million role-playing uses for various situations.


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