Vision in roleplaying games has always been interesting, to say the least. Let’s look at the current D&D 5e rules that concern vision, listed under The Environment:
Vision and Light
The most fundamental tasks of adventuring— noticing danger, finding hidden Objects, hitting an enemy in Combat, and targeting a spell, to name just a few—rely heavily on a character’s ability to see.
Darkness and other Effects that obscure vision can prove a significant hindrance.
A given area might be lightly or heavily obscured. In a lightly obscured area, such as dim light, patchy fog, or moderate foliage, creatures have disadvantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on sight.
A heavily obscured area—such as Darkness, opaque fog, or dense foliage—blocks vision entirely. A creature effectively suffers from the Blinded condition (see Conditions ) when trying to see something in that area.
The presence or absence of light in an Environment creates three categories of illumination: bright light, dim light, and Darkness.
Bright light lets most creatures see normally. Even gloomy days provide bright light, as do torches, lanterns, fires, and other sources of Illumination within a specific radius.
Dim light, also called shadows, creates a lightly obscured area. An area of dim light is usually a boundary between a source of bright light, such as a torch, and surrounding Darkness. The soft light of twilight and dawn also counts as dim light. A particularly brilliant full moon might bathe the land in dim light.
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.
A creature with Blindsight can perceive its surroundings without relying on sight, within a specific radius. Creatures without eyes, such as oozes, and creatures with Echolocation or heightened Senses, such as bats and true Dragons, have this sense.
Many creatures in fantasy gaming worlds, especially those that dwell Underground, have Darkvision. Within a specified range, a creature with Darkvision can see in Darkness as if the Darkness were dim light, so areas of Darkness are only lightly obscured as far as that creature is concerned. However, the creature can’t discern color in Darkness, only Shades of Gray.
A creature with Truesight can, out to a specific range, see in normal and magical Darkness, see Invisible creatures and Objects, automatically detect visual illusions and succeed on Saving Throws against them, and perceives the original form of a Shapechanger or a creature that is transformed by magic. Furthermore, the creature can see into the Ethereal Plane.
How we perceive the world around us is important, vitally so, but it has always been a tricky business in translating that into a game setting. There are just so many variables which create conflict at the table. Line of sight is particularly touchy. D&D Fourth Edition tried to work around those issues with intricate rules using miniature play. Of course that edition was largely panned and ignored by roleplayers, although a lot of it made its stealth check and snuck its way into 5e.
In retrospect, Fourth Edition D&D was innovative and full of great ideas that just caught gamers off guard. It was too different for the majority of gamers. Players revolted, but, by softening it and dialing back the onslaught of product, many of those departures found a welcome home in 5e.
Which leads me to another iteration of the word vision.
A game designer’s vision, as in both foresight and objective, can oftentimes come into conflict with each other. One of the biggest issues we’ve had in the development process of our upcoming RPG/Boardgame hybrid has been the idea of line-of-sight and how it pertains to stealth and other related mechanics.
It tripped us up for a week.
There are so many things to juggle and “vision” turned out to be an instance where, when developing those rules, we had to focus on our game’s objective, what we wanted the game to accomplish, and how all of that (and more) aligned with the intellectual property itself.
When I saw the word “vision” for today’s prompt, all of that sweat and anguish came flooding back. Let me assure you, I developed a whole new appreciation for rules pertaining to all things vision related.
Something so basic, something that is so easily taken for granted, can oftentimes become a make-or-break moment in every level of the game, from development to actual play.
In the end, all of the suffering is worth it, and the game better for it, whether you’re a game designer, game master, player, or even all of the above.