Friday, September 6, 2019

Friday Figures: Infravision in OD&D


Infravision survey on ODD74 Discussion forum.

Pretty much every edition of D&D gives see-in-the-dark powers to dwarves and elves; variously called "infravision" in older editions and "darkvision" in newer ones, with some tinkering around the edges about the exact effect.
  • Chainmail: Dwarves and elves have "The ability to see in normal darkness as if it were light" (Fantasy Reference Table, p. 43, note B). 
  • D&D Supplement I: Greyhawk: Dwarves and elves both "have infravision and can see monsters up to 60’ away in the dark." (p. 5). 
  • B/X: Both have 60' infravision (p. B9).
  • 1E AD&D: Both have 60' infravision. They "are able to see radiation in the infra-red spectrum, so they can see up to 60' in the dark noting varying degrees of heat radiation.  This ability is  known as 'infravision'." (PHB p. 15-16). The images are noted as being in black-and-white on PHB p. 102 (same in later editions).
  • 2E AD&D: Both again have 60' infravision (Ch. 1).
  • 3E D&D: Here the ability is renamed to "darkvision". "Darkvision: Dwarves can see in the dark up to 60 feet. Darkvision is black and white only but it is otherwise like normal sight, and dwarves can function fine with no light at all" (PHB p. 14); elves instead get "Low-light Vision: Elves can see twice as far as a human in starlight, moonlight, torchlight, and similar conditions of poor illumination."
  • 4E D&D: Dwarves and elves in this edition both get "low-light vision" (Quick Start Rules).
  • 5E D&D: In this edition, dwarves & elves are back to having 60' darkvision: "You can see in dim light within 60 feet of you as if it were bright light, and in darkness as if it were dim light. You can’t discern color in darkness, only shades of gray."
Okay, so that's every edition except for one: namely, Original D&D as published in the LBBs. OD&D never explicitly says anywhere that dwarves or elves get infravision. In some ways it appears very restrictive about PCs having sight in darkness (e.g., "any monster or man can see in total darkness as far as the dungeons are concerned except player characters", Vol-2, p. 5). But on the other hand, it does include the prior work by reference ("Special Ability functions are generally as indicated in CHAINMAIL", same page) which gave them darkvision, and the first supplement within the year (Sup-I: Greyhawk) again explicitly gave them infravision.

So I asked about this on the ODD74 Discussion forums, and got what I thought was a surprising result; a distinct lack of consensus, with a majority declining to give dwarves & elves infravision as in any other version of the game (see image at top of post). As someone working from OD&D as a basis for my game, this makes me rather uncomfortable about veering off in an unexpected direction, compared to what players of any other edition would be used to. A few weeks ago we tried to hammer this out on Wandering DMs. In this case, I'm still leaning pretty strongly towards the interpretation that they should have infravision, both for custom and the fact that the referenced versions immediately before and after both included it. Thoughts?


On that note: Tune in to Wandering DMs this Sunday 1 PM ET for the live chat, "Basic dice probability" with yours truly -- we'd love to include your comments in the discussion.


14 comments:

  1. I didn’t vote. But if I had, I would have voted yes.

    From the material: OD&D is a supplement to CHAINMAIL. Unless the OD&D rule says otherwise, go with the CHAINMAIL rule.

    From my gut: They have dark vision but even a little bit of light spoils it. Therefore when they are with the party they don’t have it but when they are monsters or when they are alone, they do.

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    1. That's definitely what I expected the majority vote to look like!

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  2. It makes sense for Dwarves to have infravision, because they live underground. However, I never understood why forest dwelling Elves got the same benefit. In my games, I do not give Elves any sort of infravision.

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    1. Yeah, I can see that. Starting with Chainmail Elves are just super everything. Fast movement, top-end combat status, long-range missiles, split-move-and-fire, see in darkness... also invisible by default. Every edition thereafter engaged in some dialing-down or reinterpretation of this Tolkienian superman status.

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  3. As a weird-fantasy game, giving elves and dwarves this mild thermographic vision works fine for me, just as other weird things (psionic "mind powers") do.

    Even with infravision, they still (like goblins, orcs, and Drow) require SOME form of illumination in their settlements. Infravision does nothing for the the finding of precious metals and gemstones, let alone crafting/forging arms and armor. You cannot read texts or spell books with it (and would be hard-pressed to write), and most of these sentient species (even the cannibalistic ones) are presumed to prefer their food cooked and prepared in some form, necessitating sources of light and heat.

    If I had to create an "in-game justification" for it, I'd suppose it's some sort of leftover evolutionary adaptation of once-nocturnal (elves) or subterranean (everyone else) species. In the main it means guard posts don't require a light source in darkness, and thus can more easily surprise approaching invaders (like the PCs). It does not (IMO) give an all-infravision party carte blanche to explore a dungeon without torches and lanterns.

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    1. I can easily get down with the need-light-for-reading rule. I recently tried to go in the direction of requiring humanoids to have light, but I got upset with the added work of detailing what and where all the light sources were... and once we light up the dungeons like that, it seems like the PCs can see everywhere freely just as if we'd given them generous infravision in the first place.

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    2. It really depends on the dungeon. Some monsters (slimes, constructs, undead) probably have no need of light sources since they don't read, cook, craft, etc. It's only humanoid lairs...and really only within "common areas" of the lair itself...that would need light sources.

      I guess I like the idea that goblins are walking around with smoky red torches (much as they were described in Tolkien's "The Hobbit")...for low-level parties, it can give them a little extra hint of what's ahead to see a glow coming down an (otherwise) pitch-black tunnel.
      ; )

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    3. There's definitely a sharp break between literature and art like Tolkien and by-the-book D&D; so there's strong reasons to pull one to either side of that divide.

      I definitely tried out the same thing in the last month, but it change the "surprise economy" more than I was willing to deal with. N.B. "Torches, lanterns and magic swords will illuminate the way, but they also allow monsters to 'see' the users so that monsters will never be surprised unless coming through a door." (Vol-3, p. 9)

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  4. Agreed: I'd lean on Chainmail and give elves and dwarves infravision. (And FWIW, I wouldn't give hobbits the ability in OD&D).

    FWIW, in my AD&D home Greyhawk campaigns, I've given elves ultravision instead of infravision, and half-elves get 30' ultravision (and half-orcs 30' infravision), with halflings getting 30' infravision or ultravision or nothing based on their sub-race.

    Allan.

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  5. I prefer the "low-light" vision interpretation, mainly for gameplay reasons. The ability to see even in total darkness eliminates a lot of interesting situations, but I like to give the demihumans some kind of enhanced senses (so they can see farther by torchlight for example, and could even be on point and out of the torch's effective range and not just be blundering about blindly).

    I feel the 3e-era darkvision and its "see up to 60' even in total darkness" was a misstep made probably for playability and consistency reasons, no so much for the players as for the DM required to adjudicate things like "how warm is that creature compared to the surroundings; is it effectively invisible if in a hot room?" and so on.

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    1. I guess a lot of people feel that way about the 3E rule, but I've never felt it was a significant shift IMO. I kind of liked having the 1E concrete pulpy physical interpretation to fall back on in a discussion about it. Not bulletproof, of course.

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  6. I'm having a hard time imagining Gary and crew ruling: "All the dwarves and elves in the world have infravision except for you sorry losers who have dwarven or elven PCs."

    Supplement I: GREYHAWK is like an extensive errata sheet for the 1974 boxed set. I'd bet money that Gary simply forgot to note in the 1974 rules that all dwarves and elves (whether PC or NPC) get infravision. I don't think we should give credence to what is essentially a typo.

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    1. I definitely lean in the same direction. The fact that we have these two clear tentpoles immediately before and after makes it unlikely that there was a brief radical experiment in the other direction. I was really surprised to see that as the minority opinion in that poll.

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