Friday, April 12, 2024

How My Light is Spent

Drawing is mine, modeled on a panel in Dracula Motherf**ker
Lots of systems have existing light rules. Why make my own

I want my game to be streamlined so I don't always enforce rigorous torch timelines or sightlines. However for the right kind of classic dungeon there's a lot of interesting prioritization and strategy choices created by adhering to specific light rules. 

In this post, I've collected some of the things that make light & dark rules fun: monsters, spells, items and obstacles that create novel challenges and provide tools for creative problem solving.

Sean Cruz

This will be a fairly long post...


Skeleton Archer - They have dark vision and fire arrows from beyond the party's torchlight. 

  • Sometimes, charging into the darkness after them is rewarded, but more often this leads adventurers into traps and ambushes.
  • They benefit from very large chambers that allow them to keep moving and stay beyond illumination.
  • Place them behind portcullis' and obstacles, on high ledges and camouflaged to make them trickier to reach.
  • They'll target torchbearers first.

Couldn't find a source on this one

Shadows - I use different mechanics than the BX/OSE standard:

  • Hit Dice: 2d6+2 (11 HP), Armor Class: 12 (7 descending), To Hit: +2 (THAC0 17)
  • Every time they hit you, reduce your Max HP by d4 until you see the sun. If Max HP hits zero, you become a shadow.
  • Mundane Damage Immunity: Only harmed by magic and fire
  • Won't willingly enter bright light. Take 1 damage and attack at disadvantage if they are in bright light on their turn. Your torchbearer and anyone sticking very close is mostly safe.
  • If the whole party is brightly lit, they'll withhold engagement and instead follow at the periphery of the light, pouncing if it is ever dimmed. 

Torchbearers - Bandits, beastmen etc. Monsters that need a torch to see, just like the players.

  • Extinguishing their light is a significant morale hit (and maybe an initiative penalty), also reduces their opportunity to retreat, run for reinforcements, etc. 
Light Sensitive: Troglodytes, creepers etc. that can see well in very low light (effectively dark for humans), but hate bright light.
  • Fight at disadvantage in bright light. A la 5e Kobolds
  • Will target torchbearers with ranged attacks and pick off party members in dim light. 
  • May try to drag people into the dark. 
Darklight Adventurers: An alien adventuring party coming from deep in the Underdark. Their eyes see by True Dark (i.e. anti-light) and they carry dark lanterns. 
  • You'll encounter a bubble of moving magical darkness, full of fierce warriors that see you as the monsters.
  • Hit Dice: 1hp, Armor Class:  Unarmored, 8 (11 descending)
  • Drawn to any light source and explode on contact with open flame dealing d6 blast damage to all creatures in immediate proximity. 
  • Slake Moths also feel like they could be a terrifying D&D monster.
Necros on DakkaDakka

Alternate Senses:
Monsters that primarily use senses other than light. A few examples:
  • Bat Men - Echolocation, can be "blinded" by bells, gongs etc. 
  • Slimes - Tremor Sense. If you stay really still, you're effectively invisible
  • Jelly Cube - Smell-o-vision. Move towards organic materials and follow stink trails.
  • Heat Vision - a la the Predator. A cold wet blanket might provide useful camouflage.
Predator (1987)

Fire / Light Elementals: More on these in a future post.

Curselings: As created by Patrick & Scrap Princess in Fire on the Velvet Horizon

Wisp / Lantern Ghouls: a la Goblin Punch
  • Bobbling light that guides you to treasure or doom. Will take over your body if you die and become Lantern Ghoul.
    • Will stay beyond the illumination of adventurer's torches
    • Invisible in normal light
    • Can be killed with an Extinguish or Darkness spell. 
  • Ghouls with spotlight eyes. If they look directly at you, attack them with disadvantage.
  • Per Arnold: "Neutral ghouls will give advice and accompany you as long as you are able to provide them with fresh corpses.  Hostile ghouls will try to kidnap someone, or at least kill someone.  It will use these fresh corpses to provide bodies for their fellow wisps."

Wickheads & Tallowmen:
Via Mork Borg or Gutter Prayer respectively.
  • Wickheads are lamp-headed, humanoid constructs, leftover from an era long past. Most are biddable walking light sources, but some are fully autonomous and resent centuries of enslavement. Require a pint of oil per day to remain lit.
  • Tallowmen: Alchemical contrivance of rendered fat & bone. Their spinal cords burn as wicks and the more energy they expend the faster they burn down. Basically, Lumiere from Beauty and the Beast
Interview with the Vampire (1994)

Grues: Again, Arnold over at Goblin Punch has these covered.
  • Slavering fangs, razor-sharp claws, horrible gurgling noises. Stats as Owlbear.
  • Never appears in the light (in fact, they are instantly destroyed by light) but can savage characters in the dark. According to Arnold, "As soon as a torch is relit, there will be nothing there.  Except for the carnage, it will be as if the grue never existed."

William Causland


There's lots of spells that involve light, dark & fire but a few that have particular relevance to my Light/Dark rules:

Light: Conjure bright light (50' bright radius) for one turn or blind a creature on failed spell save. Like a high-power floodlight. Will fill even very large rooms with total illumination.

  • Compared to the classic light spell, I wanted something packing a bigger immediate punch, with less mundane use for exploration. Casting this really crushes light sensitive monsters, Shadows etc.
  • Might grant advantages to searches for secret doors etc. if extra bright light seems like it should help.
  • My priorities for this have evolved in just the last couple months of play. 

Darkness: Conjure True Darkness (10' strong, 20' weak, as torch) for one hour. Can be cast on a location or an object (in which case the light moved with the object). Alternatively, can be cast on a creature's eyes, blinding it on a failed save vs. spells.

  • More like the classic version than my Light spell. 
  • Variant spell with short duration, large area Strong Dark (like the Light spell above) can be found as a separate spell.

Extinguish: Put out one fire or light source (torch, lamp etc.)

  • Will kill any 1 - 2 HD Fire elemental (or similar). Deals d12 damage to any fire elemental of 3 or more HD.

Reverse Fire: Turns one torch, fire etc. into dark-fire, emitting True Darkness and burning cold (or turns a dark-fire into a normal fire).

A few non-core ones that are fun: 

Skull Lamp: Cast on a humanoid skull. The skull fills with a green fire and provides light (as torch) that only the caster can see for one hour. When the spell ends, the skull dissolves into ash. 

Create Shadow: Cast on a humanoid who's shadow is clearly visible. Their shadow detaches and attacks them (as Shadow monster). This shadow is NOT under the caster's control. 

From Evlyn Moreau

Items / Resources

Lightbringer: Enchanted, ancient longsword. Casts Light spell (as above) on itself when drawn from the scabbard. 

  • Once used, the effect can be recharged by leaving the sword in sunlight for one day. When charged, the pommel shows a bright sun, when depleted, shows a sunset.

Dyrnwyn: White-hilted longsword. When drawn from the scabbard, bursts into flame for 1 turn.

  • Emits light as torch
  • Deals d6 extra fire damage on a successful hit
  • Recharge by leaving in a fire for four hours

Magic Mushrooms: I tend to assign alternative vision, understanding & speech powers to mushrooms. E.g. mushrooms that change vision to see via one of the alternate senses (heat-vision, True Dark vision, blindsight etc.)

Blindsight Helmet: 
 Helmet fully encloses head and grants the wearer 10' of blindsight. 

  • Can see clearly with no source of illumination but vision cuts off completely beyond 10'. 
  • The helmet also blocks all sound and smell. Consequently protects from spores. miasmas etc.
  • You're almost certain to be surprised by enemies who can see further than 10'

Goggles / Visor etc.: See via an alternate sense.

True Dark candle/lantern: Awesome for obscuring/hiding. 

Magic Candles: Provide an effect within their light. Most of these could also be a magic torch/lantern etc.
  • Blessed - Protects vs. ghosts and +1 to saves vs. other undead.
  • Light of Truth - Can't lie within the light of this candle
  • Water-breathing - This candle will burn under water and grants water-breathing to humanoids
  • Exclusive Lamp - No other light can burn in it's presence
  • Comprehension - Read & understand texts in any language, even if normally illiterate
  • Peace - Made of holy fat rendered from the corpulent corpse of St. Quislen, famed diplomat and arbitrator. All attacks made in the light of this candle are at disadvantage.
  • Hand of Glory - The hand of a condemned criminal, magically prepared, each finger burned as a candle. When lit, the wielder won't draw the attention of those nearby no matter how much noise they make and will automatically surprise enemies they come upon unless they are specifically alerted.
  • Turnip Lanterns - Rumored to scare ghosts and minor demons
  • Chalk that can only be read in a particular color of light, paired with lamp oil that burns in that color.

Ring of Shadow: Allows wearer to detach their shadow and send it to attack their foes (as Shadow monster). If the shadow is destroyed, their max HP is reduced by 50%. If the shadow leaves your sight, it is destroyed. 

Obstacles, Traps and Tricks

A few examples that could be easily modified & iterated.
  • A gas filled area causes torches to burn with violet light and intense heat. Anyone carrying one takes 1 damage per turn (but they deal d8 damage if used as weapon). Lamps & lanterns also burn hot and have a 1/6 chance to explode (as molotov) per turn.
    • Variant could do 1 damage per round instead. Could effectively gate an area until a non-burning source of illumination is found.
  • Light drinking lichen, absorbs light (reduces light by one level) and grows rapidly when lit. After d4 rounds of illumination, bursts with toxic spores. 
  • Room contains True Dark chandelier and a lot of venomous snakes
  • Secret door can only be opened in darkness.
    • Or a magic tunnel that only exists in the dark.
  • Nithing pole casts Extinguish on any light source that touches it. 
  • Room clogged with a multitude of shadows. As long as you stay in bright light you'll be ok...
  • The party finds a wagonload of low-quality torches. They only give dim light.
  • Floor has a magic rune inscribed that casts Darkness, if any blood is spilled on it.
  • Hanging lantern that causes everyone's shadow to attack them. 

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