Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Fundamentals: Fighting in the dark

Darkness is a pervasive obstacle, and makes a lot of thing difficult, especially in GURPS. I had a session last night where players didn't stop to light lanterns, have a fire, or any type of lighting to help them see, and they were mightily surprised to find that they were steeply penalized to the point where a 12 was a critical failure. [Technically, at a modified skill of 1, the player shouldn't have been even allowed to roll, but meh.] This post means to be an index of ways one can deal with darkness penalties, especially from the angle of Dungeon Fantasy and the Basic Set.

Mundane Approaches

The first and most obvious approach to dealing with darkness is using some source of light. Obvious choices are a lamp or flashlight if one has a free hand, a mounted headlight, or having campfires. According to page 394 in the Basic Set, the common hand operated light source mitigates darkness penalties by 7. That is, in total darkness, a nominal, mundane character suffers a -10 penalty. A flashlight can give a +7 bonus for a net of -3. Each type of hand operated torch has a specific range of efficacy, so reading an item description is important, but a nominal range is from 5 to 10 yards.
Dungeon Fantasy 2 has numbers on the range of ambient light sources, such as campfires or freestanding torches, on page 6.

Trained By a Master

There is one cinematic skill that allows users to fight in the dark with no penalties, and that is the appropriately named Blind Fighting. This skill requires Trained By a Master, Weapon Master, or similar appropriate advantages. This replaces the typical Hearing-2 roll one would need to perform to attempt in attack, and allows attacking at full skill the same turn.


The light college has several different spells that allow seeing in the dark. These usually come with the nice boon that they are hands free. Some specifically interesting options are Continual Light, Light, Glow, and Sunlight.
Other interesting choices that go beyond "make it brighter, please," are Infravision (see usually invisible spectrums of light, good enough to see big things but not small details) Night Vision (Perfect vision if there is any nearby ambient light, still completely blind in total darkness) and Dark Vision (You can see in the dark perfectly, no ifs, ands, or buts.)


Finally, we have a handful of ways to make seeing possible by spending character points, most, but not all are exotic. First off, Night Vision (like the spell) an option not marked as exotic, buys off penalties for fighting if there is even a teeny amount of ambient light. Dark Vision allows you to see in the dark no matter what. Infravision, a cheaper alternative allows you to see heat which means you can see most of what you need to see, but not a lot of specific details like text or color patterns. Alternatives to vision proper include Scanning Sense which come with different baggage and pros/cons from those associated with vision, and Vibration Sense, which doesn't give a lot of detail, but if something moves at all, you can tell the general size and shape (similar and different to the benefits of Infravision.)

Other Thoughts and Conclusion

The party happens to have several lanterns in storage, so that is the easiest way for my players to deal with vision penalties. They also have a wizard, so learning Light and then Continual Light would probably be a good investment, especially because most, if not all characters use two-handed weapons, and the one that doesn't has Infravision so he doesn't especially need a torch.


  1. DF1:28 has Glow Vial as a reasonably priced item more effective than torches or lanterns.

    The (Continual) Mage Light spell can be useful for elven scouts or other mages trying to be stealthy.

    1. I was considering whether they were worth mentioning or not, and those are very good points!

  2. "I don't want no teen-aged queen...I just want some NVGs..."

  3. I think an important point with light sources reducing the darkness penalty from -10 to -3 is that it doesn't get better than that (-2 to +0), as far as I understand it.
    Using a flashlight at darkness penalty -7 (starlight, according to Powers: Enhanced Senses, and probably other places) doesn't make the darkness penalty +0 (an overcast day)

    1. Interesting. But something like Night Vision could completely mitigate it, lesson being that maybe if fighting in the dark and in torchlight is at all a reasonable possibility, Night Vision 3 might be a worthwhile and very cheap investment.

    2. I'd also figure flashlights would give something akin to Tunnel Vision. IDHMBWM though.

    3. Specifically a flashlight only lights up a straight area in front of you, so similarly to "tunnel vision" you do have darkness penalties in all directions but where the flashlight is pointed. The important subtlety is that the flashlight doesn't necessarily need to point straight ahead, which can have interesting implications for a character with night vision who can see well in darkness with just a smidgen of ambient lighting, or for torch bearers for other characters.


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