Your adventurers can handle a lot. Defeating mythical dragons, demons, and gods can become child’s play after a few levels. Handling other problems also seems easy, but if you want to throw your adventurers for a loop, take away their senses. One of the best ways to do this is with the darkness spell, which is a very useful spell for both players and their enemies whenever they want to give themselves an edge.
However, for simply being defined as the absence of light, the darkness spell is pretty complicated in D&D, and it can lead to a lot of different uses both in and out of combat. So what can the darkness spell do in D&D 5e? How do you use it effectively during the game? Most importantly, how do you defend against it whenever the lights go out? Here’s our Darkness 5e guide.
What Is Darkness?
Here is the stat block for darkness from the Player’s Handbook:
- 2nd level evocation
- Casting Time: 1 action
- Range: 60 feet
- Components: V M (Bat fur and a drop of pitch or piece of coal)
- Duration: Up to 10 minutes with concentration
- Classes: Sorcerer, Warlock, Wizard
Magical darkness spreads from a point you choose within range to fill a 15-foot-radius sphere for the duration. The darkness spreads around corners. A creature with darkvision can’t see through this darkness, and nonmagical light can’t illuminate it.
If the point you choose is on an object you are holding or one that isn’t being worn or carried, the darkness emanates from the object and moves with it. Completely covering the source of the darkness with an opaque object, such as a bowl or a helm, blocks the darkness.
If any of this spell’s area overlaps with an area of light created by a spell of 2nd level or lower, the spell that created the light is dispelled.
There’s a lot to break down here, so let’s get started. First, this is a second-level evocation spell that takes one action to cast and has a range of 60 feet. It requires a vocal and a material component to be cast and lasts up to 10 minutes with a concentration on the spell. It can be cast by a sorcerer, warlock, or wizard and has the following effects.
A 15-foot radius sphere (typically 3×3 squares) of pure darkness is created. This darkness spreads around corners if need be, and it cannot be seen through or illuminated. Even if your characters are carrying a torch, light source, or have darkvision, they will be unable to use them to pierce the darkness.
You can also select an object as the point of origin, such as someone’s sword or a talisman they are wearing. The darkness will flow from the object, and the 15-foot sphere will move with the darkness, keeping the object at the point of origin. However, if you cover the offending object with an opaque (can’t be seen through) object, the darkness vanishes.
Finally, if a magical light source created with a 2nd level or lower spell, such as dancing lights, comes into contact with the dome of darkness, it is dispelled and snuffed out. Higher-level light spells are not dispelled.
There is a lot there to look at when it comes to the darkness spell, so let’s get down to why you would use it.
Why Would You Use Darkness?
The biggest reason any caster would use darkness whenever in combat would be to throw off an enemy. Almost all monsters rely on sight to see their enemies, so if you take that away, they will be lost. Even with the dark vision that most monsters have, it’s useless. Now, darkness is less of a combat spell because if you enter the darkness to battle your enemies, you will be just as blind as they are.
However, it can be used to allow for a quick escape. If most of your party is wounded and low on resources, but a fresh batch of goblins is headed towards the group, then a layer of darkness in a doorway can buy your party a few rounds of escape time.
There is one way to use this spell in combat, although it is a bit of a tough combo to make work. Warlocks can use Devil’s sight as a patron bonus, which gives the following effect: You can see normally in darkness, both magical and nonmagical, to a distance of 120 feet. Now, this also applies to the darkness spell, which means that a warlock can cast darkness on something they are wearing and then become the focal point for the darkness themselves.
This then allows them to swarm enemies in the 30-foot dome, and launch ranged or melee attacks. Due to being hidden, they have an advantage on every single attack they make against their enemies. Then if any surviving enemies make attacks against the warlock, they have a disadvantage due to being unable to see the warlock.
So, if need be, your warlock can act as a strike force, ambushing the enemies or potentially holding them back while the rest of the party retreats. It’s a fun combo but should only be used in dire situations.
Using Darkness As An Ambushing Spell
`Another cool way players use darkness is as a way to ambush patrolling enemies. They cast darkness on an object and then allow the 30-foot sphere to cover them. While they can’t see, they can still hear, and once patrolling enemies get close, the object emanating the darkness is covered. Then the party goes to work with the surprise round, carving up their enemies with an ambush.
Of course, enemies who rely on dark vision to navigate might be concerned whenever they approach darkness that they can’t see through. This trick might work on your average goblin with low intelligence, but if you are fighting smarter enemies, they could see through the trick (pun intended).
How To Fight Against Darkness
If an enemy has cast darkness on your party, you do have a few options when it comes to in-the-dark combat. First, the spell does require concentration. That means that if an enemy spellcaster casts darkness, and you know where they are or might be, you can bombard the area with effects and attacks that hit a large area. You’ll eventually hit the enemy, and once you do, he will need to make a CON save or drop the spell.
Additionally, you could just move. The sphere is only 15 feet from its center, which is more than enough movement for your characters to blindly grope and lead one another out of the darkness. Things get a bit more complicated whenever the enemy has cast the spell on an object a character is wearing rather than a spot on the floor.
The darkness can be dispelled with a powerful enough light, using the level three spells Daylight and Dispell Magic, to name a few. Any spell above level three will work, but you are burning a valuable spell slot to do so.
Additionally, you might not want to fight against the darkness. Even though your party is trapped and blinded, and the enemy knows where you are, you are invisible to them. This means that any attacks against you that the enemies make have disadvantage. If you need some time to heal and prepare for the next round, spending some time in darkness isn’t always a bad idea.
Can You Use Darkness Out Of Combat?
Yes, you can use darkness as a stealth spell to aid a rogue or other sneaky character. You can also use minor illusion as a combo with darkness to scare off people or creatures. For example, some groups cast darkness for 10 minutes followed by a spell-like minor illusion. They make it seem like scary noises are coming from the darkness, and most people go the other way, leaving the group alone to plan.
As a DM, darkness can be used as an environmental effect for stories or puzzles, especially if the players do not have the means to dispel the darkness spell yet. For example, you could cover an entire town in a massive dome of darkness, and all the inhabitants are inside and can’t leave.
Leaving your players to solve the mystery and bring light back to the town. Or darkness could be covering a narrow path, forcing the players to use other senses or creative tricks to find their way around. You can have fun with darkness as a spell, and really use it to force the players to rely on things other than the eyes of their characters.
Darkness 5e Guide: FAQs
Question: Can The Characters Still Hear In Darkness?
Answer: Yes, darkness doesn’t magically make things disappear or strike your characters dumb. Think of it like this. Go to a room in your house at night and turn the lights off. You can still walk across the room with relative certainty, you know where all the doors and exits are, and you have a pretty good guess about where everything else is in relation to you. You can still talk to people, hear sounds, and reach out and touch things.
Darkness in D&D is very similar to that, where your characters will still be able to hear and reason their way out of the darkness sphere. For example, if your characters are in a long hallway and have darkness cast upon them, they will still know to keep walking forward or backward. They might not know they will eventually break through the darkness, but they still understand where they are.
Question: How Does Combat In Darkness Work Roleplay Wise?
Answer: If your party and some enemies find themselves continuing combat even after the lights have gone out, how do you roleplay in the dark combat? For starters, all your characters as well as the enemies still have their other senses. If the enemy ogre stinks or the Paladin makes a racket in his heavy armor, those factors are not going to change, and in fact, could become more valuable because they allow the characters to be identified.
For combat, you and your DM can empathize with the chaotic nature of combat, where everyone is swinging weapons and casting spells at where an enemy might be. Characters with keener perceptions than others might still be able to make good guesses at where enemies have moved too, while lower perception characters will strike their foes through dumb luck.
It can be a lot of fun to fight in the dark, especially if the flavor is there. If you find yourself battling in the darkness, choose to have some fun with it! Play to your character’s strengths and have their weakness become identifying marks, and the combat will certainly be memorable.
Question: Do I Need To Be In The Dark To Overcome It?
Answer: Now, if you have the ability to cast the spell ‘Daylight’ ‘Dispel Magic’, or any other 3rd level spell that can overcome darkness, you might be wondering about the above question. If your spellcaster happens to be outside the area of effect for the darkness spell, but can still see the spell being cast, then it can be dispelled.
While it is really cool to cast daylight in the middle of a dark sphere and blow it apart from the inside like an angry light god, you can dispel the magic from anywhere. This gives you tactical options and allows you a bit more freedom when it comes to making sure that darkness doesn’t mess with your party.
This also applies to your enemies as well, so be careful when casting darkness on higher-level spellcasters. They are able to dispel your magic from anywhere too, so make sure to kill or disable any magical opponents if you don’t want your dome dispelled. That being said, if you can get a level three enemy to burn a high spell slot on something so minor, go right ahead.