D&D Ideas — Nights
Welcome once again to the weekly newsletter. This week’s topic is nights, which we discussed in our weekly live chat. We hangout every Monday evening at 8 p.m. EST on Nerdarchy Live to talk about D&D, RPGs, gaming, life and whatever nerdy stuff comes up. Speaking of nights during Island in the Storm an imprisoned ghost pleads with the heroes to possess one of them in a bid to escape Eternal Night on her island exile. Guide a restless and lonely spirit to release from the painful tethers tying it to the world of the living along with 54 other dynamic scenarios in Out of the Box. Find out more about it here. You can get the Nerdarchy Newsletter delivered to your inbox each week, along with updates and info on how to game with Nerdarchy plus snag a FREE GIFT by signing up here.
Now does an all ranger party sound cool? Get inspired by the week that was! Master the wilds together, practice killer magic and find out what’s been brewing in Tasha’s cauldron plus more including new live chats with creative folks and industry pros and live play RPGs rounding out this week’s Nerdy News. Check it out here.
Delving Dave’s Dungeon
The night is terrifying for humans because of the lack of light and the limiting of one of our primary senses. In tales of horror the bad stuff tends to happen after nightfall. This represents the dark and our own human vulnerability.
- It is used in fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons as a reset for powers and charges of magic items with darker natures.
- In AD&D there was a campaign setting called the Night Below for running adventures in the Underdark.
- Shadow Magic is fueled from a plane of eternal night called the Shadowfell or the plane of shadow in previous editions of D&D.
Nightfall and the things lurking in the dark have always been a part of D&D from the beginning. The question is does night and the fear of the dark still have the same meaning in 5E D&D? Using D&D Beyond we have 43 race entries — 21 with darkvision and 22 without. Orc appears three times and twice for tiefling, which knocks it down to 40 races technically and bringing our darkvision races down to 18, or 19 when you add back in the fire genasi. Just one shy of half of the 5E D&D races can see in the dark as if it were dim light according to what I see in D&D Beyond. Does this make the dark half as scary in D&D?
There are some things to consider. Darkvision grants sight in darkness as if it was dim light and as if it were bright light in dim light and the standard range is 60 feet. After this distance even with darkvision you are as blind as a human. And you only see in shades of gray.
Another thing to consider is darkvision doesn’t allow you to see through magical darkness. Would this make darkness effects more terrifying to someone with darkvision? They might never have experienced total darkness before. It never comes up in games but I feel like maybe it should. For a creature without darkvision this is what the night normally holds for them. They’ve always known and lived with darkness in their lives.
Perhaps players playing one of these races with darkvision should think of the psychological effect this has on them the first time they encounter magical darkness. Also would these races develop different taboos about the night and the dark? They still need to make out details and see well. How would living part of their life in this grayscape affect them? Open to them is this buffer of gray between the darkness. This seems like a place rife for stories, folklore and fables for individual D&D races.
How do races with darkvision feel about the use of torches and lanterns at night? They offer more visibility but at the expense of making them more visible from further away. This is just something those without darkvision generally accept because they have to. How might party members react to each other because of the contention of being able to see and not.
Will the dwarf go into a tale of the Folly of Dungar Lightbearer, the dwarf who wanted to marvel at the wonders of the world below in an unknown part of the Underdark? His compatriots advised against it but Dungar was so taken by the colors of the rock formation that he didn’t heed their calls to extinguish the light in the night below. His folly. Enemies in the Underdark did see the light from far away and were able to sneak upon the dwarves as they argued and marveled. So goes the dwarven adage “In the hold light the way. Out in the eternal night below no light shall ever go.”
The worlds of D&D are home to vast swathes of different people with different abilities and life experiences. The question is how do these differences make us think about something as common as night?
From Ted’s Head
I mentioned during the live chat how I am rewatching Game of Thrones, a show full of quotes and of course one of them applies here:
“The night is dark and full of terrors.”
How appropriate for a party of adventurers. When we play roleplaying games our characters always set a watch when we bed down for the night. It can even happen in shady inns. Is it because of the general fear of the dark and the things that come out when the lights are gone?
Mythos, legends and folklore are full of creatures that only come out at night. Vampires and werewolves are the most notable. Prior to electricity the only light to chase away the darkness was fire. We all should know how dangerous a fire out of control can be, so to get rid of darkness you have to risk fire. And why do we need to chase away the darkness? Is it more the primal fear of darkness? Is it because darkness has been associated with evil and evil things? Or is it because of what lurks in the darkness?
The fear of the dark is a great thing to add to your games. Imagine if the general populace legitimately feared the dark. Spells like darkness could have added effects when called into being. How would towns function at night? Would they be ghost towns with no one out — ripe for thieves and criminals who do not fear the darkness? Or would they be overwhelmed with torches and bonfires lighting up the town so it could be seen for miles around and nowhere is there a spot unlit by the flickering torches and fires?
Night and darkness have long been associated with evil and evil powers. Whether this is right or wrong it is still founded under the power of belief and we all know belief is strong. It is literally how religion is founded. So why would this world believe the night is evil? Is the primary evil god a god of night and darkness? Is there more lore in the world supporting what is in the darkness? Is it something else entirely?
In college I played in a campaign world with a truly bizarre climate and at midnight temperatures reached absolute zero. If you were not indoors or found a way to isolate yourself away from the environment it was certain death.
Does this lore support the idea that creatures of darkness roam at night? If creatures are the cause are they small and numerous that they could literally be hiding anywhere or are they large and terrifying? Do these creatures move like shadows unheard until they are right on top of you? Are these creatures unholy and linked to infernal power or are they natural but just straight up evil?
Asking yourself these questions when you participate in roleplaying game like 5E D&D takes you out of the world you know and gets you thinking about the worlds where your characters’ stories take place. Discovering the answers enriches the game experience for everyone involved.
From the Nerditor’s desk
Most of what I thought to share about the idea of nights in a fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons game came up during the live chat and through Dave and Ted’s editorials this week. So I’ll go to the well and approach this topic from an out of game perspective instead.
D&D Nights gets used as a sort of catchall term in the tabletop roleplaying game hobby for a consistent day and time for groups to get together and roll funny shaped dice. When I first started gaming D&D night was literally the whole night every Saturday. With little to no other responsibilities my adolescent friends and I toted our RPG stuff to someone’s house each week for a sleepover and most of this time we spent sitting around a table with an RPG.
For me D&D Night has almost always been just that — a night of the week, every week, for a group to gather and game. I still prefer nights to days when it comes to getting my D&D fix and especially if I’m the one running a game. Taking the Dungeon Master seat with my morning coffee just doesn’t feel right.
Lately I’ve been fortunate to participate in two consistent weekly RPG groups. On Tuesday nights the Nerdarchy team take turns running campaigns for each other over at Nerdarchy Live and on Sundays I run a 5E D&D campaign for my brother, who incidentally got me into gaming to begin with all those years ago.
One thing I have learned after decades of combatting the most challenging of D&D foes — coordinated schedules — is maintaining consistent D&D nights requires a commitment. This is something I try to address during a Session Zero. You and any number of other players in your group might assume everyone else starts a new campaign or game with the assumption it’ll continue each week in perpetuity. Do not fall into this mode of thinking — you’re setting yourself up for disappointment!
Establishing the bounds of D&D nights and hearing everyone’s perspective makes a huge impact on the future of a gaming group. The world and people’s lives are busy things and getting everyone in the group on the same page can be critical. For me D&D nights are an important part of my life. The RPG hobby means something to me so arranging D&D nights becomes a priority. This is not so for everyone.
If you aim for your D&D nights to continue regularly make your goals clear to a prospective group. An RPG campaign, especially one of indefinite length, is a big ask. One technique I’ve found effective is proposing ideas in a more modular way. Ask some friends if they’d like to start getting together for D&D nights to play a four session campaign. Can everyone make it a priority to get together every week for one month? If so, terrific!
Assuming the group sticks to the plan you can anticipate four consistent weeks of D&D nights. After the fourth session discuss where the group goes next. Does anyone need a break? Will the DM role rotate to another player? Can everyone make it a priority to get together every week for another month? If that was too frequent how about every other week?
There are so many demands for any individual’s attention and you might discover while some folks desire to participate in consistent D&D nights exists their appreciation for the social contract the group proposes does not. And that’s okay! Because the hobby continues to grow and welcome more players the opportunities to discover the perfect conditions for your D&D nights are greater than ever.
If you’re experiencing difficulty maintaining your ideal D&D nights one of the resources you might find helpful is over at Nerdarchy the Discord. Folks in the Nerdarchy community connect and create new groups for D&D nights or whatever game and time of day combination they’re into all the time. Check it out here.