The Immortal Rants of Sean K. Reynolds – “Infravision should be brought back for 3rd edition!”

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Editorial0 has contributed a set of article-replies to some of Sean K. Reynolds rants about third edition design decisions. Those decisions have heavily influenced a lot of game designs since, so I’ll be putting those up – along with some additional comments.

To avoid excessive reprinting, you can find the general introduction to this series in the first article, HERE. I put up some basics on how infravision might actually work in the d20 system yesterday, over HERE.

This particular rant is entitled “Infravision and Why It Should Be Destroyed

Now, Reynolds has a fairly good argument, but as with several of his rants, it relies on underestimating his audience. At heart, Darkvision is far less sensible than Infravision – and Reynolds tacitly admits it’s also much less interesting and useful.

This particular rant includes a variety of scenarios demonstrating that Infravision is very useful and cool – which are then labeled too complicated and handwaved away. The only problem is that Infravision is pretty simple. With it, people simply see heat. Since the technology to do it is known and occasionally shown on television or movies, and much of the player audience will understand it. This is hardly some impossible feat of comprehension, and a couple simple guidelines would have explained it nicely. I was prepared to agree with him until I realized just how utterly awesome Infravision would be!

Mr Reynolds is also assuming that “natural” infravision must be equivalent to modern high-end infrared detectors with computer-enhancement, and that it perceives detailed intensity instead of a mixture of frequency and intensity like normal sight. Those are both unjustified assumptions. Thus my earlier discussion of how actual organically-based infravision would probably work, and why that has very little to do with those assumptions. -Thoth

The contrary view is simply that Darkvision is easy. It’s just like regular vision, except in the dark. This is true, but that’s almost irrelevant. It can’t cut through magical darkness. It is simple to duplicate through items. Most player characters don’t get Darkvision anyhow (only Dwarves and Half-Orcs). Those who do can see only slightly farther than the nose on their face – even in caves, 60-foot visual range is almost useless. And low-level spells can do the same job better anyway.

Well, it is pretty useful if your game spends a lot of time on melee combat and the lights go out at all often. Still, if the GM keeps doing that, soon everyone will have some way of compensating – or they’ll be dead. -Thoth

Thus, nearly any party requires better light sources anyhow, and darkvision is at best a minor bonus, uninteresting to use. That’s hardly a great reason to prefer it. Those who want to use it, can; those who don’t have no reason to bother. It also suffers from the exclusivity problem. Games are much better served when the players can all participate, so no DM is going to set up an elaborate scenario relying on some players have darkvision and some being blind.

In the end, darkvision is a parlor trick, but infravision is incredibly cool. It’s not appropriate for every race, but it’s fun and well worth exploring. And you can look at how Shadowrun used it: some races received lower penalties for darkness, some got infravision, along with quick, easy rules to use it, and both were inferior to technology available to everyone.

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