Light in the Dungeon

No doubt you’re familiar with this:

D&D Basic Set Box Cover (Sutherland)

1977 (Holmes) D&D Basic Set Box Cover (by Sutherland)

Though I never played this edition, it is the the one that I remember seeing as a kid when D&D was just beginning to enter the public consciousness. I was checking out the artwork the other day when I realized that there’s a little touch in there that speaks to what I see as the old school exploration/resource management approach to the game. It’s this bit on the far left in the magic-user’s hand:

Basic Box Torch

Wand in one hand, torch in the other.

It’s not that I hadn’t noticed the torch before. It’s just that I had never really thought about it. It struck me, because I’ve never really been one to be a stickler for lighting in the dungeon.

Oh, I make sure that the part has a light source and only describe what they can see based on the limit of their torch or lantern. And they know they’ve got about a 0-in-6 chance of surprising any monsters while they’re stomping around with unshielded light sources. I’ve even been making them light new torches when the hour is up, lately.

But when it comes to combat, I’ve not yet spent much effort making sure that the lighting is taken care of. I don’t really want to get into the game of tracking the 30′ radius of light centered on the torch bearer and penalizing those who stray outside of it. At least not down to the level of turning things into a miniatures combat game. We’re pretty fast and loose with our combat, figuring that everything is pretty chaotic and that everyone is constantly moving around when the swords and spells are ringing.

However, I would like to crack down on this a bit. Not in an overly strict sense, just enough to make it clear that someone has to be holding a torch during the fight and that if it falls or goes out, darkness penalties for surface dwellers will set in. Our new homebrew game has only human pCs, so they would be effectively blinded if the torch went out.

Maybe some of those non-combatants my players keep not hiring when looking for men-at-arms will suddenly be useful.

Of course, if some chump is hanging back a bit and holding up a torch or lantern so the rest of the party can see the monsters, isn’t said chump likely to become a target faster than you can say “ready, aim, fire”?

How do you guys manage this? Do you make the effort to keep things a bit “real” when it comes to dungeon lighting, particularly during combat? Or is it too much work or not worth the effort? Like everything else, we want things to feel as real as possible without slowing the game or sucking out the fun.

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