Thursday, March 10, 2011

Forget You, Infravision

I have made a command decision: no more infravision.

Infravision…the whole concept…has annoyed me for years. Really. I can remember (really!) first reading about in my Tom Moldvay Basic Set and thinking “What the F?” And today, I’m still saying the same thing.

Hell, in my own games, I’ve long since given up on infravision. “Certain species (like elves and dwarves) can see in the dark…period.” Otherwise the whole thing is just…what? I mean, where does this idea come from?

Certainly Tolkien elves and dwarves (and the Norse myths from which they descend) still make use of light sources…torches and such. Faerie folk may have better vision than normal people (as noted in their increased ability to find secret doors and traps and such), but if they see better in the evening, it’s because those sharp eyes are making better use of moonlight and starlight…NOT because they see heat sources like the Predator monster.

I mean, isn’t that what “infravision” is? Some kind of infrared or thermographic vision? “Your character sees heat sources,” why exactly? I just don’t get it.

I mean, setting aside the general uselessness of it (infravision is fouled by torchlight and most parties have humans in needs of real light anyway…plus picking out “heat images” doesn’t tell you where a door or doorknob is, nor read the writing on the tomb wall!)…SETTING ASIDE the uselessness of infravision, what the hell is it based on exactly? Where in myth and legend does it say elves “see heat.”

Be honest, don’t most of you ignore infravision most of the time anyway?

Maybe this comes from Wendy Pini’s “wolf rider” elves…but most elves in ElfQuest still need and use torches (the wolf riders simply having heightened senses…smell and hearing…like wolves).

I don’t know…what I DO know is that I’m tired of it. I found myself putting it in my “fantasy punk” game and then thought, why? Why bother? Because it’s in “D&D?” Because Shadowrun uses “low-light vision” for its elves and orcs?

Nope, screw it. No allergies to sunlight and no friggin’ “infravision.” If an elf wants to see in the dark, he can wear night vision goggles. That’s a cooler image anyway.

Infravision: Deleted.


  1. I stumbled across a little article as an RTF file last year. IIRC, it was first printed in Dragon magazine and took a stab at explaining infravision better than the B/X rules ever did. I'll email the file to you. It may not change your mind, but it will shed some light.

  2. Infravision is not a fantasy trope. In a game about exploring dark dungeons filled with monsters, its not as exciting if the dungeon inhabitants keep it well lit. Infravision allows the referee to hand wave away light sources. In OD&D, monsters just could see in the dark. If they joined the party, they lost the ability. Infravision was B/X's attempt to explain it.

  3. I keep waiting for someone to point out a pulp fantasy source for it, but I completely agree. Lowlight vision is the way to go.

  4. If my rememberator is working correctly, there seemed to be a lot of stories about infra-red technologies in the late 70's/really early 80's. Shows like Nova and That's Incredible had scientist and police helicopters demonstrating the technology. I think it was getting to be a half-way affordable technology at the time - and least for some companies.

    So, my guess would be that this new technology looked pretty neat - and since people had heard of it and knew it could be used to see in the dark - that it was just tacked on to dwarves and the like as something spiffy - without really understanding how infrared vision would actually work.

    That's my guess, anyway.

    - Ark

  5. In all my years of playing Shadowrun, I could never remember which races got low-light vision and which got infravision, so I just gave up and let them all have the former. I'd be just as happy to drop it altogether.

  6. I agree that infravision just smells wrong and I don't use it, but I could get behind some kind of spirit vision or life detection, maybe... for some really outre monster or a challenging astral projection session.

    OTOH I let my dwarves navigate in total darkness by feel and hearing, and they get bonuses to detecting ambushes and the like underground. Likewise for elves in forests, to reflect some sort of affinity for the setting. And I've allowed lizard- and bird-men to get special information because they can "see more colours" than the rest of the party (this based on hearing once that birds had 4 kinds of cones in their eyes - I just thought it sounded cool). This is always handled just as tidbits of information I hand out, though. I've never seen much point in ranges for these things, and I've never had a player ask if they can use special vision.

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  8. To me infravision is one more element of D&D and its ilk that takes away the fantasy feel and make it feel like sci-fi or superheroes. Not that I don't prefer sci-fi and supers but it would be nice if fantasy felt magical for a change.

    In my own milieu most Elves have Night Vision, a vastly improved version of a nocturnal animals' ability to see better than us Humans in lower light conditions. If its pitch black with no light sources, Elves can't see any more than Humans can.

    My Dwarves (and most Dragons) have what I call Lantern Vision (sometimes called Torch Vision). As it gets darker you can see visible beams of light, like flashlights, coming from their eyes. While it enables them to see in complete darkness it also gives away their position. Many Dwarves squint or wear visored helmets to reduce the glare.

    Anytime someone looks a Dwarf in the eye (regardless of light levels) they see flickering flames 'behind' their irises. The heat of the forge burns within them and can be seen coming out of their eyes in the dark.

  9. @Jon: yep, you should ditch it for elves/dwarves. As kids, my friends and I just used ultravision for elves, although I don't recall how/if we solved the issue for Dwarves. I always found it odd that Gygax went to all the trouble to explain ultravision and then never used it.

    @Richard: I just wrote up something similar for Dwarves. I was exploring the idea of having them subconsciously attuned to the magnetic forces of the earth, but only underground. Essentially, giving them a natural compass, and the ability to (slowly) retrace their steps in total darkness.

  10. Hah, beat you in abandoning infravision by 3 days.

    Gave elves eagle eyed vision with missile weapon range benefits, halflings keen vision (part responsible for their+1 missile weapons) and dwarves low light vision - making them especially good on the edge of lantern and torch light.

  11. Infra - simply means below- like in the dungeon, a kind of underground vision, I'm sure its not supposed to be "infrared" vision like Predator. Seriously WTF.

  12. That may well be the D&D origin of the term, but Shadowrun makes it pretty clear that it's heat vision.

  13. nope. from the very beginning in the little brown books, Gygax said: ...allows the recipient to see infra-red light waves, thus enabling him to see in total darkness.

    Dwarves and Elves didn't get it until Greyhawk (it was a spell up til then), but it's not described any differently.

  14. It never made much sense to me either... but I DO like the bit in Earthdawn where some creatures have a natural ability for astral sight... which often allows them to function in complete darkness. It just felt right for something semi-magical like a Windling.

  15. You know some of these dorks: