Friday, November 08, 2019

What does infravision look like, anyway?

Here are the entirety of the infravision rules as they existed in 1981, per page B21.

PET PEEVE: I have never seen a computer game that attempted to simulate infravision. If you have, please leave a comment!

Here's some random dungeon art I googled up. A background from the computer game Darkest Dungeon, maybe? This is what your normal torch- or lantern-bearing crew would see.

With infravision,  color is determined solely by temperature. And things left laying about a dungeon for centuries will tend to be at the same temperature. Without a proper light source, the party elf or dwarf might see something like this:

It's a subtle difference, but that weird rock formation on the left no longer pops out, and those wine (potion?) bottles will be a little harder to find. Now let's add some monsters to the scene, first by normal vision:

The red dragon, skeleton, and troll are all pretty easy to see. Not quite the same scenario using infravision:

The internal heat of the dragon makes him almost too bright to look at. The troll is basically unaffected. The skeleton has become the same grey as the walls and floor. Undead are hard to spot via infravision because of their tendency to be the same temperature as the background.

Note that my interpretation here is the most generous one I can make, based on the rule above. You could argue that infravision is in fact must worse at picking out details than normal vision, hence the 'no reading' clause. Maybe infravision actually looks more like this:


  1. Recently I've been thinking about going so far as to say you can *only* see living heat sources with infravision. So, instead of that nice background from Darkest Dungeon (great game btw), I'd go with a pure black background. That would mean your dwarf is just as likely as my human to kick over those wine bottles in the first shot.

    1. how the hell does that make any sense, though? heat is heat, and whether it's coming from a living body or an inanimate object shouldn't make a lick of difference. Touch a rock in a cave and touch a plank of wood in the same cave and tell me the former doesn't feel much colder than the latter. Some discernment should be possible!

    2. A rock and plank in a cave will absorb heat at different rates (thus the difference in feel) but if they have both been at rest long enough they will be the same temperature and as such both as difficult to see by infravision.

  2. Baldur's Gate had a visual effect for infra-vision, as I recall. Not a particularly great or useful one, however. If you had someone in the party with infra-vision, enemies in dark areas would glow red. It made absolutely no gameplay difference whatsoever

  3. I always just assumed that it looked like the view through thermal imaging goggles.

  4. Aliens vs. Predator had thermal vision whilst playing as the latter.

  5. In Baldur's Gate, if your main character had infra vision, enemies would have a bright red overlay on them
    at night which them stand out. That's the closest example I can think of.

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  7. D&D3e gave a sample of what darkvision (a different term for infravision) looked like:
    The term and its intended effect carried over to later editions.

  8. SKR has a good post on this from the early 2000s when 3.XE was being developed -

  9. Back in the old days the guys i played with decided undead were invisible to infravision unless they move and then you'd see where their feet scraped the floor first.

  10. Presumably there is some way for the character to discern distance with infra vision. So the planks of wood, wine bottles etc may be discernible that way- as outlines or shapes. Same with undead. Maybe double their chance of surprise in infra vision circumstances.

    The footprints idea is cool. But then I have to figure out how long they last...

  11. So, there is and issue with your sample, The monsters would not be in full color to normal eyes. The cones in your eyes that see color cannot take in as much light as the rods, that primarily see in grey (and some blues). so if the room is that dark, the monsters would be as well. they wouldn't be bright or well lit, certainly not an eye searing pink in a dark room. they would be washed out and darkened considerably, similar to how the room gets darker- infravision, as described in the book, would look basically like what you did, although if it really was thermal based, yeah, it would look like predator vision.

  12. I've never liked 'Infravision' because it is one of the many aspects of D&D that is neither Medieval nor magical. It is very much rooted in Science and Technology. As such, I came up with alternate versions for the Races that were listed as having infravision.

    At the same time, for those early games of D&D wherein my players wanted D&D and some majorly customized thing of my own creation, I have to come up with how infravision worked in the game proper. In my mind, it does indeed look more like a thermal imager, with cooler materials appearing dark blue-to-blue. Warmer items become green, yellow, orange, and red, with extremely hot things being bright fuchsia/hot pink.

    The key difference was undead. Most of the appeared blue-black or even black. Yep, DARKER than the background stones of a dungeon. Darker even than a normal skeleton lying on the group for example. My reasoning was that Negative Energy/Necromancy is unnaturally cold. It would be difficult to make out undead in the Arctic Circle, as the background ice of the frozen North would be tough to top in terms of coldness, but in most typical D&D settings they would be fairly visible.

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  14. I found a pair of similar threads with some ultravision discussion/illustrations on DF this weekend: and


  15. and its sequels had Predator-vision.