Why the Cat Catches the Sewer Troll (maybe)

by mshrm

There’s been a lot of discussion on the forums this past couple of weeks about light levels and darkness penalties, in light (heh) of the release of GURPS Powers: Enhanced Senses. For one reason and another, I don’t really have a dog in that fight, but it has got me thinking again about the question of light in the dungeon.

I’m running Dungeon Fantasy, which means I’m using the simplified rules for light and darkness. Light sources cancel penalties within a certain distance, varying by the intensity of the source, then decrease the penalties within a somewhat wider area. Outside that wider area, the ambient light level rules, and in my dungeon, the ambient level is often “pitch black, no light, everybody’s blind”.  Simple and unrealistic. Works for me.

You would think we would be applying darkness penalties right and left, but in practice, this hasn’t really been the case. My guys have been really paranoid about their light sources. They haven’t quite gone to the extent of hiring professional torch-bearers, but they have taken care to carry multiple light sources and so forth. As their working budget has increased, they’ve gone from buying torches to using unlit torches with Continual Light cast on them. Over the past couple of sessions, they’ve even started using arrows with light enchantments to illuminate distant areas without approaching, and scrolls of Continual Sunlight to chase the shadows from the so-called Pit of Darkness. Temporarily, at least. One way or another, they’ve been pretty good about lighting the place up.

Of late, we’ve even added a couple of new characters who can see in the dark. (I suspect that might have been a major selling point in both cases.)  Being cat-folk, Posy has 5 points of Night Vision, and like all sewer trolls, FuBar has eyes that are adapted for dim light, a 0-point feature. FuBar has a pair of goggles with smoked-glass lenses, which give a -5 to Vision rolls. I’ve ruled, at his instigation, that these are effectively sunglasses, and the penalty is, effectively, a darkness penalty. Therefore, he can walk about in full sunlight wearing his goggles, and enjoy a net -0 to Vision rolls. When he’s in the dungeon, and operating in dim areas without humans and their torches, he removes the goggles.

… which got me to wondering:  was this really fair?  Is FuBar getting 5 points worth of advantage from the purchase of a $150 piece of equipment?

Comparing the numbers, it turns out that so long as FuBar is free to switch in and out of his goggles — which takes a Ready action, a cost worth noting — he’s just as good in the dark as Posy, but still a little worse off in dim light. When the ambient penalty is -1 or -4, he can’t do better than an effective -1, and when it’s -2 or -3, he’s stuck with a -2.

As penalties go, that’s some weak tea, there.  The thing is, that -3 darkness penalty is where I expect FuBar to live, since that’s the penalty in force in the 3 to 6 hexes between the bright light of a torch and the utter darkness of the rest of the dungeon. His main weapon is a kusari with a reach of up to 4 hexes, and his claim to fame is his mobility. Unless he takes to carrying a torch himself, I don’t see him spending a lot of time in areas with no darkness penalty. If he’s not careful, he could end up spending all his actions Readying and un-Readying his goggles and changing his grip on his weapon.

That’s the theory, at least. Ever since I failed to understand the utility of the Druid, I’m reluctant to depend too much on my theories. 🙂 So, I’ll be keeping an eye (heh) on the situation. If it seems that further balance is needed, I’ll just start enforcing the rules about how long it takes for one to adapt to new light levels…  Y’know how you’re practically blind when you come inside a dark room after being in bright sunlight? If that happened to the PCs, I bet we wouldn’t see nearly so many of those times when the party runs into the dungeon, banging their shields and calling for anybody who wants a piece of ’em to make their wills and come on out…