Wednesday, 26 February 2020

Elder Sight - Rethinking "Elf Eyes"

I've never really liked good old Infravision, especially how poorly written/explained and scientific it was. In B/X it was "Heat-sensing sight," but no further description was given beyond:
INFRAVISION: Infravision is the ability to "see" heat patterns.
Most living things give off heat. To infravision, warm things are
bright, cool things are gray, and cold things are black. Infravision is
useless in normal or magical light. Infravision cannot be used to
read without light. All non-human monsters have infravision.  
 (Basic Dungeons & Dragons, page B21; 1981/Moldvay edition)
First edition AD&D gives us;
As previously mentioned, infravision is the ability to see into the infrared spectrum. Thus heat radiation becomes visible and differences in temperature allow infrared sight. Warm things are bright, cool things grey, very cold things are black. Most infravision extends to 60’ distance. Dungeon-dwelling monsters have infravision to 120’. All infravision is spoiled if a light source is shedding illumination upon the creature possessing the infrared sight capability. Similarly, great heat will spoil the capability.
Thieves hiding in shadows are successful with respect to infravision only if there is a heat/light source nearby to mask their body heat, or a very cold object or radiation to provide similar cover.
It also gives us Ultra-Vision;
Ultravision is the ability to see radiation in the ultraviolet spectrum — gamma
rays, x-rays, etc. Creatures with this ability can see in normal nighttime
darkness; that is, they see at night as well as a human can see at dusk because
of the continual bombardment of ultraviolet radiation upon the earth.
Which is brought up in the PHB despite no player characters having it.

Second edition gives us two options for infravision. The first being condensed down to "You see in the dark out to 60 feet. No worries" (I'm paraphrasing). The second is an even more in depth version of the earlier editions above.

Third edition gives us Low-light vision and Darkvision. The former doubles the effective range of light sources while the the latter gives normal vision, but in darkness, out to sixty feet.

Fourt Fifth edition just has Darkvision which does both; granting normal vision in dim light and making darkness look like dim light.

Then there's this:

So what is it I don't like about Infravision? It doesn't feel fantastic. Elves and Dwarves see like the Predator. Darkvision goes in the other direction. It feels fantastic because there's absolutely no explanation as to how or why it works. It just does. While I'm not opposed to "shut up, it just does" it can feel like cheating.

What I want is something that feel fantastic and any scientific sounding explanation feels more pseudo than scientific. But I do want a certain amount of rational and logic; I want people to read what I've done, go "oh!", and then feel smart because they figured something out. I want weird little synergies and strange interpretations. I want people to take the stuff I've written and build upon it in new and ingenious ways. I want emergent behaviour and narratives to erupt from my 

I was finally inspired enough to decide to nail down Elder Sight, my infra/darkvision analog for my homebrew Project Tarragon Oubliette. Here's what I've got. Expect some changes and edits in the long term as I've still yet to playtest this.

Elder Sight

Elder Sight grants vision as if in daylight in all light levels, to total darkness, out to 20 meters, in a roughly 90 degree angle (centered where they're looking, so 45 degrees either side of "forwards") ahead, in three dimensions.
It does not extend beyond that range, and so the old mark one eyeball must be used to see beyond that limit. It is hindered, to a degree, by physical barriers. Which is to say that typically Elder Sight is typically blocked by walls and similar (but see below). Elder Sight is not seated in the eyes but in some inhuman section of the Elder brain. As such physical blindness cannot remove it. However magical spells; illusions, darkness or blindness may (temporarily) do so. (As could radical brain surgeries beyond the scope of most fantasy societies) Elder sight cannot detect pigments; everything has the same washed-out tone, unless they are specifically created to resonate with Elder Sight by mixing in magical materials. Thus most mundane writings are not visible to Elder Sight (unless specifically created so that they can be), but spell scrolls, eldritch tomes and runes are. The homes and settlements of those with Elder Sight look less vibrant to those that don't, than they do to their inhabitants.
There are some advanced techniques possible with Elder Sight. A character with Elder Sight may spend additional/available Talents to develop one of the following per Talent.

Eldritch Attunement

As Elder Sight functions via, and marks an awareness of, some esoteric pseudo-force unrecognisable to science. It follows that someone with Elder Sight should be able to detect nearby sources of that pseudo-force. A character with this talent has taught themselves to do just that.
As a "move equivalent action" (as in it takes 1d6 seconds/1 round) the character may tune out everything else to become aware of everything within range of their Elder Sight that is magical; every source of Wyrd, Arcana, active spells, runes, or similar. It cannot differentiate one from the other. However the more concentrated the source is the ‘brighter’ it is. It cannot detect PSI/psychic powers. By spending Wyrd the character can double the range of this ability for each point spent.

Extended Vision

The range of the character’s Elder Sight is doubled. However the angle is halved, but only in the extended area. So a character with extended sight would keep their 90 degree angle within 20m, but have only a 45 degree angle of perception out to 40m. This Talent can be bought multiple times, doubling range and halving angle each time. However the angle of perception cannot drop below 10 degrees. If combined with Zone of Awareness (see below), use the expanded angles to calculate the restrictions for this talent.

Higher Awareness

Elder Sight functions beyond the regular dimensions of space that we are familiar with. It is able to peer out a head, so might it not also be able to peer into other objects. With this talent the character has learnt to do just that.
Physical barriers no longer hinder their Elder Sight. They can see within any container within range just as easily as they can see ahead. Walls and doors are as easily peered through as windows. They don’t even have to unroll a magical scroll to read it and, especially if combined with Zone of Awareness below, might not even have to remove it from their pack or case. The character has advantage to healing others, being able to see within their bodies, and any other situations this talent may be useful in (such as finding secret doors or traps).

Self Perception

The character has learnt to turn their Elder Sight inward. At its most basic, and gory, the character can perceive the inner workings of their body. This gives them advantage on any healing they do to themselves, and they may pass this benefit onto others treating them, if they are conscious at the time.
It also allows them to perceive their other senses visually, in a sort of deliberate synesthesia. This gives them advantage to all perception based checks. This gives the character much of the same information that the player has; they know how badly hurt they are, how much Stamina, Vitality, Resolve and Spirit that they have and how much they're encumbered by to whatever degree the players has measured by. Loud noises may also manifest as flashes of light from their source. Weird associations between different senses expressing themselves. Think of this as giving the character a computer-game style GUI, with all the associations this may grant.

Zone of Awareness

This Talent increases the angle Elder Sight covers by an additional 90 degrees each time this Talent is bought. So 180 degrees with one talent, 270 degrees with two, out to a maximum of 360 degrees with three. Each time a character buys this Talent they get a +1 bonus to avoid being surprised.

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