torches and lanterns

There’s something I don’t like about 4e’s sunrods. They’re very practical, and my group uses them all the time:

1983 Basic equipment list.

1983 Basic equipment list.

DM: Who has low-light vision?
PC: I’m the only human, so I guess I don’t. I pop a sunrod and tie it to my hat.
DM: Problem solved forever!

Somehow, though, my memories of old school dungeoneering are lit by torchlight. The inconvenient micromanagement of who had the torch, and in what hand, brought the torch to players’ minds, and made me picture dungeon explorations in a flickering circle of light. Or is that just the flickering light of nostalgia? I can’t tell: I may have a tendency to mistake unnecessary busywork, like illumination and encumbrance calculation, for fun-enhancing realism.


Torches were also fun because in a pinch you could use one as a weapon. In some edition – first? – they did 1d6 damage, the same as a shortsword.


Price point aside, lanterns have some advantages over torches. D&D lanterns can be covered, so you can stay stealthy without totally extinguishing your light source. Also, you can presumably put down a lantern while you’re fighting, while I’m not sure that a dropped torch will stay burning. (I’m not sure if that’s covered in the rules either way.)


A tinderbox is an odd little item – it doesn’t really do anything, but it’s necessary to make your torches and lanterns work. Surprisingly, tinderboxes – or flint and steel – have survived, even in 4e. You’d think they would have been abstracted into the purchase of torches and lanterns at some point, since players so rarely think about them once they’re done their initial shopping trip.

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6 Responses to “torches and lanterns”

  1. callin says:

    Real life LARP story. We are progressing our way through the dungeon late at night. We have 1 light source, a glowing ball. At one point the rogue, who had been carrying it up to that point, handed it off to the fighter mumbling something about needing his hands free to find traps. At this point arrows from across the black room began to pepper the fighter, homing in on the light source.
    Long story short, the person holding the sunrod becomes the default target for every monster that can see in the dark. Do this enough times and the party will willingly stop using them.

  2. Mark says:

    I think I may be doing away with sunrods completely in my next campaign, and perhaps allow players to use torches as weapons. Great idea!

  3. Canageek says:

    Also you have oil on hand if you have a lantern: Oil which you can *throw* as a weapon if push comes to shove. Saved our party a couple of times at low levels in 3e and 3.5 when that was the only way we have to deal damage to swarms.

  4. I can understand the motivation, more recent D&D is about “getting to the adventure” as much as anything else but I am not all that fond of the road flare, err sunrod in my Pathfinder games. It works fine and the rules are fine but it detracts from the quasi medieval feel I want in my D&D.

    To be honest continual light is nearly as bad and while yes it can be dispelled its still annoyingly ubiquitous.

    I will make an exception, in games where weird alchemy is common the sunrod fits in fine along with the liquid spark and armor black and all the other “Batman” tech alchemy

  5. […] love it when old things are new again… Sure 4e has its fancy sunrods, but what about your basic torch and lantern? Paul over at the Blog of Holding points out that sometimes old school is better than new… […]

  6. Syrsuro says:

    I hates ’em. They are ridiculously cheap for their effective radius.

    I suspect they were put in the game in an attempt to simplify lighting but they go too far. They make all other lighting sources obsolete and they invalidate multiple class and race effects such as low-light vision.

    I would recommend one of the following three fixes:

    1) Increase their cost significantly (maybe 10x). Make the player’s choice be whether to manage with a smaller, less effective light source or spend the money to really be able to see those artillery in the back.

    2) Reduce the radius to that of a torch. This makes it appropriately more useful than a regular torch, but less useful than an everburning torch (which is where its cost lies)

    3) Change its lighting type to dim light rather than bright light (or perhaps torch light out to some distance and dim lighting past that point).

    4) Specify that they must be wielded: They must be held in a free hand and if they are set down or dropped, they go out. Or perhaps the light continues (Save Ends).

    Or, alternately, all of the above and allow the players to decide which version of the sunrod they wish to purchase.


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