When you inhabit your character and enter the fantastic and fraught world that your DnD campaign is set in, you are not just playing the role of an average, everyday citizen; you are much more than the average man, woman, or weird mythological creature in the street.
Even when you are just starting, inexperienced and under-equipped, you still cut a figure of the dashing adventurer. To the average farm hand or shop girl, a heroic figure indeed.
And, as a heroic adventurer, you spend your days putting your safety, perhaps even your life, on the line to obtain fame, fortune, and a small mansion in the country to call your own.
To this end, you pit yourself against magic and monster, hordes of wild-eye tribal warriors and wily wizards, infernal demons, and at least 23 different varieties of orc.
But the dangers don’t just come from axe-wielding maniacs; they often come from the terrain, the vast distances you travel, and the strange geography you need to traverse to reach your goals.
And with such efforts come all manner of additional dangers — the weather, natural disasters, sunburn, cold, swaps, disease, thirst, hunger, and Exhaustion. And it is the latter that we are going to discuss here.
What is Exhaustion 5e?
Although Exhaustion is an easy concept to understand in terms of overall gameplay, it needs clarification regarding how it is used in the game. And, in turn, how its effects can have a massive impact on any characters who succumb to it.
In terms of game mechanics, Exhaustion is treated as a Condition, much as Grappled or Poisoned is, and is applied to any character or creature exposed to grueling or draining circumstances.
As with any other condition, when the character is exposed to the relevant catalyst for Exhaustion, they must make a saving throw against their Constitution to succumb to the effects of the Condition.
So far, so good. But, unlike other Conditions, Exhaustion can affect its target to various degrees. So it is divided into six levels that have effects that stack depending on how many times that character has succumbed to Exhaustion and how many times they have failed their saving throw against it.
Exhaustion is unique compared to other Conditions because it can only be brought about by your character pushing themselves to the normal limits of their ability.
For the official definition, you can check the Player’s Handbook Chapter 8: Adventuring, which describes it as a result of “eating too little, traveling too far and too fast, or exposure to extreme environments.”
(Which, incidentally, reminds me of a short holiday I once had in North Wales.)
Exhaustion 5e Rules on Action
When a character or creature fails their Constitution saving throw against Exhaustion, they gain one or more levels of Exhaustion, depending on the situation.
If they already have one or more levels of Exhaustion, they continue to achieve additional levels. That is, once you are initially determined to be Exhausted, you can continue to get ever more exhausted. For example:
When Boris Bloodaxe, your Berserker Barbarian, comes out of their Frenzied Rage and calms down enough to join the ordinary world, they will gain one level of Exhaustion due to the excess effort and energy expended through such a crazy and full-on fighting technique.
Later in that same adventure, they are caught in a burning building and, as they escape, are exposed to Extreme Heat. Unfortunately, Boris fails his saving throw. This means that he now operates under two levels of Exhaustion and will suffer from both the first and second levels effects.
The Six Levels of Exhaustion 5e
As discussed above, there are six levels of Exhaustion. They start reasonably incongruously but quickly stack up, evolving into perilous states and serious disadvantages for the Exhausted character.
- 1 Disadvantage on ability checks
- 2 Speed halved
- 3 Attack rolls and saving throws at Disadvantage
- 4 Hit point maximum halved
- 5 Speed reduced to 0
- 6 Death
Exhaustion Level 1
Making ability checks at Disadvantage will take the edge off your character, but there are ways around it. In Combat, ability checks are rare unless you opt to Grapple or you are one of those sneaky Rogue types who like to use their bonus action to Hide in the shadows, waiting for the right opportunity.
In non-combat situations, you can sit back and provide Help to your fellow party members whose ability checks can be better relied on. Exhaustion can be cured at this level by taking a long rest, eating plenty of food, and drinking enough to rehydrate properly.
Exhaustion Level 2
Again, operating at half speed is not the worst thing in the world. The main disadvantage of having two levels of Exhaustion is being unable to travel as far in a single day. Something that slows the party down may mean you encounter more creatures through spending longer than intended in hostile terrain.
Generally, this isn’t a significant problem unless you are trapped in a region of extreme cold or intense heat or some other climactic effect causing the Exhaustion in the first place. Then, you will want to get out of the area as soon as possible, If not sooner!
Two levels of Exhaustion also start to affect your performance in Combat severely. Fighters will feel this effect the most as their reduced speed will mean that it will be much harder to get close to enemies, to move to protect weaker party members, and generally respond in time to take advantage of the ever-shifting opportunities found in the chaos of Combat.
Exhaustion Level 3
At the third level of Exhaustion, things start to have a detrimental effect on the character. Attack rolls, saving throws, and ability checks are all made at Disadvantage, and on top of that, movement is halved.
Some classes, particularly those specializing in casting magic, could use their spells to counter the worst effects. Still, those who need to spearhead melee and contribute to Combat through ranged weapons will find their effectiveness dropping rapidly.
These cumulative effects of Exhaustion are now making things very dangerous for you, and any death saving throws are now made at Disadvantage.
GameCows Tip: The number-crunching behind Disadvantage is pretty quite complex, but it works out to give -5 to a roll that needs 11 to pass, such as Death saving throws. This means there is a 25% greater chance of Death when rolling Death saves when you are at exhaustion level 3.
So, numbers aside, suffice it to say that when you reach the third level of Exhaustion, it should be your priority to resolve the Condition through rest and recuperation. If you carry on, your effectiveness as a party member will be massively reduced, and the risk of Death will increase.
Exhaustion Level 4
Now things get better for you. Half reduced hit point max to reflect your overly weakened state, and any saves against Death are at Disadvantage. You are getting to a point where you will be of little use to your fellow adventurers, except as cannon fodder. In the name of whatever deity you pray to… get some sleep!
Exhaustion Level 5
You are so weakened now that you have become immobile, and removing at least one level of Exhaustion is the only cure to regain the power of movement.
This is bad enough if this level of the Condition hits you as you pass by a friendly tavern, but if you find yourself still in a dangerous spot, it may already be too late for you.
Exhaustion Level 6
When you hit the sixth level of Exhaustion, it means only one thing. Death. No unconsciousness, no saving throws. This is a similar scenario to getting your Strength drained by a Shadow.
When you reach this point in the Exhaustion stakes, the game is well and truly over. Barring a Resurrection spell or some divine intervention, this is the end for you.
What Causes Exhaustion 5e?
Exhaustion is more often than not brought on by natural phenomena such as climate or illness or by being forced to go too long without proper rest. But it can also come from some unnatural sources. A few of these are discussed below.
Monsters with Exhaustion Effects
- Gingwatzim (CR 2) – Energy Drain action
- Jade Tigress (CR 6) – Poison Dart action
- Soul Monger (CR 11) – Wave of Weariness action
- Sibriex (CR 18) – Warp Creature feature
- Kalaraq Quori (CR 19) – Mind Seed feature
DnD 5e Spells That Cause Exhaustion
The most obvious apparent spell that can inflict an effect that instigates a level of Exhaustion on another being is Sickening Radiance, though DnD being what it is, there are probably non-canon spells in various supplements or custom-built spells unique to your campaign that may replicate these effects.
The Effects of Exhaustion While Traveling 5e
Magic and creature abilities aside, Exhaustion is mainly a Condition brought on through overexertion whilst adventuring.
Many circumstances can cause Exhaustion; the following list is a guide, not a definitive list. The various fauna and flora, geography and climate of your campaign may be reason enough for you to include your world-specific, unique additions.
- Not eating or drinking enough
- Exposure to extreme heat or extreme cold
- Traveling for longer than 8 hours a day
- Going 24 hours without a long rest
- Falling into frigid water
- Swimming for more than 1 hour
- Rowing a boat for longer than 8 hours
Going Without a Long Rest
Xanathar’s Guide to Everything states that being active for 24 hours without sleep will require you to make a DC 10 CON saving throw. A failure means that you gain one/one more level of Exhaustion.
If you stay awake longer, the saving throw gets harder, increasing by 5 for each additional 24 hours you go without long resting. Once you have taken a long rest, the DC resets to 10.
The simplest and most obvious way to remove a level of Exhaustion is to take a long rest which must include consuming food and ingesting water to bring your energy and hydration back up.
Sleeping in Heavy or Medium armor will not reduce the Exhaustion level; it’s just too uncomfortable to rest in properly. Sleeping in Light armor is fine.
Remember that even though you can take a long rest, if you are still exposed to extreme heat or cold, further saving throws against Exhaustion will need to be made.
Final Thoughts on Exhaustion 5e
As in the real world, Exhaustion is a very real and decisive Condition. Even though you may be seasoned adventurers, heroes with years of training and hard-won experience under your belts, the body can only put up with so much.
Rest, food, and drink are as important as a good sword or a head full of spells. And remember, in the sorts of worlds that your characters live in and the types of places that they are going to find themselves, it isn’t just the monsters that you encounter that are trying to kill you; it is the geography, the landscape, the climate, and the localized weather too.
In short, remember to pack a good sword, but remember your bedroll!
Exhaustion 5e FAQs
How does Exhaustion work in DND 5e?
Exhaustion is a condition measured in six levels, and a character or creature’s ability and Strength drop as they move up the levels. It can be induced by magic but is often caused by missing rest breaks or extreme climate conditions.
If an already exhausted creature suffers another Effect that causes Exhaustion, its current level increases by the amount specified in the effect’s description.
How do you get rid of Exhaustion in 5e?
Just as in the real world, you rest, eat, drink, and sleep. A successful period of rest and recuperation will remove one level of Exhaustion. When the character reaches zero Exhaustion, they operate at their usual efficiency.
What are the sources of Exhaustion 5e?
Exhaustion is usually the result of going too long without rest. But it can be the result of other, more specific events too. These include exposure to extreme heat or cold, lack of food and water intake, falling into icy water, swimming or rowing for long periods, or any other normal ways of over-tiring the body.