DnD 5e Exhaustion Explained

In this post, DnD 5e Exhaustion Explained, we’ll cover one of the more unique conditions in DnD 5e.

Exhaustion, one of the many conditions of DnD 5e. I’ve heard DMs and players alike ask how exactly this works, or how to implement it in their games.

Compared to the other conditions of DnD 5e it’s a little more complex, as it’s the only condition that’s cumulative.

So let’s have a deep dive on what exhaustion is, and how it can be used in your games.

So what is Exhaustion exactly?

In DnD 5e exhaustion is considered a condition, there are in total 15 conditions in the game, such as invisible, restrained, or unconscious.

Conditions are states that characters in the game might be in, which then provide a contextual and constant ruling on those situations.

Let’s use one of the simpler conditions as an example. If your character imbibes some kind of poison or is attacked with a creature that can inflict poison, then the character that is poisoned has disadvantage on attack rolls and ability checks.

So say your character has a little too much to drink, and the DM asks the player to make a constitution saving throw, then let’s say the player fails such a check, the DM would now consider that character to have the poisoned condition.

This now means when that character goes to attack something in the game while under that condition, they would have disadvantage, the same goes for that character making any ability checks.

Almost any action that you would be required to roll a dice for, from making a performance check to sing drunkenly at a tavern to attempting to make a Sleight of Hand check to steal from the purse of a nearby noble person would be at disadvantage.

So let’s recap

  • Exhaustion is one of the 15 conditions in DnD 5e
  • It’s unique among the other conditions as it has stages to it
  • Conditions are “states” your character or any character may be in

How does Exhaustion work?

So now that we’ve covered what exhaustion is, that it’s a state you or any other character in the game can be in, let’s discuss how it works mechanically.

So as we stated previously, exhaustion is a unique condition in that it has stages, or levels. It’s comprised of 6 stages.

Stage 1

At its first stage, it imposes disadvantage on all ability checks, which is similar to how the poisoned condition works we spoke of earlier, minus the disadvantage on attack rolls.

Stage 2

The next stage is that the characters Speed is halved. In DnD 5e most creatures typically have a movement speed of 30.

This means that a character on the 2nd stage of exhaustion will still be under the effects of the 1st stage but now rather than their speed being 30, it’s now 15.

Stage 3

This stage imposes that a character would have disadvantage on both attack rolls and saving throws.

This again is similar to the effects of the poisoned condition that we spoke of earlier, except that it’s both attack rolls and saving throws that have disadvantage, not just attack rolls.

Stage 4

This stage of exhaustion means that your hit point maximum is halved. This means your total Hit Points, not just your Current Hit Points.

So say your character has a total of 50 HP (Hit Points), this means that if you were in stage 4 of the exhaustion condition, your new HP total would be 25, pretty obvious, right?

What’s not so obvious is that until you are rid of stage 4 exhaustion, you cannot be healed above your new hit point total.

It also means even if you were at 50 HP prior to that stage of exhaustion, both your current HP and total HP would now be 25.

Stage 5

This is where things start to get really nasty. On this stage of the exhaustion condition, your character’s movement speed is now 0.

This means your character cannot move using its normal movement. If you have spells or magical items at your disposal which move you regardless of your movement speed, these can still be utilized, but otherwise, you’re stuck where you are.

It also means that if you are under the prone condition while in this stage, you cannot get up, as with the prone condition state you have to spend half your movement to get up, if you have no movement to spend, then you cannot get up.

This is why this stage is nasty as it can easily snowball your bad situation into a worse one, maybe having to carry a stage 5 character out of danger or snowballing you into the next stage.

Stage 6

The final stage. This stage is instant death. Your character is now considered dead.

There’s not too much to say about this stage. Of course, spells such as Revivify, Reincarnate, or True Resurrection can be used to bring a character back from death.

Each of those spells tends to have its usage cases and potential limitations, such as Revivify only working on creatures that have been dead for 10 minutes or less, or Reincarnate potentially changing the creature’s race, but that’s probably best left to another post.

How to use and implement Exhaustion

So now that we know how exhaustion works mechanically in the sense of how each stage affects a character, let’s move onto how you actually start going through the stages of exhaustion.

Like anything in DnD it’s open to DM discretion, if the DM thinks a character is doing something that would be pushing the limits of their constitution then the DM may impose that they would be in the 1st stage of Exhaustion.

Further exertion may impose falling deeper into the stages of exhaustion. Luckily there aren’t too many official things that impose exhaustion on a character, but one of the quickest ways is sprinting.

Sprinting would typically be used in a chase sequence within the game. So let’s use the example that your character is a rogue and has just stolen from someone they shouldn’t be stealing from, and a guard is alerted who gives chase after the Rogue.

Well, a character can then use the dash action up to 3 times plus the constitution modifier.

So let’s say the Rogue has made constitution their dump stat, and they don’t have a positive or negative modifier for the constitution, they would be able to dash up to 3 times on their turn in the chase sequence.

However, the Rogue may attempt to dash above the limit stated previously, to do this though, the Rogue must make a Constitution saving throw with a DC (Difficulty Check) of 10.

If the Rogue fails the roll, then they take 1 point of exhaustion, each point moves the creature to the next stage of Exhaustion.

There is also the class ability for the Barbarian where they can enter into a Frenzied Rage, when they do this, it gives them a level of exhaustion. Gaining further levels of exhaustion upon further use of the ability.

How to get rid of Exhaustion

We’ve covered what exhaustion is, and how one gets it, so now let’s look at how to get rid of it.

There are a few ways in which you can get rid of exhaustion, but the deeper into exhaustion a character is the harder it is for them to get rid of it.

Sleeping is the simplest way, a single long rest will reduce a character’s exhaustion level by 1. This means if a character was at stage 5, they would need to rest for 5 in-game days to return to normal.

The Greater Restoration spell which is available to Clerics, Druids, and Bards can remove one 1 level of exhaustion per cast of the spell.

The rare Potion of Vitality will also cure ALL levels of exhaustion upon consuming it.

Wrap Up

So we’ve covered, what exhaustion is, what each stage does, how to gain levels of exhaustion, and how to get rid of it. I’d say we’ve covered our goal of explaining the ins and outs of this unique condition in dnd 5e.

Personally I think exhaustion is an interesting mechanic that should be added to any campaign, it really adds a risk/reward feeling to going above and beyond, which is exactly what heroes of stories tend to do.

So that’s Exhaustion in DnD 5e. Probably the most complex condition in the game, so if you understand this, then the rest are way more simple to understand.

Thanks for taking the time to have a read through this post and until next time, may your day be a critical success!


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