Learn how the exhaustion condition works and how to deal with it if your character becomes exhausted
Exhaustion is a condition in D&D 5e that represents incredible levels of fatigue and exertion that might affect a character. To ensure a level of realism for pushing characters too far in their adventuring, exhaustion rules apply harmful effects on characters that have over-exerted themselves. Unlike most other conditions, exhaustion has a tiered effect meaning it gets more severe the more exhausted a character becomes. It is also the only condition that can result in death for a character.
While it is a more complex condition than most, we’ve put together this guide to explain just how exhaustion works in D&D 5e so read on to make sure you understand these rules fully.
The Player’s Handbook explains the rules for the exhaustion condition, explaining that it causes the following effects:
Exhaustion is measured in six levels. An effect can give a creature one or more levels of exhaustion, as specified in the effect’s description.
Player’s Handbook, p291
- Disadvantage on ability checks
- Speed halved
- Disadvantage on attack rolls and saving throws
- Hit point maximum halved
- Speed reduced to 0
How does exhaustion work?
The exhaustion condition is applied to characters that have over-exerted themselves physically in some way. This could be from travelling too long, eating too little, having not enough sleep or even an after-effect of a barbarian’s rage.
Exhaustion isn’t applied automatically when one of these factors arises, instead, you take a constitution saving throw to determine if the factor actually causes the exhaustion condition.
Unlike other conditions, all debuffs are not applied at once with exhaustion, instead you progress through levels of exhaustion. The first level of exhaustion will occur the first time you fail a saving throw against exhaustion. You will accumulate additional negative effects as you continue to increase in levels of exhaustion until you reach level 6 where your body simply gives up and dies.
What are the effects of exhaustion?
As mentioned, there are 6 levels of exhaustion which each apply a new debuff to your character. Every time you fail an exhaustion saving throw, you increase a level in exhaustion. It’s worth bearing in mind that the more you become exhausted, the more perilous your situation becomes and the harder it can be to reduce your exhaustion levels.
The levels of exhaustion and their effects are:
|1||Disadvantage on ability checks|
|3||Disadvantage on attack rolls and saving throws|
|4||Hit point maximum halved|
|5||Speed reduced to 0|
As you can see, exhaustion isn’t too debilitating early on, but by level 3, your effectiveness in combat is severely compromised and by level 4, you become very susceptible to dying. Level 5 can also be very dangerous if you’re stuck in freezing conditions and are not able to move to escape these conditions.
What can cause exhaustion?
Natural causes of exhaustion
There are several explicit examples of things that can naturally occur that cause exhaustion but it’s not an “exhaustive” list (excuse the pun). Your DM may rule that other activities might also cause exhaustion such as climbing a mountain or running after someone for a long period of time (think Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli when they were chasing the uruk hai that had taken the hobbits, though their constitution saving throws were immense as even Gimli barely seemed anything more than a little out of breath).
- Not eating or drinking enough
- Exposure to extreme heat or extreme cold
- Traveling for longer than 8 hours in 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
- A barbarian following a use of rage
If one of these or another event the DM deems deserves an exhaustion constitution check, you’ll typically need to take a constitution saving throw DC10 for a standard exhaustion challenge. As the severity of the situation increases though, the DC will increase and it is up to your DM to determine the severity of the situation. An example given in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything is that after 24hrs without rest, the constitution saving throw has a DC10, but for every subsequent 24hrs, the DC increases by 5. A similar approach could be applied to other exhausting scenarios as they increase in severity.
Creatures that cause exhaustion
There are a very limited number of creatures that can cause exhaustion using their abilities. These are:
- Gingwatzim – Energy Drain action
- Jade Tigress – Poison Dart action
- Soul Monger – Wave of Weariness action
- Sibriex – Warp Creature feature
- Kalaraq Quori – Mind Seed feature
Spells and abilities that cause exhaustion
There are only 2 spells that can cause exhaustion, these are; sickening ray and Tenser’s transformation (which is a potential self-inflicted side-effect of the spell). In addition, when a barbarian finishes raging, they also need to take a constitution saving throw to determine whether they have become exhausted from all the rage they’ve been flinging everywhere.
How do you remove levels of exhaustion?
There are 3 ways to reduce exhaustion levels. Bare in mind that each time you reduce exhaustion levels, exhaustion is only reduced by a single level so if you manage to hit level 5, then reducing an exhaustion level will only bring you down to level 4 so be careful!
- Long rest – You can reduce your exhaustion by a single level by taking a long rest. You do need to have enough food and water to consume during this long rest and can’t be resting in medium or heavy armour at the time but this is the easiest way (normally) to reduce exhaustion. Remember though, you can only take one long rest in a single 24hr cycle so you may need to spend days resting to fully recover.
- Spells – The spell greater restoration can be used to reduce exhaustion by a single level, but this is the only spell with this ability!
- Class ability – The deft explorer feature for rangers can allow you to reduce exhaustion levels by a single level when taking a short rest.
And that’s it, these are the only ways to reduce exhaustion levels.
Exhaustion is one of those often forgotten conditions but can be deadly when adventurers attempt to push themselves too far and the DM decides to take action. Hopefully though, you’re better prepared to deal with exhaustion when it comes, or avoid it entirely if you can.
All condition guides
Conditions are powerful tools or problematic obstacles in D&D 5e. You can learn more about all the conditions of D&D 5e in our guides below: