Learn how the incapacitated condition works and how you can take advantage of it
The incapacitated condition is a particularly debilitating condition that can be imposed through the use of spells and abilities. This condition is used to represent characters and creatures that are unable to act for a variety of reasons such as being petrified or paralyzed and is often imposed as part of another condition. It is one of the more problematic conditions you can be afflicted with in D&D 5e.
Our guide will help you understand how the incapacitated condition works, how to protect yourself against it and how to use it against your enemies.
The Player’s Handbook explains the rules for the incapacitated condition, explaining that it causes the following effect:
Player’s Handbook, p290
- An incapacitated creature can’t take actions or reactions.
How does the incapacitated condition work in 5e?
Being incapacitated is essentially a quick way for the rules to state you can’t make any actions while it is in effect. This isn’t just normal actions but also bonus actions, reactions and even legendary actions (for creatures with those).
There are a few additional elements of the incapacitated condition that often get confused or come up in games that are worth being aware of:
- You don’t automatically gain advantage when attacking an incapacitated creature (though because the incapacitated condition often is used alongside other effects, you may well have advantage against an incapacitated creature anyway)
- You can continue to move while incapacitated (as long as no other condition prevents movement)
- You don’t fall prone when incapacitated unless stated as an additional effect (like when being made unconscious)
- If you are still able to move, you can make a free object interaction as part of your movement
- You lose concentration on a spell if you become incapacitated
- If you make a ranged weapon attack against an enemy that is incapacitated, you don’t incur disadvantage on the attack roll
- Incapacitated creatures automatically fail grapple and shove ability checks
- You don’t receive the benefits of dodging if you used the dodge action before becoming incapacitated (any actions you were sustaining effectively end)
- While incapacitated, you don’t contribute to flanking an enemy
- While incapacitated, you can’t communicate telepathically
This is obviously very debilitating and essentially only leaves a character with movement and speaking available to do. You can also take saving throws and ability checks but that’s basically it. To make it worse, when incapacitated, it’s typically as part of another condition that will add even more limitations to what you can do. The conditions that impose the incapacitated state on someone are:
What can cause you to be incapacitated?
As explained above, incapacitated often occurs as part of another condition. The most typical way to become incapacitated is by falling asleep as you become unconscious. In combat though, you will typically become incapacitated when you are paralyzed, petrified, stunned or made unconscious as part of some spell or ability.
Spells that cause incapacitated
Most spells cause the incapacitated condition as part of another condition. To see which spells those are, you can check our guides on those conditions. There are a few spells and abilities that cause the incapacitated condition separately from these other conditions in D&D 5e. These spells include:
|Spell||Level||Casting Time||Range||Saving Throw||Duration||Classes||Description|
|Banishing Smite||5th||1 bonus action||Self||None||1 minute concentration||Paladin||5d10 force damage. If target is under 50hp, they are banished to another plane where they are incapacitated|
|Banishment||4th||1 action||60ft||Charisma||1 minute concentration||Cleric, Paladin, Sorceror, Warlock, Wizard||Banished to another plane where they are incapacitated|
|Feign Death||3rd||1 action||Touch||None||1 hour||Bard, Cleric, Druid, Wizard||Various including blinded, incapacitated and the appearance of being dead|
|Hypnotic Pattern||3rd (30ft cube)||1 action||120ft||Wisdom||1 minute concentration||Bard, Sorceror, Warlock, Wizard||Charmed making the targets incapacitated with a speed of 0|
|Modify Memory||5th||1 action||30ft||Wisdom||1 minute concentration||Bard, Wizard||Modifies a target’s memories, incapacitating it for the duration of the spell|
|Symbol||7th||1 minute||Touch||Various||Until dispelled or triggered||Bard, Cleric, Wizard||Various including being incapacitated|
|Tasha’s Hideous Laughter||1st||1 action||30ft||Wisdom||1 minute concentration||Bard, Wizard||Fall prone and become incapacitated|
|Wind Walk||6th||1 minute||30ft||None||8 hours||Druid||Assume a gaseous form becoming incapacitated during the process of resolidifying|
Abilities that cause incapacitated
If you’re a player and don’t have access to the above spells, there are also a few abilities that cause incapacitated separately from other conditions including:
- Arcane archer (banishing arrow) – if a target is banished by banishing arrow, their speed is reduced to 0 and they are incapacitated.
- Wild magic sorcerer (wild magic surge) – one effect of wild magic surge is that you are transformed into a potted plant causing you to be incapacitated.
Creatures that cause incapacitated
The incapacitated condition can also be caused by a handful of enemies (outside of those that cause it by more typical means through other conditions like petrified and paralysis). These creatures are:
- Bheur Hag
- Corpse Flower
- Myconid Sovereign
- Red Dragon
- Star Spawn Seer
The incapacitated condition can also be caused by madness which, while it lasts, causes you to be incapacitated while you scream, laugh or weep.
Incapacitated battle tactics
Being able to impose the incapacitated condition on your enemies is a powerful option though one that’s not easily available. Most such spells cause this condition as part of another condition.
Tasha’s hideous laughter is an effective option at 1st level for bards and wizards as it’s available straight away and also knocks the target prone granting advantage on melee attacks too. Hypnotic pattern is excellent too as it’s a 3rd level spell so available early on, but can affect a large group of creatures.
Paladins have a couple of great options to banish an opponent with banishing smite and banishment which completely separate a creature from combat. On top of this, banishing smite is a bonus action so you still get to attack and do damage (the enemy will turn back up after all).
When a creature is incapacitated, you automatically succeed any grapples against them. In preparation for them ending the condition, you could grapple them with one of your martial characters. This means they won’t be able to move and can be used to drag them off a cliff for example. This tactic can be particularly effective when paired with something like hypnotic pattern as a grapple won’t disturb them from their incapacitated state though they will be awakened if attacked.
You may want to consider targeting spellcasters with incapacitated conditions, especially if they’re concentrating on a problematic spell. While they may perform better on saving throws, the incapacitated condition will end their concentration on the spell.
How to prevent yourself being incapacitated
It’s difficult to have a reliable method of counteracting being incapacitated because there are quite a few reasons why it might happen. In certain instances, you might even want it to happen like when you sleep or end the wind walk spell. In such instances, the better approach is to ensure you’re not incapacitated at a problematic time so not ending wind walk in the middle of an enemy lair or ensuring you have lookouts when resting to wake people up if there’s danger.
In most other cases, protecting against the incapacitated condition really means ensuring your saving throws are more likely to succeed so abilities that grant advantage on saving throws or a boost (such as bardic inspiration for instance) will help you out here.
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:
Can you take bonus actions or reactions while incapacitated?
Can you cast spells while incapacitated?
No as casting spells requires some kind of an action and you’re unable to take any kind of action while incapacitated. You also lose concentration on a spell if you are concentrating on it when you are incapacitated.
Can you speak telepathically while incapacitated?
Even if you have an ability that allows you to do this without having to take an action to activate it, you are still unable to communicate telepathically when incapacitated.