Unconscious condition guide in D&D 5e

Learn how the unconscious condition works, how you can take advantage of it and protect yourself from it

It may seem obvious what being made unconscious does to someone in D&D 5e, but with this condition come a bunch of rules that are important to be aware. Depending on how you’ve been made unconscious will also impact some of the things that happen to you. For example, if you’ve been reduced to 0 hit points, you’re potentially close to death and will start making death saving rolls. This is of course very different if you’re simply unconscious because you decided to sleep.

Our guide to the unconscious condition in D&D 5e is here to help. Read on for rules, advice and how to deal with the unconscious condition.

Unconscious rules

The Player’s Handbook explains the rules for the unconscious condition, explaining that it causes the following effects:

  • An unconscious creature is incapacitated, can’t move or speak, and is unaware of its surroundings
  • The creature drops whatever it’s holding and falls prone.
  • The creature automatically fails Strength and Dexterity saving throws.
  • Attack rolls against the creature have advantage.
  • Any attack that hits the creature is a critical hit if the attacker is within 5 feet of the creature.
Player’s Handbook, p292

How does the unconscious condition work?

Death of Sturm
How conditions work in D&D 5e

As you can see above, being made unconscious is extremely debilitating. On top of this, you’re subject to a couple of other conditions as well as you become incapacitated and you fall prone!

This is a lot! First off, you can’t make any actions as you’re incapacitated. You also can’t move or speak and are unaware of anything around you. Essentially, you can do nothing other than make saving throws, and even then, you automatically fail strength and dexterity saving throws.

Because you fall prone, you’re now lying on the ground, have dropped everything you’re holding and are subject to all the rules of the prone condition. Because you’re no longer moving or defending yourself, it’s much easier for enemies to hit you and do serious, damage. This means they get advantage to hit you and, if they hit you from 5ft away, then it’s an automatic critical. This is obviously devastating, especially as you’ve already lost all your hit points and enemies may be looking to finish you off.

What causes the unconscious condition?

There are a few ways you can be made unconscious in D&D 5e:

  • Sleep – This is the most common way. When you sleep during during a long or short rest, you become unconscious.
  • Reduced to 0 hit points – When your hit points reach 0, characters do not die, instead, it means they’ve taken such a beating that they fall unconscious instead. Of course, someone beaten to unconsciousness is likely in rough shape meaning that death could soon follow.
  • Poison – Some poisons can cause a person to become unconscious.
  • Spells – Some spells can make someone unconscious, though typically due to effects like causing someone to fall asleep.
  • Monsters – Some enemies are capable of making a character unconscious through their abilities and their spells.

Spells that cause unconscious

There are only 3 spells that cause the unconscious condition, and in each case, it is by causing the target to fall asleep. Of course, you could argue that any damage dealing spell could cause a target to fall unconscious by reducing them to 0 hit points, but we’ve just listed those spells that directly cause a target to become unconscious:

SpellLevelCasting TimeRangeSaving ThrowDurationClassesDescription
Eyebite6th1 actionSelfWisdom1 minute concentrationBard, Sorceror, Warlock, WizardCaster chooses to make the target either asleep, panicked or sickened. If asleep, the target becomes unconscious.
Sleep1st1 action90ft, 20ft sphereNone1 minuteBard, Sorceror, Wizard5d8 hit points of creatures can be put to sleep and fall unconscious.
Symbol7th1 minuteTouchNoneUntil dispelled or triggeredBard, Cleric, WizardWhen the symbol is triggered, it can cause a variety of predetermined effects including sleep which makes the target fall unconscious.

Poisons that cause the unconscious condition

There are a lot of different poisons in D&D 5e with a varying set of effects (for a full list of these poisons and their effects, see our poisoned guide). Some cause their victims to fall unconscious, these include:

  • Drow poison
  • Essence of ether
  • Oil of taggit

Creatures that can cause the unconscious condition

DMs have a few more options for sending characters unconscious as there are a handful of enemies that can cause this effect. These include:

  • Beholder
  • Couatl
  • Brass Dragons
  • Drow
  • Drow Elite Warrior
  • Homunculus
  • Jackalwere
  • Pseudodragon
  • Satyr Pipes
  • Sprite

How do you recover from being made unconscious?

Depending on how you’ve been made unconscious depends on how you can recover from it:

  • Taking damage – If you’re unconscious because you’re asleep, you’ll wake up if you take damage and no longer be unconscious. This is the case whether the sleep is natural or magical. You can make the same effect on your allies without dealing damage by simply shaking them awake or slapping them.
  • Perception check – Similarly, if you’re asleep, it’s possible you’ll wake up if something nearby makes enough noise that you hear it. This can be done with a perception check.
  • Healing – If you’re unconscious because you’ve taken too much damage, then you can be woken by being healed to above 0 hit points.
  • Poison counters – If the unconscious condition is being inflicted by poison, then countering the poisoned condition will help you prevent or overcome the effects of being unconscious. There are a bunch of ways to protect from poisoned from racial traits like those had by Yuan-Ti Purebloods and Stout Halflings, to magic objects like the belt of dwarvenkind. Some spells can help here too like lay on hands and lesser restoration.

How to use the unconscious condition in D&D campaigns

The unconscious condition can be used to interesting effect for a variety of combat and role-playing situations. Below we’ve listed a few odeas you can use and flesh out to make your sessions more interesting:

  • Have characters go unconscious in order to enter a dream realm (similar to Inception). Their real bodies are vulnerable during this time and something problematic could happen while they’re in this induced sleep state.
  • Take advantage of a situation where a player becomes unconscious in combat (or elsewhere), and players must retreat, leading to a potential rescue situation.
  • Have enemies attempt to sneak up on the party while they’re asleep.
  • Do the opposite and have some NPCs asleep, giving the players the opportunity to attempt to sneak up on them.
  • Have traps in dungeons that can be triggered during combat (if they’re not careful, causing the player to be made unconscious.
  • Have bandits pretend someone is unconscious somewhere and use them as bait to lure the players into a trap.

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:


Published by DM Ben

Ben is an experienced dungeon master and player who's been immersed in the D&D universe since he was a teenager over 20 years ago. When he's not writing for Dungeon Mister, Ben loves creating fiendish puzzles and devious dungeons for his players. He's an especially big fan of the Ravenloft and Dragonlance settings.