Updated: Oct 25
As with any challenging adventure, your character can experience exhaustion. Understanding the concept of exhaustion in D&D is crucial to successfully navigate the game and ensuring your character survives.
In this blog, we'll explore the levels of exhaustion in 5e, compare them to the new DnD One rules, their effects on gameplay, and strategies to handle exhaustion. So, grab your dice, scrolls and more as we take a deep dive.
The Rundown On D&D 5e Exhaustion
Most of us experience exhaustion IRL. When was the last time you had to back out of a social engagement because you were too exhausted? Or another time when you submitted a paper while pulling an all-nighter?
D&D takes the concept of exhaustion a bit further. Exhaustion in D&D represents the physical and mental fatigue experienced by a character.
Exhaustion is considered a Special Condition in D&D 5e, especially since the effects are cumulative (they stack). Exhaustion levels are gained when enduring a variety of challenges, such as travelling long distances, experiencing environmental hazards, fighting battles, and/or lack of sleep.
The Rules Regarding Exhaustion in 5e
Exhaustion Level & Effects
Disadvantage on ability checks
Speed is halved
Disadvantage on attack rolls and saving throws
Hit Point Maximum is halved
Speed is reduced to 0
This state is represented by a series of levels that range from 1 to 6, with each level representing an increasing degree of exhaustion. Each level of exhaustion inflicts a cumulative set of penalties on the character, such as hit points being halved to disadvantage on ability checks, attack rolls, and saving throws.
New One D&D Exhaustion Rules
The newer rules purposed by Wizards aim to simplify the condition:
Exhaustion makes characters suffer a penalty to all D20 die rolls (attack rolls, ability checks, saving throws). This way, exhaustion levels are a bit less debilitating, granting a -1 penalty per level.
Characters can also take up to 10 levels of exhaustion without your character dying.
Spellcasters take a penalty to Saving Throw DCs equal to their exhaustion level.
Exhaustion is removed naturally by a Long Rest (which removes 1 exhaustion level at a time) and by other magical means.
Benefits Of New Rules
There are some useful aspects of the newly purposed exhaustion rules. We’ll compare them similar to how I did in a blog about Experience Points (EXP) vs Milestone Levelling.
Easier To Track
First off, it’s a lot easier to track what the condition does. Exhaustion doesn’t occur a lot in my games, but there are certain “chapters” or “seasons” that it can. It’s not that I have a hard time finding the rules personally for exhaustion, but keeping track of it and remembering the effects can also be tough for players. Simply grabbing a d10 and placing it beside your sheet can remind you of an exhaustion penalty.
Balances Exhaustion By Hampering Spellcasters
A neat addition to this mechanic however is how it affects spellcasters. Each level of exhaustion makes it less likely for your spells to succeed, granting a -1 to spell-save DCs per exhaustion level.
The older rules hampered martial classes considerably more in play. The new One D&D exhaustion rules help level the playing field by not letting spellcasters off the hook.
Encourages Players To Take More Risks
Having a larger pool of exhaustion levels can allow players to push on and keep going with the adventure.
The exhaustion rules in D&D 5e were well intended, but I personally found players wouldn’t take more than 3 and continue their quests. After all, how useful is a character with disadvantage on Ability checks, speed halved and with disadvantage on attack rolls/saving throws? (I’d argue pretty useless)
The revised rules allow players to not feel left out of the game. To compare, having a -3 penalty to all d20 checks and spell save DCs isn’t nearly as bad as the former rules. Having the looser exhaustion rules allow players to really feel a game’s sense of urgency.
Can players push on to save a valuable NPC or group of NPCs before disaster strikes? Is there a time-sensitive shipment that the players are transporting? Does the group even have time to rest today?
Potential Drawbacks of New Rules
Reintroducing Pesky Modifiers
It seemed like the point of D&D 5e was to banish modifiers into the abyss! However, by seeing them again in the exhaustion rules in D&D One, they may again reemerge.
We still add and subtract numbers on character sheets during play in 5e. From taking damage, and adding temporary HP, to even attacking a monster, some math will inevitably be involved. As long as modifiers from exhaustion levels are the exception - not the norm - then all is well.
Risk of Trivializing The Condition
By scrapping movement reductions and HP reductions, it may trivialize the condition to make it less impactful. Some players may feel less hindered by exhaustion while preferring a more difficult, gritty game.
A good way to mitigate this would be to hand out exhaustion more frequently or in larger doses.
Tracking Exhaustion in D&D
Exhaustion can be gained in a number of ways, including not getting enough rest, extreme weather conditions, or overexertion during battles (ie: The Berserker Barbarian). If a character spends a full day without eating or drinking anything, or travelling longer on a Forced March, they could gain a level of exhaustion.
Tracking the condition should be done by players and the dungeon master. Usually, a DM screen will have the exhaustion rules on it. If exhaustion comes up frequently in your game, then having a quick rules/reference sheet for players would be a good idea.
It's important for players and the DM to keep track of exhaustion levels and effects to avoid placing characters in situations that could lead to their demise. Whether it's facing extreme weather conditions or battling powerful foes, characters in D&D can quickly become exhausted and unable to continue, making it crucial to manage the condition carefully.
Handling & Preventing Exhaustion in DnD 5e
Managing exhaustion in D&D is crucial to ensuring a character's survival and success in the game. One way to prevent exhaustion is to make sure characters get enough rest and supplies and to pace activities in-game to avoid overexertion. Planning ahead and bringing necessary reserves, magic items, and spells can also help prevent or manage exhaustion.
If a character does become exhausted, there are several ways to recover. Taking a long rest, using healing spells or potions, or seeking help from a cleric or other skilled healer are all effective ways to recover from exhaustion.
It's also important to note that certain spells, like Greater Restoration, can cure a single level. An item called the potion of vitality can cure all exhaustion levels, but it’s usually quite expensive and hard to find.
Managing exhaustion in D&D requires careful planning, awareness, and teamwork between players and the DM. With these strategies in mind, players can navigate the challenges of the game with confidence and success.
Does your D&D table use exhaustion at all?
Where do you sit on the new rules regarding exhaustion?
Don’t forget to leave a comment and subscribe below for more useful D&D content and resources.
Consider becoming a Patron to support my ongoing quest to create amazing D&D content for your games.