Exhaustion 5E | D&D’s Secret Second Health Bar

exhaustion 5e

A little-used mechanic in Dungeons & Dragons 5E is Exhaustion. Exhaustion is the most devastating condition that 5E offers. Your body, after so long without rest or after a huge amount of stain, starts to simply stop working. Not even heroes can escape a death by overworking, though it might take them a lot longer to get to that point. If a hero starts suffering even one level of exhaustion, it’s recommended that they start trying to rest ASAP, because exhaustion stacks quickly. To see the devastating effects and the (few) ways to cure it, check out our Exhaustion 5E guide!

Exhaustion 5E

Exhaustion is a condition as devastating as it is rare. So few effects actually apply exhaustion; it’s typically just a result of staying up for too long, walking too far, or staying in really awful weather effects for too long. There is a class ability that applies exhaustion as well; the Berserker’s Frenzy. So, if you’re preparing to trek through a desert or tundra, it’s recommended that you consider the exhaustion rules… and maybe bring a few sleeping bags, just for safety!

Levels of Exhaustion

Whenever a PC gains exhaustion, they gain it in levels. There are 6 total levels of exhaustion. A character with more than one level of exhaustion gains all lower level effects. You can get more than one level of exhaustion per exhaustion-inducing effect, if the effect is potent enough.

Level 1

At level 1, you have disadvantage on ability checks. These are just for skill checks and stuff, but this is already pretty devastating. You’re winded and out-of breath, unable to even attempt to roll knowledge checks at full capacity. Thankfully, this has minimal effects in combat, so you can comfortably take 1 level of exhaustion without ruining your ability to kill others. That’s great news for the Frenzy Barbarian, though they’ll have trouble opening doors afterwards.

Level 2

At level 2, your speed is halved. Now, you’re starting to take problematic penalties. You’re slower to move around or travel. If you’re a melee character, your day is basically over. Not having access to your full movement speed is absolutely crippling to combat. Try to use a ranged weapon to avoid this penalty.

Thankfully, in most cases, you can kind of ignore this during travel. You should have a mount or carriage of some sort to carry you. So, your travel capabilities only get hampered if you’re on foot.

Level 3

At level 3, you get disadvantage on attack rolls and saving throws. Now it’s pretty difficult to ignore the penalties. You still can, if you’re a DC-based caster, but you’re opening yourself up to awful saving throws. And if you’re a non-caster, then you’re officially much, much less useful in combat. You either need to find a way to get advantage (ASAP), or you need to rest.

Level 4

At level 4, your maximum HP is halved. Nothing can ignore this. Try as you might to avoid getting hit, you take damage often in 5E. Now, any damage you take is basically doubled. That’s devastating! You’ll get downed all the time. It’s critical that you avoid the frontlines of combat, and get rest. There’s no more delaying that, because the next level will be deadly.

Level 5

At level 5, your speed is reduced to 0. You literally cannot move. If you have magic cast on you to make you fly or levitate or something, you might be able to ignore this? But realistically, you’re going nowhere. This is a death sentence if applied to the entire party, and even if one character is Exhausted 5, they’re basically a huge paperweight.

Level 6

At level 6, you are dead. No getting around that. At level 5, you might have been killed in a combat beforehand, but now the elements themselves have claimed you. Plain and simple.

Healing Exhaustion

You can only heal exhaustion after a long rest (at a rate of one level per rest) or with Greater Restoration. That’s it. 8 hours of sleep or a fifth-level spell, all to remove one level of exhaustion. Being tired is painful! Greater Restoration also removes curses or ability score drain, supernatural things that literally ebb your life source. That’s crazy!

That’s why it’s so important to make sure your Exhaustion doesn’t get out-of-control. It’s nearly impossible to get rid of, and the effects can be deadly!

Conclusions on Exhaustation 5E

Exhaustion is an absolutely devastating debilitation, which is fun to use, but should be used sparingly. It’s really annoying to get rid of, has little counterplay (without a good amount of preparation), and takes a bit of paperwork. Keep exhaustion in mind whenever you’re going to an awful place, but don’t expect it to appear whenever you are out and about.

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