Dungeons & Dragons: Exhaustion Explained

While Dungeons & Dragons is a game filled with deadly monsters and powerful magic, one of the most feared mechanics in the game is Exhaustion. Unlike some mechanics that are designated to function either in or out of combat, Exhaustion can potentially hinder a character in every area of the game.

Unlike the majority of other status effects in the game, Exhaustion is rather complex, featuring a variety of worsening penalties as the status worsens. So to help newcomers to D&D and those unfamiliar with how this mechanic functions in the game's Fifth Edition, we'll be exploring everything you need to know about Exhaustion.

How Exhaustion Is Gained And Removed

As Exhaustion is among the most dangerous and punishing statuses that can be gained in D&D, there are only a handful of ways it can be gained, with only a single spell in the game that is capable of afflicting a creature with exhaustion; the fourth-level evocation spell, Sickening Radiance. Outside this spell, Exhaustion is primarily gained if a creature experiences particularly grueling physical activity or if a creature refuses to sleep. Notably, if a creature goes 24 hours without taking a long rest, that creature must succeed in a Constitution saving throw or gain a level of exhaustion, with the DC of this save increasing based on the number of days that creature had gone without resting. Other sources of exhaustion can be if a character doesn't eat or drink enough or if they spend time in a severe or harsh environment such as an extreme cold. Additionally, for those playing a Barbarian of the Berserker subclass, the use of the Frenzy ability provides a character with Exhaustion.

While Exhaustion can be a pain to deal with, removing Exhaustion is quite simple. Whenever a character with Exhaustion finished a long rest, they remove one level of Exhaustion.

First Level

Exhaustion's horrible descent is a gradual one. Unlike other status effects, exhaustion comes in stages with cumulative effects that cause this status to worsen as it progresses. If a creature has a single level of Exhaustion, they make all skill checks at disadvantage. While this can be a pain outside of combat, it's far from the worst penalty, as it has little to no impact on a character's ability to perform in combat.

Second Level

When the second level of Exhaustion is gained, it is when this effect starts to become noticeable. This is because, with two levels of exhaustion, a character's movement speed is halved, meaning the vast majority of characters will be unable to move more than fifteen feet each turn in combat unless their action is spent to dash. This can often make combat a huge headache, as a character's maneuverability is significantly limited.

Third Level

When the third level of Exhaustion is gained, a character should start doing everything in their power to start removing their Exhaustion. This is because this level of Exhaustion begins a horrible death spiral that makes it easier to gain additional points of Exhaustion. As long as a character has three or more levels of Exhaustion, not only do they make attack rolls at disadvantage, but they also make saving throws at disadvantage. As a significant number of Exhaustion sources require a character to make a saving throw, a character is more likely to start succumbing to this status once it reaches this stage.

Fourth Level

If a character reaches their Fourth Level of exhaustion, things are likely going to be getting worse before they get better. As long as a character has four or more levels of Exhaustion, that character's maximum HP is halved. This greatly increases the chances that a character will fall in battle or potentially even be taken down by a single hit. This hit point reduction can be devastating to even the bulkiest of Barbarians, and it's highly advised to avoid combat when afflicted with four or more levels of Exhaustion.

Fifth Level

If a character is afflicted with five levels of Exhaustion, if they aren't being taken care of by their allies, there's a strong chance that they won't be surviving. This is because in addition to the previously mentioned penalties Exhaustion provides, if a character has five levels of this status, their movement speed is reduced to 0. While the halved movement speed of two levels was a pain, being incapable of moving at all is a death sentence, especially in combat. As a character with five levels of exhaustion is incapable of moving, the most effective thing they can do is attempt to take a long rest and hope that a member of their party can carry them to safety.

Sixth Level

One of the reasons that Exhaustion is so feared in Dungeons & Dragons is that upon gaining the sixth level of exhaustion, a character immediately dies. This means that for all intents and purposes, Exhaustion is easily the deadliest status in the game, functioning as a creeping counter towards a character's death unless the proper steps are taken to remove it. Luckily, as mentioned, very few spells and monsters are capable of afflicting adventurers with Exhaustion, meaning that with the proper precautions, Exhaustion will rarely lead to a character's death.

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