The centuries old dragon unfurls itself from the mirey bog. Thick, black ooze sloughs off from its tattered wings and the stench of the long-dead emanates throughout the beast’s home. You see the monster’s skeletal head emerge last as it turns towards your group, a chilling gaze of a creature which lost its sense of mercy long ago.
Fear is a fairly common adventuring theme in TTRPGs and that stays true for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition. Whether you’re running an explicitly horror-themed game or simply using fear as a tool to add tension to your game, adventurers often find themselves in frightening circumstances.
That all said, D&D 5e specifically has the Frightened Condition to signify either a deep, natural fear or supernaturally imposed reaction due to the use of magic.
This article covers what Frightened does in D&D 5e, how to use it in your game, various causes, and methods of curing it.
Without further ado, let’s start things off with what Frightened does in 5e.
What the Frightened Condition Does in D&D 5e
Frightened is a Condition in D&D 5e that makes fighting and adventuring more difficult through instilling fear in a creature. It makes attacking and succeeding Ability Checks harder and reduces a creatures movement options.
Basically, an effect, be that a spell or natural ability, may instill fear in a creature causing the Frightened Condition. This 5e Condition comes with a couple detriments to an affected creature.
Page 290 of the Player’s Handbook outlines the two effects of the Frightened Condition:
That’s all Frightened does in D&D 5e.
Becoming Frightened in D&D 5e:
- Imposes disadvantage on all attack rolls and ability checks while within line-of-sight of the source of your fear
- Prevents you from willingly moving closer to the source of your fear
It’s important to note "line-of-sight" and "willingly" here.
If the source of a creature’s fear leaves line-of-sight, such as through the use of the wall of stone spell, your attack rolls and ability checks would no longer be at disadvantage. That is, so long as whatever caused the Frightened Condition in the creature remain out of line-of-sight.
Now, "willingly" moving usually means a creature using its default movement speed. Spells and effects like failing the save for the thunderwave spell or the Pushing Attack maneuver for Battle Master Fighters forces a creature to move. This means a Frightened creature may still move closer to the source of their fear so long as they’re forced to.
I often have players ask about having advantage on Frightened creatures or if asking how they more. The Frightened Condition does neither of these things.
While Frightened, creatures DO NOT have advantage on attacks made against you nor does it stop you from moving. You may still move your full speed on your turn just not in the direction of the source of your fear.
Using Fear in Your 5e Game
You mostly use 5e’s Frightened Condition during combat, hindering either monsters or player characters through their fear. That said, Frightened is a potent tool Game Masters may use outside of combat as well.
5e’s Frightened Condition usually works best in combat encounters. Preventing a creature from getting closer is a great way to control the battlefield and disadvantage on both attacks and ability checks limits both damage output and survivability.
This is true for both monsters and player characters.
Remember; as a player, you may have traits, features, or spells that inflict the Frightened Condition on other creatures. It’s not just a tool for GMs. So, you can help your party through causing fear in your enemies.
That all said, as a Game Master, consider using the Frightened Condition outside of combat as well.
While most players tend to focus on the "disadvantage on attack rolls" part of Frightened, imposing disadvantage on Ability Checks poses a different kind of threat to your players. Suddenly, navigating a dungeon or overcoming an obstacle becomes much harder.
For example, maybe a large pit is only navigable by jumping across a series of platforms spaced just far enough apart to justify a Strength (Athletics) check. But, on the other side of the pit, a malevolent statue sits, filling the room with a magical, fear-causing effect. Assuming the player characters can’t fly (through spells or otherwise), the threat of missing a platform and taking fall damage becomes much more prevalent when subjected to the Frightened Condition.
That’s just one example, but you get the idea. Fear in D&D 5e isn’t exclusively useful in combat.
How to Cause Frightened in 5e
A variety of effects and abilities may cause Frightened in 5e. You’ll find effects that instill fear in creatures through racial traits, class features, spells, and monster abilities.
Causing the Frightened Condition in 5e is a great way for both players and GMs to control combat or increase the difficulty for obstacles. Luckily, 5e has a variety of ways to cause a creature to become Frightened.
Methods on how to cause Frightened in 5e include:
- Racial Traits
- Class Features
- Spell Effects
- Monster Abilities
For easy reference, check out my D&D abbreviations page for the source of each cause (and later, preventative).
Alright, let’s get into the causes of the Frightened Condition starting with racial traits.
Fear Causing Racial Traits
A couple of D&D 5e’s playable races have a natural trait that causes the Frightened Condition when activated.
I mean that literally. There’s only two races in all D&D 5e with a natural trait to cause another creature to become Frightened. Even better, they’re in separate sourcebooks. So, if you’re looking to optimize a fear build, you’re gonna need more than just the Player’s Handbook.
- Daunting Roar – Leonin (MOoT)
- Necrotic Shroud – Fallen Aasimar (VGtM)
Class Features that Cause Fear
A few classes in 5e have features that allow them to inflict the Frightened Condition on other creatures.
Luckily, you have quite a few options when it comes to causing fear with a class feature in 5e.
- Intimidating Presence – Barbarian: Path of the Berserker (PHB)
- Maneuvers: Menacing Attack – Fighter: Battle Master (PHB)
- Channel Divinity: Abjure Enemy & Avenging Angel – Paladin: Oath of Vengeance (PHB)
- Draconic Presence – Sorcerer: Draconic Bloodline Origin (PHB)
- Wild Magic Surge effect – Sorcerer: Wild Magic Origin (PHB)
- Fey Presence & Dark Delirium – Warlock: Archfey Patron (PHB)
- Hour of Reaping – Monk: Way of the Long Death (SCAG)
- Words of Terror – Bard: College of Whispers (XGtE)
- Channel Divinity: Conquering Presence – Paladin: Oath of Conquest (XGtE)
Spells that Cause Fear
Possibly the easiest and most reliable way of causing fear for player characters is through the casting of spells.
That said, this method of inflicting the Frightened Condition requires you play a specific spellcasting class. But luckily, each class with the ability to cast spells (with the exception of Artificer) has at least one spell that causes fear. Some might just be higher level spells than others.
- Cause Fear – 1st-level Warlock & Wizard spell (XGtE)
- Wrathful Smite – 1st-level Paladin spell (PHB)
- Fear – 3rd-level Bard, Sorcerer, Warlock, Wizard, & Paladin: Oath of Conquest spell (PHB)
- Summon Shadowspawn – 3rd-level Warlock & Wizard spell (TCoE)
- Summon Undead – 3rd-level Warlock & Wizard spell (TCoE)
- Phantasmal Killer – 4th-level Wizard, Warlock: Hexblade Patron, & Warlock: Genie Patron spell (PHB)
- Eyebite – 6th-level Bard, Sorcerer, Warlock, & Wizard spell (PHB)
- Symbol – 7th-level Bard, Cleric & Wizard spell (PHB)
- Antipathy/Sympathy – 8th-level Druid & Wizard spell (PHB)
- Illusory Dragon – 8th-level Wizard spell (XGtE)
- Weird – 9th-level Wizard spell (PHB)
Monsters that Cause Fear
Certain monsters have natural abilities that can cause the Frightened Condition in player characters.
Game Masters have a wealth of monsters with the ability to cause a player character to become Frightened. Even better, they run the gamut of levels. So, you have the option to use a monster in combat at pretty much and level of play in 5e.
Now, that all said, this list only includes creatures from the Monster Manual because I feel like the list would be much too long otherwise.
- Adult & Ancient Black Dragon
- Adult & Ancient Blue Dragon
- Adult & Ancient Brass Dragon
- Adult & Ancient Bronze Dragon
- Adult & Ancient Copper Dragon
- Adult & Ancient Gold Dragon
- Adult & Ancient Green Dragon
- Adult & Ancient Red Dragon
- Adult & Ancient Silver Dragon
- Adult & Ancient White Dragon
- Beholder Zombie
- Death Tyrant
- Dracolich Template
- Mummy Lord
- Pit Fiend
- Shadow Dragon Template
- Unnerving Mask
Resisting the Frightened Condition
Having an ability to avoid suffering the Frightened Condition comes in handy when needed. Be it through explicit immunity or having advantage on saving throws against fear, you have a variety of options to resist becoming Frightened in 5e.
Often, abilities that cause the Frightened Condition force an afflicted creature to roll a Wisdom Saving Throw. So, I counted traits, features, and spells that grant a bonus to these saves, usually through gaining advantage on the roll.
Fear Resisting Racial Traits
Some player races in D&D 5e have natural traits that aid them in resisting becoming Frightened.
The following D&D 5e racial traits may help in resisting the Frightened Condition, either directly or through related saving throws:
- Brave – Halfling (PHB)
- Dual Mind – Kalashtar (E:RftLW)
- Gnome Cunning – Gnome (PHB)
- Leviathan Will – Locathah (LR)
- Loxodon Serenity – Loxodon (GGtR)
- Saving Face – Hobgoblin (VGtM, E:RftLW)
- Magic Resistance – Satyr (MOoT)
- Magic Resistance – Yuan-ti Pureblood (VGtM)
- Mental Discipline – Githzerai (MToF)
- Telepathic Insight – Verdan (AcInc)
- Vedalken Dispassion – Vedalken (GGtR)
Class Features that Resist Fear
A few of D&D 5e’s classes have features to help player characters resist the Frightened Condition.
- Mindless Rage – Barbarian: Path of the Berserker (PHB)
- Bardic Inspiration & Countercharm – Bard (PHB)
- Nature’s Ward – Druid: Circle of the Land (PHB)
- Indomitable – Fighter (PHB)
- Stillness of Mind – Monk (PHB)
- Aura of Courage – Paladin (PHB)
- Slippery Mind – Rogue (PHB)
- Dark One’s Own Luck – Warlock: Fiend Patron (PHB)
- Portent & Greater Portent – Wizard: School of Divination (PHB)
- Bulwark – Fighter: Purple Dragon Knight (SCAG)
- Exalted Champion – Paladin: Oath of the Crown (SCAG)
- Fanatical Focus & Zealous Presence – Barbarian: Path of the Zealot (XGtE)
- Experimental Elixir option – Artificer: Alchemist Specialist (TCoE)
- Emboldening Bond – Cleric: Peace Domain (TCoE)
- Channel Divinity: Twilight Sanctuary – Cleric: Twilight Domain (TCoE)
- Fungal Body – Druid: Circle of Spores (TCoE)
- Guarded Mind – Fighter: Psi Warrior (TCoE)
- Living Legend – Paladin: Oath of Glory (TCoE)
- Beguiling Twist – Ranger: Fey Wanderer Archetype (TCoE)
- Psychic Defenses – Sorcerer: Aberrant Mind Origin (TCoE)
- Eldritch Invocation: Protection of the Talisman – Warlock (TCoE)
Spells to Resist Fear
Spellcasters have some options to end the Frightened Condition for a creature.
- Calm Emotions – 2nd-level Bard, Cleric, Paladin: Oath of Redemption, & Warlock: Archfey Patron spell (PHB)
- Dispel Evil and Good – 5th-level Cleric & Paladin spell (PHB)
- Power Word Heal – 9th-level Bard & Cleric spell (PHB)
Creatures with Immunity to Fear
Many monsters in D&D 5e have an immunity against the Frightened Condition, meaning they can not suffer this Condition under normal circumstances.
Here is a list of monsters from D&D’s Basic Rules that have an Immunity to the Frightened Condition:
- Animated Armor
- Black Pudding
- Clay Golem
- Flesh Golem
- Flying Sword
- Gelatinous Cube
- Gray Ooze
- Iron Golem
- Mummy Lord
- Ochre Jelly
- Rug of Smothering
- Shield Guardian
- Stone Golem
- Swarm of Rats
- Swarm of Bats
- Swarm of Poisonous Snakes
- Swarm of Quippers
- Swarm of Ravens
- Swarm or Insects
- Violet Fungus
- Vox Seeker
5e Frightened FAQ
How Long Does the Frightened Condition Last?
The Frightened Condition in 5e lasts as long as the spell, trait, or feature states, either running out after an allotted amount of time or once a creature saves against the effect.
Every effect that causes a creature to become Frightened in 5e has a set time limit, usually measured in minutes but may state something like "until the start of your next turn".
Does Frightened Break Concentration?
Rules as written, no. 5e’s Frightened Condition does not break Concentration.
The rules for breaking concentration include casting another spell that requires concentration, taking damage, and becoming incapacitated or killed. That said, the PHB also includes a caveat that GMs may rule certain, unlisted effects like clinging to the back of a nose-diving dragon could force a creature to make a concentration check. So, you could argue that a strong enough fear, like from an entirely unnatural effect outside of the usual magics or abilities, may force a concentration check from a creature.
Just remember; rules-as-written and by default, becoming Frightened in 5e does not force a creature to lose concentration.
Summary of 5e’s Frightened Condition
That’s about it on everything you need to know to start using the Frightened Condition in your 5e game.
Frightened is one of 5e’s conditions that imposes disadvantage on a creatures attack rolls and Ability Checks as well as preventing them from willingly approaching the source of their fear. It’s usually used in combat to hinder both player characters and monsters, but also works well while the party explores an area to add heightened tension and difficulty to obstacles. Finally, there are a variety of ways to cause the Frightened Condition in 5e and an equally numerous number of methods to cure it.
As a player, have you played a character who emphasized instilling fear in their enemies? And, as a GM, how often do you use the Frightened Condition against your player characters? Leave a comment below!
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2 thoughts on “The Frightened Condition in D&D 5e: A Beginner’s Guide”
5e can’t do horror. In a world where everyone sees in the dark and there is little threat of death most of the classic horror tropes just don’t work. Add to that a lack of any type of sanity system and the fact OP character abilities encourage combat more than past editions and it just becomes more work for the DM than the lackluster payoff is worth.
I agree there are much better systems for horror like Paranoia or Call of Cthulhu. But, I wouldn’t say 5e can’t do horror, just it’s not the best or even a great system for it. After all, Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft is basically an entire book on how to run various different horror genres in 5e.
I’ve found body horror works especially well since it doesn’t rely on the party’s ability to deal with a thing. Just being in the presence of a grotesque creature is sometimes enough. Also, fear of the unknown, an easy trope to include in any game regardless of system, still works if a GM omits specific information about the monster.
Horror is also heavily reliant on a GM’s ability to describe the setting. An empty chair in the middle of a room with a half-constructed wooden doll with sticks coming out of its otherwise empty eye sockets isn’t a combat encounter, just unsettling.