Published on December 18, 2023, Last modified on February 9th, 2024
Explore the frightened condition in D&D 5e, what it does, effects that cause it, and strategies for using and beating the condition.
Anato Finnstark - Wizards of the Coast - Fear of Death
Table of Contents
- Frightened in D&D
- What is the Frightened Condition?
- Key Aspects of the Frightened Condition
- Causes of the Frightened Condition
- Overcoming the Frightened Condition
Frightened in D&D
Dungeons & Dragons 5e is filled with various conditions that can affect gameplay, and understanding these conditions is one of the most impactful tactics DMs and players can use in combat.
The frightened condition is common when encountering powerful opponents such as dragons and devils, or when employing illusory magic. Let’s delve into the mechanics, implications, and strategies surrounding the frightened condition in D&D 5e.
What is the Frightened Condition?
According to the Basic Rules, when a creature is frightened, it experiences the following effects:
- A frightened creature has disadvantage on ability checks and attack rolls while the source of its fear is within line of sight.
- The creature can’t willingly move closer to the source of its fear.
The frightened condition in 5e significantly limits a creature’s combat effectiveness and decision-making.
Getting disadvantage on attack rolls and ability checks is a huge pain for martial characters, who usually rely on attack rolls for damage. Casters, on the other hand, can easily overcome the condition’s worst effect by simply casting spells requiring saving throws.
While the disadvantage on ability checks isn’t a particularly big downside, there are some instances in which it can be utilized against the frightened creature:
- Grappling: Grappling involves contested Strength (Athletics) checks, and a creature with disadvantage is more likely to lose this contest, making it easier for opponents to immobilize or even restrain them.
- Hiding and Stealth: If a frightened creature attempts to use the Hide action, the disadvantage on Dexterity (Stealth) checks makes it more likely to fail.
- Environmental Interaction: Many interactions with the environment, such as climbing, swimming, or keeping balance, require ability checks. A frightened creature facing challenging terrain or trying to navigate hazards like slippery surfaces or narrow ledges will have a harder time.
Additionally, the condition prevents the creature from willingly moving closer to the source of its fear, which can be strategically limiting, especially for melee-focused characters. This restriction in movement can force the creature into suboptimal positions on the battlefield, potentially isolating it from allies or exposing it to danger.
Key Aspects of the Frightened Condition
Can You Attack While Frightened?
Yes, a frightened creature can still attack, but it does so with disadvantage as long as the source of its fear is in sight.
Impact on Spellcasting
Spellcasters can still cast spells while frightened. However, if the spell requires an attack roll and the source of fear is visible, the caster will have to make that roll with disadvantage.
Seeing as the frightened creature cannot willingly move closer to the source of its fear, this can be used as an effective way to create distance between your foes. Once they’re frightened, you can simply back up until they can’t hit you or are out of range of their spells and effects.
You could also use this to box a creature into harmful environmental or AoE effects, like an ally’s moonbeam or stinking cloud.
Causes of the Frightened Condition
Various spells, and abilities available to player characters and other creatures can induce fear. For example:
Spells that Cause the Frightened Condition
- Cause Fear: This 1st-level necromancy spell targets one creature and instills a deep, sudden fear. If the target fails a Wisdom saving throw, it becomes frightened of the caster for the duration.
- Wrathful Smite: When a paladin hits with a melee weapon as part of this 1st-level evocation spell, the target must make a Wisdom saving throw or be frightened until the spell ends.
- Fear: This 3rd-level illusion spell creates a cone of terrifying magic. Any creature in the area must succeed on a Wisdom saving throw or drop whatever it is holding and become frightened for the duration. While frightened by this spell, a creature must take the Dash action and move away from the caster by the safest available route on each of its turns.
- Phantasmal Killer: This 4th-level illusion spell taps into a creature’s deepest fears, manifesting them as an illusory manifestation. The target must make a Wisdom saving throw or become frightened for the duration, suffering 4d10 psychic damage each turn while the spell lasts.
Monster Abilities that Cause the Frightened Condition
- Dragon’s Frightful Presence: Most adult dragons have the ability to instill fear in those around them. When a dragon uses this ability as an action, each creature of the dragon’s choice within a certain radius and aware of the dragon must succeed on a Wisdom saving throw or become frightened for a minute.
- Lich’s Frightening Gaze: A lich can target one creature it can see within 10 feet of it. If the target fails a Wisdom saving throw, it is frightened until the end of the lich’s next turn.
- Banshee’s Horrifying Visage: This ability allows a banshee to frighten creatures within 60 feet of it. Those who fail a Wisdom saving throw are frightened for 1 minute.
- Oath of Conquest Paladin’s Conquering Presence: This 3rd-level Channel Divinity option creates an aura that forces enemies within a 30-foot radius to make a Wisdom saving throw or become frightened. This is made more potent at 7th level, when Oath of Conquest paladins gain Aura of Conquest, which extends in a 10-foot radius from them and drops the speed of creatures who are frightened in this aura to 0. It also deals damage equal to half their paladin level to creatures that start their turn within the radius.
- College of Whispers Bard’s Words of Terror: This ability allows the bard to instill deep fear into a creature during a 1-minute conversation, potentially causing it to be frightened.
Overcoming the Frightened Condition
Beyond passing a saving throw, here are some spells to overcome the frightened condition:
- Heroism: This 1st-level enchantment spell imbues a creature with bravery. The affected individual is immune to being frightened—therefore resolving the frightened condition if the target has it—among receiving temporary hit points each round.
- Protection from Evil and Good: If you’re heading into a fight against aberrations, celestials, elementals, fey, fiends, and undead, this 1st-level abjuration spell can make you immune to becoming frightened by them. It also gives you advantage on your saving throw against the frightened condition if you are already afflicted by it.
- Calm Emotions: This 2nd-level enchantment spell can suppress strong emotions in creatures within a 20-foot radius. When cast, it can negate the effects of being frightened, and the save can be failed willingly, allowing for an efficient way to end the frightened or charmed condition in multiple party members.
- Lesser Restoration: A versatile 2nd-level abjuration spell that can be used to end one condition afflicting a creature.
- Beacon of Hope: This 3rd-level abjuration spell doesn’t directly remove the frightened condition, but it can provide advantage on Wisdom saving throws, which are common with frighten effects.
- Dispel Evil and Good: This high-level abjuration spell is pretty costly to remove the frightened condition at a 5th-level spell slot, but it may be necessary.
- Heroes’ Feast: This 6th-level conjuration spell may not be effective for resolving the frightened condition, but it can allow you and 11 other creatures to become immune to the condition for 24 hours.
- Power Word Heal: If you’re a high-level player and you’re frightened and hurt, this 9th-level evocation spell restores all your hit points and ends the frightened (among other) conditions.
Frightened 5e FAQs
Does the Frightned Condition Make Creatures Run Away?
No. When frightened, creatures can't move closer to the source of the fear, but they don't have to run away.
Can Barbarians Be Frightened When Raging in 5e?
Only Path of the Berserker (6th-level) and Path of the Juggernaut (14th-level) barbarians get immunity to the frightened condition while raging.
Can Undead Be Frightened in 5e?
While most undead aren't immune to the frightened condition, some more powerful undead, like liches, or incorporeal undead, like shadows and ghosts, are immune to being frightened.
Get a Hold of Yourself
The frightened condition in D&D 5e is an interesting condition. While it certainly can be a hindrance, it’s not a brutal condition that can take a creature entirely out of the fight. This allows players to have to strategize to overcome the condition rather than simply accepting their fate and waiting until their condition is resolved. Maybe they’ll spend their frightened turns healing allies, or perhaps they’ll run and Hide to try to gain advantage on attacks, thereby negating the disadvantage.
Either way, this is by far one of my favorite conditions to throw at players, and I hope this guide allows you to use it more effectively in your games.