What Is the Frightened Condition in Dungeons and Dragons 5e?
The Frightened condition is a debuff (penalty) your player can gain in certain situations. While affected, you have disadvantage on ability checks and attack rolls while the source of your fear is within sight. You also can not willingly move closer to the source of your fear.
The Frightened condition is a rather… frightening… condition to have bestowed on you. I mean, look at it! Disadvantage on pretty much every roll that matters for the duration? Dat’s skurry.
This is normally the part of the post where I would say something like, “Luckily, you won’t have to face this too often except in very specific circumstances,” except I won’t.
I hope you aren’t scared of big words because this condition is ubiquitous.
There are many spells that can be used against you to cause the Frightened condition, and there are many, many monsters that can just make you Frightened without needing a spell.
Simply put, you need to know about this condition, how to prevent it, how to use it against your foes, and how to completely demoralize and destroy the players at your tab – uh… I mean… how to… use this in a completely fair and objective way as a DM.
Who Will Try To Kill Me With This Ability?
Everyone. Next Question.
Seriously though, there are a ton of monsters with the ability to intimidate and/or cause the frightened condition, some using spells and some just because they’re big, creepy, or both.
Instead of an exhaustive list, consider it fair to say that any and all dragons, most advanced undead (not your average skeleton or zombie), fey, and higher-level fiends can all cause you to give your very best impression of a six-year-old facing down a birthday clown with personal space issues.
An Ounce of Prevention Is Worth a Pound of Cure
The best way to deal with the Frightened condition is to be prepared against it.
The best way is to make sure you have a high wisdom-saving throw, as the Frightened condition most often occurs after failing one of those. Second would be a charisma save.
Another easy way is to have a bard or a paladin in the party. At 6th level, bards get the countercharm ability, which gives the bard and their allies advantage against the Frightened condition.
Paladins gain the Aura of Courage ability at 10th level, which grants immunity.
In addition to these general class abilities, there are a number of spells, subclasses, and even two races that either grant advantage, grant immunity, or dispel the effect altogether.
If anything in these lists look familiar to your character, take a second glance, and make sure you are prepared.
With the abilities below, you can keep yourself or your party calm and collected instead of running away and changing into your brown pants.
- Fey Wanderer
- Circle of The Land
- Circle of Spores
- Aberrant Mind
- Psi Warrior
- Path of the Berserker
- Calm Emotions
- Protection from Good and Evil
- Dispel Evil and Good
- Hero’s Feast
- Aura of Purity
- Power Word Heal
What Do I Do if I Am Frightened?
Run away, usually. But that isn’t all if you’re smart. And I know you’re smart because you are reading a Black Citadel RPG post, you genius!
If you find yourself stuck in the Frightened condition or your party members are stuck and there is no way to get out, remember that the rules say you have disadvantage on ability checks and attack rolls.
This means that skill checks are pretty much out the window, but if you can somehow maneuver to give yourself advantage on an attack, the two conditions will cancel each other out, and you will just roll an attack like normal.
This is a lot like working on something you know you are good at when you have that looming project in the back of your mind that you’ve been putting off forever. Do what you know you can do while you can do it. Play it safe.
Alternatively, you could do things that don’t require a roll, like interact with an item or cast magic missile.
If you’ve been putting off doing something menial like taking a healing potion or casting a buffing spell on your party, now is the time to do so.
My Turn: How Can I Impose the Frightened Condition on My Enemies?
The great thing about Dungeons and Dragons 5e is that you don’t just fight monsters, but you can become one, too! You don’t just have to run in fear, but you can be the playground bully you’ve always wanted to be.
Sometimes your characters need therapy; sometimes they are the reasons others need therapy. Either way, the bard and the cleric can stay in business.
There are several ways to subject your foes to this embarrassing and debilitating condition.
Again, the list is too long to spell out each individual ability, so read it over and see if any of these apply to you or anyone else at your table.
- Dragonborn – Through the Dragon Fear feat
- Fallen Aasimar (Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes)
- Eladrin (Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes)
- Oath of Conquest
- Oath of Vengeance
- College of Whispers
- Way of Ascendant Dragon
- Path of the Berserker
- Draconic Origin
- The Archfey
- Cause Fear
- Wrathful Smite
- Phantasmal Killer
- Summon Shadowspawn
- Summon Undead
- Illusory Dragon
- Summon Draconic Spirit
Dastardly Dice Throws From a Devious DM
So… It’s time to put the players to bed. If you are not a DM, you are not allowed to read this. Nighty night, sweet dreams, don’t worry about the boogeyman.
For the boogey-persons:
There are many ways to make your players Frightened without relying on the mechanics of monsters and magic.
Check out chapter 9 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide or the entirety of Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft.
Both of them detail how to use fear and horror in your campaign if that is a genre you want to allow. Here a list of tips and tricks to work into your table if that’s your bag of bones.
Get your player’s consent. They need to know they are in a horror-genre story before you spring the nasty on them. It’s just good table etiquette.
The point of fear is that it is disempowering and takes away player agency. It is very hard to do that and still have fun.
Have your players work fears and phobias into their backstory. Ask them what makes their character uncomfortable and why? Tight spaces? Spiders?
Make them keep a list at character creation. Then later you can put them in situations to trigger a saving throw vs. being Frightened. A DC of 10 – 15 is usually a good starting point depending on intensity.
See Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft for more on this.
Give your players rewards for roleplaying giving in to their fear. If their characters are afraid of heights and they turn to fight a foe at the edge of a cliff instead of trusting the wizard to cast feather fall when the party jumps, reward that.
They are exploring their options and being creative. This leads directly to Number 4.
Give your players rewards for roleplaying facing their fear. If that same character who was afraid of heights, instead jumps off the cliff because they trust the wizard to cast feather fall, reward them for that, too.
This is a win-win situation because you can make it rain XP either way, and that is always fun.
Allow players to pep talk each other concerning their fear. If the dwarf who can’t swim is psyching himself up to jump in the water, and the halfling yells, “C’mon, man, you got this!”, then give the dwarf an inspiration die as they roll against being Frightened of the water.
That won’t help against the Kraken, but… whatever.
Fear and the Frightened condition are just tools to have fun and tell stories.
While the Frightened condition is a difficult mechanic to use as it can make the players feel powerless, it offers you a chance to tell a great story where the conflicts aren’t always external and the rewards aren’t always material.