Dungeons and Dragons’ Frightened 5e condition can reduce even the doughtiest Dungeons and Dragons treasure-seekers to trembling wrecks. Sure, your DnD 5e party is so brave (or foolish) that you’ll willingly delve into lightless, trap-laden dungeons – but become Frightened at the wrong moment, and you’ll all be dusty bones. Here’s how the Frightened condition works in DnD 5e; how to avoid it; and how to turn fear to your advantage.
The Frightened DnD condition represents a powerful, visceral fear that leaves a character trembling. Only certain DnD spells, DnD magic items, and special abilities can impose the Frightened condition. Your Dungeons and Dragons character can resist these abilities by making a successful wisdom save, giving strong-willed characters and monsters the chance to shrug it off.
As long as they have line of sight to the source of their fear, a frightened character suffers disadvantage on ability checks and attack rolls. They also can’t move closer to the thing that frightened them. Running away doesn’t end the frightened condition before its normal duration, but will mean the character doesn’t suffer any adverse effects.
As spells and abilities that might cause the frightened effect can be resisted if the target can pass a Wisdom save, these tricks work best on enemies – or adventurers – with dull wits. DnD Fighters and DnD Barbarians are at higher risk of becoming afraid, as they don’t have proficiency in Wisdom saves.
Best spells to cause the Frightened 5e condition
First level DnD Warlock Hexblades and second level Paladin 5e characters can pick the first level spell Wrathful Smite. This concentration spell enhances the caster’s melee attack with a psychic aura. The next time they land a hit, their target suffers d6 Psychic damage and must pass a Wisdom save or be frightened of the caster until the spell ends. The target can sacrifice their action and to attempt another Wisdom save to shake the effect. This is a great way to disable a dangerous but weak-willed DnD monsters – like ogres, trolls, or hill giants – ruining their combat prowess for up to a minute.
Xanathar’s Guide to Everything includes the first level Necromancy spell Cause Fear, available to Warlocks and Wizard 5e characters. This ranged concentration spell forces a target within 60 feet to pass a Wisdom save or become frightened of the caster for up to one minute.
This spell lets you shatter the resolve of a caster or archer hiding at the back of the battlefield, but the target gets a free attempt to recover their resolve at the end of each of their turns. Take advantage of their broken nerves while you can.
The Illusion school of magic has multiple spells that will frighten enemies, starting with the third level spell Fear. This affects every single enemy within a 30-foot cone. Those that fail their Wisdom save are not only frightened, but must attempt to dash away from the caster, and can only try to save again once they can no longer see the source of the spell.
This is an extremely effective tool for dispersing a mob of melee enemies. Your allies may get attacks of opportunity as the terrified enemies break from combat, and those that hold fast can be ganged up on and despatched while their comrades are cowering.
Items and feats that inflict the Frightened condition
A character that is proficient with wind instruments (which probably means your party’s DnD Bard, but perhaps the Dwarf Fighter was a military bagpiper before they started adventuring) can use the Pipes of Haunting, an uncommon magic item. The sound of these eerie pipes is so awful that creatures within 30 feet must pass a Wisdom save or become frightened for a minute, though they can attempt to shake the effect every turn.
The rare Mace of Terror and Wand of Fear have effects very similar to the Fear spell, forcing creatures to flee as well as become Frightened.
Xanathar’s Guide to Everything gives Dragonborn characters access to the Dragon Fear feat. This replaces their Dragonbreath ability with a terrifying roar. Creatures of the player’s choice within 30’ are affected by the frightened condition for a minute. Targets get one chance to resist, unless they take damage, in which case they can try and recover their nerves.
5e monsters immune to the frightened condition
Creatures without minds are totally immune to the Frightened condition. Oozes, most constructs, many undead, plants, and fiends can’t be frightened for this reason.
Strong-willed creatures are resistant to being frightened, as they’re more likely to pass the Wisdom saves associated with fear-causing magic. Dragons and fiends often have proficiency in wisdom saves, representing their contemptuous self-regard and sharp wits. Weak-willed creatures don’t survive to become the reality-shattering demi-gods, demons and elder-dragons at the top of the Challenge Rating table, reflected in very high Wisdom scores.
At lower CRs there can be a disparity between a creature’s physical prowess and its Wisdom save – mighty Ogres and Hill-Giants may be reduced to cowering wrecks by an underleveled party with the right spells and magic items.
Some monsters don’t have sharp wits, but they do have two brains, and that’s good enough. The Ettin, a giant with a Wisdom modifier of just +0, has advantage on saving throws against being frightened, as do the two-headed Owlbear, Plesiosaurus, and Crocodile that show up in the supplemental products Infernal Machine Rebuild and The Tortle Package.