Before we begin, a bit of a disclaimer – I do not think that laughing at deaf people is funny or acceptable in real life. In this article, I portray deafness as a possible source of comedy at the end, but only because of how a party member portrayed it with their facial expressions, word choice, volume, and mannerisms. I apologize if this viewpoint offends anyone – it is not meant to have that effect.
The official description of deafened for 5e is as follows: (Source – Roll20)
- A deafened creature can not hear, and automatically fails any ability check that requires hearing.
Causes of Deafened:
Deafened is caused by several spells, magic items, and miscellaneous actions. In the case of my DM, Thunder damage also has a chance to apply Deafened if we fail a constitution saving throw.
- Blindness/Deafness (2nd Level) [Player’s Handbook Pg 219]
- Silence (2nd level) [Player’s Handbook Pg 275]
- Warding Wind (2nd level) [Elemental Evil Player’s Companion Pg 170]
- Mislead (5th level illusion spell found in the Player’s Handbook Pg 260)
- Project Image (7th level) [Player’s Handbook Pg 270]
- Divine Word (7th level) [Player’s Handbook Pg 234]
- Storm of Vengeance (9th level) [Player’s Handbook Pg 279]
- The Staff of Thunder and Lightning – Thunderclap (Found on Pg 204 of Dungeon Master’s Guide)
- Artifact Minor Detrimental Properties (51-55) [“While Attuned to the artifact, you are deafened when you move more than 10 feet away from it.”] (Source: DMG page 220)
- Horn of Blasting (Source: DMG page 175)
- Long Term Madness 56-65 (Source DMG page 260)
- Dynamite exploding very close to you
- A Lingering Injury
- [Homebrew] Thunder damage Attacks
How Deafened Can Be Used for Storytelling:
Deafened has a lot of storytelling opportunities where it can come into play. As I mentioned above, my DM associates this condition with thunder damage. One such thunder source that threw our group for a loop is in the module, Dragon of Icespire peak. Of course, I’m referring to Gorthok the Thunder Boar.
Typically, the deafened condition isn’t applied by the boar. However, our DM decided to put an extra spin on that fight, as we were wiping the floor with everything up to that point. Each blast of thunder had a constitution saving throw check, and if we failed, we became deafened. It made communicating with our party for what we wanted to do challenging, and our teamwork fell apart as we had no way of knowing what we each planned to do.
Maybe something to consider for your group in the future if they are feeling a bit too relaxed in their roles?
As for non-combat situations, the deaf condition can be used to create comedic skits where you have an older shopkeeper who is hard of hearing, and he would say, “I’m sorry, son, could you speak up?” and “What?!” This is the typical roleplaying situation that people default to, but it is a good one.
Perhaps you have a rogue in your party who is trying to steal a valuable artifact from a noble, and he makes a mistake and drops a breakable vase. It shatters. Yet the noble doesn’t stir? Well, perhaps that noble was deaf? Safe!
What Counters Deafened?
There is a surprisingly small number of counters to the Deafened condition that I could find in my research. I’m confident I’ve missed a few, but even so, there aren’t all that many.
- Lesser Restoration
- Mass Heal
- Aura of Purity (Advantage on Saving throws against Deafened)
- One of my party members stuffed moss into her ears to act as a ear plug. This let her take half damage from thunder damage, and she gained advantage against the deafened constitutuion saving throws. It also had a d100 disease table that we had to roll on if she failed the initial constitution check when she stuffed it in her ears. (So we wouldn’t do it all the time.)
- Major Beneficial Properties Table 91-100 [Dungeon Master’s Guide Pg 219]
How Bad is the Deafened Condition?
The deaf condition is fairly tame in terms of severity. It does disable a few class features, Such as a Barbarians Danger Sense, a Ranger’s Feral senses. However, these are offset with the fact that you become immune to some spells, such as Dissonant Whispers, and are protected against the Charmed condition that requires a vocal component to be heard to activate.
This actually makes this condition a bit of a buff, as well as a debuff. This is an interesting situation as far as conditions go. This makes tactical use of deafened a viable option against a particularly difficult encounter that is targeting you using a charming or dominating effect.
There is one situation where deafened can be particularly poor – say you get deafened, and you are trying to sneak around somewhere. Well, being deaf, you may end up speaking much louder than you intend to. This can ruin your attempts at the sneaking process, though it would be quite the comical talking point later on.
Expanding on the roleplaying aspect, it is also one of the more entertaining conditions, because it often leads to a lot of laughter based on how the afflicted player acts it out. Perhaps a particularly dumb barbarian just starts shouting at you as if he were Skyrim’s hero, thinking he’s whispering to you.