The official description of frightened is as follows: (Source – Roll20)
- A frightened creature has disadvantage on ability checks and attack rolls while the source of their fear is within sight.
- The creature can not willingly move closer to the source of its fear.
Uses a Wisdom Saving throw to determine fear success.
Causes of Frightened:
There are more ways to inflict the frightened condition than any other condition in 5e D&D. I’m only going to list some of the more popular ways because if I listed them all, this article would bloat well past five thousand words. Even then, this isn’t accounting for specific phobias and things like that.
- Intimidating Presence – Path of the Berserker Barbarian
- Menacing Attack Manuver – Battlemaster Fighter
- Channel Divinity [Abjure Enemy] – Oath of Vengeance Paladin
- Avenging Angel – Oath of Vengeance Paladin
- Draconic Presence – Draconic Bloodline Sorcerer
- Wild Magic Surge (37-38, 67-68) – Wild Magic Sorcerer
- Fey Presence – Archfey Warlock
- Also Dark Deleriuim at level 14
- Antipathy/Sympathy (8th level) [Player’s Handbook Pg 214]
- Eyebite (6th level) [Player’s Handbook Pg 238]
- Fear (3rd level) [Player’s Handbook Pg 239]
- Hallow (5th level) [Player’s Handbook Pg 249]
- Phantasmal Killer (4th level) [Player’s Handbook Pg 265]
- Symbol (7th level) [Player’s Handbook Pg 280]
- Weird (9th level) [Player’s Handbook Pg 288]
- Wrathful Smite (1st level) [Player’s Handbook pg 289]
- Player backstories
- Terrifying Appearance (Frightful Presence for example)
- Witnessing a murder
- Critical roll Intimidation (Depends on DM)
How Frightened Can Be Used for Storytelling:
Frightened is a fun little condition that can be easily used thematically for players – a natural fear of spiders, a fear of heights, a fear of goblins, you name it, they fear it. Like a character who is permanently blind or deaf, fear is a condition that can be afflicted on a player based on the descriptions used in their backstory. However, this condition is unique in the sheer quantity of things that can trigger this fear.
Fear is one of the strongest emotions we have, and almost all living animals show signs of understanding and feeling it. It is for this reason that we understand how to react to fear naturally, both in the process of feeling it and comforting those who suffer from it.
Perhaps you encounter a small child who has lost his mother in a busy city. I can assure you that the child is terrified and will likely be crying and scared. They don’t know anyone around them in the big city, so they lock up and cry until someone approaches them and tries to help them. And there lies the beginning of an escort and mystery quest in DND.
What if you encounter a person who is battle-shocked? Well, the sounds of war would trigger panic attacks, and they may break down into rocking themselves for comfort, sobbing, and what have you. Well, that is another possible quest to escort the man to some monastery that helps people learn to live beyond the life of a soldier.
What Counters Frightened?
There are a few counters to the frightened condition, including spells, items, and more. This is by no means a complete list, but it is varied enough, in my opinion, to cover most group compositions.
Grants Advantage on Saving Throws
- Brave – Halfling Trait
- Dragon Scale Mail – Specifically targets Dragon’s Frightful Presence
- Counter Charm – Bard 6th level ability
- Steel Will – Hunter Ranger 7th level
- Aura of Purity – 4th level Paladin spell
- Protection from Good/Evil – If Afflicted with Fear already
- Calm Emotions – 2nd level Bard/cleric spell
- Mindless Rage – Path of the Beserker Barbarian (If feared before entering rage, it suppresses rather than removing it.)
How Bad is the Frightened Condition?
Frightened is more of an annoyance and hindrance rather than being something impossible to contend with. If you are playing a melee build, then it could be fairly detrimental, because you can’t close the gap to impart your damage until the effect ends.
The worst part about fear is that it guarantees a chance for an attack of opportunity to be used against you, as you are forced to move out of melee range. This can be pretty detrimental in a dire situation, as your movement is forced to be first on your turn.
Barring that, if the source of your fear is removed, then the effect ends, and you can continue as if nothing happened. Incidentally, my group had an incident where I had used cordon of arrows on my ranger and struck down a fallen version of my DM’s Homebrew race, just after it emitted a dark aura that inflicted fear in a radius. The most anti-climatic takedown of the campaign thus far. PS, the arrows were substituted with logs… because reasons. Just imagine a terrifying banshee, screeching cry out of rage, and a log just…coming out of nowhere and clocking her in the head, causing her to go unconscious. (We all laughed for a solid minute)
Anyways, that about covers the frightened condition in 5e. Next up is Grappled!