D&D: The Spent Condition

In my blog “Acting to Exhaustion” I played around with the idea of using levels of exhaustion in Dungeons & Dragons fifth edition as an additional resource for limited-use abilities, those that reset following a short or long rest. That got me thinking about about resource management in relationship to rests, and a character’s condition being “spent” in terms of those resources, differentiated from mere exhaustion. Essentially:

Spent

  • A spent creature has no use of abilities that recover following a short or long rest.
  • The condition ends if the creature completes a long rest.

Spent is a condition that can be achieved simply by using up all of a character’s limited use abilities, but it may also be imposed by some conditions or effects. Other effects may also lead characters to becoming spent if they deny them the benefits of completing a rest. Without the opportunity to rest, characters eventually use up their abilities and are spent.

The spent condition strips characters down to their essential at-will or constant abilities. It definitely places them under duress, but can be used to reflect characters who have been imprisoned, tortured, or otherwise debilitated to the point where they are spent and need time to recover in order to use their abilities.

For example, in the drow prison of Velkynvelve in Out of the Abyss, characters might be spent as a result of their treatment at the hands of their captors, who prevent them from completing a long rest so they cannot remove the condition. They have to rely largely on their wits and most basic abilities in order to escape. The same might be true of a crew of characters who survive a shipwreck or other disaster: Initially, they are spent, and their challenge is finding the time and opportunity to complete the long rest needed to eliminate that condition.

Note that spent differs from exhaustion and characters can have either condition separately or both together. A spent character might still be perfectly capable otherwise (no exhaustion) but they just don’t have the resources (physical, mental, or mystical) for some of their abilities. An exhausted character may likewise still be able to draw upon their limited use abilities, if they are not spent.

This condition combines in interesting ways with the Acting to Exhaustion option: A spent character’s only means of using their limited-use abilities is by taking levels of exhaustion, giving them a small pool of uses at a cost. In this case, the DM may want to consider adding “with no more than 1 level of exhaustion” to the recovery requirement for spent, meaning characters trade-off extending their spent state (by taking on more exhaustion) for immediate additional uses of certain abilities.

Invigoration

The notion of a spent condition also suggests the possibility of “invigoration” effects that grant characters the benefits of a short or long rest without the need to actually rest. They can range from miraculous blessings and magical charms to a burst of determination or a surge of success. They offer Dungeon Masters a useful tool in managing the pacing and dramatic tension of an adventure: There might, for example, be a series of challenging encounters leading up to a climatic fight, and it’s less interesting if the characters camp-out for a good night’s rest on the villain’s doorstep, but also a less interesting encounter if they come to it nearly spent in terms of their various abilities. So the DM might “invigorate” the characters at the start of the final encounter, either providing a resource that does so, or just telling the players that their characters feel a rush of power and determination as they confront their final foe, letting them recover some or all of their limited use abilities.

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