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Rules FAQ How Does Concentration Work in D&D 5E?

Some spells (and, more rarely, abilities) require active concentration in order to maintain their magic effects. If you lose concentration, the effect ends. The rules outlining concentration appear in the Player’s Handbook on page 203.

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If a spell or ability requires concentration, it tells you. Spells have a Duration entry which specifies “Concentration, up to [a certain amount of time]”. Of the 361 spells in the Player’s Handbook, 154 require concentration. A concentration spell's duration is the maximum time you can concentrate on its effect.


This is the part of a weekly series of articles by a team of designers answering D&D questions for beginners. Feel free to discuss the article and add your insights or comments!

While most concentration spells end once their maximum duration is reached, some have permanent effects if you maintain concentration for the full duration, such as banishment, modify memory, and true polymorph.

Abilities that require you to concentrate specify it within the ability’s text. For example the cleric’s Trickery Domain illusory duplicate created by Channel Divinity: Invoke Duplicity specifies that it “lasts 1 minute, or until you lose your concentration (as if you were concentrating on a spell).”

Maintaining Concentration
You can maintain concentration as you perform normal activity, which includes:
  • Moving and attacking
  • Casting a spell (so long as it only takes 1 action, bonus action, or reaction, and doesn't require concentration) (added thanks to Nikosandros and John R Davis)
  • Taking a short rest
  • Taking a long rest using Trance as an elf, or Sentry’s Rest as a warforged
  • Transforming into another creature using the Wild Shape ability as a druid, or the spell polymorph
Once you’re concentrating on a spell or ability, you maintain its effect regardless of the distance between yourself and the target or area of the effect. For example, if you cast hunter’s mark on a creature, which then leaves the material plane (without dying), the effect persists until you lose concentration.

Losing Concentration
You always lose concentration when:
  • You choose to stop concentrating. You can end concentration at any time (no action required).
  • You enter a barbarian rage. No spells, only RAGE!
  • You’re incapacitated or killed. Concentration is lost if you gain the incapacitated condition (although the condition itself doesn’t tell you this) or if you die.
  • You are concentrating and start to concentrate on something else. You can only concentrate on one thing at a time! (Unless you’re the dragon Niv-Mizzet from Ravnica.) If you are concentrating, and start to cast another spell (or use an ability) that requires concentration, the first effect ends immediately.
  • Spells with a casting time longer than a single action or reaction, including rituals, require concentration while they are cast, even if they don’t require concentration according to their Duration entry.
  • When you ready a spell, holding the spell to release as a triggered reaction requires concentration, even if according to their Duration entry they don’t.
You might lose concentration when:
  • You take damage. It’s hard to concentrate when you’re getting a beating! Whenever you take damage while you’re concentrating, you must succeed on a Constitution saving throw to maintain it. The DC equals 10 or half the damage you take, whichever number is higher.
    • If 21 damage or less, the Con save is DC 10
    • If 22 damage and higher, the Con save is equal to half the damage DC 11+
    • Damage from multiple sources triggers a separate saving throw for each source of damage.
    • Each magic missile is a separate source of damage, making it an excellent way to trigger several concentration checks!
  • You’re distracted by your environment. It’s hard to concentrate during a storm at sea! Your DM might decide that certain environmental phenomena, such as a wave crashing over you on a storm-tossed ship, require you to succeed a DC 10 Constitution saving throw to maintain your concentration.
    • The spell sleet storm is the only spell in the Player’s Handbook that specifically calls for a Constitution saving throw to maintain concentration by modifying the environment. It also uniquely sets the Con saving throw to the character's spell save DC.
Saves Not Checks
It's important to note that in 5e D&D, concentration is tested using Constitution saving throws, rather than concentration skill checks. In previous editions, namely 3rd and 3.5, concentration was a skill used you took damage while casting a spell in combat (at the time spell casting triggered an opportunity attack, and damage triggered a concentration check to avoid losing the spell). It's not uncommon for old edition terminology to creep into new editions, and so you might have heard the phrase "make a concentration check," but in 5e D&D, the roll required will always be a "Constitution saving throw to maintain concentration."

Improving your ability to concentrate
The best way to maintain concentration is to avoid taking damage and to stay off wave-struck ships during storms, but given that sometimes these are unavoidable, here are the next best strategies to avoid losing your focus:
  • Boost your Constitution. Use your Ability Score Increases, or magic items such as the amulet of health or belt of Dwarvenkind to increase your Constitution score and Constitution saving throws.
  • Be proficient with Constitution saving throws. If you’re not an artificer, barbarian, fighter or sorcerer, you can take the feat Resilient (Constitution), to gain proficiency. Or you can borrow a Transmuter’s Stone from a very kindly Wizard.
  • Gain advantage on Constitution saving throws. The feat Warcaster grants advantage on Constitution saving throws to maintain concentration when you take damage. Alternatively, the warlock invocation Eldritch Mind (from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything) gives advantage of Constitution saving throws to maintain concentration (for any reason, not just from taking damage), and is available to all via the feat Eldritch Adept.
  • Get buffed. Spells such as bless, and abilities like bardic inspiration can really help you maintain concentration in a pinch, so remember to ask your friends to help you out.
 
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Will Gawned

Will Gawned

The term "concentration check" has a dual meaning. While it does have the old 3x terminology, it can also be considered a shorted form of "check your concentration." It is definitively a Constitution Saving Throw.

Can you provide a source on retaining concentration during an elf's trance (I'm not familiar enough with warforged)? I know of no such official ruling, and the description states you are only semi-conscious. It may not explicitly give you the incapacitated condition, but it's not unreasonable for a DM to do so.
 

Nikosandros

Golden Procrastinator
Since it is (at least in my experience) a somewhat common cause of confusion, I would add in the listing for maintaining concentration the following item: cast another spell that doesn't require concentration.
 


aco175

Legend
I was wondering about the elf trance as well when reading it. It has never come up in my games and most of the spells that have concentration have a duration of 1 minute but still not sure on that one.
 

TerraDave

5ever, or until 2024
Resistance is another buff that can be used to help maintain concentration.

Like attacks of opportunity, concentration was in D&D before 5e, including before it was called concentration.

In the past, the concern--and in the old days it was a real concern--was that a caster might get hit while casting a spell--and also the other side of it: that you could try to hit a caster and interrupt their casting before they could finish.

This who cast first issue complicated D&D's otherwise simple initiative system for some time. In 3e, it became another way to use attacks of opportunity, as a penalty for casting in melee, and as use of readied attacks. But that system also introduced the concentration check to allow the spell to still be cast.

In older editions, a caster could pile on ongoing spells--buffs, debuffs, summoned things--and this was pretty common at mid and higher levels. 3e used "concentration" as duration for some powerful spells, but not many. 5e took this a step further, adapting concentration to stop multiple ongoing spell effects from a single caster, and become the main way to balance casters, and keep play a little simpler.
 
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billd91

Hobbit on Quest (he/him)
On the trance issue, does 5e ever actually state that a sleeping character is incapacitated? Is everyone just assuming a sleeper fits the unconscious condition?
 






clearstream

Be just and fear not...
On the trance issue, does 5e ever actually state that a sleeping character is incapacitated? Is everyone just assuming a sleeper fits the unconscious condition?
I rule that sleepers have the unconscious condition. OTOH I don't allow concentration through trance as I rule that trancers have the stunned condition.
 

clearstream

Be just and fear not...
Interesting about Magic Missile.

So basically, anyone who has been knocked unconscious, to 0 HP, who is then hit by a Magic Missile spell (3 darts) is instakilled?
I believe the intended mechanic is that all darts do the same damage, and they deliver that damage simultaneously to a given target. That likely should result in a single check, although I personally would prefer if they delivered damage sequentially.
 

gelf

Explorer
On the trance issue, does 5e ever actually state that a sleeping character is incapacitated? Is everyone just assuming a sleeper fits the unconscious condition?
Sleep as a 'condition' isn't explicitly defined, however the sleep spell specifically says affected creatures 'fall unconscious' until 'the sleeper takes damage, or someone uses an action to shake or slap the sleeper awake'.

Edit: To clarify, sleep isn't defined in the Player's Handbook, but is explicitly defined in Xanathar's Guide to Everything on page 77. (Thanks to clearstream for bringing this to my attention.)

Can you provide a source on retaining concentration during an elf's trance (I'm not familiar enough with warforged)? I know of no such official ruling, and the description states you are only semi-conscious. It may not explicitly give you the incapacitated condition, but it's not unreasonable for a DM to do so.
'Semi-conscious' isn't a defined term and trance specifically doesn't say you're unconscious. Trance specifies that the elf can perform 'mental exercises that have become reflexive through years of practice,' so my argument is that an elf can maintain concentration (a mental exercise) while they trance.
 
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clearstream

Be just and fear not...
Sleep as a 'condition' isn't explicitly defined, however the sleep spell specifically says affected creatures 'fall unconscious' until 'the sleeper takes damage, or someone uses an action to shake or slap the sleeper awake'.
In XGE, sleeping is defined as using the unconscious condition.

'Semi-conscious' isn't a defined term and trance specifically doesn't say you're unconscious. Trance specifies that the elf can perform 'mental exercises that have become reflexive through years of practice,' so my argument is that an elf can maintain concentration (a mental exercise) while they trance.
That seems like a fair ruling. I may revist my view of trance.
 


In older editions, a caster could pile on ongoing spells--buffs, debuffs, summoned things--and this was pretty common at mid and higher levels. 3e used "concentration" as duration for some powerful spells, but not many. 5e took this a step further, adapting concentration to stop multiple ongoing spell effects from a single caster, and become the main way to balance casters, and keep play a little simpler.
They also reduced the power of nearly every one of those spells. Both concentration and those power reductions are tuned as if they are the main way but combined they very much overcorrect to ensure many of those spells are never worth casting
 

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