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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


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clearstream

Be just and fear not...
I would love to see a homebrew project that revists the 5e spells, to doublecheck which spells actually need Concentration for balance and which dont.
Likewise. The problem I see is that while a caster might have the spells known to have them on their list, when it comes to casting them they can only have one running. What I see in play is certain key spells being used over and over again, and the rest ignored. On the other hand, spells that don't require concentration - like mirror image - see far more use than their base power might suggest.
 

Yaarel

Mind Mage
Likewise. The problem I see is that while a caster might have the spells known to have them on their list, when it comes to casting them they can only have one running.
Some spells that require Concentration seem less powerful and can probably run simultaneously with an other spell that deserves Concentration.

What I see in play is certain key spells being used over and over again, and the rest ignored. On the other hand, spells that don't require concentration - like mirror image - see far more use than their base power might suggest.
Good point.

Some spells that tend to outsize the rest of the spells in the same slot, deserve an update to move them up to a higher level spell slot. I hate to say it, but some of my favorite spells, like Shield, Resilient Sphere, and Wall of Force, might belong in a higher spell slot. Wish probably belongs in a "slot 10" in a league of its own.

Bless isnt broken, per se, but as a flat 2.5 bonus could easily be a slot 4 spell, compared to other bonus granting spells. Bless might work better as a class feature, rather than a spell.

Some spells that never get used should have their slot lowered to be more competitive with the other spells in the same slot. For example, Reincarnate is perfect for a slot 1 spell, that a level 1 character can cast on a fallen ally, to come back as a new character with memory and continuity with the old character.

Some spells that never get used should be rethought as a kind of ritual, rather than a spell. (And some spells like Blade Ward and Find Traps need rethinking, period.)

Some spells that get overused might require a per-rest limit (or even a per-month limit, or so on). I would rather have a frequency limitation than a costly gp component to prevent spamming.

In sum, 5e has been around for some years now. I welcome a cleanup of some of the rough edges that we are now noticing. Having a homebrew version do this now, can improve gaming immediately, and be a useful reference for any official updates in the future.
 
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Yaarel

Mind Mage
I don't know how useable shield would be at 2nd level. Also its very important for lvl 1-2 casters. I'd argue they are the ones that need it the most
I agree, but this also why it seems to get overused compared to other spells in the same slot. (Heh, at least, overused by me!)

Maybe like Bless and Hunters Mark, Shield works better as a class feature?
 


Yaarel

Mind Mage
Maybe, but being used by both wizards and sorcerers makes this harder....
If the Shield spell itself said something like "once per short or long rest", or some more precise frequency, that might help reduce spamming.

Alternatively, if Shield had a Concentration requirement, that would make it more useful at low level and less useful at high level, because casting it would end an important spell.
 

Bolares

Hero
The thing is... On high level what else would you be using your 1st level spells for? Almost all of them have an upgrade on later levels (I don't know how long we should stay on this topic as this is a concentration thread)
 

Yaarel

Mind Mage
The thing is... On high level what else would you be using your 1st level spells for? Almost all of them have an upgrade on later levels (I don't know how long we should stay on this topic as this is a concentration thread)
As long as spells are on par with other spells in the same slot, and there is a fair and reliable way to reduce any spamming, it should be fine.

A caster adds the proficiency to the DC, so even low slot spells can be effective at high level. Plus high tier spells are few and exhaust quickly.

The Concentration mechanic is especially to prevent unfair layering of powerful spells simultaneously.
 

Laurefindel

Legend
I like these columns. To the point, and with examples and corner cases.

One thing that often confuse new players about concentration is that "concentrating on a spell" does not necessarily imply concentration as we know it and use it in everyday life, at least not as an ability to dedicate our attention and devotion so a singular activity.

I often describe concentrating on a spell as having your hands full; lets say, carrying something like a box that is heavy or cumbersome enough to require both hands. Holding that box is relatively taxing - you can't do it forever - but it does not prevent you from walking around, kicking doors open, having a conversation, or even performing a task that requires concentration (defined as an activity requiring attentive commitment) as long as it can be performed without the use of hands. What you cannot do however, is carry another box.

And if shaken enough, there is a definite chance that you may drop that box, and you can't be expected to keep on holding to it while sleeping of if you pass out.

A concentration spell is like a mental box - it requires you to mentally "carry" it. You can still dedicate your attention to something else, even things requiring an everyday definition of concentration. When you carry a spell like this, you can cast other spells just fine, fight enemies without issues, read a book and learn from it etc, but you can't carry yet another spell that requiring spell concentration. Likewise, if shaken hard enough, you might drop that spell involuntarily.

Concentrating to withhold a spell you cast now but intend on releasing it at a later point makes sense under this interpretation, same as slowly building up a spell as a ritual (you need to hold the unfinished parts).

I like to see spells requiring concentration as spells that require constant adjustments, as opposed to one-off instants or spells that slowly wear out by themselves. By this definition, there are a few spells that currently require concentration that shouldn't IMO, and perhaps a few that don't require concentration but should.

TL;DR: Spell concentration does not require concentration, it's a shelf in you mind saying "we are currently holding spell X". Once there is something on the shelf, there's no room for another, and intense shaking will make it fall off if you can't keep it stable enough.
 
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Yaarel

Mind Mage
Maybe for the Shield spell, instead of Concentration, it can be once-per-rest. But heighten it to a slot 2, to cast it a second time before a rest, and a slot 3 a third time, and so on.

Then each slot will remain open to cast other spells.
 


dalisprime

Explorer
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.
There is absolutely no indication that missiles targeting one creature count as a single instance of damage. Just because they strike simultaneously doesn't mean it's one damage instance similar to how getting hit by 3 OAs triggered at the same time doesn't count as a single instance of damage. This makes the spell incredibly useful against casters (3+ concentration saves) and it also makes perfect sense why the wizard that invented the Magic Missile would also create a counter measure for it in Shield (this is canonical in realmslore btw).

As for shield being too low level - at lower character levels you may not spam it anyway because your resources are very limited. At higher levels most casters get to a position where their lowest level slots are used primarily for one or two very specific spells. Clerics will have bless and healing word. Wizards/Sorcerers will use Shield. Warlocks have armor of agathys and hex. It's just the nature of the game. Remember though, a wizard that shields is a wizard that cannot counterspell - it's always a trade off.
 

Laurefindel

Legend
Great analogy! I'd only change box to ball. Boxes can be easily stacked hahaha
... but this one is, hum, a spherical box! That or one of those nifty containers designed to securely stack on top of one another but not compatible with anything else, therefore making it more slippery than it should have been otherwise.

but yes, ball work best. I'll use that from now on
 

clearstream

Be just and fear not...
There is absolutely no indication that missiles targeting one creature count as a single instance of damage. Just because they strike simultaneously doesn't mean it's one damage instance similar to how getting hit by 3 OAs triggered at the same time doesn't count as a single instance of damage. This makes the spell incredibly useful against casters (3+ concentration saves) and it also makes perfect sense why the wizard that invented the Magic Missile would also create a counter measure for it in Shield (this is canonical in realmslore btw).
Like I said, for game effect I much prefer individual missile resolutions: it adds MM to the high-level wizard toolbox. Triggers multiple Con saves, and insta-kills downed foes. OTOH per RAW the darts strike simultaneously.

Say I die and fall 100ft and hit the ground... but maybe my shoulder hits a moment before my knee, and my hand smacks down a split-second later? Three death saves lost, or one?

As for shield being too low level - at lower character levels you may not spam it anyway because your resources are very limited. At higher levels most casters get to a position where their lowest level slots are used primarily for one or two very specific spells. Clerics will have bless and healing word. Wizards/Sorcerers will use Shield. Warlocks have armor of agathys and hex. It's just the nature of the game. Remember though, a wizard that shields is a wizard that cannot counterspell - it's always a trade off.
Shield? Was this in response to someone else?
 

clearstream

Be just and fear not...
Some spells that tend to outsize the rest of the spells in the same slot, deserve an update to move them up to a higher level spell slot. I hate to say it, but some of my favorite spells, like Shield, Resilient Sphere, and Wall of Force, might belong in a higher spell slot. Wish probably belongs in a "slot 10" in a league of its own.
So that we can wish for any other spell, without stress ;)

Bless isnt broken, per se, but as a flat 2.5 bonus could easily be a slot 4 spell, compared to other bonus granting spells. Bless might work better as a class feature, rather than a spell.
Agreed!

Some spells that never get used should have their slot lowered to be more competitive with the other spells in the same slot. For example, Reincarnate is perfect for a slot 1 spell, that a level 1 character can cast on a fallen ally, to come back as a new character with memory and continuity with the old character.

Some spells that never get used should be rethought as a kind of ritual, rather than a spell. (And some spells like Blade Ward and Find Traps need rethinking, period.)

Some spells that get overused might require a per-rest limit (or even a per-month limit, or so on). I would rather have a frequency limitation than a costly gp component to prevent spamming.

In sum, 5e has been around for some years now. I welcome a cleanup of some of the rough edges that we are now noticing. Having a homebrew version do this now, can improve gaming immediately, and be a useful reference for any official updates in the future.
I might quibble the specifics, but agreed - a clean up would be well worthwhile!
 

dalisprime

Explorer
Like I said, for game effect I much prefer individual missile resolutions: it adds MM to the high-level wizard toolbox. Triggers multiple Con saves, and insta-kills downed foes. OTOH per RAW the darts strike simultaneously.

Say I die and fall 100ft and hit the ground... but maybe my shoulder hits a moment before my knee, and my hand smacks down a split-second later? Three death saves lost, or one?


Shield? Was this in response to someone else?
Yep the shield comment was in response to messages complaining that it's too low level. As for your fall question: DM discretion. Falling damage doesn't break down into how the damage is dealt - it just lumps it into one go but the DM could definitely rule that your body breaking over three steps during the fall, means you're instantly dead when you reach the bottom.

Re: bless et all. The spell is fine as is. Is it a meaningful boost? Sure. But it does take up your concentration so it's not like it's broken good.
 
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Pjack

Explorer
Also: as far as I can tell, if you maintain concentration in an antimagic field, your spell effect still persists even if some or all of it's effect is currently suppressed. If your Forge Domain cleric is subjected to an antimagic field while concentrating on the Animate Objects spell, the objects outside the field continue to be animated, while the objects inside the field reanimate if moved outside it.
 

gelf

Explorer
Also: as far as I can tell, if you maintain concentration in an antimagic field, your spell effect still persists even if some or all of it's effect is currently suppressed. If your Forge Domain cleric is subjected to an antimagic field while concentrating on the Animate Objects spell, the objects outside the field continue to be animated, while the objects inside the field reanimate if moved outside it.
This is correct. Antimagic is weird.
 

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