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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

Hurin88

Adventurer
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.

I seem to remember some somewhat confusing or conflicting rulings on this from Crawford and perhaps also Mearls?

I do remember someone at WotC clarifying that the missiles strike simultaneously, meaning you just roll on d4 (1d4+1) and each missile does exactly that damage even if there are multiple targets. There is some discussion with references here:

But that site notes too that Crawford's ruling was not considered official.
 

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Laurefindel

Legend
This is correct. Antimagic is weird.
Not that weird. Many things work like that in our daily life.

It’s like a lid on a pot of boiling water. It prevents the steam from escaping, thus making it safe to put your hands above it, but the water is still boiling under it and steam will emerge once more when the lid is removed.

im sure there are better analogies since a lid on top of a pot isn’t 100% hermetic and if it were, pressure would increase under it, releasing an increased amount of energy the moment the lid is removed, but it serves for the example. Killing the amplifiers in a sound system could be another; I’d doesn’t prevent the music from playing, but it can’t be heard in the house. Yet the booth monitors still play because they are “outside” the function of the main amp.
 

Redwizard007

Explorer
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

Unless you have a bard in the party. Bards are great for giving penalties to saving throws. It's really one of their best features.
 

All editions were rulings, not rules: 5e is no different.
Yes, but 5E has been specifically described that way by the design team. Unlike prior editions, Sage Advice isn't considered official rules, but merely advice (as the name implies). I agree that all prior editions had DM rulings that could go against the official rulings, as the DM cannot be wrong for their game (although deviations like this tend to annoy players).
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.
Not quite right, but nothing wrong with your ruling. "While meditating, you can dream after a fashion; such dreams are actually mental exercises that have become reflexive through years of practice." The mental exercises are referencing their dreams, not that they can just perform any mental exercises.
But that site notes too that Crawford's ruling was not considered official.
For a short period of time, JC's rulings were considered official. That was problematic, as he sometimes made off the cuff rulings, or later changed his mind (cough, cough, shield master). It also recreated the problem of DMs having to constantly check online sources to keep up with the officials rules, which is something they specifically wanted to avoid this time around. Fortunately his rulings joined Mearls and others and simply their suggested rulings.
 

Hurin88

Adventurer
Yes, but 5E has been specifically described that way ['rulings not rules'] by the design team.

This is one of my biggest problems with 5e, and something I hope a new edition will fix.

I can make my own rulings all day long. Indeed, I could come up with my own entire system. But I don't have the time for that. So instead of having to do all that myself, I'd prefer to pay WotC to make a clear set of rules that I can purchase from them. I'd prefer if they had a little more courage in that regard.

I don't mind making a ruling on the fly to keep the game going. What I dislike is not being able to get a clear answer after the game, when I have to figure out how the rules work for the next session, or when I have to explain to my players how the rules work officially. And this edition has been very unclear in that regard, in a way that has detracted from my game.

For a short period of time, JC's rulings were considered official. That was problematic, as he sometimes made off the cuff rulings, or later changed his mind (cough, cough, shield master). It also recreated the problem of DMs having to constantly check online sources to keep up with the officials rules, which is something they specifically wanted to avoid this time around. Fortunately his rulings joined Mearls and others and simply their suggested rulings.

Interesting. I did not know that. Thanks for the education!
 

clearstream

Be just and fear not...
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.
To improve my example, I should have said that head, knee, shoulder, and hand all hit separately (my knee is not my hand!) and simultaneously, each taking impact shock and shattering. One check or multiple?
 

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.
Just moving them to a higher slot because a large percentage of those spells don't carry enough for a higher level slot even before 5e nerfed the old versions & certainly do not after being tuned down while saddled with concentration. Moving them to a higher slot would involve first tuning those spells back & adjusting them to be still remain useful then second fixing all of the unused by design spells left behind. The huge number of spells that are unused by design causes severe problems.

Looking at @clearstream 's comment & jumping to the conclusion that those spells should be slotted to a higher slot is pants on head backwards. As an alternate way of looking at it, look at phb149 there are about 4ish items on that list that get used nearly all of the time with the rest being ignored as long as long as the player has a choice of weapon; that doesn't mean that those weapons should be limited to higher level characters or something, it means that the structure that the others are forced to fit within is fundamentally flawed
 


clearstream

Be just and fear not...
Just moving them to a higher slot because a large percentage of those spells don't carry enough for a higher level slot even before 5e nerfed the old versions & certainly do not after being tuned down while saddled with concentration. Moving them to a higher slot would involve first tuning those spells back & adjusting them to be still remain useful then second fixing all of the unused by design spells left behind. The huge number of spells that are unused by design causes severe problems.
I feel like a project to renovate spells needn't be constrained to their current slot level, rather that seems to me like one lever for achieving better balance. Which means broadening valid strategies (more spells matter), mitigating trap picks and overshadowing (a player who enjoys some given spells isn't mechanically overshadowed to an egregious extent by one who optimises), and avoiding warping encounters around them (if players have this spell, almost every encounter has to consider it).

Looking at @clearstream 's comment & jumping to the conclusion that those spells should be slotted to a higher slot is pants on head backwards. As an alternate way of looking at it, look at phb149 there are about 4ish items on that list that get used nearly all of the time with the rest being ignored as long as long as the player has a choice of weapon; that doesn't mean that those weapons should be limited to higher level characters or something, it means that the structure that the others are forced to fit within is fundamentally flawed
Weapons too, then! I'm with you in wanting more weapons to matter.

One step is to make sure spells explain themselves well. I believe some buffs and debuffs aren't used because it's not clear what the impact will be. For example, blur is super-efficient for high-AC characters, but in my experience hardly ever cast because in the end it competes with spells like haste and greater invisibility which both have far clearer consequences in play.

Then both weapons and spells need to do more within existing design space. A minor tweak like extended duration might be all that is needed, or an up-cast option (which many buffs lack altogether). Battleaxe, longsword and warhammer are differentiated on cost, weight, damage type and XGE feat they play into. It seems nearly enough - perhaps if those feats were fighting styles? Pathing into differentiated mechanics is easier to learn (and often very satisfying). Were blur an abjuration spell it might sometimes see play for similar reasons.

Additional mechanical features to open up design space come with the cost of more to learn and remember to apply in play. A more nuanced concentration mechanic for example, could be tied to spell schools so that blur being illusion can stack with haste but not greater invisibility. That is too strong, but just by way of example.

On the whole, might you agree that 5e is feature rich enough, and the work lies more in using what is there rather than adding complexity?
 

dalisprime

Explorer
To improve my example, I should have said that head, knee, shoulder, and hand all hit separately (my knee is not my hand!) and simultaneously, each taking impact shock and shattering. One check or multiple?
You're playing at semantics now. Do the rules very specifically state that magic missile creates multiple orbs of force each of which deals 1d4+1 damage? Yes they do.
Do rules state that the falling damage is broken down by the segments of your body hitting a hard surface? No, it is a singular instance of damage.
Now if the GM wants to say: your body smashes into a crevace taking x damage then bounces off, raking through the underbrush causing another X damage before landing on the rocks below with a nauseating splat, inflicting another X damage - that is entirely up to them.
 

clearstream

Be just and fear not...
You're playing at semantics now. Do the rules very specifically state that magic missile creates multiple orbs of force each of which deals 1d4+1 damage? Yes they do.
Do rules state that the falling damage is broken down by the segments of your body hitting a hard surface? No, it is a singular instance of damage.
I think it isn't semantics, but perhaps my examples are not very good. The rules specify that the darts hit simultaneously. So we know that they are hitting - at the same time. When they are hitting one individual, a series of events is ruled out. It therefore satisfies the RAW of simultaneously to interpret that it is one event. When darts hit me in my foot and my hand simultaneously, as a perceiver I can experience only one concentration break. It seems really strange to suppose that I experience two breaks.

What I would rather is different wording - that the darts hit a split-second apart. That is what the spell should say to relieve ambiguity.

Now if the GM wants to say: your body smashes into a crevace taking x damage then bounces off, raking through the underbrush causing another X damage before landing on the rocks below with a nauseating splat, inflicting another X damage - that is entirely up to them.
Here you have described a series of events, which is not what magic missile does per RAW.
 


I feel like a project to renovate spells needn't be constrained to their current slot level, rather that seems to me like one lever for achieving better balance. Which means broadening valid strategies (more spells matter), mitigating trap picks and overshadowing (a player who enjoys some given spells isn't mechanically overshadowed to an egregious extent by one who optimises), and avoiding warping encounters around them (if players have this spell, almost every encounter has to consider it).


Weapons too, then! I'm with you in wanting more weapons to matter.

One step is to make sure spells explain themselves well. I believe some buffs and debuffs aren't used because it's not clear what the impact will be. For example, blur is super-efficient for high-AC characters, but in my experience hardly ever cast because in the end it competes with spells like haste and greater invisibility which both have far clearer consequences in play.

Then both weapons and spells need to do more within existing design space. A minor tweak like extended duration might be all that is needed, or an up-cast option (which many buffs lack altogether). Battleaxe, longsword and warhammer are differentiated on cost, weight, damage type and XGE feat they play into. It seems nearly enough - perhaps if those feats were fighting styles? Pathing into differentiated mechanics is easier to learn (and often very satisfying). Were blur an abjuration spell it might sometimes see play for similar reasons.

Additional mechanical features to open up design space come with the cost of more to learn and remember to apply in play. A more nuanced concentration mechanic for example, could be tied to spell schools so that blur being illusion can stack with haste but not greater invisibility. That is too strong, but just by way of example.

On the whole, might you agree that 5e is feature rich enough, and the work lies more in using what is there rather than adding complexity?
Thsts all well and good but you started with the stated exclusive goals of nerfing good spells by giving good spells higher spell slots. The cruddy and unused by design spells with a wide range of reasons why they are not used wont suddenly become not cruddy and not unused by design because you nerf the rest.. in order for those cruddy and unused by design spells to change a fix needs to target those spells not the spells that are good.

As to 5e's design space and complexity... no it's absurdly shortsighted and filled with too much simplicity at any cost for the sheer sake of simplicity at any cost. far too often wotc used that sort of shortsighted "x can be an issue so make it not" while ignoring everything one step from x & the repercussions of the change. Far too many of 5e's most glaring issues can be traced back to that MBA style tree over forest design priority that failed to consider the forest.
 

dalisprime

Explorer
I think it isn't semantics, but perhaps my examples are not very good. The rules specify that the darts hit simultaneously. So we know that they are hitting - at the same time. When they are hitting one individual, a series of events is ruled out. It therefore satisfies the RAW of simultaneously to interpret that it is one event. When darts hit me in my foot and my hand simultaneously, as a perceiver I can experience only one concentration break. It seems really strange to suppose that I experience two breaks.

What I would rather is different wording - that the darts hit a split-second apart. That is what the spell should say to relieve ambiguity.


Here you have described a series of events, which is not what magic missile does per RAW.
Three equal dexterity archers using a short bow ready an action to shoot the wizard when he enters the room they're in. All three are equidistant from the entry point. Does the wizard make three con saves or one?

Going back to the Shield spell and how it's too powerful. Let's look back at its 3e predecessor: provides 3/4 cover (+7 to AC and reflex saving throws) from one direction, immunity to magic missile, lasts 1 minute/caster level.
Even further back: it improved your AC by 8 against thrown weapons, 7 against missiles and 6 against everything else on top of immunity to magic missile and granting a +1 bonus to saving throws. Lasted 5 rounds per level.
5e shield on the other hand: provides 3/4 cover equivalent bonus to AC from all directions, immunity to magic missile, lasts until the end of your next turn.
Long story short, it has already been toned down quite a lot from its predecessors.
 
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Three equal dexterity archers using a short bow ready an action to shoot the wizard when he enters the room they're in. All three are equidistant from the entry point. Does the wizard make three con saves or one?

Going back to the Shield spell and how it's too powerful. Let's look back at its 3e predecessor: provides 3/4 cover (+7 to AC and reflex saving throws) from one direction, immunity to magic missile, lasts 1 minute/caster level.
Even further back: it improved your AC by 8 against thrown weapons, 7 against missiles and 6 against everything else on top of immunity to magic missile and granting a +1 bonus to saving throws. Lasted 5 rounds per level.
5e shield on the other hand: provides 3/4 cover equivalent bonus to AC from all directions, immunity to magic missile, lasts until the end of your next turn.
Long story short, it has already been toned down quite a lot from its predecessors.
Taking damage. Whenever you take damage while you are concentrating on a spell, you must make a Constitution saving throw to maintain your concentration. The DC equals 10 or half the damage you take, whichever number is higher. If you take damage from multiple sources, such as an arrow and a dragon’s breath, you make a separate saving throw for each source of damage.
If the GM is allowing them to work together as part of a preplanned strategy that gm fiat allows all three to sum their damage into one harder to succeed against check with larger damage it's one check because there is only one instance of damage. If it's just three archers rolling three different instance of damage it's one check for each successful attack that deals damage. doesn't matter if each instance is simultaneous or not just that they have a different attack or save.
  • Three archers with three successful attacks is 3 individual checks unlikely to exceed dc10.
  • Three archers with flaming arrows each dealing 1d10pierce+dex+1d6 fire is sill three checks unlikely to exceed dc10.
  • Three archers working together to deal one attack of 3d10+dex+dex+dex+3d6 under gm fiat is one check actually likely to reach dc11(22 damage) if not dc12(24 damage)...
Magic missile of course has no attack no save and a variable number of bolts each acting as a source of damage sourced from one spell. This is "ask your gm because there is no freaking glossary for these terms and 'natural language' deliberately creates confusion by being deliberately unclear".
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest (he/him)
Three equal dexterity archers using a short bow ready an action to shoot the wizard when he enters the room they're in. All three are equidistant from the entry point. Does the wizard make three con saves or one?

Going back to the Shield spell and how it's too powerful. Let's look back at its 3e predecessor: provides 3/4 cover (+7 to AC and reflex saving throws) from one direction, immunity to magic missile, lasts 1 minute/caster level.
Even further back: it improved your AC by 8 against thrown weapons, 7 against missiles and 6 against everything else on top of immunity to magic missile and granting a +1 bonus to saving throws. Lasted 5 rounds per level.
5e shield on the other hand: provides 3/4 cover equivalent bonus to AC from all directions, immunity to magic missile, lasts until the end of your next turn.
Long story short, it has already been toned down quite a lot from its predecessors.
The major benefit it offers now - it’s a reaction. In all previous cases, you had to cast it ahead of need and hope it paid off. Now, you know exactly how much it will pay off. That’s a big deal.
I don’t have a problem with it being first level, though. Just emphasizing that perspective.
 


clearstream

Be just and fear not...
Three equal dexterity archers using a short bow ready an action to shoot the wizard when he enters the room they're in. All three are equidistant from the entry point. Does the wizard make three con saves or one?
Per RAW they fire at different moments, so three.

Going back to the Shield spell and how it's too powerful. Let's look back at its 3e predecessor: provides 3/4 cover (+7 to AC and reflex saving throws) from one direction, immunity to magic missile, lasts 1 minute/caster level.
Even further back: it improved your AC by 8 against thrown weapons, 7 against missiles and 6 against everything else on top of immunity to magic missile and granting a +1 bonus to saving throws. Lasted 5 rounds per level.
5e shield on the other hand: provides 3/4 cover equivalent bonus to AC from all directions, immunity to magic missile, lasts until the end of your next turn.
Long story short, it has already been toned down quite a lot from its predecessors.
This argument should be addressed to a different poster.
 


Hurin88

Adventurer
The major benefit it offers now - it’s a reaction. In all previous cases, you had to cast it ahead of need and hope it paid off. Now, you know exactly how much it will pay off. That’s a big deal.

That is the big deal for me, and why Shield is so good. If you had to declare it before the attack were rolled, it might not always be an automatic pick. But having the ability to say, 'I'm hit? Oh, no, I'm not' is extremely strong, especially when you will most likely know specifically how much you're hit by (and thus whether Shield spell will block it).
 

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