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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

dalisprime

Explorer
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.
The DM is not obliged to say how high the roll was, so there is every chance that casting Shield as a reaction will not alter the result of the attack and now you've used up your reaction, meaning you cannot counterspell should the need arise. Is it a good spell? Yes. Does that mean it should be higher level for what it offers? Absolutely not.
Per RAW they fire at different moments, so three.
Nothing in the Reaction section nor in the Ready an Action section indicates that they fire at different moments. Their reactions trigger the moment the wizard appears. He gets struck by 3 arrows at the same time. Heck to eliminate the reaction times (though I assumed they have the same reaction time by indicating they all had equal Dex) you could just make those 3 archers be a trap that causes three equidistant crossbows to shoot a bolt the moment the wizard steps on a pressure plate.
 

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clearstream

Be just and fear not...
Nothing in the Reaction section nor in the Ready an Action section indicates that they fire at different moments. Their reactions trigger the moment the wizard appears. He gets struck by 3 arrows at the same time. Heck to eliminate the reaction times (though I assumed they have the same reaction time by indicating they all had equal Dex) you could just make those 3 archers be a trap that causes three equidistant crossbows to shoot a bolt the moment the wizard steps on a pressure plate.
I take the rules for order of turns duging combat on PHB189 where it explains that DM decides the order of tied monsters, and players decide the order of tied characters, to be general. In those rules, even creatures with identical dexterity are tie-broken to take their turns sequentially. Seeing as reactions are counted as turns for abilities such as rogue sneak attack, I believe that these rules cover them. That said, I can see how a group could decide reactions are a special case that goes outside the turn order. Or at least, they might say that other rules governing the ordering of turns in combat don't have the word "reactions" and therefore don't apply.

You can see that for my group your example can't happen because those shots aren't simultaneous. Those arrows are resolved in sequence. On the other hand, I can see that for your group the simultaneity in your example can happen. That said, I wonder if other examples really matter to our positions? Imagine we couldn't come up with a single other case where damage from multiple sources is resolved simultaneously, and yet still had to decide how to handle magic missile. It sounds like even then you would resolve it as multiple checks.

Reflecting on my own view, I like the spell more if it is multiple checks. It's probably best justified by counting sources and ignoring timing. That would commit me to a view that wherever damage is from multiple sources regardless of timing, it is multiple checks, perfectly matching the PHB203 text. Each dart of magic missile must be a source, seeing as it is permitted to deal its damage to separate creatures.
 

Stalker0

Legend
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.
There was a major project on enworld a year or two ago that attempted to re-level all of the 5e spells to fit their actual true power level. Don’t know if anyone remembers the thread name
 


Stalker0

Legend
On the magic missile debate, while I rule it as a single source of damage…i do think the 3 source interpretation has more weight in the rules.

in 5e there is no mechanic for the combining of multiple sources of damage into one. We often do that as a convenience, but there is nothing about magic missile that says you go from 3 1d4+1 rolls into a single 3d4 + 3.

meanwhile when you target 3 creatures, there seems to be common agreement that you roll damage 3 times, and each creature makes a concentration check. There is nothing in the spell that moving the damage to a single target changes the sources of damage.

people will argue the word “simultaneous” does that…but there is no mechanical weight there…nothing that says 3 sources of damage when applied simultaneously suddenly merge their damage together.

so I do think 3 sources are a more proper ruling…but I also think it’s a more broken ruling…hence I do go with a single source in my game
 


  • 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.
I have to admit we ignore these ones on the grounds that "that's dumb", especially the second one, which is just in the "petty bollocks" realm of rules, something 5E has been cutting back on severely, but still has a bit of lingering.
 

El Condoro

Explorer
I would rule that the damage source is not the missiles but the spell, so it is a single source. I wouldn't be able to argue that from RAW, though.
 



Bolares

Hero
My rulling on multiple hit spells is the following: Each time you roll a d20 to hit it's considered a new hit. Magic Missile doesn't have a to hit roll so this rulling is useless to it though hahahah.

Both rullings on Magic Missile have good points, so I'd defer to the rule of fun, wichever my players seem to enjoy the most would be the rulling I'd use on it.
 

El Condoro

Explorer
Would you rule scorching ray and eldritch blast the same way? (Single spell cast, multiple attack rolls)
Yes. To me a cantrip (EB) and even a 2nd-level spell like SR are OP if they involve multiple concentration checks for a target. The benefit of casting the extra instances at the spellcaster is in the increased DC required to keep concentration (one roll). I know that Jeremy Crawford tweeted one roll per hit for MM in 2016 but to me that's OP. Just my take on this issue which has valid arguments on both sides.
 

Bolares

Hero
Yes. To me a cantrip (EB) and even a 2nd-level spell like SR are OP if they involve multiple concentration checks for a target. The benefit of casting the extra instances at the spellcaster is in the increased DC required to keep concentration (one roll). I know that Jeremy Crawford tweeted one roll per hit for MM in 2016 but to me that's OP. Just my take on this issue which has valid arguments on both sides.
Would a fighter with extra attacks be ruled in the same way?it's multiple rolls for the same action...
 

El Condoro

Explorer
Would a fighter with extra attacks be ruled in the same way?it's multiple rolls for the same action...
I'm not sure anyone would do it that way but it could be. The wording 'whenever you take damage while you are concentrating on a spell' would seem to indicate that a separate roll is made for each hit (weapon or spell instance, although I would still argue that MM's simultaneous damage is one roll) but it could work that the fighter combines their damage from both attacks and the caster makes one concentration save with the resulting DC. That would be in the realm of an individual ruling, though.
 

I'm not sure anyone would do it that way but it could be. The wording 'whenever you take damage while you are concentrating on a spell' would seem to indicate that a separate roll is made for each hit (weapon or spell instance, although I would still argue that MM's simultaneous damage is one roll) but it could work that the fighter combines their damage from both attacks and the caster makes one concentration save with the resulting DC. That would be in the realm of an individual ruling, though.
the trouble is natural language & the followup section "If you take damage from multiple sources, such as an arrow and a dragon’s breath, you make a separate saving throw for each "
I commend @Bolares for pointing out that the pooor poooor fighter needs wotc to rescue them from the deliberately unclear natural language of concentration & expect we will see it get a sidebar or rework in some near future publication now
 

gelf

Explorer
Yes. To me a cantrip (EB) and even a 2nd-level spell like SR are OP if they involve multiple concentration checks for a target. The benefit of casting the extra instances at the spellcaster is in the increased DC required to keep concentration (one roll). I know that Jeremy Crawford tweeted one roll per hit for MM in 2016 but to me that's OP. Just my take on this issue which has valid arguments on both sides.
As long as you're consistent, I don't see a problem with you running your game this way. RAW isn't the only thing to consider when you're DMing.

There is definitely a trade off between more, low DC, concentration checks and fewer, but higher DC, concentration checks. I think it could be a neat way to highlight the difference between martial classes and spellcasters, in your game.
 


In regards to Magic Missile and its effectiveness on anything that is downed or making Death Saving throws, technically the version that can "Double/Triple Tap" something in that regards is Jim's Magic Missile from the Acquisitions Incorporated book. That spell has you roll a Spell Attack Roll for each separate missile, which is something that regular Magic Missile doesn't. Therefore it would allow you to take out downed things easily as long as you don't roll a 1 that would cause ALL the darts to make a U-Turn and smack the caster instead. And since upcasting it apparently increases the chances of you rolling a 1, a default casting of Jim's Magic Missile should Double/Triple tap reliably(ish) well.

But I low-key like the idea of regular Magic Missile being able to do the same thing.
 

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