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My New Exhaustion House Rules

I recently discussed the pros and cons of the current 5e exhaustion rules vs. those appearing on ‘One D&D’ playtests, and since then I’ve felt a bit frustrated with both systems.

Is it too much to ask to have an easy to remember system, that affects both movement and spellcasting, is punitive enough to be meaningful, stacks with disadvantage (a pro of the One D&D system I forgot to mention in my earlier post) and doesn’t drag on for an interminable 10 levels?

Having given it some thought… no I don’t think it is! Here, then, are my new Hipster Remix exhaustion rules, currently being playtested in my in-person Barcelona game.

Exhaustion Table: Hipster Remix

Exhaustion LevelD20 Tests PenaltyMovement PenaltySpell Slots Lost
1-2-5 ft.1
2-4-10 ft.2
3-6Half3
4-8Half - 5 ft.4
5-10Half - 10 ft. 5
6DeadDeadDead

The table below should be fairly self-explanatory, but two quick notes:

  • The D20 Tests penalty also applies to a spellcaster’s saving throw DC
  • The spell slots lost start with your highest available spell slots.

And now here comes the clever part…

Powering Through!

In my new house rules, you can expend a hit die to temporarily relieve one level of exhaustion. To do so, you roll the die and you remove a level of exhaustion for a number of rounds equal to the die roll (no modifiers).

We can even name this mechanic “energy surge”, “burst of life”, “powering through” or perhaps “dying wind” (if you want to be cruel!).

Why I am pleased with this solution? Because now DMs can hand out exhaustion more readily, without it being incredibly tedious for players, or the beginning of an inexorable downward spiral. Instead it’s just another tax on their resources… moreover one that nicely ties hit points and exhaustion together. Because now being exhausted is going to make it harder to recover hit points through hit dice.

An Example…

Now for an example of how it might work in play. Shin Bravestar, a 4th level fighter, has had to journey hard through inclement weather to complete his mission to accompany a priest of Lathander to the Monastery of the Morning Glory. He arrives at the monastery with two levels of exhaustion. When orcs attack at dusk, Shin doesn’t want to have to take a -4 penalty to hit in a crux battle. So he uses two hit dice to offset the exhaustion penalties by ‘Powering Through’. He rolls a 3 and a 6 on two d10. The two rolls are applied simultaneously, so for three rounds he can act as if he has no exhaustion levels, and for rounds 4-6 he can act as if he has only one level of exhaustion. By round 7, his two levels of exhaustion kick back in; and he has two less hit dice for recovering hit points later, or for carrying into the next day (remember PCs only recover half their hit dice on a long rest, so it’s a noteable disadvantage to end the day with less than half your hit dice remaining).

“Anyone got a spare hit die, lads?”

Final Word

That’s it! That’s how I’m playing exhaustion for now, and I thought it was worth sharing… let me know if you give a try on your table. (I’ve only managed one or two sessions trying it, as during summer it’s always hard to convene my in-person group! But so far so good…).

This post was informed by my thoughts – and the insightful reader comments – on both the aforementioned 5e vs One D&D post, and also the Exhaustion for Death, Devilry and Derring-Do post.

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6 Comments

  1. Justin

    I’m curious why you’ve added the spell slot penalty? Given you’ve ensured spellcasters are equally affected by the base -2/level penalty by including spell DCs in that.

    Also TBH I think a flat -5′ speed/level is a lot neater, vastly easier to remember, and only rarely different to what you’ve done.

    Otherwise I like it, especially with your ‘Fatigue’ half-condition suggestion from the older post.

    • duncan

      Hi Justin

      Just experimenting with the spell slot penalty, but spellcasters in general have it too easy in 5e for me… this column could easily be removed for DMs who don’t want to mess around with that.

      The movement was a lot neater when it was increments of 5, but a wood elf monk with the mobile feat could still be speeding around the battlefield with 3 or 4 levels of exhaustion.

  2. PK

    Hi Duncan,

    I love it! Great dice mechanic that gives another use of Hit Dice. Well done.

    I have gone to something similar in my game where I have started to use Hit Dice in other rules. I have ended up calling them “Recovery” dice. With Recovery Dice you can:
    – spend 1 Recovery Dice after combat to heal roll+CON hit points.
    – spend CON bonus (min 1) Recovery Dice when you finish a rest to heal roll+CON hit points.
    – spend 1 Recovery Dice at anytime to boost save against an ongoing condition e.g. Exhaustion, fear, etc.
    – you restore CON bonus (min 1) Recovery Dice per day.

    This works well with my Exhaustion “Stack”
    1. Slowed:
    – DIS on DEX saves
    – 1/2 movement
    2. Fatigued
    – Slowed
    – Limited Action: choose either to Move or do one of Action, Bonus Action, Reaction.
    3. Exhausted
    – Fatigued
    – DIS on all d20 Tests
    – DC 20 ability check (CON) to remove condition; but you get +3 bonus per day of full rest.

    And answering you question from your other posts comment – I don’t have death by exhaustion. I figure the world will get exhausted creatures in other ways. Like my damage from Weather, food, and thirst or wandering monsters, etc.

    But your mechanic of having exhaustion deny caster’s their highest Spell Slots is interesting too. It really means players need deploy their “energy surge” as a resource.

    I still have found that after 5th level exhaustion never comes up in 5e RAW. Too many spells to side step that style of play unless the DM nerfs the spells of Goodberry, Create Food and Water, Tiny Hut, etc.

    regards, PK

    • duncan

      hi PK

      Oh great, yeah I love the Recovery Dice idea…. losing turn after turn to a failed repeat saving throw is really tedious as a player. Does this mean a barbarian can roll a d12 though and add to a failed repeat save? Bit of a boost to martial classes if so, which I’m not against btw.

      The Con modifier recovery of recovery dice however, maybe makes Con a bit too essential for my tastes… also means most characters are just getting 2 dice a day?

      I think your three level exhaustion mechanic is pretty great actually… less levels, less to remember.

      Yeah, I’m not a big fan of any of those spells you mention for that reason. 🤷🏻‍♂️

      Tiny Hut in particular feels badly designed, although believe it or not I’ve never actually seen it in play… most folks gravitate towards the flashier third level options in my experience!

  3. Rick Coen

    Well dang, Duncan, that’s a great idea (Powering Through)! I’m still not sold on nuking spell slots (since they are already weakened via lowering the save DC), but I love the idea of spending HD to *temporarily* alleviate Exhaustion!

    I decided to stick with the 10-level Exhaustion scale, but otherwise doing the same as you (-5′ speed every *two* levels). I hand out Exhaustion for “hitting 0”, “failed death saves”, or “being Wounded” (having taking a critical hit or a 25% max hp hit), in addition to starving and weather. And you only have a *chance* (CON save DC 10) to regain a level when camping. (Resting in a “safe comfortable location” gives 1 back *and* a chance to recover a second.) So dropping to 4 levels of Exhaustion in a fight – very easy to happen – will impair you for up to a week!

    I am going to yoink your Powering-Through concept. This is a great mitigation idea!

    One Question: Can a spellcaster “power through” lost spell slots by spending HD?

    • duncan

      Hi Rick

      Great, yes I think it means you can give out those realistic bits of exhaustion for being wounded, failing death saves etc. and feel less like a meany as a DM… because at least now players can get rid of the penalties for clutch / life threatening moments.

      Yes, if you use a hit die to ‘power through’ you would temporarily recover the spell slot you lost, so you could cast it… although when your exhaustion returned you’d lose whatever your remaining highest slot was.

      So if you had a 3rd and 1st level slot remaining and you gained one level of exhaustion, you’d lose the 3rd level slot and just have the 1st left available. You could use a HD to recover the 3rd level slot and cast it, but then when your ‘energy surge’ was up you’d then lose that 1st level slot, as it would be the highest spell slot you had available. (Of course, if you didn’t roll a 1 on your hit die when ‘powering through’, you would be able to power through long enough to cast the 1st slot too).

      Realistically I think the result will be that spellcasters function as normal, but have to use their hit dice to cast spells and won’t have them for recovering hit points.

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