How is the portion of the frightened condition meant to be interpreted:

The creature can’t willingly move closer to the source of its fear.

More specifically, what is meant by "move closer"?

Here are a few options I've come up with which may include some insights into the answer:

  1. The shortest linear path (ignoring obstacles) cannot be decreased
    • This would mean I could not approach a wall when the source of fear (let's say a creature) is on the other side even if it increases the distance it would have to travel to get to me (say around a winding corridor)
  2. The distance that would need to be travelled to reach the source cannot be decreased
    • This has the opposite effect of option 1. I could move closer to the wall, but not into the winding corridor that the creature is approaching from.
  3. The travel time to reach the source of fear cannot be decreased.
    • This is relevant for cases such as difficult terrain, variable movement speeds, planar travel (would portals factor in?), and other such factors.

I'm sure there are other interpretations that I haven't come up that may be more in line with the rules.


4 Answers 4


Closer is physically closer

I think you may be reading more into this than necessary, but the language of can't move closer is really as simple as can not get physically closer. If at any point in the target's movement they try to be physically closer to the source of their fear, they can not continue and must choose a new path.

That leaves #1 as the answer to your question.

You may move around, you may take a path that is the long way to the caster, but as soon as that path puts the target in a position that is closer than where they were when first affected, they must stop and go somewhere else.

Scary monsters!

Remember, you are frightened! You do not want to get anywhere physically closer to your fear. It's all about proximity, that's all your thinking about. It's not about time to travel to get to them, it's about being close to them. And that's exactly where you don't want to be. You are not thinking logically, you are reacting irrationally to your fear.

Fear is a funny thing

The role-playing goal here is to play scared. If you've got an idea that plays that, and aren't trying to get close enough for a spell or attack, then by all means describe it to the DM. Rule of Cool is cool.

  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ What if ducking behind a wall or other sort of cover technically put you slightly closer to the monster, but increased the time that it would take for either creature to face each other? I think putting practical distance between you and your source of fear would be a reasonable thing for a terrified character to do. \$\endgroup\$
    – Noelle B
    Commented Jun 14, 2018 at 19:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ I agree with @NoelleB and #2 as the right answer. 'Closer' logically makes more sense than closer physically. \$\endgroup\$
    – lucasvw
    Commented Jun 14, 2018 at 20:55
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for the "Remember you are frightened" comment. Fear is not rational. You don't get to count squares or calculate range; you just get to go AARRGGGHHHHRUNAWAYRUNAWAY!!!! \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 15, 2018 at 1:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ What if I'm leaning against a corner, and thatthing is walking along one of the walls? The only sensible strategy is to get the hell out of there, even if it gets me closer a few centimeters (let's say 5.05m to 5.00m) to my enemy temporarily. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 15, 2018 at 6:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ @JohnDvorak You would if you had a phobia, which is effectively what frightened means. A spider landing on an arachnophobic almost paralyses them. It (Frightened and phobic) isn't a condition where you can do the sensible thing, you simply act. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Commented Jun 15, 2018 at 11:38

It could mean any of those things

You're not going to find a meaningful RAW answer for this. If you want to argue pure linguistics, to "move closer" is to shorten the physical distance between yourself and the point of interest. To consider any other criteria would be to stray from what the rules say as a lawyer would interpret them. You can't use walls or obstacles or terrain without inviting all sorts of room for debate.

That said, I would argue a good DM would get away from a RAW answer here and make use of some common sense by using walls and obstacles and all those things I just said you can't use. If a character is fearful of an ogre and moves along a wall so that it is closer to the ogre but the distance required to travel through the halls increases, that should be allowed. If the character is fearful of a specter, the same logic can't apply.

Whether you are controlling a PC or DMing, stay true to the spirit of the rule, here. The fear of God has been put into a character's heart and they want nothing more than to distance themselves from this thing that put it there. Behave as such, however that makes the most sense for the specific scenario.


The creature can’t willingly move closer to the source of its fear.

Emphasis mine.

I think the fact that it depends on what the creature intends to do factors in a great deal. Most interpretations of this rule have to do with unwitting movement (i.e. the creature gets pushed, or is on a conveyor belt, etc.) but I would generally defer to option #2 in most situations relevant to your specific scenario.

One other consideration is the fact that most, if not all, causes of the Frightened condition specify "so long as the source of fear is visible", or some similar condition, so if the wall is opaque and obscures the source's position, then the character would be able to move freely until the source moves within line of sight.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Visibility is a good point just from a pure RP point of view, even when the condition doesn't specify it it explicitly. It's one thing to argue that moving towards a creature but on the other side of a wall is a reasonable "frightened" behaviour when the walls are 5m tall. It's quite another when the're only 1m tall, even if it's the sort of creature that you know won't be able to reach you over that obstacle. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ben
    Commented Jun 15, 2018 at 7:01

Closer is closer and fear is fear

TL;DR The object you are frightened of could do anything, so you are not able to calculate or measure anything.

I am not sure that combining cold logic and fear could work. I think that it is something similar like for example arachnophobia, herpetophobia or acrophobia.

From wikipedia about specific phobia:

A specific phobia is any kind of anxiety disorder that amounts to an unreasonable or irrational fear related to exposure to specific objects or situations. As a result, the affected person tends to avoid contact with the objects or situations and, in severe cases, any mention or depiction of them.

I had an arachnophobia and I can assure you that I didn't count the distance from the spider :-D I also didn't count if some closer place is better than some other, because the fear is irrational and in your head the spider could do amazing things - like make great long and height jumps like from the Olympics games and all he wants is your blood.
I am pretty sure that if you are frightened of a spellcaster, they could definitely go through the wall or just appear behind your back (and some of them are really able to do that). If you are frightened of some great and mighty beast, they could definitely destroy everything - table, door, wall, rock - you name it (and some of them are really able to do that).

  • \$\begingroup\$ For me or had anyways been mentally further, no longer can see phobia. Vs. Physically further \$\endgroup\$
    – Pliny
    Commented Jun 15, 2018 at 10:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ While this is a good analysis of fear in the real world, the frightened condition (what I asked about) has very specific mechanical application and may not be as simple or as complex as conventional fear. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 15, 2018 at 15:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ In my opinion this is exactly what the frightened condition is about. The first part of this condition is clear, because the character has disadvantage on ability checks and attack rolls, while the source of its fear is within line of sight. The second part doesn't have any text about line of sight. There is just can't willingly move closer. \$\endgroup\$
    – Artholl
    Commented Jun 16, 2018 at 12:26

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