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Is there a potion or <= level 3 spell (or something else), or an in-game drug/root/plant/etc. that can be used to essentially prevent a character from sleeping for a certain amount of time, or otherwise disrupt and prevent a single long rest of an individual character?

From what I can tell, while there's loads of ways to force somebody to sleep, there don't seem to be any lower level means to force somebody to stay awake.

There are the Dream and Nightmare spells, but they're level 5.

Basically, I'm looking for some way for a player character to intentionally prevent a specific other player character's long rest for a night. Nobody but the target player should know who is disrupting their rest. Ideally not even they would realize who did it, but that's not required. Also, the one performing the disruption has to be able to rest themselves (so no keeping them awake by constantly talking/shaking them).

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    \$\begingroup\$ Of all the SE sites, this one definitely has the most helpful editors. Thanks. :D \$\endgroup\$ – Jason C Aug 23 at 17:42
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Just talk

A long rest is a period of extended downtime, at least 8 hours long, during which a character sleeps for at least 6 hours and performs no more than 2 hours of light activity, such as reading, talking, eating, or standing watch. If the rest is interrupted by a period of strenuous activity - at least 1 hour of walking, fighting, casting spells, or similar adventuring activity - the characters must begin the rest again to gain any benefit from it.

If you can use less than 2 hours of light activity to force the other character to go over their limit of an hour of strenuous activity or 2 hours of light activity, then your rest will succeed and the other character's rest will fail.

Doing so is surprisingly easy in any scenario where watches are necessary. You take the last watch, so that you know the other character has already been on watch duty before you. During your watch you engage the other character in conversation, just enough so that (in addition to his previous watch) he has done more than 2 hours of light activity over the course of the night. You befenfit from the long rest, whereas the other character does not.

But if you want the assurance of a spell then...

I recommend suggestion

You suggest a course of activity (limited to a sentence or two) and magically influence a creature you can see within range that can hear and understand you. Creatures that can't be charmed are immune to this effect. The suggestion must be worded in such a manner as to make the course of action sound reasonable. Asking the creature to stab itself, throw itself onto a spear, immolate itself, or do some other obviously harmful act ends the spell.

Forgoing a long rest is nowhere near as harmful as immolating oneself, so the suggestion should be valid so long as it is worded reasonably. For example, you could suggest:

  • "The wee hours of the morning are the best time to exercise, you should jog for a couple hours", which is too much strenuous activity.
  • "Please take another watch with me, I can't see in the dark as well as you", which is too much light activity (assuming the other character has already taken another watch before you).

The other character gains no benefit from the long rest, whereas you do, because you performed light activity for less than two hours and no strenuous activity whatsoever.

It's unclear whether the other character can understand he was enchanted. The spell doesn't say either way, but supposedly the other character remembers that you cast something during your conversation and could put 2 and 2 together. The Subtle Spell metamagic should fix this problem as merely holding a spell focus isn't a dead giveaway, especially if your focus is something always at hand, like a staff.

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Have your familiar slap1 them

From the PHB errata:

A long rest is a period of extended downtime, at least 8 hours long, during which a character sleeps for at least 6 hours

Prevent them from sleeping and it’s not a long rest. Your PC sleeps while the familiar, under your orders, slaps the target PC awake - Or tickles them, or meows into their ear, or pulls on their ear - every so often during the night so that they don't get 6 hours of sleep.

1 Just an example, any method of sleep deprivation works.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This was roughly the solution I had in mind, so thanks for saving me the effort. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Aug 22 at 13:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ I really like this one, since use of a familiar lets you play it off as your familiar just taking a particular liking to that person. You could probably work with your GM to have your familiar just act friendlier towards that character in general so bothering them in the middle of the night won't seem particularly suspicious. \$\endgroup\$ – MrSpudtastic Aug 22 at 14:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ I really like this, too, as much as Ruse's answer, which I accepted just based on popular votes. If and when I can afford a bounty, I'll toss some points your way too. Great suggestions everywhere here. Thank you! \$\endgroup\$ – Jason C Aug 25 at 22:45
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Alchemists Fire will certainly do the trick.

I mean it's obviously a joke (that I must stress technically would do the trick), but what it boils down to is disturbing sleep is easily done through any number of mundane means. Noise, splashing water on the target, undercooking their food to make their stomach upset, grinding some poisonberry into their drink, rubbing poison ivy on them, etc.

You could always take the child approach and keep waking them to ask them questions or to get their help with something.

Some casters can use familiars to constantly bug the sleeping player. Unseen servants can harass them. Mage hand, summoned creatures, Ranger animal companions, and even just regular creatures somebody performs successful animal handling checks with.

Or you can go the really extreme route and scout for enemies. Once you find a group of goblins, highway men, orcs or other creatures with intelligence, you can strike up some barter and hire them to harass the camp and prevent that player from getting a good night's rest. Alternately you could lure hostile creatures into the camp to do the same thing.

There's literally no limit to the number of ways you can interrupt sleep. Just think about times you've been interrupted in your sleep and apply them in game.

I'm going to relate a scenario that I used to give you an idea of what I mean.

Objective: Cause a 1 hour interruption in the long rest.

So to do this I start by looking for a sufficient enemy to achieve my goals. I find a tribe of orcs within 10 kilometers of the camp. I know that if we leave them be, they'll ignore us and probably not even know we were here, but that's not what I want. So instead I let myself get spotted by a sentry of theirs, and flee through the forest back to my camp, making sure to leave clear markings where I'm going. Now, I know where I'm headed so I'm going to get quite a lead. As part of my plan, I happen to drop a map that has our camp marked, as well as other camps we've used on our journey this way.

Once I get back, I burst into the camp screaming that orcs are coming. The party, now alerted, stands to and begins hastily strapping on gear and getting weapons. The orcs will either crash in and we have an encounter, or I managed to lose them. Either way, we get a tense 10 minutes of waiting for any sign of the orcs, followed up by another 5 to 10 minutes of searching for any sign of them coming. When it was apparent they were not coming, everybody turned accusatory eyes to the antagonist who interrupted their rest.

The sleepy characters grumble about having wasted sleep and begin peeling everything off again. Just as they're about to settle down, I mention that the orc party is rather large, and while it might suck, we should probably move camp. Then I reveal I must have lost my map while scouting because I can't find it anywhere, and the orcs might have it. Sighing, I point out that we probably need to move camp or we're going to continue getting attacked.

If they don't choose to react to the orc threat: Five minutes after they're settled, screaming that you can hear incoming wargs repeats the earlier process. Orc messengers and scouts sometimes travel on wargs to get around quickly, so the group should be reacting as if there's a threat again. This accomplishes the 1 hour break in the long rest needed.

If they do choose to move campsites: Tearing down and setting up a camp takes time. Between strapping on armor, striking tents, readying the horses, travelling to a new location and setting everything up again, at least an hour will have passed.

There you go. Either way the long rest has been interrupted.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This is woefully inadequate unless you expect your alchemist's fire to distract them for over an hour. \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Aug 22 at 3:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ @thedarkwanderer they even said alchemist fire was a joke, but I do agree that explaining that any interruption would need to last one hour (if strenuous), or two hours (as you need six hours of sleep) \$\endgroup\$ – Medix2 Aug 22 at 3:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yeah I think it would be tricky to get this to the required duration to negate a long rest. Plus; If player a actively distracted b for too long It'd break a's rest too. \$\endgroup\$ – Jason C Aug 22 at 4:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ The interruption doesn't have to be continguous, it just has to have the effect of interrupting the rest for an hour. Repeated bandit sightings. The threat of a nearby monster. Constant calls to stand to arms. All of these constantly interrupting a rest can cause that hour long interruption which would disqualify the long rest. I'll provide a concrete example in my answer. \$\endgroup\$ – Lino Frank Ciaralli Aug 22 at 20:27
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Yes, but it's very difficult

First of all, rests work like this:

A long rest is a period of extended downtime, at least 8 hours long, during which a character sleeps for at least 6 hours and performs no more than 2 hours of light activity, such as reading, talking, eating, or standing watch. If the rest is interrupted by a period of strenuous activity - at least 1 hour of walking, fighting, casting spells, or similar adventuring activity - the characters must begin the rest again to gain any benefit from it.

(emphasis added)

You should consult this question for more on that (and Does a short combat or casting one spell interrupt a Long Rest? in you're feeling persnickety about commas). The short of it is any rest-based resources spent by a resting character while fighting off an interruption will be regained at the end of the rest so unless you actually occupy them for over an hour you're actually at a disadvantage if you attempt an ambush as a distraction because their long rest will likely finish before yours (unless you ambush them as an interruption to your ongoing long rest but that can backfire very badly and if you have that much foreknowledge you should use the boost from finishing your long rest mid-fight to just kill or subdue them anyways rather than just distracting them).

So, if you want to prevent a long rest you need either to interrupt them for more than an hour with something reliable or an effect that specifically prevents long rests. The only thing that does the latter on-demand is the Nightmare version of Dream and various similarly themed monster abilities, like the 'Nightmare Haunting' ability of the Night Hag. Given that your target spell level is 3, none of these are going to be reasonable options for you.

Instead, you will need to devise a method to get an hour's worth of interruption to the rest. The simplest way to do this is to provide the target party with what appears to be an ideal resting spot but then alter circumstances partway through the rest so that the party cannot complete the rest at that location and must proceed through unexplored territory before resuming the rest. While such a tactic is better used as an attempt to pressure your opposing party into dispensing with caution so that you can ambush them for the kill via e.g. convincing them to split up or making it more likely that they take trap damage or whatever, the threat used to apply that pressure is the threat that they would lose their long rest and it is possible that a party might choose to just lose the rest rather than move quickly.

With low-level characters, most of the contraptions I've seen built for this purpose involve water. Create Water is no longer up to this task in 5e, but Mold Earth can very quickly redirect rivers and in combination with Shape Water is often used to set up a trap whereby a pre-existing dungeon chamber is converted to appeal to an opposing party as a room to rest in and then part-way through the rest one party member drops a river through an opening in the ceiling of said room to the surface and other party members do something (e.g. causing a cave-in, barring a metal door, casting Arcane Lock, setting up a basically unbeatable ambush) that prevents the opposing party from retreating via the entrance they used. The opposing party is thus forced further into the dungeon, hopefully to their demise or at least loss of rest as they will not be able to rest until they find a way to stop the flooding from being an issue.

This works best, of course, if the opposing party lacks Mold Earth and especially Shape Water-- the later often providing a means for the ambushed party to hole up only slightly further in the dungeon and resume their rest.

Beyond flooding, rest prevention doesn't usually ever work out as a strategy before 7thish level in our PvP games. Even then, flooding (via Control Water) is a very crucial and exceedingly common element in the rest-prevention and environmental-pressure game until Dream comes online (at which point everything focuses around enabling and disabling that spell).

Exotic settings with dangerous environs like the Plane of Fire or the airless void of space can provide other ways to flood areas similarly to water, but the effects in these cases are about the same (something bad is following you and cutting off rooms at such-and-such a pace) if more dire in terms of casual contact.

As a final note, Long Rests can only be benefitted from once every 24 hours. If you can trick your opponents into finishing a second rest before the first one's cooldown is up, that rest will be completely wasted. I've yet to see anyone manage to pull off using this offensively, though, nor have I done so myself. If you are in a mechanized setting, though, like Ravnica or Eberron, I would suggest trying to pickpocket and adjust the enemy's clocks, then encouraging them to try to ambush you with a mid-fight rest boost. I haven't had an opportunity yet, but I imagine the consternation when the GM tells them they actually don't get all those hp and high-level spell slots they were relying on back would be amazing.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Lots of inspiration here. I keep thinking something Alarm-like could be useful too but I'm too sleepy to think of how atm. \$\endgroup\$ – Jason C Aug 22 at 4:58

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