I want to make a character that doesn't sleep at all or sleeps very little and stays alert when not sleeping. I'm making this character as an NPC and I'm the DM, so I can basically do anything, but I would like to see if I can make this work with some rules backup. What are the options I have here?

Background: This is for a campaign concept which I would call a "free-roaming" campaign. Basically, the players start at a low level, yet a flying ship (the only one in the setting) is suddenly thrown their way. I'll give the players a map and let them decide where to go. There will be story hooks in a lot of places, but they are free to take them or leave them, and improvisation from my side will be very important.

The NPC we're talking about is the helmsman of the ship, who feels his only duty is to the ship. His basic backstory is that he was always a good helmsman and he just made the step to the airship when he was looking for new challenges. He will be showing off his skillful maneuvers when he gets the opportunity (such as when they are being chased by a dragon - there's this whole dragon thing going on...). He is no fighting guy or adventurer, but I don't see any problem with limiting him to (the properties of) a particular level, and money isn't a problem either, since his previous patrons provided him with what he needed. Nevertheless, I wouldn't exactly go for epic level gear.

Basically, what I want to do is create the possibility to fly all night and day without requiring the characters to fly the ship or he need for additional crew members. I would also like for the helmsman to take care of "standing watch", alerting the crew when there's a dragon going for them, for example. For this, I want the guy awake as much as possible, and if I can't keep him awake all the time, he should be able to notice nearby dragons and problems with or deviations from the pre-plotted course.

The options I have been able to identify so far are limited to wearing a Ring of Sustenance and playing an Elf. The ring really is a good step in the right direction, but doesn't go all the way there, and I'm a little hesitant to make this guy an elf. I personally an elf in trance wouldn't quite give me the level of awareness I am looking for, and the character's personality doesn't seem very elfish to me either. While the withdrawn "let's ignore the PCs, focus on the ship instead and just get them to where they want to go" attitude does feel sort of elf-like, the drive to always become better at his job, taking risks along the way (and when doing special things with the air ship) doesn't really feel like a match with the elves to me. That might just be my vision of what elves are, though. Either way, I would prefer a somewhat mysterious backstory with him just being able to seemingly go on working all night over "just another elf".

What character abilities and items can be used to remove the need for sleep entirely, minimize the amount of downtime each night or keep awareness up while sleeping?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Related: An insomniac character, how could that work? \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Apr 17, 2015 at 16:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ You've rejected the traditional solution of having multiple helmsmen working in shifts. Why? \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Mar 7, 2016 at 1:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GMJoe Because I want this character to be unobtrusive and concerned with the ship more than those who use the ship. That becomes a lot harder if they are normal multiple normal people that do things other than being at the helm \$\endgroup\$
    – Jasper
    Mar 7, 2016 at 10:43

4 Answers 4


The helmsman could be weird...

Neither constructs, elementals, oozes, non-native outsiders, plants, nor undead need to sleep, therefore the helmsman could be a creature with any of these types or take feats or prestige classes that transform him into any of these types. However, a helmsman could also take...

  • The general feat Tomb-tainted Vitality (Libris Mortis 31), among other effects, grants the creature the ability to go without food and sleep (yet the creature must still hydrate—whatever). The feat's prerequisites include the feat Tomb-tainted Soul (LM 31) and a nongood alignment. The feat gives the creature a "freakish skeletal appearance"—which seems a little judgy. Also, giving the helmsman these feats likely makes naming the helmsman Charon no longer optional.

...Or the vessel could be trapped (but in a good way)

Using the feat Craft Wondrous Item (PH 92) the vessel could have installed near the wheel a magical trap (DMG 74) that's a boon trap (Dungeonscape 135). Boon traps are horrible, notoriously both vague and broken, but this boon trap will be used only for...

  • The 4th-level Clr spell remove fatigue [trans] (Book of Exalted Deeds 105) grants 1 touched creature/2 levels the benefits of 8 hours of restful sleep (but casters, if they need rest, must still get it). The spell removes the condition fatigued if present and permits the target to rest 1 hour to remove the condition fatigued if, before the spell, the target had the condition exhausted.

The DM must decide on the boon trap's precise effects, but it probably won't cost more than 50,000 gp, which, while expensive for such a trivial effect, really is a trivial effect. Taking the wheel'll trigger the boon trap which will cast the spell remove fatigue on the creature, letting almost any creature serve as overnight helmsman.


There're no penalties for not sleeping unless sleep's necessary for something else, like preparing spells afterward. However, everyone knows sleep's a thing, so folks sleep even if the game doesn't mandate they must.

For those who will not be constrained by petty, demanding reality, Elder Evils, under the additional sign of the apocalypse Appaling Fecundity, presents some rules for sleep deprivation, saying that

A living creature can go without sleep for a number of days equal to its Constitution modifier (minimum one). Thereafter it is fatigued, remaining in this state for a number of days equal to its Constitution modifier (again, minimum one); if it would become fatigued during that time, it is exhausted instead. Each day after that period, the creature takes 1 point of Wisdom damage. If the total Wisdom damage exceeds its Hit Dice, the creature is affected as if by an insanity spell. (ElE 9)

The book then goes on to mention that during the Appalling Fecundity sign, one can't recover the Wisdom damage caused by lack of sleep (which is pretty clearly not the case for normal sleep loss). To clarify, the Wisdom damage accumulates until the creature falls unconscious, and lack-of-sleep effects (fatigue, exhaustion, Wisdom damage, insanity) are fixed only by sleep.

Although presented in the context of a Sign of the Apocalypse, these are decent (if long-winded) rules, finally published near the end of the game's run, for those who insist their characters needn't sleep. (Although anyone who insists his character needn't sleep will probably also insist these rules be ignored unless that sign of the apocalypse is present.)

  • \$\begingroup\$ I accepted this because it is the most comprehensive. On top of that it answers the question rather than the background situation, but does not forget the background information... \$\endgroup\$
    – Jasper
    Apr 18, 2015 at 6:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ IMO, you should begin taking wisdom damage starting at day 1 after sleep deprivation. \$\endgroup\$
    – ShadowKras
    Aug 13, 2018 at 19:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ Chan the text preceding that which you quoted states "Living creatures that require sleep lose the ability to do so, as their bodies fidget and their thoughts race. Physical exhaustion sets in, and eventually minds break." and at the end of that section "Only a sleep or deep slumber spell or equivalent effect can grant rest for a time, after which the effects of the sign begin anew." So they can't sleep without the aid of those two spells. I believe these rules are only for this sign. Being able to go without sleep for days=Con modifier is too lenient. \$\endgroup\$
    – Zarus
    Aug 13, 2018 at 19:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Caldrun RE: "I believe these rules are only for this sign." O, I agree that they totally are, but, so far as I'm aware, it's the closest the game gets to any rules for sleep deprivation, so adapting them generally is a place to start. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 13, 2018 at 21:06

This guy sounds like a Warforged, from the Eberron setting. It's a sentient machine, doesn't sleep and "my only duty is to the ship" along with "I'll stand watch 24/7 without getting bored" is right up their alley.

Of course, it does mean your "guy" is built from wood and metal.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Eberron Campaign Setting and elsewhere mention warforged who are happy to literally sit in a hole performing some monotonous task endlessly, without rest or reprieve. Other warforged who have tasted delicious freedom feel these warforged are being abused (and organic workers who can’t keep up have their own complaints), but at the very least it establishes that a warforged can do this literally endlessly. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Apr 17, 2015 at 17:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ I did think of warforged myself, but I thought the constant drive to improve himself didn't quite fit. That might just be because I only know a little about warforged. I'll be sure to read up on them. Thanks! \$\endgroup\$
    – Jasper
    Apr 18, 2015 at 6:47
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ +1 because this is exactly the story arc the Golems in Terry Pratchett's Disc World series have. \$\endgroup\$
    – GreySage
    Jul 31, 2015 at 20:35

You could create your own magical source (i.e., the character draws energy from the ship, etc). Or you could have the character cursed - no sleep but still able to complete the job, a la Davy Jones.

One of the ways I would suggest is a constructed creature (much like Erik's Warforged).

Have you explored the possibility of a Golem? Perhaps a wood golem or iron golem that is attached to the ship, much like Pilot from Farscape?

Or even a treant that was planted in there when the ship was being created?

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Gotta love Pilot from Farscape; he was in fact one of my first thoughts for this position as well. However, it didn't ring completely true to me, so I ended where I am right now - looking for a (somehwat) more normal character that doesn't need sleep. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jasper
    Apr 18, 2015 at 6:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ Understandable. Then maybe a more aware undead? Preserved sea captain? \$\endgroup\$
    – GMScherz
    Apr 20, 2015 at 15:15

You've already accepted a great answer, but one other point I'll add in under "minimize the need for sleep" is to put it off for a while. Think of it like how Odin needs the Odinsleep in the Thor comics.

The helmsman could be cursed to be tied to the ship as Hey I Can Chan stated above. The helmsman only sleeps when the ship goes in for repairs and maintenance once a year. So he still has to sleep, but he banks his need for it. When the ship goes in for a week of repairs the helmsman must get that corresponding week of sleep... or he functions at reduced capacity. A noisy port preventing the helmsman from getting his sleep might provide more story conflict potential for the players. So would skipping regular maintenance on the ship.

You've created a really interesting idea.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ That's a very interesting idea. Though I've gone in a different direction with the case laid out in the question, this sounds like something I might definitely use somewhere else in the future. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jasper
    Mar 7, 2016 at 9:33

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .