Picture this: your player is lying on the ground, close to dying. You thought it was an easy in and out job. Just a few good ol’ goblins…But here you are, struggling to stay alive. Do not beat yourself up about it. Early level combat can prove to be quite brutal, and more often than not, ends with a rather high body count.
Here’s where D&D 5E Death Saves come to your rescue. Whether you are new to the tabletop game or just trying to get past an obstacle while playing D&D, this guide will let you know all there is about 5E Death Saves.
What is A Death Saving Throw?
To be absolutely blunt, a death saving throw is exactly what it sounds like: you employ one when you are close to dying. Nothing more, nothing less. According to page 197 of the Player’s Handbook, this is what a D&D 5E Death Saving Throw is:
“Whenever you start your turn with 0 hit points, you must make a special saving throw, called a death saving throw, to determine whether you creep closer to death or hang on to life.”
Now, to give a little more context, D&D Death Saving Throw is a particularly special type of roll to find out if your character dies. If your character hits 0 HP, they will inevitably fall unconscious and become incapacitated. That’s when the time is ripe for a death saving throw.
How Do Death Saving Throws Work?
If your character starts a turn with 0 hit points, it is a good idea to roll a death saving throw. DnD 5E Death Saves are not tied to any Ability Score. For the most part, it just requires rolling a d20 without modifiers. If your character rolls a 10 or higher, it’s a success! If not, you fail. Note that you will need to succeed a whole of three times to get your stability back on track. On the flip side, three failures will lead to death.
The good news is, the chronology of your rolls does not matter. Success and failure can occur in any order, not necessarily one after the other. Once you regain hit points or gain some semblance of stability, you reset to 0 once again.
Now, a few rules can impact D&D 5E Death Saves. Let’s go through them briefly:
Crits: If your character rolls a 20 on a 5E Death Saving Throw, they immediately get back to consciousness. Your character will then regain 1 HP and act normally once again. Word of advice: your first job at that point would be to crawl away while looking as inconspicuous as possible.
Fumbles: If your character rolls a 1 on a Death Save, it is deemed as two failures instead of the usual one.
Taking Damage at 0 HP: If your character takes damage while at 0 hit points, they get a Death Saving Throw failure. Moreover, if the damage taken is from a critical hit, bam- there goes two failures!
Note that melee attacks that hit an incapacitated or unconscious target are made at an advantage. If it hits, it becomes an automatic critical hit. If the damage taken is equal to or more than your character’s HP maximum, that’s instant death right there!
Medicine Checks: If no one else can access healing spells, a player can stabilize a dying fellow player by employing a Medicine Check with a 10 DC.
How to Improve Death Saving Throws
5E Death Saves might seem a little too dependent on luck, but there are ways to maneuver around it and increase your odds. Let’s go through the various ways you can sway the odds in your favor:
- The Undying Warlock’s level 6 ability of Defy Death allows your character to regain 1d8+ Constitution modifier hit points following a success on a Death Saving Throw.
- A Monk’s level 14 Dying Soul ability gives proficiency in 5E Death Saves, letting you re-roll a fail by expending 1 Ki point.
- The Divine Soul Sorcerer’s level 1 Favored by the Gods ability, lets you add 2d4 to a Death Saving Throw once every short or long rest.
- For a friendly Artificer, using Flash of Genius to add an Intelligence modifier to their 5E Death Saves is a great way to increase the odds.
- The Artificer’s level 20 Soul of Artifice ability offers them a bonus to all Death Saving Throws same as the number of items the character is presently attuned to.
- A Luck Stone, a Cloak of Protection, and similar magic items that offer a bonus to all Death Saving Throws can provide a modifier for the save.
- If you are within any friendly Paladin’s Aura of Protection, you can add their Cha modifier to your character’s roll. However, a Paladin’s death saves are not impacted by this, since the Aura of Protection will not function if they are unconscious.
- If your character is inspired by a Bard, they can use the Bardic Inspiration die. For this, you must already be inspired before your unconsciousness.
- If your DM grants you the Lucky feat, you can spend a luck point to reroll the d20.
- The Halfling racial trait, Lucky, will let you re-roll a 1 on the Death Save. By doing this, your character can successfully avoid taking two failures at a time and potentially turn the failure into a success. Note that you can still roll two 1s one after the other.
Like most games, death is an inherent part of D&D. Characters will inevitably die. A bad night of rolling and D&D 5E Death Saves might just fail you. It’s important to remember that this is all a part of the game. It adds to the thrill and essence of D&D.
It’s best not to dwell on it and get on with the results. Who knows, it could make for a great anecdote later! Happy questing!