D&D 5E Dropping to 0 HP - House Rule Variant

OB1

Jedi Master
Goal: Provide a disincentive to players to allow themselves to drop to 0 HP that doesn't result in a death spiral or 5MWD. Encourage players to avoid unnecessary combat and retreat from combats going poorly to regroup and attempt another direction to achieve their goal. Increase the drama and tension of decision making in a difficult combat that the players don't want to retreat from.

Proposed House Rule:
  • When you drop to 0 HP, you fall unconscious and begin making death saving throws as normal.
  • Whenever you regain HP from 0 the following happens:
    • 0 Failed Death Saving Throws - You regain HP, but don't regain consciousness for 1 minute
    • 1 Failed Death Saving Throw - You regain HP, but don't regain consciousness for 10 minutes
    • 2 Failed Death Saving Throws - You regain HP, but don't regain consciousness for 1 hour (this time period does not count as a short rest)
  • If you are reduced to 0 HP during this period of unconsciousness, your death saves are reset and your period of unconsciousness restarts once you gain HP, lasting for a period of time based on your highest failed death save count since being conscious (so no healing someone to 1 hp with 2 death saves, then knocking them down to 0 and healing them again to get the 1 min time period)
  • The period of unconsciousness ends early if you are healed to full hit points or if a spell such as Greater Restoration is cast on you.
  • This period of unconsciousness also occurs when being brought back from the dead.
Thoughts?

Revised Version from thread notes (5/21)
  • When you drop to 0 HP, you fall unconscious and begin making death saving throws as normal.
  • Whenever you regain HP from 0, you regain consciousness, but are Slowed (per the spell) for 1 hour.
  • The period of Slow ends early if you are healed to full hit points or if a spell such as Greater Restoration is cast on you.
  • This period of Slow also occurs when you are brought back from the dead.
 
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Stalker0

Legend
I think the length of unconsciousness is a bit fiddly and honestly in the vast vast majority of games, the 1 minute is going to be plenty. Effectively you are saying unless a player is brought back to full, they are completely out of the fight, whether that's 1 minute or 10 minute the incentive you are giving the players is about the same.

So I would just simplify it to:
  • When you drop to 0 HP, you fall unconscious and begin making death saving throws as normal.
  • If you are brought above 0 hp, you stop making death saves but remain unconscious for 1 minute, unless you are healed to full or given Greater Restoration.
This is simple and easy to remember, but still pretty brutal. Now if you wanted to still offer a little more drama and a chance for a dramatic comeback, then we add in some sauce from the 20 on a death save rule:
  • If you are brought above 0 hp, you remain unconscious for 1 minute, unless you are healed to full or given Greater Restoration. Continue to roll death saves. A failure has no penalty, but if you roll a 20 you return to consciousness.
 

dave2008

Legend
I don't have any issue with the general premise, but what if you went it about it a little differently:

Drop to 0 = your speed is reduced in half, you can't cast spells, and all attacks, saving throws, and checks are made at disadvantage, and you must make death saving throws (maybe these are not at disadvantage).

1st Failed Death saving throw = unconscious 1 minutes
2nd Failed Death Saving throw = unconscious 10 minutes
3rd Failed Death saving throw = death
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Goal: Provide a disincentive to players to allow themselves to drop to 0 HP that doesn't result in a death spiral or 5MWD. Encourage players to avoid unnecessary combat and retreat from combats going poorly to regroup and attempt another direction to achieve their goal. Increase the drama and tension of decision making in a difficult combat that the players don't want to retreat from.

Proposed House Rule:
  • When you drop to 0 HP, you fall unconscious and begin making death saving throws as normal.
  • Whenever you regain HP from 0 the following happens:
    • 0 Failed Death Saving Throws - You regain HP, but don't regain consciousness for 1 minute
    • 1 Failed Death Saving Throw - You regain HP, but don't regain consciousness for 10 minutes
    • 2 Failed Death Saving Throws - You regain HP, but don't regain consciousness for 1 hour (this time period does not count as a short rest)
  • If you are reduced to 0 HP during this period of unconsciousness, your death saves are reset and your period of unconsciousness restarts once you gain HP, lasting for a period of time based on your highest failed death save count since being conscious (so no healing someone to 1 hp with 2 death saves, then knocking them down to 0 and healing them again to get the 1 min time period)
  • The period of unconsciousness ends early if you are healed to full hit points or if a spell such as Greater Restoration is cast on you.
  • This period of unconsciousness also occurs when being brought back from the dead.
Thoughts?
I's just make the unconscious-time cumulative, such that if someone who would have been unconscious for an hour gets brought to 1 h.p. after 15 minutes, then immediately gets knocked out again, they've still got that remaining 45 minutes outstanding before tacking on whatever amount of time the second knockout caused.

Another option, if the timekeeping is too fiddly, might be that being cured from 0 to 1 doesn't guarantee waking up; you need to make a one-size-fits-all roll (i.e. not level or class dependent; and how you set the difficulty is up to you based on whether you want awakening to be easy or hard) in order to wake up. Succeed and you're awake at 1 h.p. Fail and you're still down at 0, and next time someone tries to cure you the wake-up roll will be at a cumulative penalty (I suggest -2) for each previous attempt.

Higher-level cure spells might give a bonus on the wake-up roll.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
Goal: Provide a disincentive to players to allow themselves to drop to 0 HP that doesn't result in a death spiral or 5MWD. Encourage players to avoid unnecessary combat and retreat from combats going poorly to regroup and attempt another direction to achieve their goal. Increase the drama and tension of decision making in a difficult combat that the players don't want to retreat from.

Proposed House Rule:
  • When you drop to 0 HP, you fall unconscious and begin making death saving throws as normal.
  • Whenever you regain HP from 0 the following happens:
    • 0 Failed Death Saving Throws - You regain HP, but don't regain consciousness for 1 minute
    • 1 Failed Death Saving Throw - You regain HP, but don't regain consciousness for 10 minutes
    • 2 Failed Death Saving Throws - You regain HP, but don't regain consciousness for 1 hour (this time period does not count as a short rest)
  • If you are reduced to 0 HP during this period of unconsciousness, your death saves are reset and your period of unconsciousness restarts once you gain HP, lasting for a period of time based on your highest failed death save count since being conscious (so no healing someone to 1 hp with 2 death saves, then knocking them down to 0 and healing them again to get the 1 min time period)
  • The period of unconsciousness ends early if you are healed to full hit points or if a spell such as Greater Restoration is cast on you.
  • This period of unconsciousness also occurs when being brought back from the dead.
Thoughts?
It does seem a bit fiddly.

The one I've seen that I liked the most is each drop to zero and each failed death save gives a level of exhaustion. They're cured as normal. This will encourage players to not let their friends drop in the first place.

An unconscious character should be an easy target for a coup de grâce, so making a character unconscious for minutes during a fight will result in a lot of extra character deaths.

As for the 5MWD, the only thing you can do to prevent that is to include heavy time constraints on adventures (i.e. if we don't keep going we fail) or embrace it and make the one fight the party has in a given day something to remember (i.e. near deadly or deadly).
 


el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
So I would just simplify it to:
  • When you drop to 0 HP, you fall unconscious and begin making death saving throws as normal.
  • If you are brought above 0 hp, you stop making death saves but remain unconscious for 1 minute, unless you are healed to full or given Greater Restoration.

I like this but I would make it 10 minutes. It is not too punitive, but can complicate the ends of combat encounters, the need to retreat, who watches over the unconscious while others look for loot, etc. .
 

Dragongrief

Explorer
How easy do you make it to run from combat in your games? Unless there are rogues or magic involved, it tends to be very difficult to escape anything that wants to pursue.

If you'd like to have the unconsciousness be a result, but not necessarily remove the character from combat completely (which also makes it less likely that the group could disengage and escape), you could do a Constitution (or Wisdom) save.

Something like:
At the beginning of your turn, make a Constitution save (DC 10 + 5 per failed death save) to regain consciousness.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I don't have any issue with the general premise, but what if you went it about it a little differently:

Drop to 0 = your speed is reduced in half, you can't cast spells, and all attacks, saving throws, and checks are made at disadvantage, and you must make death saving throws (maybe these are not at disadvantage).

They better not be, given that you don't get any bonuses on death saves. Making them at disadvantage would be rough.

1st Failed Death saving throw = unconscious 1 minutes
2nd Failed Death Saving throw = unconscious 10 minutes
3rd Failed Death saving throw = death

So, the PC prays to all that is holy that the make the first save, so they can drink a potion of healing or pop a Goodberry...
 

dave2008

Legend
They better not be, given that you don't get any bonuses on death saves. Making them at disadvantage would be rough.



So, the PC prays to all that is holy that the make the first save, so they can drink a potion of healing or pop a Goodberry...
I guess - we don't use death saves so I am not real familiar. 0 = death in our games.
 

Asisreo

Patron Badass
As a DM that frequently kills their PCs, sometimes accidentally, its still a bit mindboggling when DM's have trouble killing their players.

I'm in a campaign as a player and when we survive a difficult encounter and I have the majority of a creature's abilitiea in the back of my head, I easily realize we survived because the DM didn't affect us with that one effect or spell that could have actually done damage.

So I feel like many DMs hold themselves back far too much then wonder why combat isn't a challenge. I could kill a good portion of players with some relatively standard enemies with simplistic tactics because I don't pull punches.

And before you ask, I actually don't specifically target downed PCs. Sometimes I do if there's a personal grudge or a sadistic need to kill in front of allies, but otherwise I let them make their saves and get healed only to mangle them up again. Trust me, they get fearful alright.

Anyways, I prefer to see if things can be made better from a perspective that doesn't naturally change the game.
 

I though about such rules and nkticed, that they are usually not necessary at all.
Usually if you go down in the first place, a lot is already lost:

-> You lose concentration on spells.
-> You might skip a round of attacks.
-> you can't retreat to safety, instead the healer might have to get to you.

The only rule I might like is that you don't regain consciousness before the initiative where you were dropped to below zero.
This way, you are always losing a round of attacks which might be fair.
 

I'd simply make it unconsciousness for 5 or 10 minutes as soon as you hit 0 HP, regardless of the number of death saves failed. Death stops the timer, but it restarts when brought back (you don't wake up immediately).

As for methods to wake them up, I think a simple Lesser Restoration would be acceptable. Healing to full is way to contingent upon level, as low level characters would wake up easier than higher level ones. Greater Restoration is 5th level and has a valuable material component cost per casting, which seems far too expensive (no one should ever chose this option).
 

As a DM that frequently kills their PCs, sometimes accidentally, its still a bit mindboggling when DM's have trouble killing their players.
How does this happen in your game? My experience is that while characters going down to 0 is fairly common, the rest of the group will prioritize stabilizing them, so individual death only happens from the massive damage rule or some really bad luck on death saves combined with an unfavorable turn order. And that's only happened like 2-3 times in 7 years of playing 5e.

Unless it's a TPK downed characters almost always survive the combat if the DM doesn't target them.
 

Asisreo

Patron Badass
How does this happen in your game? My experience is that while characters going down to 0 is fairly common, the rest of the group will prioritize stabilizing them, so individual death only happens from the massive damage rule or some really bad luck on death saves combined with an unfavorable turn order. And that's only happened like 2-3 times in 7 years of playing 5e.

Unless it's a TPK downed characters almost always survive the combat if the DM doesn't target them.
AoE attacks tend to cause an emergency that just one character can't easily fix. Like having an attack that does a good chunk of damage to both the wizard, fighter, and cleric with both the wizard and fighter going down will tie the cleric's hands, setting up for another devastating blow with Multiattack.

Incapacitating members without outright killing helps, especially when incapacitating those that can heal.

Really, its about not being afraid to get nasty with your players. I've basically made a vow to never play a monster that doesn't have anything interesting but the attack action.

I lower HP maximums, target weak saves, drain HP, throw diseases and poisons at them, and curse them with debilitating effects. The fact that they die is no surprise but its still roughly only like 4-6 deaths per campaign and more than half is level 1-4. The players certainly feel like everything is falling apart when a player goes down, though.
 

Goal: Provide a disincentive to players to allow themselves to drop to 0 HP that doesn't result in a death spiral or 5MWD. Encourage players to avoid unnecessary combat and retreat from combats going poorly to regroup and attempt another direction to achieve their goal. Increase the drama and tension of decision making in a difficult combat that the players don't want to retreat from.

Proposed House Rule:
  • When you drop to 0 HP, you fall unconscious and begin making death saving throws as normal.
  • Whenever you regain HP from 0 the following happens:
    • 0 Failed Death Saving Throws - You regain HP, but don't regain consciousness for 1 minute
    • 1 Failed Death Saving Throw - You regain HP, but don't regain consciousness for 10 minutes
    • 2 Failed Death Saving Throws - You regain HP, but don't regain consciousness for 1 hour (this time period does not count as a short rest)
  • If you are reduced to 0 HP during this period of unconsciousness, your death saves are reset and your period of unconsciousness restarts once you gain HP, lasting for a period of time based on your highest failed death save count since being conscious (so no healing someone to 1 hp with 2 death saves, then knocking them down to 0 and healing them again to get the 1 min time period)
  • The period of unconsciousness ends early if you are healed to full hit points or if a spell such as Greater Restoration is cast on you.
  • This period of unconsciousness also occurs when being brought back from the dead.
Thoughts?
I agree with those saying this is way overcomplicated for the goal.

@Shiroiken and @Stalker0 both have good suggestions. Make there be one time period, abandon the rest. 1, 5 or 10 minutes (or 1d10 minutes) all seem fine.

The 1hr one is particularly ill-designed as it means the rest of the party get a Short Rest, and that PC doesn't, which is just going to make things more complicated, as it's likely that PC will then want to take a Short Rest, so all you're really doing is causing a pointless and anti-dramatic conflict which only makes any sense in a weird metagaming way. That'll work to punish front-line combatants (who are far more likely to be downed) and not others, too.

And @Shiroiken is right - should be Lesser Restoration, not Greater.
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
Goal: Provide a disincentive to players to allow themselves to drop to 0 HP that doesn't result in a death spiral or 5MWD. Encourage players to avoid unnecessary combat and retreat from combats going poorly to regroup and attempt another direction to achieve their goal. Increase the drama and tension of decision making in a difficult combat that the players don't want to retreat from.

Proposed House Rule:
  • When you drop to 0 HP, you fall unconscious and begin making death saving throws as normal.
  • Whenever you regain HP from 0 the following happens:
    • 0 Failed Death Saving Throws - You regain HP, but don't regain consciousness for 1 minute
    • 1 Failed Death Saving Throw - You regain HP, but don't regain consciousness for 10 minutes
    • 2 Failed Death Saving Throws - You regain HP, but don't regain consciousness for 1 hour (this time period does not count as a short rest)
  • If you are reduced to 0 HP during this period of unconsciousness, your death saves are reset and your period of unconsciousness restarts once you gain HP, lasting for a period of time based on your highest failed death save count since being conscious (so no healing someone to 1 hp with 2 death saves, then knocking them down to 0 and healing them again to get the 1 min time period)
  • The period of unconsciousness ends early if you are healed to full hit points or if a spell such as Greater Restoration is cast on you.
  • This period of unconsciousness also occurs when being brought back from the dead.
Thoughts?
I'd say your goal isn't fully met because I'd say that having a PC fall unconscious in the middle of the fight with no easy way to pick him back up is also the kind of mechanic that pushes combat more toward death spiral territory. I'd also suggest that same mechanic where a PC can fall unconscious without an easy way to get him back up essentially precludes retreating as it's basically certain death for him if the rest of the party decides to.

I had many of your same issues and what we did was this:
  • Instead of falling unconscious when your HP reaches 0 you now will remain conscious and can take actions normally.
  • The first time you are reduced to 0 HP you will gain 1 level of Exhaustion at the end of the fight
  • Anytime you would gain a level of Exhaustion at the end of the fight and are reduced to 0 or are at 0 and would take damage you must make a death saving throw, the DC is 5 plus the damage delt, on a success you do not mark a failed save, a failed save aginst a critical hit counts as two failed saving throws. A roll of a natural 20 is always a success.
  • While you are at 0 HP a monster may decide to knock you unconscious instead of dealing damage, you make a CON saving throw vs the damage dealt, on a success you stay conscious, a faild save renders you unconscious.
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
It does seem a bit fiddly.

The one I've seen that I liked the most is each drop to zero and each failed death save gives a level of exhaustion. They're cured as normal. This will encourage players to not let their friends drop in the first place.
But that can lead to a rather massive death spiral type effect. Which is something that the OP wanted to avoid.
 

Steampunkette

Shaper of Worlds
Supporter
Seeing this thread made me propose something for LevelUp, so I'll propose the same thing, here:

Exhaustion.

Apply 1 level when the character drops, and 1 level for each failed death save.

When they get up they're a bit less effective than they were before they dropped. So that's a good incentive to keep them from hitting the ground in the first place. And stacking exhaustion is a -very- good reason to rush over and stabilize the player, since a few death saves can mean being largely useless in the current fight.

And if they drop multiple times in the same fight, they're likely to die of exhaustion, separate from failed saving throws, which increases incentive to run.
 
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FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
Seeing this thread made me propose something for LevelUp, so I'll propose the same thing, here:

Exhaustion.

Apply 1 level when the character drops, and 1 level for each failed death save.

When they get up they're a bit less effective than they were before they dropped. So that's a good incentive to keep them from hitting the ground in the first place. And stacking exhaustion is a -very- good reason to rush over and stabilize the player, since a few death saves can mean being largely useless in the current fight.

And if they drop multiple times in the same fight, they're likely to die of exhaustion, separate from failed saving throws, which increases incentive to run.
That's also death spirally.
 

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