• COMING SOON! -- Level Up: Advanced 5th Edition! Level up your 5E game! The standalone advanced 5E tabletop RPG adds depth and diversity to the game you love!
log in or register to remove this ad

 

Rules FAQ How Do Death and Resurrection Work in D&D 5E?

B413FE11-F0FB-4360-ACD3-FE0E92658949.jpeg

In D&D 5E, character death is a persistent threat, but it’s not nearly as punishing as it may initially seem. When your character’s current hit points are reduced to 0, your character becomes unconscious, meaning they immediately drop anything they’re holding and fall prone. This is a dangerous position to be in because of…

This is the part of a weekly series of articles by a team of designers answering D&D questions for beginners. Feel free to discuss the article and add your insights or comments!

Death Saving Throws​

When you start your turn at 0 hit points, you must roll a death saving throw, a d20 roll—the reaper doesn’t care how smart, buff, or charming you are, so no attribute applies, but any modifier to saving throws you may be able to apply, such as Bardic Inspiration or Aura of Protection, will apply if it’s still affecting you while you’re unconscious. Roll the die, and if the result is 10 or higher, mark a success on your Death Save tracker. If the result is 9 or lower, mark a failure. There are also two special results. On a natural 20 (that is, a 20 on the die before any modifiers), you immediately regain 1 hit point, become conscious, and can take your turn as normal. On a natural 1, you mark two failures instead of one
Why are we tracking all these successes and failures, though? Well, note that there’s three spaces for failures, and three spaces for successes.
  • If you mark three successes, you become stable (see below).
  • If you mark three failures, you are dead.
Death Saves.PNG


Additionally, if you take damage while at 0, you immediately suffer one death saving throw failure, or two death saving throw failures if the damage came from a critical hit. Bear in mind that, while unconscious, any attack that hits you from within 5 feet is a critical hit by default, so if an enemy decides to execute you, it’s gonna be a short trip to the other side!

Regardless of how they were gained, death save successes and failures are all removed when you stabilize, gain hit points, or die.

Stabilizing​

While at 0 hit points, there are three main ways you can become stable:
  • You mark three successful death saves.
  • Someone uses their action to attempt to stabilize you with a DC 10 Wisdom (Medicine) check, which they succeed on automatically if they use a healer’s kit.
  • Someone (probably a Cleric) casts spare the dying on you.
You become conscious again if you receive healing from any source. If no one heals you within 1d4 hours, you regain 1 hit point and awaken. If you take any damage, you start dying again, and must roll death saves normally.

Instant Death​

5e did away with many of the “instant death” in D&D, and for good reason. However, there are still ways you can end up dying without making death saving throws. First of all, if you take damage that reduces you to 0, and the residual damage from the hit after doing so is equal to or higher than your hit point maximum, you die instantly. This happens most often at low levels. For example, if Llewelyn the Sorcerer has a hit point maximum of 8 at 1st level, and an orc deals her a critical hit for 16 damage, then she takes the 8, reducing her to 0. There’s still 8 damage left over, which is equal to her hit point maximum, enough to kill her instantly. This is called “Massive Damage”, and represents physical trauma so severe that even heroes can’t survive it.

Other effects, most often spells, can cause instant death. For example, the disintegrate spell specifies that, if it reduces its target to 0 hit points, it kills them instantly. The spell power word kill doesn’t even deal damage, but kills the target if its current hit points are lower than 100. A creature also dies instantly if they suffer six levels of exhaustion. Fortunately, even these deaths are not the end, thanks to…

Resurrection Spells​

There are a number of ways that creatures can be brought back from the dead, all with varying costs, benefits, and downsides. The primary ones are listed below, but more powerful magics do exist, which greatly expand the potential scope of bringing back the dead.

Revivify (3rd-level)​

Listed first as it’s the first ability of its kind you’re likely to pick up, the revivify spell costs 300gp worth of diamonds. It’s very limited, in that you must cast it within 1 minute of their death while touching the creature, but as a quick “don’t die on me”, it’s unbeatable, taking only a single action and getting the creature up with 1 hit point and no other penalties. Just be careful you’re not in range of anyone who can counterspell when you cast it; nothing hurts more than losing the material component and losing your comrade-in-arms just because of some cruel wizard.

Raise Dead (5th-level)​

The bread-and-butter resurrection spell, this one clocks in at 500gp and takes a full hour to cast, meaning it’s out of the question in combat. However, as long as the body’s no more than 10 days dead, all the vital parts are there, and the soul is willing to return, you can bring them back. The toll is heavy on the body, though; the resurrected creature suffers -4 to attack rolls, saving throws, and ability checks, with the penalty being reduced by 1 each time they finish a long rest, to represent the stress of crossing over.

Reincarnate (5th-level)​

One of the only resurrection spells available to druids, reincarnate is costly at 1,000gp and like raise dead, takes a full hour to cast, but it has the perk of forming a new body for the creature, meaning you can reincarnate a creature from just a finger, or a lock of hair, so long as they’re no more than 10 days dead. The downside, however, is that what form they’re reincarnated into is decided by rolling on a d100 form, and racial traits are retroactively adjusted appropriately.
 
Last edited by a moderator:

log in or register to remove this ad

Cassandra Macdonald

Cassandra Macdonald

Blue Orange

Adventurer
Thanks for explaining this! I had been a 1e person and annoyed my group by being very surprised when I didn't actually die after being reduced to 0.
 

MarkB

Legend

Raise Dead (5th-level)​

The bread-and-butter resurrection spell, this one clocks in at 500gp and takes a full hour to cast, meaning it’s out of the question in combat. However, as long as the body’s no more than 10 days dead, all the vital parts are there, and the soul is willing to return, you can bring them back.
Just as an additional note, the full text is "willing and at liberty to return". Certain effects, such as the magic jar spell or a night hag's Nightmare Haunting ability, can cause a soul to become trapped. On a more narrative level, this can be a good excuse for the DM to rule that an NPC (or, under special circumstances, even a PC) cannot be resurrected, as their soul has been bound in the afterlife in some fashion, perhaps by a devil seeking to use it as currency.
 

I have to admit I hate Revivify. The limitation of 1 minute is practically useless, since very few combats ever come close to this timeframe. The closest I ever saw it come was 7 rounds, since it happened before combat began (the party had to open the secret door, initiate combat, and cross the area before time was up. Theoretically a trap or monsters could separate a character like this and kill it, but it's a rare event. Raise Dead has pretty much only been used on NPCs that have been dead for a while, or by an NPC on the person who normally casts it for the party (my group normally tries to have 2 casters with it, if possible). Because of all this, I've houseruled the Raise Dead penalty be applied to this as well. Dying should suck, even with Revivify.
 

sevenbastard

Explorer
I have to admit I hate Revivify. The limitation of 1 minute is practically useless, since very few combats ever come close to this timeframe.
We have the opposite. Most combats are long drawn out multi round affairs. Multiple times the cleric has had to spend actions moving to a dead PC to prevent a true death or raise an NPC. I am all for Revivify, but once they got Raise Dead it took some of the thrill out of combat.

For my next campaign I am going to house rule it out.
 


TerraDave

5ever, or until 2024
Resurrection (level 7), True Resurrection (level 9), and Wish (level 9) are probably the main "powerful magics" to restore life. And there is the strange case of Clone (level 8).
 

Rabulias

Hero
Will there be a sequel article to this covering the higher level options? It seems strange to have a section called "Resurrection Spells" that does not include the spell resurrection (or true resurrection, or the rod of resurrection).
 

Dragonsbane

Proud Grognard
One thing is for sure. D&D5 is a lot more forgiving than the days when I was trying to survive with my Level 1 Magic-User with just 1HP!
Absolutely. We have a few house rules to make things more deadly, and to prevent the wack-a-mole of a player dropping, gets back up with a few hp, drops, gets back up with a few hp... so silly.

We should be thankful the rules are not even less deadly, with some games now where "you cannot die, you are just out of the combat".... whew not my idea of fun, to each his own!
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
I have to admit I hate Revivify. The limitation of 1 minute is practically useless, since very few combats ever come close to this timeframe. The closest I ever saw it come was 7 rounds, since it happened before combat began (the party had to open the secret door, initiate combat, and cross the area before time was up. Theoretically a trap or monsters could separate a character like this and kill it, but it's a rare event. Raise Dead has pretty much only been used on NPCs that have been dead for a while, or by an NPC on the person who normally casts it for the party (my group normally tries to have 2 casters with it, if possible). Because of all this, I've houseruled the Raise Dead penalty be applied to this as well. Dying should suck, even with Revivify.

That's why the body gets dragged off into the darkness. Makes predators scarier - they don't really care if they defeat the party, they're just after a quick meal of whichever PC looks the weakest. Grab a snack, disengage and run off! :devil:
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
When it comes to death and dying in general, this is something I discuss with my players during a session 0. How deadly do they want the campaign to be? Raise dead is not as simple as casting a spell and resurrection is pretty much impossible for thematic reasons, but revivify is still on the table.

Speaking of revivify, if it bothers you just limit access to diamonds or just target the cleric first. Personally I don't currently run a particularly deadly game, I don't find perma death of a PC interesting. On the other hand, other than revivify, getting people back from the dead has always been pretty easy in most games after a certain level if you want. Revivify just means players don't have to sit around twiddling their thumbs until the party gets back to town.
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
One thing is for sure. D&D5 is a lot more forgiving than the days when I was trying to survive with my Level 1 Magic-User with just 1HP!

I know, I think it goes with the times (you can't compare the video games of back then and those of today either).

5e is a game designed around fun, and I must admit that they did it right, no-one is obliged to sit on the sidelines doing nothing for more than a few minutes, so it avoids people disengaging, especially in this age of smartphones. Moreover, it's not that inconsistent with what happens in movies/shows/books of the heroic kind. No-one says those are realistic either, note.

But it's true that if it's not to your taste, there is a lot of work to do...
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
I know, I think it goes with the times (you can't compare the video games of back then and those of today either).

5e is a game designed around fun, and I must admit that they did it right, no-one is obliged to sit on the sidelines doing nothing for more than a few minutes, so it avoids people disengaging, especially in this age of smartphones. Moreover, it's not that inconsistent with what happens in movies/shows/books of the heroic kind. No-one says those are realistic either, note.

But it's true that if it's not to your taste, there is a lot of work to do...

I agree with most of what you said, but is there a lot of work to do? Make diamonds hard to come by and revivify is no longer an issue. Target people when they drop to 0, every hit from within 5 feet is an automatic crit which means 2 failed death saves. Many monsters can take a PC from living to dead in 1 turn. The DM has infinite dragons. If the game is too easy it's the DM's fault in most cases IMHO.

The only thing that has changed is that you don't have to wait to drag a body back to get a raise dead in most campaigns.
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
I agree with most of what you said, but is there a lot of work to do? Make diamonds hard to come by and revivify is no longer an issue. Target people when they drop to 0, every hit from within 5 feet is an automatic crit which means 2 failed death saves. Many monsters can take a PC from living to dead in 1 turn. The DM has infinite dragons. If the game is too easy it's the DM's fault in most cases IMHO.

The only thing that has changed is that you don't have to wait to drag a body back to get a raise dead in most campaigns.

It can be as simple as that, but in our campaigns, revivify is not even used that much, it's healing word that people say is a bit too much, for example. And the fact that you only get to 0 hp, not negative, so easy to bring back up, etc.

I think it's all over the place, this easiness of keeping in business, which is why I mentioned quite a bit of work if you want to address all that. Especially since it's ingrained on the monster sides as well. They can do a ton of damage, including criticals, but it's OK because there are so many counters to that, for example.

Ultimately, there is the question as to why you should make the game more difficult, which takes us a bit beyond the scope of this thread.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
It can be as simple as that, but in our campaigns, revivify is not even used that much, it's healing word that people say is a bit too much, for example. And the fact that you only get to 0 hp, not negative, so easy to bring back up, etc.

I think it's all over the place, this easiness of keeping in business, which is why I mentioned quite a bit of work if you want to address all that. Especially since it's ingrained on the monster sides as well. They can do a ton of damage, including criticals, but it's OK because there are so many counters to that, for example.

Ultimately, there is the question as to why you should make the game more difficult, which takes us a bit beyond the scope of this thread.

Making your game more deadly, while related, is a different topic. There are plenty of ways to stop healing word being an issue including following rule #2 (double tap) or just make sure the healer can't see the target.

Just pointing out that taking a dead PC to the local temple to get raised is a D&D trope pretty much as old as the game itself.

109897759_3493128500705958_6936865651942401365_n.jpg
 

Retreater

Legend
I have to admit I hate Revivify. The limitation of 1 minute is practically useless, since very few combats ever come close to this timeframe.
This limitation alone has caused the perma-death of a character in the campaign I'm currently running.

The paladin is dead and the cleric is out of spells and doesn't have Revivify prepared anyway.

Gentle Repose could potentially preserve the body so the cleric can cast Revivify the next day after preparing spells. But as a ritual, that's a 10 minute casting, past the 1 minute limitation of Revivify.

Because of that 1 minute limitation (instead of 10 minutes, 30 minutes, 1 hour, etc.), the paladin is perma-dead. There will be no raise dead, reincarnation, etc., available for many levels of play.
 

delazar_fb

Villager
This is such a difficult discussion to have, there’s just no agreeing about what the correct way to handle resurrection is.

This is really one of those things you want to discuss during session zero with your party. From my side, I just don’t like resurrection, at least the way it’s done in DnD, so I don’t avail myself of that option when I PLAY a character.

During the current campaign I’m playing, the DM double tapped me, probably thinking “no biggie, bard has revivify”. Then when the bard cast revivify on my PC, I chose not to come back.

In game, it created some nice RP, where the other PCs begun asking themselves what happened to my soul. Was it trapped somewhere? Had I willingly decided not to return? Was I blaming my friends for my death? The mystery remained. We had a full session to RP mourning my character (he was quite loved), and then we moved on. They still sometime talk about him, remembering him fondly.

Out of game, that event made everyone (including the DM) really consider what it meant for a PC to die. Everyone is much more careful, even though revivify is still readily available, and I don’t think my fellow players will refuse it when it’s used on them (didn’t happen yet, luckily). The DM has never double tapped a PC again, like he’s now really giving weight to what it means to kill a PC.

PS: I just remembered this crazy thing that used to happen 30 years ago, when we were playing BECMI DnD. I remember our cleric literally killing heavily wounded fellow PCs, because “it’s easier if I just ress you”, since healing required the use of multiple low level slots, and high level ressing brought you back at full health. Good times 😁
 

MarkB

Legend
This is such a difficult discussion to have, there’s just no agreeing about what the correct way to handle resurrection is.

This is really one of those things you want to discuss during session zero with your party. From my side, I just don’t like resurrection, at least the way it’s done in DnD, so I don’t avail myself of that option when I PLAY a character.

During the current campaign I’m playing, the DM double tapped me, probably thinking “no biggie, bard has revivify”. Then when the bard cast revivify on my PC, I chose not to come back.

In game, it created some nice RP, where the other PCs begun asking themselves what happened to my soul. Was it trapped somewhere? Had I willingly decided not to return? Was I blaming my friends for my death? The mystery remained. We had a full session to RP mourning my character (he was quite loved), and then we moved on. They still sometime talk about him, remembering him fondly.

Out of game, that event made everyone (including the DM) really consider what it meant for a PC to die. Everyone is much more careful, even though revivify is still readily available, and I don’t think my fellow players will refuse it when it’s used on them (didn’t happen yet, luckily). The DM has never double tapped a PC again, like he’s now really giving weight to what it means to kill a PC.

PS: I just remembered this crazy thing that used to happen 30 years ago, when we were playing BECMI DnD. I remember our cleric literally killing heavily wounded fellow PCs, because “it’s easier if I just ress you”, since healing required the use of multiple low level slots, and high level ressing brought you back at full health. Good times 😁
By a strict reading, there's no way to refuse revivify - it just works. Only the higher-level spells have the clause about requiring a willing soul.

A common interpretation of this is that, during that first minute, the soul hasn't yet departed the body, though that's not supported in the rules anywhere.
 

That's why the body gets dragged off into the darkness. Makes predators scarier - they don't really care if they defeat the party, they're just after a quick meal of whichever PC looks the weakest. Grab a snack, disengage and run off! :devil:
I've done quite a few things along these lines. Wolves are much scarier this way, since the party is still fighting the remaining ones. I've used fliers this way before too. I had a couple of harpies manage to charm 2 male PCs, and the rest of the party freaked out when they simply started flying off with them. I had some flying dinosaurs use grapple instead of their normal claw attack. The players were confused until I had them start to fly up with their catch, leaving the party to decide how to save the PC without killing them in the fall.
This limitation alone has caused the perma-death of a character in the campaign I'm currently running.

The paladin is dead and the cleric is out of spells and doesn't have Revivify prepared anyway.
Not really. The 1 minute limitation is still irrelevant, since the idea behind it is to cast it at the end of the battle (which rarely ever last 10 rounds). If the cleric prepared it and had the component, the paladin would almost certainly be alive. As for the spell slot, they'd be foolish in the extreme to not keep a 3rd level slot available. Worst case you cast Create Food and Water with the extra slot before the end of the long rest.
 

Retreater

Legend
Not really. The 1 minute limitation is still irrelevant, since the idea behind it is to cast it at the end of the battle (which rarely ever last 10 rounds). If the cleric prepared it and had the component, the paladin would almost certainly be alive. As for the spell slot, they'd be foolish in the extreme to not keep a 3rd level slot available. Worst case you cast Create Food and Water with the extra slot before the end of the long rest.
You're assuming they had spare slots after that fight. They had exhausted all healing, and the cleric's number of prepared slots aren't massive (I think the party is 6th level). So to prepare Revivify (which they've never had to use) didn't seem like a priority.
But between the 1 minute limitation, high spell level (compared to mid tier characters), expensive material component, I think the factors are sufficient. But if it doesn't work in your game, you can ban the spell. (I banned Healing Spirits before the nerf, and will probably be banning Healing Word in future campaigns.)
 

Related Articles

Visit Our Sponsor

Latest threads

Level Up!

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top