5E How do you kill a 10th level character?

Schmoe

Explorer
After spending some time with the rules, something has been bugging me. As far as I know, the only ways to kill a character are as follows:

1. A single attack that takes the character to a negative HP total equal to the HP maximum
2. Fail three death saving throws
3. An ability that explicitly says it causes death

Despite hunting and searching, I haven't found anything in the game that qualifies for number 3. I'm sure it's out there somewhere, but I have yet to find it. For option #1, an attack will need to do probably a minimum of 50 HP in the best case, and most likely 70 HP or more to someone who is already at death's door, so that seems like an extremely far-fetched situation. That leaves #2, which gives the party at least three rounds to reach someone and stabilize them before death. Not to mention, with all of the re-rolls and such that are available, death is unlikely, and even then spells like Revivify abound, so if someone should die, oh well, no big deal. As far as I can tell, there's no real penalty for dying, other than some gold spent, and you don't even need gold for much else in the game anyway!

With all of that being said, is this a game of TPK or don't bother? Looking back at 1E, it was a deadly, dangerous game. Death and suckitude lay around every corner, with poison saves, level draining, and other sundry woes to avoid. After the first few levels, where is the danger in 5E? I'm not trying to start an argument here, just curious what people's thoughts and experiences are so far.
 

SirAntoine

Visitor
It's much easier, of course. TPK's will not be unknown either, though, because there will still be plenty of times when everyone gets reduced to 0 or fewer HP. If you want to make the game deadlier, or rather, have death be taken more seriously, a few house rules will do the trick.
 

the Jester

Legend
Don't forget that any damage to a dying pc counts as a failed death save; a critical hit counts as two failed death saves; and any hit from a creature within 5' of a dying pc is an automatic critical hit. So there's that.
 

Kobold Stew

Adventurer
Plus, there are abilities such as the Gnoll's Rampage, that gives it an extra attack if it knocks an opponent to zero. That bite used against the fallen PC can also reduce the number of lives.

Plus, it makes Gnolls scary, which is right.
 

aramis erak

Adventurer
After spending some time with the rules, something has been bugging me. As far as I know, the only ways to kill a character are as follows:

1. A single attack that takes the character to a negative HP total equal to the HP maximum
2. Fail three death saving throws
3. An ability that explicitly says it causes death

Despite hunting and searching, I haven't found anything in the game that qualifies for number 3. I'm sure it's out there somewhere, but I have yet to find it. For option #1, an attack will need to do probably a minimum of 50 HP in the best case, and most likely 70 HP or more to someone who is already at death's door, so that seems like an extremely far-fetched situation. That leaves #2, which gives the party at least three rounds to reach someone and stabilize them before death. Not to mention, with all of the re-rolls and such that are available, death is unlikely, and even then spells like Revivify abound, so if someone should die, oh well, no big deal. As far as I can tell, there's no real penalty for dying, other than some gold spent, and you don't even need gold for much else in the game anyway!

With all of that being said, is this a game of TPK or don't bother? Looking back at 1E, it was a deadly, dangerous game. Death and suckitude lay around every corner, with poison saves, level draining, and other sundry woes to avoid. After the first few levels, where is the danger in 5E? I'm not trying to start an argument here, just curious what people's thoughts and experiences are so far.
Read up the spell Magic Jar. It's not the only one, but it's the one that comes to mind immediately. If the spell ends and the original body of the soul in the jar isn't within 100', the poor sot dies. (Object lesson: if soul jarred, make every attempt to possess your own body, and, failing that, the body furthest from the jar, so you can get more than 100' away...)
 

Tormyr

Adventurer
After spending some time with the rules, something has been bugging me. As far as I know, the only ways to kill a character are as follows:

1. A single attack that takes the character to a negative HP total equal to the HP maximum
2. Fail three death saving throws
3. An ability that explicitly says it causes death

Despite hunting and searching, I haven't found anything in the game that qualifies for number 3. I'm sure it's out there somewhere, but I have yet to find it. For option #1, an attack will need to do probably a minimum of 50 HP in the best case, and most likely 70 HP or more to someone who is already at death's door, so that seems like an extremely far-fetched situation. That leaves #2, which gives the party at least three rounds to reach someone and stabilize them before death. Not to mention, with all of the re-rolls and such that are available, death is unlikely, and even then spells like Revivify abound, so if someone should die, oh well, no big deal. As far as I can tell, there's no real penalty for dying, other than some gold spent, and you don't even need gold for much else in the game anyway!

With all of that being said, is this a game of TPK or don't bother? Looking back at 1E, it was a deadly, dangerous game. Death and suckitude lay around every corner, with poison saves, level draining, and other sundry woes to avoid. After the first few levels, where is the danger in 5E? I'm not trying to start an argument here, just curious what people's thoughts and experiences are so far.
Option 3 mostly happens to low level PCs. That being said, there are a couple ways to do it, and a couple ways of killing PCs that are like doing that 1 big hit but over a couple of turns.

A 10th level character could reasonably have 42 (Con 10 Wizard) to 125 (Con 20 Barbarian) hit points. So a single shot would have to do double that to kill a PC at full hit points. However there are plenty of times where PCs are not at full hit points. That being said, I can think of a few 1 shot ways that might kill a PC.
1. The CR 8 assassin: If it surprises a PC and hits, it does 87 (24d6 +3) damage on a failed DC 15 Con saving throw. However that is average damage. You could roll high. The theoretical maximum is 147 damage.
2. You could swap out the CR 12 Archmage's 9th level spell with power word kill. Any targeted creature with less than 100 hit points dies.
3. Give too high of a challenge. The CR number on a monster indicates at roughly what level a character can deal with that creature "safely" whether by absorbing damage or dealing with some special trick of the monster. A couple breath attacks from an adult dragon could kill a character before its allies could come to the rescue. A purple worm can swallow a character and continue to deal damage to the PC while the characters cannot come to the rescue.
4. Separate the characters. Prevent the players from rescuing an unconscious and dying PC.
5. Send the PC to another plane. Like death but with the benefit of a side quest to rescue the PC.
6. Have an armored PC fall unconscious into water or lava.

As for PCs dying I only have had 1 character death in my game, and that was a (un)lucky hit from a creature I had made up that was meant to take all 6 PCs and 1 PC was caught on its own. The PC was level 1, and I gave the player the option of reviving their character on the spot if they wanted. The player still had story he wanted to explore, so I cooked up a means of reviving that will have ramifications in the future. Aside from that, no one has died. There have been tons of close calls, but there is always a healing word, lay on hands for 1 hp, or a potion of healing to keep PCs alive. Having 6 to 7 PCs means that there are lots of people watching each other's backs.
 

CapnZapp

Hero
Don't forget that any damage to a dying pc counts as a failed death save; a critical hit counts as two failed death saves; and any hit from a creature within 5' of a dying pc is an automatic critical hit. So there's that.
This.

(Or, that, I guess :) )

Killing a PC is much easier than you think. Just make the monsters down him, and then hit him just a few times more, before his buddies can react. Voila - it's revivify time!
 

SirAntoine

Visitor
That's the surest way to lose your players. You don't have monsters attack downed PC's to kill them. The gnolls can stuff their extra attack!
 
That's the surest way to lose your players. You don't have monsters attack downed PC's to kill them. The gnolls can stuff their extra attack!
Depends on circumstance. Many villains/monsters will prefer to focus on the people who are still a threat, absolutely. But some--either out of cruelty/malice, out of the knowledge that a dangerous enemy could still be revived, out of simple hunger, or because they can't reach another combatant anyway--absolutely would take the time to smack a downed foe.

If a DM does that often, it's a problem, but occasionally and when it's honestly appropriate? I'd not only be okay with him doing so, I'd expect it. And--again, if done under proper circumstances--I'd have a serious problem with any player who got upset enough to threaten to leave a game over it.
 

Psikerlord#

Explorer
After spending some time with the rules, something has been bugging me. As far as I know, the only ways to kill a character are as follows:

1. A single attack that takes the character to a negative HP total equal to the HP maximum
2. Fail three death saving throws
3. An ability that explicitly says it causes death

Despite hunting and searching, I haven't found anything in the game that qualifies for number 3. I'm sure it's out there somewhere, but I have yet to find it. For option #1, an attack will need to do probably a minimum of 50 HP in the best case, and most likely 70 HP or more to someone who is already at death's door, so that seems like an extremely far-fetched situation. That leaves #2, which gives the party at least three rounds to reach someone and stabilize them before death. Not to mention, with all of the re-rolls and such that are available, death is unlikely, and even then spells like Revivify abound, so if someone should die, oh well, no big deal. As far as I can tell, there's no real penalty for dying, other than some gold spent, and you don't even need gold for much else in the game anyway!

With all of that being said, is this a game of TPK or don't bother? Looking back at 1E, it was a deadly, dangerous game. Death and suckitude lay around every corner, with poison saves, level draining, and other sundry woes to avoid. After the first few levels, where is the danger in 5E? I'm not trying to start an argument here, just curious what people's thoughts and experiences are so far.
Yep, it's quite hard to die in 5e, and just about impossible to stay dead if you have a cleric nearby. Note taking melee damage when unconscious is an auto crit and = 2 failed death saves. Also general AoE dmg will earn you an off turn failed death save. So the unexpected can happen.

I prefer a grittier game and use the following house rules:
1. There is no resurrection, raise dead or revivify spells available to PCs.
2. I use the Injury rules in DMG for hitting zero hp or failing a death save by 5 or more. For rolls 1-3 I give a death save to turn the lost limb into just a fractured or damaged one. Also, any injury requiring "magical healing" means lesser restoration, greater restoration or 6th+ level magic.

With these 2 rule modifications you get a pretty dangerous game. Every battle in which a PC drops to zero can have a lasting effect.
 

Quartz

Adventurer
That's the surest way to lose your players. You don't have monsters attack downed PC's to kill them. The gnolls can stuff their extra attack!
It's fine if you flag this beforehand. Something like an old geezer saying, "I hear you young'uns are off to deal with the gnolls. Well I got a tip for y'all: they like to make sure you're good and dead and will stick their spears in again just to make sure. So don't play dead with them."
 
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SirAntoine

Visitor
Such a tactic would soon be adopted by other species, too. There is a lot I could say about this. Think of your role as DM being one of making sure all the players feel the game was fair, and a lot of fun. This often means not going into extensive realism or difficulty. You don't ever want the players to feel a character's death was both unfair and a matter of choice you made.
 

Kaychsea

Visitor
Then you will have problems killing characters. The most common means of doing so will be from AoE damage knocking off Death Saves on the fallen while attacking those still on their feet.
Otherwise you are in save or die country or applying such massive damage they are going to die anyway. In either case that is your choice as much as an angry gnoll finishing off a foe.
Once players realise that lying around in combat making saves is a bad idea they will change their approach.
 

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