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Last Stand - Revising Death Saves

MortalPlague

Adventurer
I have come to the realization that I don't like death saving throws.

There are two problems for me. First, on your turn, all you do is roll a die, and either tick a 'success' or a 'failure'. It's not exciting or dramatic like it should be, unless you're on the verge of rolling a final failure.

Secondly, if you do fail that third death save, you bleed out, which is one of the most boring ways possible for a hero to die. It's become so very rare for a PC to die from anything other than 'bleeding out', since monsters so rarely target a downed PC, and hitting the massive damage threshold is extremely difficult. If a PC dies, I want it to be dramatic.

So I have a solution. I haven't tested this yet, but I plan to trot it out for a one-shot or two to see how it plays.


Last Stand

When a PC drops to 0, they may stay on their feet. At the start of each of their turns, they roll a death save as normal. If they fail three saves, they bleed out and die. If they succeed on three saves, they stabilize and regain 1 hit point. Any failed saves are kept, so if the PC gets knocked back down to 0 after stabilizing, they begin to die once more.

The PC remains on their feet, however, and they have their full suite of actions. They may attack, cast spells, pull levers, throw items, etc. They can heal themselves, if they have the means to do so. They can choose to disengage from combat and duck down out of the fight to try and bandage themselves and stabilize themselves.

The PC will still earn a failed death save for every attack that hits them. They also become vulnerable to damage while they are dying, which means any attack could have a chance to hit the massive damage threshold. The vulnerability is important, since the PC is no longer counting hit points. It keeps things dicey when a big damage attack comes their way.


---

The goal is to create a more cinematic system where you can have more of a heroic last stand, and where more heroes are actually cut down in battle, rather than bleed out on the floor. It also means players whose characters are knocked down to 0 aren't sitting at the table, waiting for their turn to come up so they can roll one die and see what happens. I haven't tested it yet, but ENWorld is always such a great sounding board, I figured I'd throw it out here and see what people think.
 

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Li Shenron

Legend
Just try it out and see how it goes :)

In general I think the default rule is quite generous, and that it is meant to basically give time to your allies to come healing you or stabilize you. I haven't seen anyone dying yet in 5e.
 

Kobold Stew

Last Guy in the Airlock
I've not found that bleeding out is passive for players. One way to make the death saves more dramatic is to have monsters kill unconscious players. A player goes down? An extra clubbing from a bugbear to keep him down will suddenly make players aware that monsters mean business. Any damage causes the failure of one or two death saves, and attacks are made at advantage (doubling the chance of crits, which takes two saves).

The first time a monster goes for a player that's down (and who wouldn't in a world with clerics and instant healing spells?), players start thinking a lot more about staying alive.
 

S'mon

Legend
I also dislike death saves, so I don't use them, I use death at max negative hp (32 hp PC dies at -32) which works much better IMO. I don't want PCs bleeding out in 3 rounds or popping back up routinely, and this fixes both those problems.

Technically if you go for an hour untended you do make a death save to see if you can short rest and spend hd; if you fail 3 consecutively you die.
 

wedgeski

First Post
I like your ideas, but in the general case I don't agree that DST's are passive or unexciting. They encourage the party to think as a unit. Assuming you *ever* have your monsters attack unconscious PC's, the sight of their comrades dropping to zero forces a palpable change of strategy from the rest of the group. Suddenly it's all about zoning the monsters and dropping some healing on the injured party. This is to say nothing of the d20 of death the PC potentially has to roll every turn. Anything which encourages tactical diversity in combat gets a thumbs-up from me.

Like I said, though, your house rule sounds fun. The damage vulnerability is especially neat. It will force difficult choices on the dying PC, and by the sound of it that's exactly what you're going for.
 

Kalshane

First Post
I've not found that bleeding out is passive for players. One way to make the death saves more dramatic is to have monsters kill unconscious players. A player goes down? An extra clubbing from a bugbear to keep him down will suddenly make players aware that monsters mean business. Any damage causes the failure of one or two death saves, and attacks are made at advantage (doubling the chance of crits, which takes two saves).

The first time a monster goes for a player that's down (and who wouldn't in a world with clerics and instant healing spells?), players start thinking a lot more about staying alive.

Actually, any attack from within 5' of a dying PC is an automatic critical if it hits, due to the Unconscious condition. (And, as you note, the attack rolls are made with Advantage.)
 

Blackwarder

Adventurer
That sounds like a fun idea very cinematic, it will make healers very hard to kill though…

As another thought, how about giving a character at 0 two levels of exhaustion + concentration checks for casting spells above cantrips?

Warder
 

jrowland

First Post
I like it.
Let the PC remain conscious with 0 hp.
Still make Death Saves.

I'd add:
On a failed death save, no actions that turn but can move unless take exhaustion, then can do both
On a successful death save, can take actions (no Dash) or move unless take exhaustion, then can do both
On a 1, instead of double death fails, gain exhaustion in addition to normal fail
On a 20, 1 HP, grats, you got lucky.


Hmm...what happens when you stabilize? Bleeding out makes sense, but if you are already "active", what does stabilize do? I guess your done making saves. I'd say Action (dash) or move unless take exhaustion, then can do both, until you get 1 hp.
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
The biggest issue that I can see with this would be healers with bonus action heals. This makes someone with Healing Word or a Thief with the Healer feat able to fight an opponent with a single attack (such as an Ogre) indefinitely (so long as their spell slots / healers kits hold out). I would maybe change it so that they get either a Standard or a Bonus action, not both. That would make stabilizing yourself less of an afterthought.

It would be pretty suicidal though if you were surrounded. I like Blackwarder's exhaustion idea. Maybe instead of accruing death saves, you instead accrue exhaustion for being hit when making a last stand (crits could count as two levels of exhaustion). In some ways it is meaner, since it is a death spiral, but it would mean that the one making the last stand could take 3 to 6 more hits before dying, as opposed to 2 to 3, which makes it more viable if you have a lot of enemies on you.
 

Doesn't this really come down, as so many things in ttrpg do, to how it's visualised or communicated?
DSTs work fine and can be positioned as:
(Baddie deals the damage reducing PC to 0 or negative hp): "You are sliced by the Dire Squirrel's claws and collapse to the ground"
(Next round -DST1): "You are in shock and pain, struggling for breath. You cannot get up or concentrate on anything but the pain. Make a DST..."
(Rolls, passes): "OK, your eyesight blurred, you desperately press down on the wound"
(3rd round, DST2): (rolls, fails) "The pain is excruciating and you black out for a moment"
(4th round, DST3): (rolls, fails) "You scream in pain as you come to briefly, you're shocked to see the gash in your side and the blood everywhere. You fight the pain but it is overwhelming"
(5th round, DST4): (rolls, passes) "Clenching your teeth, you shake your head and try to focus - the room is spinning"
(6th round, DST5): (rolls, fails) "You lurch upright in a desperate attempt to stand. The effort flashes pain across your vision. Stumbling, you pull yourself to your feet, slipping in your own blood. What are your last words?"
(Alternate 6th round): (rolls, passes) "You lurch upright in a desperate effort. The pain flashes across your eyes but you shake it off and pull yourself to your feet. Your sword is still in your hand and the Dire Squirrel remains upright before you. You have 1 hp. What do you do?"
It's not the mechanic that fails to deliver drama, it's how it's role played (by the DM).
 

Saeviomagy

Adventurer
I feel that 5e lacks the "you're bleeding to death, but can enact one last valiant action" which crops up in much of heroic fantasy fiction.

For a typical heroic game, I would probably say that prior to rolling your death save, you can choose to try to remain active, which will automatically inflict one failed death save. Then you roll your death save for the round, and if you succeed, you may act.

You could even allow for varying levels of failed death save. A bonus or free action makes you fail your save for the round. A normal action or moving makes you fail twice.
 

Majoru Oakheart

Adventurer
I'm not a big fan. I like the idea in the normal rules that when people are dropped to 0, they know they are on a clock to die and are helpless to stop it. It creates an inbetween spot between dead and alive. One where you can be thinking "Oh crap, I'm close to dead...but I might survive."

This rule creates a situation where you have a number more options to make sure you stay alive. You can spend your action doing a Medicine check on yourself and you can stop making death saves. So, unless the enemies hit you again, you know with 95% certainty that you'll survive. As other people have said above, anyone with a bonus action healing spell will barely notice they fell below 0 hitpoints and can use being near 0 hitpoints to be an advantage to absorb damage only to heal themselves again afterward. This removes most of the tension from falling below 0, since in 95% of all cases without monsters interfering, you know that you are going to survive.

Which brings me to the other problem: Monsters now have a moving, breathing target to attack, raising the chance that you'll die fairly dramatically. Enemies don't really have a reason to attack people who are down. Especially if you follow the advice in the DMG and avoid attacking down people on purpose. But if those people are up and are attacking or even if they are at risk of attacking in a future round, you want to put them down. What makes it weird is that the people who dropped to 0 hitpoints are still kind of difficult to kill if you can't do a lot of damage in one hit. If you have 6 hitpoints, that means you can take 26 points of damage at most before you die(one hit for 11 which doesn't kill you then 3 more hits of 5 points a piece that each make you fail one death save). It gets even worse once you have some hitpoints. Once your max hitpoints are 50, you only die to hits that do 25+ damage at once. So being at 0 is a damage shield of 3 attacks, no matter how damaging they are. While simultaneously being really easy to kill by 3 kobolds with daggers.

Tactically, it seems to mean that all battles either end up with people dead or everyone alive and well. In the system in the book, it is possible for half the party to be knocked unconscious, you can make all of your death saves and become stable and the party will have to wait around for 1d4 hours to wake up since they have no healing. I find it's nice to have a middle ground between alive and dead.

Given "Damage is King" in D&D, the best tactical route while playing with this rule appears to be to attack with everything you have every time you drop to 0 hitpoints. It seems like it would encourage everyone to go out in a blaze of glory every battle. It seems that you want people to go out in a blaze of glory, so the rule may suit you.
 

Mishihari Lord

First Post
Interesting idea. Mechanically, it seems equivalent to adding some hit points and reinstating the 0 hp = dead-dead rule. Still, I can see how it would add some drama and tension. If I were to do it, I would add a rule that each round at 0 hp a PC must make a CON or WIS check (whichever is better) to stay conscious. (Or maybe CHA rather than WIS - whichever better represents willpower in 5e)

I also like that it creates some space between 1hp = fully functional and 0 hp = disabled, which is a long running object of my dissatisfaction with D&D. It's certainly not the only way folks have tried to do so, but it looks like one of the more interesting ways I've seen.
 

Wolf118

Explorer
I like the idea of a little more gray in the area, rather than the up/down nature of DSTs and zero hit points. But, I don't want it to get complicated, either. So, borrowing from everyone's ideas, here's the houserule I'm introducing for my players:

A) When a PC drops to 0 hit points or below, they do not fall unconscious automatically. Instead, they are knocked prone but may still take their turn with the following restrictions:
1) They may only take the Dash, Hide, or Use an Object actions in addition to their movement
2) They may not take a bonus action
3) Their movement is halved (round down to nearest 5 foot increment)
4) If another PC is stabilizing them with a Medicine check, they are not allowed to move
B) Instant Death rule still applies
C) Death Saving Throws rules still apply, with the added penalty of falling unconscious on their second failed Death Saving Throw
 

the Jester

Legend
Are you extending the same benefits to monsters or major npcs?

Personally, whenever I start to engineer a house rule, my first thought is, "What's good for the goose is good for the gander. How does this work out if the npcs can do it, too?"

Not everyone believes in equal treatment for pcs and npcs, though.

EDIT: Yeah, the more I look, the more this seems to make dying meaningless. If you can heal yourself while at 0, and most pcs have some amount of healing (from spells to second wind to... whatever), this is basically "hey, let's remove most of the risk of the game!" I wouldn't like it as a player or a DM.
 

77IM

Explorer!!!
Supporter
Prediction: Upon reaching zero HP, every PC's first action will be to quaff a potion of healing. Every. Single. Time.
 

Wolf118

Explorer
We're playing at 11th level right now. Some of their opponents could squash their unconscious bodies easily with a single attack action. Plus, a PC who's unconscious is a player who's shut out of the action.

I prefer to keep the whole table involved as much as I can. As a player, I've been in the position where I'm unable to act.

My intent behind this change is that a PC is able to drink a healing potion, move out of danger's path, etc. They're hurt, but not down. I pull no punches in combat; I play intelligent monsters intelligently, use proper tactics, and use the PC's own moves against them.

To me, this makes combat a little more cinematic; the seriously-injured hero crawling along, still trying to make it to the control panel. Or hiding away from the enemy while they quickly patch themselves up. I did toy with the idea of negative HPs, but that kind of screws healing magic.

NPCs won't use these rules in most cases; again, I want a little more grittiness without sacrificing the speed of play 5e has. Maybe the BBEG if I need him to escape to fight another day.

And dying is still meaningful. As the DM, I don't need to cheat or fudge rolls to hit the players; I can always throw more monsters at the players. Or, "Rocks fall. Everybody dies." The question is, as you're dying, can you still do something. The hero in the story can, and that's how I view my players.
 

Psikerlord#

Explorer
How about something simpler: when you drop to zero, make a "death save" - if you succeed, you can take an action your next turn before dropping unconscious. If you fail, normal fall unconscious immediately rule applies.

Alternatively you could make this part of a feat

I Actually think allowing PCs to fight on at zero hp is going to get a lot of PCs killed. Normally they would drop and be ignored by the monsters who are focusing on moving targets. But with this method, they keep fighting at zero - with a bad initiative arrangements, or a monster with multiattack, they could be properly killed very quickly - every hit on zero hp = fail death save....
 

Saeviomagy

Adventurer
I Actually think allowing PCs to fight on at zero hp is going to get a lot of PCs killed. Normally they would drop and be ignored by the monsters who are focusing on moving targets. But with this method, they keep fighting at zero - with a bad initiative arrangements, or a monster with multiattack, they could be properly killed very quickly - every hit on zero hp = fail death save....
That's why I made 'fighting on' a choice with a serious, immediate consequence. Most of the time you would be better off just remaining unconscious rather than trying to act. Even if you have a guaranteed hit point restorer up your sleeve, you are better off waiting for someone else to heal you, or for a lucky recovery.

I would probably also rule that until that 'fight on' choice is made, the character is unconscious but able to perceive their surroundings, removing them as a potential target immediately but letting them decide if they want to risk getting up.

So - most of the time characters will stay down. Most of the time monsters will be wasting an action to hit them again, but the potential for a heroic final action still exists.
 

S

Sunseeker

Guest
Yeah, death saves are a little dull, but I think they also give players some time to think about what they can do to save themselves.
 

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