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I don't know if my group is particularly incompetent in combat or if its our own feckless dice at fault, but we frequently find ourselves locked in desperate combat, with multiple members of the party staring down the barrel of the Death Save while the survivors struggle mightily to survive. This results in a very uneven experience, as at the end of the combat, the survivors are feeling stoked/pumped/exhilarated with their victory over such disparate odds and clear danger, while the unfortunate victims are bored out of their minds at having nothing to do but roll death saves, fishing for 20s, for what can sometimes be a long time.

Does anyone have any tips or suggestions for optional rules or things we're overlooking to make the "Death Save" stage of the game more fun/interactive/reliable/exciting for the unfortunate ones? This question is not focused on avoiding the Death Save in the first place; we're not looking for a lower danger level, just less boring consequences for failure.

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Its worth mentioning that other acceptable things would be allow the character to die normally, but find some other role for them in the combat somehow? Dunno. –  GWLlosa Jan 14 '11 at 20:42
2  
I upvoted some options below, but if this happens very frequently your DM should adjust, or you should learn to avoid certain battles. –  Peter Seckler Jan 16 '11 at 16:30

3 Answers 3

up vote 9 down vote accepted

Make Heal DDI checks.

Even if a character has no healing surges left, any other character can try a Heal check (DC15) to Stabilize him. If successful, no further death saves need to be made.

If they do have a healing surge left, it is a mere DC10 to allow them to use their Second Wind DDI.

Both of these checks are very makeable for even 1st level characters and should be attempted whenever there isn't immediate danger to the conscious character in my opinion.

Spread Healing Responsibilities Around

If this is occurring during combat, your group may want to ensure that most characters are able to heal others. I feel that nearly all non-striker characters should have some form of healing available. It is better to restore a dying comrade to fighting strength than to inflict damage upon the enemy.

  • Potions: very cheap at the low end.
  • Multiclass: every character should be able to find a suitable leader class to multiclass into
  • Healing skill: Being trained in Healing can turn a difficult check into an easy one at low levels. By mid-levels you should be able to retrain out of this.
  • Specific powers: A lot of classes can heal other with at least one power
  • Magic items: Some allow you to heal nearby characters
    • Lifeforce Amulet DDI
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The enemies are usually pretty good about limiting our "touch" access to dying characters in combat, as its obviously critical. Multiclassing leader, though, sounds promising. –  GWLlosa Jan 14 '11 at 19:54

Any feat that improves saving throws improves death saving throws. Use

Disciple of Death:

Disciple of Death

Prerequisite: Wisdom 13

Benefit: You gain a +5 feat bonus to death saving throws.

Or Resilient Focus:

Benefit: You gain a +2 feat bonus to saving throws.

Also, look at Revenants for very hardy characters.

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+1 for Revenants - These guys are very hardy, with a feature that gives them a Standard Action (Second Wind, anyone?) before their first Death Save, and feats available that will even let them continue fighting (or chugging healing potions) past 0 HP until they hit negative bloodied. –  Iszi Jan 17 '11 at 5:32

If you try hard enough, there are enough sources of saving throw bonuses that you can actually have a character incapable of failing a saving throw (without penalties being applied). Here's a list of bonuses I've been able to find that either apply to all saves, or to death saving throws specifically.

Remember that bonuses of the same type don't stack, so you can't grab all of the items listed below and hope for +13 to your saves. However, many of the sources listed are untyped, which will stack together just fine.

Backgrounds

  • Crusading Zealot: +1 bonus to saving throws until you fail a saving throw (resets after a rest)
  • Scorned Noble: +2 bonus to saving throws while no allies are within 5 squares of you

Character Themes

  • Chevalier level 10: +1 power bonus to saving throws
  • Hordelands Nomad level 10: +1 power bonus to saving throws
  • Masked Lord level 10: +1 item bonus to saving throws while wearing your lord's armor
  • Tuathan level 1 (Continue the Story): +1 bonus to death saving throws

Feats

  • Born of Shadow: +1 bonus to saving throws while in dim light or darkness
  • Courageous Mind (requires Psionic Human): +1 bonus to saving throws while bloodied (a dying character is by definition also bloodied)
  • Death Scorned (requires level 11 Revenant with 13+ Constitution): +1 bonus to death saving throws, and you don't die due to failing death saving throws until you've failed (1+Con mod, max 5) times, rather than the normal 3.
  • Die Hard (requires Human): If you have failed 2 death saving throws, get a +5 feat bonus to death saving throws and you can spend a healing surge at a result of 15, rather than the normal 20.
  • Disciple of Death (requires 13 Wisdom): +5 feat bonus to death saving throws
  • Eerie Resurgence (requires level 21 Revenant): +2 feat bonus to death saving throws, and you can spend an extra healing surge at a result of 20
  • Elemental Guardian (requires level 11 Genasi Fighter with 15 Constitution): Increase earthsoul genasi's racial saving throw bonus by 2
  • Human Perseverance (requires Human): +1 feat bonus to saving throws
  • Imperishable Destiny (requires Human): +1 bonus to saving throws for each milestone you've reached
  • Iron Resolve of Zerthadlun (requires Githerazi): +2 feat bonus to saving throws while you have at least 1 power point
  • Psionic Fortune (requires Psionic Augmentation): +1 feat bonus to saving throws while you have at least 1 power point
  • Resilient Focus: +2 feat bonus to saving throws
  • Stubborn Survivor (requires Human): +2 bonus to saving throws while you have no action points
  • Unyielding Fortitude (requires level 21): +2 feat bonus to death saving throws

Items

  • Crown Jewel of Chessenta (level 15 Rare): +2 item bonus to saving throws
  • Emblem of Ossandrya (Paragon): +1 item bonus to saving throws
  • Fortune Stones (set, requires at least 5): Each ally carrying a Fortune Stone gets +1 item bonus to saving throws
  • Fragment of the Eleventh Rack (level 18+ Rare): +1 item bonus to saving throws
  • Horreb Ritual Cube (level 18 Rare): +2 item bonus to saving throws
  • Nullifying Ring (level 30 Uncommon): +3 item bonus to saving throws
  • Ring of Protection (level 17 Rare): +1 item bonus to saving throws
  • The Invulnerable Coat of Arnd (Heroic): +2 item bonus to saving throws

Paragon Paths

  • Anointed Champion (requires Cleric) level 16 (Anointed Helm): +2 bonus to saving throws
  • Scion of Absence (requires voidsoul Genasi) level 16: +2 bonus to saving throws
  • Mul Battle Slave (requires Mul) level 11: +2 bonus to saving throws while bloodied
  • Warforged Juggernaut (requires Warforged) level 16: +2 bonus to saving throws

So, let's throw together this hypothetical character.

  • Background: Scorned Noble; this will lets us become infallible for all saves if we back away from out comrades (or get them to back away from us!)

    Total: +2 while further than 5sq from allies

  • Character Theme: The four choices don't matter as far as saving throw boosting is concerned.

    Total: +1 always +2 while further than 5sq from allies (+3)

  • Race: Genasi, Earthsoul for the racial +1

    Total: +2 always +2 while further than 5sq from allies (+4)

  • Class: Fighter, so that we can pick up Elemental Guardian and boost the racial bonus. Multiclassing into Cleric for the paragon path
  • Ability Scores: Wisdom at least 13, Constitution at least 12 are all that's needed at level 1 (assuming Constitution is raised at 4 and 8) to get the desired feats.
  • Skills: Why not train Heal, to help your poor allies who aren't immune to save-ends effects and death?
  • Powers: While there are powers which can boost saving throws, none last for longer than an encounter.
  • Feats:

    • Disciple of Death
    • Born of Shadow
    • Initiate of the Faith
    • Elemental Guardian

    Total: +4 always +2 while further than 5sq from allies +1 in dim light or darkness +5 vs. death saving throws (+12)

  • Paragon Path: Anointed Champion, selecting Anointed Helm

    Total: +6 always +2 while further than 5sq from allies +1 in dim light or darkness +5 vs. death saving throws (+14)

  • Items: Nullifying Ring

    Total: +9 always +2 while further than 5sq from allies +1 in dim light or darkness +5 vs. death saving throws (+17)

Now, a 3 on a death saving throw will let you spend a healing surge, and you can't fail the roll. You also can't fail a normal saving throw roll unless penalties are being applied to you (and those penalties have to be greater than -4 if the lighting isn't too hot and your allies are across the room).

For most actual games, a Nullifying Ring won't be available to a level 16 character, however. Even without any item bonus at all though you've got a healing surge on 6+ for a death save, and you still have 85% success rate for saves when your teammates are crowding too close and the lighting is good. And you can always add in one of the lower-level items which provide a bonus until you can get your mitts on the level 30 ring. The Fortune Stones set would be a nice lower-level choice, as each item offers a daily reroll for certain attack types, and once you get 5 of them everyone in the party is getting the +1 bonus.

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Verve armor is worth a mention here as well. While it doesn't directly affect death saving throws, its daily power grants an auto 20 on a failed saving throw. –  wax eagle May 6 at 11:44
    
I didn't include powers in my list (item or otherwise), since they're limited to how often you can use them, and you (usually) need to use an action to do so. There are some nice ones, though. Trascendent Dance (Warlock Utility 10), for example, gives +INT mod to both speed and saving throws for a full encounter as a minor action once per day. If you're focused heavily on INT (20 @ level 1), that's +6 at level 10 when you get the power, and +9 at level 28. –  Brian S May 6 at 17:49

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