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Can one use a hellish rebuke as a reaction after taking damage that would knock one unconscious?

A friend and I fought during one game and I hit him, so he would have lost, but used his reaction to finish me, too. (It was awesome :D)

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1  
The Tempest Domain cleric has a similar "reaction equals damage" ability (Wrath of the Storm) that looks related to this question. I didn't find a question on that, but there is one that is somewhat related – KorvinStarmast Mar 14 at 15:32
    
How many times did you hit him? – Drunk Cynic Mar 15 at 5:17
    
@KorvinStarmast, I just asked the question about WotS here: How does timing work with reactions? – SirTechSpec Mar 25 at 2:44

Unfortunately, as awesome as this sounds, by the rules, it doesn't work. Hellish Rebuke is a reaction that you take

in response to being damaged

Not "in response to being hit", or "in response to being attacked". You actually have to take damage to use it.

Whenever a creature takes damage, that damage is subtracted from its hit points.

You haven't taken the damage until you've subtracted it from your hit points. If that puts you on 0 hit points, then

you either die outright or fall unconscious

At which point, you are incapacitated and can't use reactions.

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Thank you, too. This was my first instinct, too and I would decide to play it like that if I would have been the DM, but I am grateful for the fun experience of a double ko. ^^ – wOlF Mar 13 at 23:50
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@wOlF It's possible your DM knew it would work like this but decided it was awesome enough that it was worth allowing anyway! – Miniman Mar 13 at 23:53

The rules are (my emphasis):

Hit Points (PHB p.196)

Whenever a creature takes damage, that damage is subtracted from its hit points. The loss of hit points has no effect on a creature’s capabilities until the creature drops to 0 hit points.

Unconsciousness (PHB p.197)

If damage reduces you to 0 hit points and fails to kill you, you fall unconscious.

Hellish Rebuke (PHB p.250)

Casting Time: 1 reaction, which you take in response to being damaged by a creature within 60 feet of you that you can see

Reaction (PHB p.190)

A reaction is an instant response to a trigger of some kind, which can occur on your turn or on someone else’s.

There are two possible sequences here:

  • damage (trigger) -> reaction (Hellish Rebuke) -> subtracted from hit points -> unconscious

  • (damage -> subtracted from hit points -> unconscious [all as a single event]) (trigger) -> can't react because unconscious

For mine, a reaction is an instant response to the trigger, and instant means instant; it interrupts the normal sequence of subtracting damage from hp and falling unconscious (or dying) so the first option is the one I think works.

Notwithstanding, awesome should always beat the rules.

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There's no call for arguing in the comments. There are two opposite answers: vote according to which you think is correct. – SevenSidedDie Mar 14 at 18:38

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