I have noticed that my PCs can dispatch a hoard of high health things pretty quickly, and as soon as they have put enough arrows/swords at one thing, they move onto the next. That makes me think, should I be telling my PCs exactly when something dies?

I don't mean for obviously dead things, where a harpy will drop out of the air, or when something's head is removed, but things that aren't clearly dead. For example, if something is lying on the floor paralyzed covered in blood and motionless with 1 HP left, it isn't clear if it's dead or alive. One more hit would kill it, but it would look exactly the same if it was dead, so should I then tell my PCs that it is dead, or wait until the end of the round?


4 Answers 4


Not exactly?

You should tell your players everything that is both apparent and relevant about their surroundings. On the flipside, you should avoid processing that information beyond what would be obvious to your players, without a check.

While Death is a relevant thing, it is not an apparent thing. Falling down is. Bleeding out is. Telling your players that a monster is "dead" is processing what their characters are seeing. Tell your players, instead, things that are apparent, and accurate, without processing that information to conclusions.

This creates a situation where, if and when you do have creatures faking death or have successfully saved vs. death while remaining unconscious, your PCs still get a consistent description from you, and are used to drawing their own conclusions about the actual facts of the matter.


Yes. You should tell the players when a creature is dead, unless it is faking it.

Hit Points are an abstraction. They do not measure how wounded the creature is, just how close to being killed it is. A perfectly healthy dragon could die from a single arrow in his chest. But the hit point mechanics simulate the wearying of the combatants. That is why the fighter's second wind is able to recover HP: he is not really wounded, just winded.

This is also the reason the combat capacity of creatures and characters do not go down with HP, as is the case in other systems where being wounded can bring penalties.

A dragon with 1 HP left is as dangerous as a dragon at full HP. It is just easier to drive a killing blow to.

So unless the creature has some way of feigning death, the characters will know it is alive.

A dead monster is easy to spot: it stops moving, attacking, and reacting. Remember that while combat has those static miniatures, in the simulated world the creatures are moving, dodging and feinting all the time. Also breathing and looking around for other hidden threats. All of that stops upon death.

It is recommended in the PHB that most monsters and creatures should die outright when reaching 0 HP (page 198 or SRD 5e link):

Most DMs have a monster die the instant it drops to 0 hit points, rather than having it fall unconscious and make death saving throws.

Mighty villains and special nonplayer characters are common exceptions; the DM might have them fall unconscious and follow the same rules as player characters.

The important part is to have consistency. The DM should choose one way or another and keep the same rule throughout the game.

If you require an action to verify if a creature is dead, it should be a very easy to moderate Medicine test, depending on the physiology of the creature (telling an orc is dead is easier than telling a gelationus cube is dead).

And if it is faking, there should be a saving throw (in case of magic or a spell) or a contested roll of deception vs insight.

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ "A dead monster is easy to spot" - then why do people in real life poke "dead" creatures with their gun or a stick? ("You go look... No, you go look...") To make sure the creature isn't just lying there and may attack before you (and your party) let your guard down prematurely. \$\endgroup\$
    – Wyrmwood
    Commented Aug 16, 2017 at 16:51
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ A dead creature is NOT easy to spot, except when the symptoms of death are easy to spot. Otherwise, its rather difficult to tell, immediately, the distinction. \$\endgroup\$
    – godskook
    Commented Aug 16, 2017 at 17:07
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ If you always tell them it is dead, then the one time you don't you run the risk of meta-gaming. Some players can handle this by doing what the would do normally, but others would immediate (and perhaps without realizing they are meta-gaming) focus on the lack of death confirmation as confirmation it isn't dead. Also, how does one easily tell a dead creature from one dying but not yet dead due to negative hit points (3.5e style)? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 16, 2017 at 18:11
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @Mindwin This is 5e? There's no edition mentioned anywhere... \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 17, 2017 at 6:29
  • 5
    \$\begingroup\$ The "hit points are not meat points" interpretation of what the HP abstraction is supposed to mean is a contested one and I don't think it should be presented as absolute fact. It's also incongruent with some of the other game mechanics. Ultimately D&D's injury modelling mechanics just don't make sense if you look at them too hard. Or at all. \$\endgroup\$
    – Carcer
    Commented Aug 17, 2017 at 7:46

You can tell them that the monster is "bloodied and broken", which doesn't mean it is dead. Make them check if it is dead when it's not obvious?


Stop saying the monsters died at all. Let them conclude what happened. If they assume monsters are always dead, attack with one partially healed, so they learn they have to check if the monsters are really dead.


There are only two reasons to introduce this into your game: Either you want to make combat more difficult, or you want to tell a more interesting story.

I can see the reasoning behind preventing the characters from immediately switching targets as soon as a lethal blow is struck, particularly if you assume that they are attacking as quickly as possible and realistically don't have time to confirm each kill before the next swing.

However, introducing a mechanic to force them to waste attacks against a defeated foe is not going to add fun for your players. Adding "fake-out" monsters that come back after they seem defeated is going to be interesting once, then the players will just habitually stop to behead each enemy before moving on - which becomes a chore, slows down the game, and doesn't really reward them. All else being equal, you're better off finding another way to make encounters more difficult.

It could be interesting if knowing when a monster was defeated was tied to a character option, so that players who invested in a skill/talent would feel rewarded. (For instance, declare that the Wizard's high Arcana skill means they know precisely when an Elemental has been defeated, the Ranger's training grants them insight into animals, and the Fighter has slain hundreds of Goblins. Conversely, the city-slicker Rogue can barely identify a troll, let alone fight efficiently.) A character who doesn't know what they're up against might get a more limited description, and be obliged to declare a round's attacks without knowing the outcome until the opposition's turn. Perhaps even declare that characters fighting the unknown get their damage rolled behind the DM screen.

Ultimately, you have to make the decision whether or not to House-Rule this based on if it adds fun or makes the game more interesting. Longer fights aren't interesting, but adding tension and mystery might be...particularly if you reward character choices at the same time.


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .