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Recently, my PC was brought to 0 hp by a trap—hit by three huge blades erupting from walls and ceiling—, leaving my PC unconscious in the centre of the area of effect.

In a bid to rescue my PC, a party member pulled my character from the centre of the trap, triggering the trap again, but this time only 1 of the blades hit my character.

This prompted the most experienced player in our group to say that my PC automatically failed two death saving throws, as being hit while unconscious is automatically a critical hit. Is he correct?

I know that attack rolls against an unconscious character have advantage, and any attack that hits the character is a critical hit if the attacker is within 5 ft. of the character (PH 292), but, in this case, because the attacker is a trap, is it technically within 5 feet of my PC? Is there another rule that would make this attack from a trap an automatic critical hit?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ @Miniman it made a ranged attack roll, I believe, only one blade hit when I was unconscious \$\endgroup\$ – sandwich_messiah Dec 5 '17 at 12:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ @mattdm While I appreciate you may have qualms with some playstyle or another, we embrace all playstyles here and need your assistance in making people feel welcome, whether their playstyle preferences correspond to whatever preferences we might have ourselves. I've removed that comment given the way it would work against that goal of ours. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Dec 5 '17 at 15:26
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The rules for conditions are written with creatures attacking creatures in mind. The "position" of a trap is not defined anywhere. Thus this little blind spot has to be filled in with a DM ruling.

I would recommend basing the decision on the circumstances and the nature of the trap. If you are lying prone on the floor, a trap that attacks with spears rising up from the ground would probably be quite dangerous and I would rule for an automatic critical. If a trap swings blades attached to the ceiling and is designed to hit standing creatures, it could be a normal hit.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I agree with your first statement - the rules are designed for attacking creatures, and I think this is also important - a creature attacking someone unconscious will go for the kill, and therefore get a critical, while a trap cannot change how it attacks depending on the creature. Personally, I'd almost always rule that it isn't a critical, because the trap can't take advantage of the situation like a creature can. \$\endgroup\$ – Tal Dec 5 '17 at 14:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Tal This is basically fluff territory. A conscious creature moves around and reflexively protects its vitals, while an unconscious one does not. This difference could also be regarded as the cause of the auto-crit and would apply to a mechanical attacker too. Most things can be rationalized :) \$\endgroup\$ – Szega Dec 5 '17 at 14:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Szega but to say an unconscious target of a fixed location attack is always going to be hit on a vital location implies that the act of falling unconscious would always put the vital in the path of the attack, where rationally it would be up to random chance what part of the body got hit. as opposed to an intentionally targeted attack, which would change where it would hit to find a vital place \$\endgroup\$ – Michael Gorman Dec 5 '17 at 16:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MichaelGorman As I said, one can argue either way. This is squarely YMMV. \$\endgroup\$ – Szega Dec 5 '17 at 16:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ As a ranged attack, it has disadvantage against prone targets; that would imply that a ranged attack is the wrong kind of attack if the attack would deterministically critically injure someone immobalized next to the ground (unconscous). \$\endgroup\$ – Yakk Dec 5 '17 at 18:48
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The key rule, as you've noted, is that while unconscious, attacks from within 5 feet are automatic critical hits.

Unfortunately, the answer is a bit more subjective: it's up to the DM to decide what, exactly, is within 5' of the trap. It could be the whole room, it could be within 5' of the ceiling and walls, it could be just the immediate arcs of the blades.

The blades being a ranged attack is not very strong evidence either way. There are some melee weapons with 10' reach, and of course you can shoot an arrow at someone from point blank.

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