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Sequence of events:

  • Arthur has 7 hit points left.
  • Arthur is hit and receives 12 damage.
  • Arthur is becomes unconscious and is dying (0 HP.)
  • Arthur's turn comes around, he rolls a Death Saving Throw and fails.
  • Eleonore applies his medicine kit and stabilize Arthur.
  • Lancelot casts an Enhance Ability spell and gives Arthur 8 temporary hit points.
  • The Goblin hits Arthur and generate 3 hit points of damage.

When the Goblin generates 3 hit points of damage, will Arthur still be stabilized? Since Arthur still has 5 temporary hit points, I would think that he did not go back to the Dying State. That being said, his HP are still 0 and the rules say:

Damage at 0 Hit Points. If you take any damage while you have 0 hit points, you suffer a death saving throw failure.

And at the same time, the Temporary Hit Points section says:

If you have 0 hit points, receiving temporary hit points doesn’t restore you to consciousness or stabilize you. They can still absorb damage directed at you while you’re in that state, but only true healing can save you.

I'm wondering whether the temporary hit points means we're not exactly at 0 HP in that specific circumstance... How do you interpret the rule on this one?

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Temporary hit points do not prevent death saving throws

Temporary hit points do not count as real hit points

Temporary hit points aren't actual hit points; they are a buffer against damage, a pool of hit points that protect you from injury.

Thus, a creature that receives temp HP when they are at 0 HP is still considered to be at 0 HP.

Damage to temporary hit points still counts as damage

Temporary hit points do not prevent you from taking damage.

It is clear from the rules that when you lose temporary hit points it is still considered damage:

When you have temporary hit points and take damage, the temporary hit points are lost first, and any leftover damage carries over to your normal hit points. For example, if you have 5 temporary hit points and take 7 damage, you lose the temporary hit points and then take 2 damage.

Jeremy Crawford agrees with this and has since clarified:

When temporary hit points absorb damage for you, you're still taking damage, just not to your real hit points.

The rule for death saving throws

The rules for taking damage at 0 hp say that any damage causes a death saving throw failure.

If you take any damage while you have 0 hit points, you suffer a death saving throw failure.

So only two questions are important:

  1. Is the creature at 0 HP?
  2. Has the creature taken any damage?

Your example

In your example, Arthur is stable at 0 HP and 8 temporary hit points and has just taken a goblin attack for 3 hit points of damage.

Looking at the rules for death saving throws above let us evaluate what happens in this scenario.

  1. Is Arthur at 0 HP? Yes. Receiving temp HP does not change the fact that they are still at 0 HP. Arthur has 0 HP.
  2. Has Arthur taken any damage? Yes. The creature took 3 damage from a goblin attack and it still counts as taking damage.

Since Arthur took damage and was at 0 hp, thus Arthur automatically fail a death saving throw.

Also, Arthur is no longer stable and must continue to make a death saving throw at the beginning of their next turn unless stabilized before then.

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  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ This was my first interpretation and I think that's what's the most correct by RAW. However, RAW also says that some rules can overlap and a more specific rule has priority. I just can't decide which rule is more specific in this situation. At the same time, I think that it would not happen too often than whatever ruling would probably work just fine. \$\endgroup\$ – Alexis Wilke Mar 4 '18 at 1:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ @AlexisWilke: that is true. There are many difficult cases like that. However, I do not see any remaining conflicts in this case. Where do you see them? \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Mar 4 '18 at 1:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ I guess what's confusing is the "at 0 hp". If you have some temp. hp, in a way you're not exactly at 0 hp... but your real hp are at 0. I think you're correct. There is no real conflict. \$\endgroup\$ – Alexis Wilke Mar 4 '18 at 1:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think Alexis is right. While you have temp hp you are not "at 0 hp". \$\endgroup\$ – ammut Jun 17 '18 at 9:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ This goes against they are a buffer against damage, a pool of hit points that protect you from injury. Like you can't cast Shield without first being hit, this does not mean you are actually hit if the +5 AC now makes it miss. By this answer's logic you would still take damage because "Were you hit? Yes. Now take damage." Shield needs you to be hit to prevent that hit, just as Temp HP needs you to take damage to prevent injury from it. The tweet you reference goes against every other rule in the book, as someone pointed out in response to it. \$\endgroup\$ – Tim Nov 8 at 8:06
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Temporary Hit Points Do Protect from Failing Death Saves

tl;dr temporary hit points protect the stabilized PC from having to start rolling death saves again if the damage is less than the temporary hit points.

The temporary hit points do not return the character to consciousness, but they do protect them from further injury.

A stable creature doesn't make death saving throws, even though it has 0 hit points, but it does remain unconscious. The creature stops being stable, and must start making death saving throws again, if it takes any damage.

It is taking damage that returns the character to the dying state. However, temporary hit points are defined as a buffer against damage and not actual hit points.

Temporary hit points aren't actual hit points; they are a buffer against damage, a pool of hit points that protect you from injury.

Being hit for less damage than the temporary total means that the damage is absorbed by the buffer and the character is protected from injury.

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Great Question! First, if we understand...

  • Temporary HP creates a temporary buffer that absorbs the damage/injury from a successful attack thus, keeping the victim from being injured while they have that buffer in place.
  • It's about who or what is taking the damage, receiving the injury, from the attack...the victim or the buffer?

Understanding the above is key to answering your question based on the scenario you provided.

ANSWER: Though Arthur is at 0 HP, he was stabilized and received an 8 HP temporary buffer.

Based on my understanding of the following statement on Pg 198 of PHB 5e...

If you have 0 hit points, receiving temporary hit points doesn't restore you to consciousness or stabilize you. They can still absorb damage directed at you while you are in that state, but only true healing can save you.

  1. Though Arthur was stabilized and received an 8 HP Temporary buffer, he remains unconscious and personally at 0 HP.
  2. The 8 HP Temporary buffer protects him from up to 8 HP of damage/injury from any successful attacks made against him.
  3. Once the 8 temporary HP runs out, the buffer is destroyed and Arthur will no longer be safe from injury. He will then be personally susceptible from any damage received from a successful attack made against him.
  4. Once he personally takes damage, he loses his stabilized state AND will have to start making Death Saving Throws again.

NOTE: If Arthur had not been stabilized first but, only had Temporary HP placed upon him while in his unconscious state, then he would still be protected from further injury. However, he would still have to make death saving throws.

Why does that make a difference?

Because an unstabilized PC with 0 HP and without any protection from Temporary HP can still be injured from the damage they take while unconscious. According to the PHB 5e, if the damage (injury) they receive reaches their HP Max, they die whether they are still in the process of Death Saving Throws or not.

However, if they have been provided temporary HP while in the unstabilized 0 HP state, the damage/injury is directed at the buffer instead, thus, possibly providing them enough time...

  1. To still make that successful death saving throw they need or
  2. For someone to cast a healing spell on them or
  3. For someone to rush over and stabilize them.

Hope that answers your question!

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I think my main question was answered in the answer I selected. That was whether the temporary hit points would protect you from having to roll death saving throws and it looks like it doesn't. This means that wizards have a harder time to save your butt in this situation. \$\endgroup\$ – Alexis Wilke Jun 17 '18 at 5:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ @AlexisWilke It seems that Temp Hp would stop you from making death saves from the phrase "They can still absorb damage directed at you" \$\endgroup\$ – Jihelu Jun 20 '18 at 18:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ The reason I answered the way I did is because of the scenario presented: \$\endgroup\$ – dndtomball Jun 21 '18 at 1:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ The reason I answered the way I did is that of the scenario presented: * Eleonore applies his medicine kit and stabilize Arthur. ("A stable creature doesn't make death saving throws, even though it has 0 hit points, but it remains unconscious.") - PHB 197 I should have referenced that statement in my answer. As long as stabilized-0-HP Arthur has temp HP remaining, he has time to receive further help. But, if the Temp HP vanish, he remains stabilized until he takes damage. If he does, then he starts making death saving throws again. (PHB 197-198 "Stabilizing a Creature) \$\endgroup\$ – dndtomball Jun 21 '18 at 2:12
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As the temporary hit points section says, giving temporary hit points won't heal you. Arthur is still effectively at zero hit points. However the second part of that section you've quoted states "They can still absorb damage directed at you while you’re in that state, but only true healing can save you." which I would personally interpret to mean that if Arthur is given the 8 temporary hit points before he's stabilized, and then hit by the goblin for 3 hit points, he won't automatically fail a death saving throw like he otherwise would when hit while unconscious. If he's stabilized and then given temporary hit points, I would imagine that they work like normal hp in everything except that they don't let Arthur regain consciousness.

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