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When a character goes down to 0 HP and then is healed from a distance by Word of Healing, is there obvious magical energy that alerts all that the character is healed and not unconscious?

I had a character go down who was then healed like this for 2 HP. There was a large monster still standing over me. I told the DM I wasn't going to move and hope it moved on. He said the magical energy was obvious and any creature would see this magical energy and know I was healed.

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There is no visible effect upon casting Healing Word

Healing word has no language in the spell description that would suggest a visible effect upon casting. In contrast, a spell like Fireball (PHB, 241) states:

A bright streak flashes from your pointing finger to a point you choose within range...

Audio recognition

However, there is a Verbal Component to the spell which may be recognized. How that is determined may be table dependent, but Xanathar's Guide to Everything covers Identifying Spells on Page 85.

If the character perceived the casting, the spell’s effect, or both, the character can make an Intelligence (Arcana) check with the reaction or action. The DC equals 15 + the spell’s level. If the spell is cast as a class spell and the character is a member of that class, the check is made with advantage.

This Intelligence (Arcana) Check represents the fact that identifying a spell requires a quick mind and familiarity with the theory and practice of casting. This is true even for a character whose spellcasting ability is Wisdom or Charisma. Being able to cast spells doesn’t by itself make you adept at deducing exactly what others are doing when they cast their spells.

A DM might also ask for a Perception check (did you hear it?) and/or Xanathar's Arcana check (do you recognize what you heard?) if there is a chance of failure or success. Tables may decide differently if it's possible at all or how to adjudicate discovering that information.

However, a blanket "any creature would see this magical energy and know I was healed" circumvents Xanathar's as well as takes away player agency by removing any ability checks to identify the spell. It's not necessarily impossible or wrong, but by doing so a DM is ruling that this particular creature cannot fail at identifying a spell (as shown by not requiring any sort of roll for success/failure.)

Visual Recognition of Injury

The PHB does give some guidance on Effects on Damage (197)

Dungeon Masters describe hit point loss in different ways. When your current hit point total is half or more of your hit point maximum, you typically show no signs of injury. When you drop below half your hit point maximum, you show signs of wear, such as cuts and bruises. An attack that reduces you to 0 hit points strikes you directly, leaving a bleeding injury or other trauma, or it simply knocks you unconscious.

This leaves a lot of room for DM description and it will be directly related to the damage type as well. The difference between getting to 0HP from Bludgeoning Damage is likely very different than Fire Damage. What the recovery looks like will also depend on how many hit points they received. Something like healing word may only deliver a small percentage of Max HP, and they may not look much different. In comparison, a spell like Heal could completely close up wounds/burns, etc. and the creature looks back to normal (if above 50%.)

Down and out?

In your specific case, I would have asked you to make a Deception (or even Performance) check against their Insight(Or maybe medicine) to see if you successfully "played dead".

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    \$\begingroup\$ I like the way you covered the whole problem that the player was confronted with, from rules text, to ability check, to deception attempt. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Feb 5 '18 at 18:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks @KorvinStarmast. I also added the possibility of Performance (for playing dead) or Medicine for "is it dead"? :D \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Feb 5 '18 at 19:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ You may also benefit from pointing out "any creature would see this magical energy and know I was healed" circumvents the spells/skills normally used/required to identify a spell. \$\endgroup\$ – TemporalWolf Feb 5 '18 at 20:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ @TemporalWolf I like it - added. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Feb 5 '18 at 21:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think there might be a distinction between identifying specific spell used for healing (which Arcana check is meant for) versus recognizing in general that healing was done (he was bleeding a lot, blue energy covered him and now he is not bleeding anymore and his wounds are closed). Arcana check is probably done observing the caster, while 'recognize somebody is being healed' would be done observing the recipient. \$\endgroup\$ – Artur Biesiadowski Feb 6 '18 at 12:32
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No, the magical energy is not in itself visible. On p.204 of the Players Handbook, under Targeting, it says:

Unless a spell has a perceptible effect, a creature might not know it was targeted by a spell at all. An effect like crackling lightning is obvious, but a more subtle effect, such as an attempt to read a creature's thoughts, typically goes unnoticed, unless a spell says otherwise.

So in this case, the Healing Word would not be obvious by its nature, RAW. If the combat was ongoing, with other opponents still active, I would be inclined to have the monster move on, unless it was (a) particularly intelligent and (b) knew the party had access to healing magic. Even then, I would have the monster at a minimum have to make a perception check to see if the character was breathing, or had twitched when he regained consciousness.

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In terms of the rules as written, there isn't a general answer for spells. However, there is a guarantee for many magical spells which explicitly state what their visual effects are, for example a fireball has the following visual text:

A bright streak flashes from your pointing finger to a point you choose within range then blossoms with a low roar into an explosion of flame.

Therefore, spells like Fireball are guaranteed to have a visual component, without needing to check for a general rule.

Healing Word has no visual text, so there's no similar guarantee. Whether or not the spell has visual effects is up to the interpretation by the DM and the setting that the campaign is operating in.

In a world with no visual Healing Word, you can still be caught "being alive"

There are a number of things that reveal that you're not incapacitated anymore.

  • A Medicine check by the enemy might be used to determine the health of a character on the ground.
  • By being healed, you wake up. How good is your poker face (Deception)?
  • An enemy can identify the spell using the appropriate Skill or appropriate spell knowledge.
  • A Perception check can notice instant wound closure. (courtesy of Voromir Kadien)

Even if you're going to get caught, getting healed was still better for you!

You might be wondering whether or not it's fair for the DM to "waste" the Healing Word of the healer on you by just downing you again. If you are dying and a Healing Word has brought you back to life, you've avoided being outright killed.

Assuming the enemy has two attacks, being down is guaranteed death to an enemy that wants you dead-dead. By having 2 HP, you have a chance you didn't have before. If they want you dead-dead, they hit you twice, you still have one dead save left before you die for good. You have a 50% chance to live when before you had a 0% chance.

If they don't want you dead-dead, they smack you once and then continue with combat leaving you at a full three death saves left. Healing Word became a "waste an opponent's attack" spell.

It might not be any consolation for you, the downed player, but the party's actions weren't wasted.

If this situation lead to your death-death anyway, then you were likely in the first case, where you would have been killed even had the healer not used Healing Word.

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    \$\begingroup\$ @HerbieGonzalez If you don't like an answer that is perfectly OK! The thing to do is downvote it then (if you've unlocked that privilege) and move on to upvote answers you like better. Comments can be used to offer suggested improvements, but when it becomes an argument they are no longer useful to post more of. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Feb 5 '18 at 19:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ I would like to add instant wound closure IS noticeable. \$\endgroup\$ – Voromir Kadien Feb 5 '18 at 20:07
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While the rules text doesn't specify a visual signature or effect ...

Healing Word {1st level evocation / Components: V / Duration: Instantaneous}
A creature of your choice that you can see within range regains hit points equal to 1d4 + your spellcasting ability modifier. This spell has no effect on undead or constructs. (Basic Rules, p. 93)

... your DM's ruling is within the purview of a DM's discretion even though no visual effect is in the text of the spell description. (As commented by @Voromir Kadien, a case of instant wound closure would be noticeable. An ability check might be a better way to rule on this, unless this particular monster or NPC had previously seen the party using healing magic).

The DM could have made the case that the monster/NPC had made, or succeeded at, an Arcana check since that is one way for a creature to assess such things.

He said the magical energy was obvious and any creature would see this magical energy and know I was healed.

Were I the DM, I would have required that the NPC/Monster use an action for such an Arcana check, since "it's obvious to everyone" goes beyond the spell description. I can see it being ruled as a reaction, depending upon what creature is seeing the cleric casting a spell: if it's a spell using creature, it would be more palatable than if not.

Arcana. Your Intelligence (Arcana) check measures your ability to recall lore about spells, magic items, eldritch symbols, magical traditions, the planes of existence, and the inhabitants of those planes.

This check could be separate from, or related to, any passive Wisdom (Perception) check successfully sensing what happened based on the verbal component (V) of the spell per @NautArch's answer.

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