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Evasion is a class feature gained by Rogues and Monks at level 7:

At 7th level, your instinctive agility lets you dodge out of the way of certain area effects, such as a blue dragon’s lightning breath or a Fireball spell. When you are subjected to an effect that allows you to make a Dexterity saving throw to take only half damage, you instead take no damage if you succeed on the saving throw, and only half damage if you fail.

Does this feature allow a character to "dodge" area effects, taking half damage, even if they are unconscious?

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Yes. RAW, Evasion means a character only takes half damage, even when unconscious.

The relevant part of Evasion text, that you've quoted says:

When you are subjected to an effect that allows you to make a Dexterity saving throw to take only half damage, you instead take no damage if you succeed on the saving throw, and only half damage if you fail. (SRD p. 28, 38, 40)

The Unconscious condition states:

An unconscious creature is incapacitated (SRD p. 359)

Which means they:

can’t take actions or reactions. (SRD p. 358)

However, nothing in the ability Evasion says that it requires an action or reaction for use. So Evasion is an 'always on' ability.

The triggering condition is being 'subjected to an effect that allows you to make a Dexterity saving throw', not whether or not the creature is actaully able to make that throw, due to other conditions already affecting them. If this caveat was intended it should be explicit (in 5e 'there aren't any secret rules').

However, also while Unconscious:

The creature automatically fails Strength and Dexterity saving throws. (SRD p. 359)

So, while a character is unconscious they'll automatically fail Dexterity saving throws, but thanks to Evasion they'll still only take half damage.

If this ruling seems odd to you (and I can see why it might), then you are, of course, always welcome to rule otherwise in your own game.

But, mitigating circumstances mean that this isn't as bad as it seems...

Firstly, when a character is already unconscious due to HP loss, they are less likely to be targeted by AOE attacks (so this will be an issue less frequently than you might imagine).

But secondly, and much more importantly (presuming that the target isn't simply asleep or drugged, and with the exception of the 'massive damage' rule), how much damage you take whilst unconscious doesn't normally matter at all.

What matters is how many death saves you've failed.

If you take any damage while you have 0 hit points, you suffer a death saving throw failure. (SRD p. 98)

Taking any damage is always going to equate to one failed death save, whether or not it's halved. (Critical hits would cause two failed death saves, but non-attacks such as spells and other abilities that force you to make a Dexterity save can't be critical hits anyway.)

So, Evasion will not help a character to take less failed death saves.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Comic description: "The body of the unconscious rogue is moved by the firaball's shockwave, bouncing up and down in its space, reaching a few inches above the ground. Coincidentally, it also avoids some of the flames." \$\endgroup\$ – Mindwin May 2 '18 at 15:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ So this part of the description is irrelevant??? "your instinctive agility lets you dodge out of the way of certain area effects"... "Unconscious" would infer a distinct inability to dodge anything. IMHO, the context provided by the first part of the description is also important in the interpretation. \$\endgroup\$ – railsdog May 2 '18 at 16:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ @railsdog There is no distinction between rules text and fluff text in 5e, so that text is still authoritative. However, it doesn't provide any explicit situations where Evasion doesn't work, so I don't consider it relevant to this specific question. If you want to argue otherwise, then you can submit your own answer to this question, disagreeing with mine. \$\endgroup\$ – Tiggerous May 2 '18 at 17:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ And this is why I love D&D. \$\endgroup\$ – MnIce Jul 17 '18 at 3:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ Great job in carrying this beyond the immediate question. I would not have considered the point about damage being largely irrelevant for unconscious characters beyond death saves or sufficiently large amounts to cause instant death. \$\endgroup\$ – keithcurtis Jul 17 '18 at 4:01
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Yes.

(Unfortunately)

Nothing in the Evasion description calls out that they should not be incapacitated and even Sage Advice indicates that you don't need to be able to move or take an action to use it.

Sage Advice:

Can a rogue use Evasion if they are surprised? The rule states that if you are surprised, you can’t move or take an action. A surprised rogue can use Evasion, since that feature doesn’t require the rogue to take an action or move. (emphasis mine)

The PHB Errata also has nothing to address this, yet. Although, It would not be unreasonable to expect a future tag being eventually added that the Rogue can't be incapacitated.

Incapacitated + Unconscious just indicate that you fail the Dexterity save automatically and cannot take actions/reactions or move, which results in half for this case.

On a side note: Thank you for pointing out another House Rule I have to write up :S

My house rule for any interested is that the rogue/monk must be able to move, so his movement cannot be reduced to zero. Been thinking about this for a while and ran it by my players. It just doesn't seem right that you "...nimbly dodge out of the way..." and can do so without being able to move.

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RAW - Technically, yes.

As weird as it may seem, Evasion makes you harder to hit in those circumstances. Full stop. It's because the wording of the ability doesn't give exceptions and exclusions for being unconscious, which means it allows it.


Rules as Interpreted

That said, a DM could justify not allowing Evasion to work when unconscious or incapacitated. Even though it should work by RAW, I'd personally advise my players I won't allow it to benefit them when they couldn't logically evade an attack simply because of the flavor associated with it.

your instinctive agility lets you dodge out of the way of certain area effects

Logically speaking, your instincts can't help you avoid attacks if you're unconscious or otherwise incapacitated, so it doesn't make sense to still allow Evasion to save you. I wouldn't be so strict as to say they have to have movement speed, but at the very least, their instincts need to logically be able to kick in. That isn't to say how I go about it is the correct way, but a DM isn't restricted to just the RAW answer. A DM has the right to Interpret the text in order to make for a better overall experience, and this is how I choose to interpret it personally.

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I would also say that this does not work.

You can't "nimbly dodge" something when you're incapacitated or totally unaware of that thing you're trying to dodge.
I seems most likely the rules writers assumed any reader understands what dodging is.

If you go for the "RAW" and decide no mention means it works then this is likely to risk damaging believability.
Your players may just shrug and move on.
On the other hand, one seemingly innocuous but (apparently) illogical interpretation can open the door for many future questions. In my experience these can end up with a focus on how-are-the-rules-supposed-to-work questions rather than storyline.

What I find disappointing is that the writers didn't seemingly think to consider or mention unexpected attacks.

As a referee you are the interface with the make believe world - the story teller. More immersive games are usually more enjoyable. The more "suspension of disbelief" the players are required to apply in order to play the game the less they are likely to enjoy the experience.
If you stress over wordage then you'll also just end up tying yourself in knots. The story is the aim. Focus on that.

The idea is that the referee takes the rules and interprets them. The "rules" are lore not law. They're more loose description than hard and fast laws, where deep meaning can be squeezed out of the words.

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No, it does not.

The requirements for evasion to work are "When you are subjected to an effect that allows you to make a Dexterity saving throw" and unconscious prevents you from making a Dexterity saving throw.

The creature automatically fails Strength and Dexterity saving throws.

Automatically failing a saving throw means you are not allowed to make the saving throw. You do not meet the requirement for Evasion to work.

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    \$\begingroup\$ There's a difference. "Evasion" says 'no damage when saving throw succeeded, half damage when failed' and "Unconscious" says 'dex saving throws automatically fail' - so, half damage, flat. "Automatically fails" is not equal to "not allowed to make the roll". \$\endgroup\$ – Anonymous May 3 '18 at 5:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ Do you allow players to roll if they've already failed? Saving throws (Dice rolls in general) are only made when the result is uncertain. Automatically failing means the result is certain, you are not allowed to make the saving throw. Think of this question without Evasion as part of it "Am I allowed to roll a Dexterity saving throw if I am unconscious?" The answer is clearly no. \$\endgroup\$ – Luke May 3 '18 at 7:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ There's no need to actually roll for Evasion to work. Evasion states: "When you are subjected to an effect that allows you to make a Dexterity saving throw to take only half damage..." Whether you're able to succeed on that save is irrelevant; the effect (e.g. a dragon's breath attack) is still allowing you to make a save to take half damage instead of full, even if ultimately you automatically fail that save. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast May 3 '18 at 7:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ Consider the phrasing of (for example) the Fireball spell. "Each creature [...] must make a Dexterity saving throw." If you equate "make the throw" with "roll the die (or dice)" then you must roll the dice even if you automatically fail. If you understand "make the throw" means "determine the result" (including determining automatic failure due to being unconscious) then the throw is made whether dice are rolled or not. Regardless of the meaning of "make" here, it must happen when you're in the AoE of the fireball. \$\endgroup\$ – Zeus May 3 '18 at 20:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ Seeing as the RAW does not allow you to choose to opt out of a roll, (bar specific spells that offer the choice,) I fail to see where you are coming up with that you are not allowed to make the Saving Throw. Technically speaking, you'd still make the throw, but even if you Nat20, you still fail the throw. We just shorthand it by skipping the roll because why waste the time to do so? Your answer makes assumptions unfounded by RAW. Correct for that, and I'll remove my -1. (SEE RELATED: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/47487/…) \$\endgroup\$ – Sora Tamashii Jul 17 '18 at 3:54
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No it does not. Effectively while unconscious you do not have the opportunity to roll a saving throw. Therefore you can’t use evasion. Taken from a logical standpoint, you also cannot use a dodge reaction if unconscious. Sometimes as a DM you have to make use an interpretation that relies on common sense.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already, and check out the help center for more guidance. Can you support your answer by citing evidence or experience? Evasion doesn't require the ability to succeed on a saving throw, by the rules. (Also, your blanket statement isn't true; you only automatically fail Strength and Dexterity saves while unconscious; you can still make Constitution, Wisdom, Intelligence, and Charisma saves while unconscious.) \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Mar 12 at 20:52

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