In a recent session, an encounter with a single particularly tough Orc (who was my doppelganger, trying to kill me) left the party dealing chip damage a few rounds at a time while they attempted to bring down my character, the de facto tank of the group. Eventually, they were able to reduce my character down to 0 hitpoints.

Now, being a (relatively) well-balanced group, we had a healer (a Druid) who was dutifully keeping me alive, healing me every time I went down to ensure that I couldn't just straight-up die from this encounter. But there was a big problem: in the Initiative order, the order was specified as OrcMeOur DruidOur Rogue. (All party members are level 6).

What this meant is that in these stages of the fight, the encounter, for many turns in a row, looked like this:

  1. Orc attacks me (twice), at least one hit hits me, reduces me to 0 hit points
  2. My turn begins, I make a Death Saving Throw. Irrespective of the result, I'm still alive, but still unconscious and bleeding out (I never successfully rolled a Natural 20).
  3. Druid heals me, I'm back up with some quantity of hit points (usually about 4-9)
  4. Our Rogue attempts and (usually) fails to deal damage to the Orc (Long Story Short, their stats are suboptimal for combat situations)
  5. Orc sees me up, attacks again, and with advantage (due to me still being prone) basically guarantees both hits, I go down again
  6. My turn, I make a death saving throw
  7. Druid heals me
  8. Rogue (maybe) gets in some damage
  9. Orc attacks me
  10. ♪♪Here we go again♪♪

What kind of options did we have to mitigate or stave off this cycle, which only ended after our rogue managed to deal enough damage to bring the Orc down about 5 cycles later?

One important constraint is that we did not have any meaningful "Crowd Control" type abilities: our Rogue was an Assassination Rogue (no spells, no powerful tactical abilities), our Druid was using their whole turn keeping me alive (a double hit usually resulted in me dropping to two automatic failures, meaning waiting even a single turn to heal me could have left me dead), and my turns were all spent bleeding out due to 0 hit points (so my Paladin features were unusable during this process). What could we have done to break this cycle early?

We did not have any (useful) magic items. I (the paladin) had an attuned Spell gem that could cast Shield of Faith (but which would have required me to be up long enough to actually cast it), and our Rogue had a pair of Boots of Flying that, for RP purposes, they did not have knowledge of their capabilities. Neither of which, naturally, could be used. Both I and the Druid had both Potions and Healers Kits (but like I said, I was stun-locked and the Druid was using said potions or Cure Wounds as their Action each turn).

The rogue did not have proficiency or expertise in Athletics—we did not attempt any Grapple checks in this fight, and in hindsight it does seem like something we should have tried, so that information is available if it factors into the strategy.

In terms of spells, I don't recall exactly which spells the Druid had prepared, but I do recall they were out of all spell slots except for first level slots, and were alternating between Cure Wounds and administered Potions of Healing to keep me alive. I had two remaining first level spell slots, with Bless, Command, Ensnaring Strike and Speak with Animals prepared (Ancients Paladin), but like mentioned, I was in no situation where I could use these spells.

Also, because it's been brought up a few times: the encounter was structured as an encounter between us and a group of identical doppelgangers of the party. So the 'Orc' in question was, in fact, a clone of my Half-Orc Paladin (at least in terms of stats and abilities). All of the clones had explicitly incentivised targeting their respective doppelganger, which is why the clone kept focusing me down, even after going unconscious. At this point in the fight, the clone Rogue + clone Druid had already gone down (low HP + bad positioning + use of my Ancient's Paladin spell/class features to root them in place) made them vulnerable to AOE attacks from the real Druid), but the clone Paladin (me) had managed to stay up through persistent use of Lay on Hands + spell healing, which brought us to the point where this post begins.


14 Answers 14


You could break out of the loop if the druid had any healing potions and 1 spell slot remaining upon realizing the loop existed.

Here's the general flow:

  1. Enemy orc's turn finishes, with friendly orc having 2 failed death saves.
  2. Friendly orc's turn comes and goes, hopefully without a failed death save. (Not much to do if this fails!)
  3. Druid's turn comes. They cast cure wounds on the friendly orc, then use their free object interaction to take out a remaining healing potion and hold it out to be accessible for the rogue. (Cure wounds is a V, S component spell, so after casting, they have a free hand for holding the potion.)
  4. Rogue's turn comes. They grab the potion with their free object interaction, and ready using it after the orc takes 2 more attacks.
    • (Alternatively, the rogue could loot the potions off the friendly orc's unconscious body instead of waiting for a druid handoff, though this may take >1 round depending on the DM's ruling)
  5. Enemy orc's turn comes. They swing twice at the conscious friendly orc, and worst-case hit twice bringing them back to 2 failed death saves.
  6. The rogue's readied healing potion administration goes off, healing the friendly orc.
  7. The friendly orc is now conscious at the start of their turn and we've broken the cycle.

The nice thing here is, with the exception of the death save roll, there's no random chance that could interfere with this plan. If the friendly orc survives their first turn at 2 failed death saves, they will be conscious at the start of their next turn.

Now, there's the possibility of re-entering this cycle next round, of course, but at least the friendly orc can actually take their turn. The best outcome here would likely be the friendly orc standing up, then getting healed over the course of the round to the point where they wouldn't fall in two swings anymore.

After taking these steps, you could also reverse this loop into the enemy orc being unable to keep the friendly one unconscious by having the druid ready cure wounds or a healing potion for after the orc finishes attacking on their following turns, essentially guaranteeing the friendly orc starts their turn conscious for as long as the druid has resources.

If that's not an option, one possibility for gaining some time would be having the paladin perform an ensnaring strike, followed by taking the Attack action. Luck willing, you could land a hit on the first swing, ensnare the enemy paladin, then use the second attack to shove the target 5 feet, preventing the orc from reaching you again so easily.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Nov 2 '18 at 19:26

The Rogue could attempt a Grapple.

Athletics may not be a Rogue's strong suit, but you mentioned that the Rogue was having trouble dealing damage anyway. So instead of attacking, the Rogue could attempt to Grapple the Orc (contesting their Athletics check with the Orc's Athletics or Acrobatics). The nice thing about this is that where AC is fixed, with a contest there's always a chance the other guy rolls a 1.

If the Rogue manages to succeed on the Grapple, they can drag the Orc out of melee range of you, the tank. Now once the Orc's turn comes around again, they have three options. They can try to use their Action to break the Grapple if they want to get back into melee range of you. They can choose to attack the Rogue instead and stay Grappled. Or they can switch to a ranged weapon and try attacking you with disadvantage, since you'd still be prone at that point. Either way, that's at least one turn that the Orc will either have to turn their attention elsewhere, or seriously lower their chances of hitting you. Hopefully that will give you enough breathing room to get back in the fight.

Depending on how focused on you the Orc is and how athletically inclined your Rogue is, you might actually be able to force a loop in your favor. At the end of turn 1, the Rogue Grapples the Orc and drags him away. Then next turn the Orc (at the top of the initiative order) uses its Action to break free and return to melee range with you (you did mention that it was focused on you to the exclusion of all else). You and the Druid get your hits in. Then the Rogue returns and Grapples the Orc again. Next turn the Orc breaks free again, and the cycle continues. But that would be entirely dependent on how your DM plays the Orc and your Rogue's luck with the Grapple checks.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Using the grapple is really ingenius. After the rogue breaks the death loop with a grapple, I think the best new loop is for the paladin to run 50 or more feet away from the orc. If the orc is really only going for the paladin, then the best way for the paladin to tank is to be unreachable. \$\endgroup\$ – Ruse Oct 29 '18 at 18:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ If the rogue doesn't have proficiency/expertise in athletics, that may be a not great option if the paladin is proficient in athletics. Higher ability modifier plus proficiency is going to give the orc a very good chance at beating the grapple. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Oct 29 '18 at 18:12

You can't

For the situation you've described and based upon the motivations of the enemies involved, you cannot practically escape the loop you are in. For thematic story reasons, the orc will continue to pummel you into the ground until you are dead even while being slowly whittled down by the Rogue from range.

The best thing that could be done is for the Druid to move adjacent to the enemy and at least give the Rogue sneak attack damage while the Druid keeps you from dying. It wouldn't have broken the loop, just ended it sooner.

This situation is an example of the game working more or less as intended. As a player character, you are requiring an extraordinary effort to kill. Your allies are making extraordinary efforts to keep you from dying. And a third person is whittling down the enemy.

I would note that the orc is not attacking in the most effective way. An attack that downs you removes you from the fight. A second attack at you creates the risk that you die, but from a purely tactical standpoint, the orc's better off attacking the druid so that the lot of you stay down. But for the thematic reasons you stated, the orc is eschewing that better strategy in favor of one that's unlikely to result in either you or the orc leaving the combat alive and it's happening in the form of keeping you in a death loop.

So the system is working as intended. Barring an exceptional amount of healing in one shot by the Druid, you could not have broken the cycle early. Based on the amount you were healed for, I'm assuming only Cure Wounds was the extent of what was available to you. If the Druid had Healing Word available, then they could heal you and attack the enemy within the same turn, but your description of the situation didn't suggest that to be an option. Even if they did having HW available, it only expedites the time stuck in the loop but doesn't get you out of it.

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There is no way to break the cycle without risking the paladin's life

The only ways to break the cycle are to prevent the orc from attacking (the paladin) or give the paladin enough healing to be able to survive two attacks from the orc. Your party seems to be in the position to be able to provide neither outside of one risky way outlined in the next section.

Assuming the orc will 100% always target you until you are dead and only one source of healing outside of you, the safest thing for you to do was what you did - keep healing while the rogue whittles away the health of the enemy. There is no way to break this cycle as you describe without involving some amount of risk for your character dying.

Slightly risky way: Have the rogue try to grapple the orc and drag them away

(Per @user48255's answer)

If the rogue can manage to grapple and drag the orc away then it forces the orc to spend their action breaking free of the grapple. And spending that action means that they don't get to spend that action attacking the Paladin.

However, in this case the grapple is pretty unlikely to succeed given that the target is an orc with proficiency in athletics and the rogue doesn't have proficiency or expertise in it. Failing at this plan wouldn't immediately result in bad things happening (*the cycle would just continue another round) however, the Druid only has a limited amount of healing available to them. If the monster is not defeated (or the paladin healed in some other way) before the Druid runs out of healing, then the paladin will die.

Riskier way: Have the Rogue stabilize you and have the druid ready an action to heal you

This method involves a couple of significant risks because it depends on the orc missing an attack and a successful medicine check from the rogue.

Step 1: Ready healing

Have the Druid ready an action to perform some sort of healing (be it spell-based or otherwise) with the tigger being one that means the orc has already acted. An example trigger might be "Do [healing action] after orc has completed an attack". There is a lot of risk here and you should substitute the orc action for one you think most likely to actually be done (this is very case-specific however so I can't guess what that might be for you).

Step 2: Reset death saving throws

Since you need to mitigate the risk of dying outright so have the rogue perform a medicine check to stabilize you and reset your death saving throws on a success.

Step 3: Survive an attack from the orc

The orc must miss one of the attacks here otherwise the paladin dies. They are also attacking at advantage so this is a significant risk.

Step 4: Receive healing

If it works out, the druid will provide healing for you and the orc will be out of actions. Beware of provoking an opportunity attack from them, but otherwise you should be safe from an attack from this opponent this round. Perhaps use your own action to disengage and get out of attack range, cast a defensive spell, or give yourself further healing that might endure another attack.

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The best defense is a good offense

Have the rest of your party focus fire and eliminate the threat

While keeping you alive was important, eliminating the threat may be of more import.

By allowing your teammates to take out the threat while you're making death saves, they may be able to do so quickly and still heal you before you outright die. Relying completely on you to take out the threat minimizes their contribution to combat outside of 'keeping you alive'.

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    \$\begingroup\$ As mentioned in the post, it wasn't safe for the Druid to stop healing me, because many times (though luckily not every time, since I ended up having to pray on my saving throws every time it did happen), I was already down two failed saving throws from the second attack from the Orc, meaning a single failed save would outright kill me. It's not about whose contributions to combat were important so much as for both strategic purposes and RP purposes they were reluctant to just let my character die. \$\endgroup\$ – Xirema Oct 29 '18 at 16:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Xirema You know that death saving throws reset after you're back to life, right? And your DM had the orc continue attacking you when down even though there were two alive threats? \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Oct 29 '18 at 16:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yes, but the sequence was 1. I get hit, go down (likely because prone), 2. I get hit again, is an autocrit (hits while unconscious are autocrits) and take 2 immediate failed saving throws, 3. I pray I don't roll 9- on my saving throw (and 3 times, I got lucky in that regard). \$\endgroup\$ – Xirema Oct 29 '18 at 16:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ I've added details to my original post explaining the diegesis of the encounter. I don't think it changes much in terms of tactics, it just explains why the Orc kept focusing my character down. \$\endgroup\$ – Xirema Oct 29 '18 at 16:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ Healer's job is to provide one more target for the enemy with Healing Word once someone has fallen. 1d8+X healing is a horrible waste of a slot and an action, unless it brings back someone. \$\endgroup\$ – András Dec 8 '18 at 18:47

Run Away

How heavy is the Paladin, and how strong is the Rogue?

Your carrying capacity is your Strength score multiplied by 15.

If the Rogue is strong enough to lift the Paladin (even if it means dropping all of their equipment -- what's more important, your rations or your friend's life?), then they could try to pick you up and carry you to safety.

First, after healing you, the Druid turns and runs away at their movement speed.

Assuming the Rogue is at least level 2, they'll have Cunning Action:

You can take a bonus action on each of your turns in combat. This action can be used only to take the Dash, Disengage, or Hide action.

After they use their action to pick you up, they can move away from the Orc at their usual speed (catching up to the Druid), and then use their bonus action to Dash away at that same speed again.

On the Orc's turn, it's unlikely that it would have enough movement to catch up to you without using its action to Dash as well, meaning that it won't get the chance to attack you again.

On the Druid's next turn, they can use their movement to catch up with the Rogue and heal you again.

Then on your next turn, you'll be conscious, healed twice, and ready to stand up and fight the Orc.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Don't forget that Orc enemies usually have the Aggressive trait: "As a bonus action, the orc can move up to its speed toward a hostile creature that it can see". My first 5e Rogue nearly died learning that. \$\endgroup\$ – user48255 Oct 29 '18 at 19:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ The question does say "the 'Orc' in question was, in fact, a clone of my Half-Orc Paladin (at least in terms of stats and abilities)", though. So that would only be a problem if Half-Orcs or Paladins had an ability like that. \$\endgroup\$ – Admiral Jota Oct 29 '18 at 19:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ Moving away from the orc will provoke an OA though. Also, don't forget that carrying dragging a body should count you as moving half speed. Thus Dashing would only let you move up to your normal amount. \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Oct 29 '18 at 20:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ @AdmiralJota: If you're grappling a living creature (including one that's making death saves but not dead yet), then you move at half speed. Otherwise, you can push/drag/lift a weight up to your carrying capacity (Str score * 15) without penalty; you can push/drag/lift up to twice your carrying capacity but only then would your speed be reduced to 5 feet. Whether you have to grapple a willing creature to move it is unclear. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Oct 30 '18 at 5:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ "what's more important, your rations or your friend's life?" Rations. Clearly. Every time. No exceptions. \$\endgroup\$ – UKMonkey Nov 2 '18 at 10:48

Possible, but you need to put the rogue at risk first

For the below solution to work, you first need to be able to prevent the orc from attacking you for just one turn. This might be accomplished with a grapple or shove, by using your movement strategically, or having the rogue engage within opportunity attack range. Perhaps your rogue only has enough hp to sustain one round of attack by the Orc before coming close to death themselves, but that’s okay! You need only not be under attack for one round for this to work:

  1. Orc unable to attack you for one of the above reasons.

  2. You do whatever you like

  3. Druid readies an action to use Cure Wounds after Orc attacks you next round

[next round]

  1. Orc attacks and knocks you unconscious

[Druid’s readied Cure Wounds revives you]

  1. You can now take your turn as normal
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Your party's rogue, if so inclined, can help stabilize you as an action with a DC 10 Medicine Check, which resets your Death Saving Throw counter, and thus frees up your Druid's action.

Alternatively, as a better option, the rogue could heal you via force feeding you a healing potion (or using a healer's kit if they had the Healer feat). While the presence of magic items are usually at the DM's discretion, your party has a Druid, so you have access to a "poor man's healing potion" i.e. Goodberry, noting that the healing isn't to keep you in the fight but to bring you to consciousness. These last 24 hours, so the Druid could prepare a batch every morning and distribute them.

If this is actually a cycle, the rogue could even prepare an action for after the orc's turn, and so heal the paladin to act during their turn (presumably standing up, and potentially healing themselves or taking other countermeasures, such as the Dodge action).

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    \$\begingroup\$ Melee attacks (usually made with advantage) that hit against unconscious creatures are automatic crits, according to the Unconscious status condition text. \$\endgroup\$ – Xirema Oct 29 '18 at 16:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Xirema: You are correct. I forgot about that rule (in my group, intelligent opponents rarely target unconscious foes). \$\endgroup\$ – sharur Oct 29 '18 at 16:16

If the rogue has little chance of dealing significant damage, the best thing would probably be if he gave up on attacking and instead used a Disengage to drag you out of close contact. This somewhat depends on the other characters' ability to take a couple of hits, but it feels like this is a good time to get some distance and let the Druid take the damage for one round (or at least force the Orc to provoke an attack of opportunity from two allies, that could be worthwhile too).

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The rogue could use his action to Dodge and try to draw the aggro of the Orc (by taunting it, etc). This depends on what your DM allows, but usually if one of my players tries to taunt someone, I would allow it. This could be resolved by an opposed Deception or Persuade check.

By Dodging, the rogue will be likely to escape harm and by the rogue drawing the Orcs attacks, the Paladin will be able to stand and attack or heal themselves.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Please see last paragraph from OP, the Orc wasn't going to stop until the Paladin was dead. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Oct 29 '18 at 16:21

What about the "Help" Action?

As others have suggested, a Grapple or Shove (STR Athletics/DEX Acrobatics) would work. Without proficiency and with possibly lower stats, he'd probably have a good chance of losing the contest. I have 2 other options that may work depending on your DM. As pointed out, neither are strictly RAW.

There's one other option that might work: Have the rogue take the Help action to "help" you defend. There's already a Help rule for getting advantage on an attack in the PHB. Your rogue could try to interpose themselves and try to block the attack, or knock aside attacks the orc makes. It isn't perfect, but should at least remove the orc's advantage on the attack rolls. Depending on your DM/how your rogue does it, they might actually rule that the rogue takes the hits (as long as he can take one, you should be ok).

Ok, option 2. This is the "creative" option. Warning: This is complex/not RAW/may not work depending on your DM. While you are down, both the rogue and druid grapple the orc (again utilizing help). That gives advantage on the grapple check. The two proceed to grapple your doppelganger, drag it away, maybe try to take away its weapon or tie it up. Once grappled, have your druid run back and provide the heals. Once you're back in fighting shape, your rogue can disengage and go back to stabbing.

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    \$\begingroup\$ You say option 2 is "not RAW", but neither is your alternative option 1 of using the Help action to defend. That's not how the Help action works; you can't defend with it. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Oct 30 '18 at 5:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ @V2Blast Ahh... Looks like you're right. I missed the word "ability" on the roll and extrapolated that if you can use it for attacking, you can use the same idea for defense. I edited the post to reflect that they are not strictly RAW. \$\endgroup\$ – ChrisG Oct 30 '18 at 6:05

Your druid can ready an action to heal you so that they can freely heal after the orc but before the paladin. That way your paladin gets healing before they take their turn, and you are free to stand up, Lay on Hands, or whatever else you want to do. Once your paladin is back up and engaging the orc, your rogue buddy should be more likely to land a Sneak Attack and help deal some appreciable damage, and your druid as well since they're finally free to attack.

Your rogue could also spend its action one turn doing something as simple as throwing some dust in the orc's face (that classic trope) to impose disadvantage if your DM allows it. That'll at the very least cancel out the advantage it gets for your paladin being prone.

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    \$\begingroup\$ There’s no “delay” mechanic for initiative in D&D 5e. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Oct 29 '18 at 18:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm assuming this question has been downvoted for references to the delay action which doesn't exist; but i think it deserves credit for the idea of trying to impose disadvantage on the attacker, which hasn't been discussed by any other answer here. A lot of the "lock" of the loop is the paladin not getting to take any actions, and a lot of that comes down to two attacks at advantage, which lavender rightly points out is susceptable to any method of imposing disadvantage on the attacker. \$\endgroup\$ – crcroberts Oct 29 '18 at 22:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ Exactly what method you use is admittedly a good question, especially since without exactly the right build you're going to be pushing for the DM to allow something via ad-hoc actions/rule-of-cool, but it does open an entire avenue for the rogue (or even the druid if they're desperate) to explore \$\endgroup\$ – crcroberts Oct 29 '18 at 22:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ I just suggested an edit to remove the mention of the delay mechanic from earlier version of D&D which @SevenSidedDie has said doesn't exist anymore. Hopefully that makes the answer correct and reverses votes. \$\endgroup\$ – Aaron Oct 31 '18 at 0:19

Functionally Change the initiative order

Assuming the Rogue or Druid can survive a hit or two from the Doppleganger, Druid readies action to heal Paladin after Orc's turn. Now the initiative order is effectively: Orc→Druid→You→Rogue and you'll be able to take an action after the druid heals you. If the Orc KOs you again next turn, the Druid can again heal you, allowing you to actually take a turn (rather than just make a DST). Plus with you being next to the Orc, the Rogue should be much more effective.

Note while this doesn't change the actual initiative order, since the Orc is going to keep targeting the Paladin there's no actual difference. The Druid doesn't have to worry about concentration since the Orc won't attack him.

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Ask the DM to use a house rule for this situation

Most of this answer is based on Delay from 3.5ed as an example of how to easily resolve this, but the core idea is that the DM should allow a house-rule of their choice that resolves the issue of characters needing meta knowledge of the game mechanics to achieve their desired result. Since most DM's are already familiar with delay action from 3.5, it's probably the easiest and least game breaking way to do it.

In earlier editions, you could delay your turn and update your initiative order whenever you wanted. This was removed in 5ed for several reasons (although, those reasons are either non-problems, or resolved with DM common sense). This effectively meant that if you where revived, and hadn't used your actions yet, you could take your action as soon as you woke up (and your initiative slot would update to the new spot).

In 5ed, your initiative slot is immutable, and so the only way to escape the death loop is to have your party exploit the game mechanics to survive the game mechanics like in CTWind's excellent RAW answer. However, when characters are taking action based on how game mechanics work over what makes logical sense, that is a good indicator the rules have broken down in some fundamental way (for or against the players) and it is the DM's job to restore sanity to the situation.

In this case, the rogue has to throw a potion down your throat while the druid is healing you so that you can revive 0.5 seconds sooner to escape a 6 second "stun lock" so that you can stand up before you get mutilated again... Or the DM can rule that you woke up, and sprang to attention.

Relative to the enemy, whether you are standing or prone for his next turn should not be dictated by whether the druid is 0.5 seconds faster or slower than you.

So the DM should either house rule that for that one turn, you can use your reaction to stand up, or update your initiative so that you can take your turn with respect to when you regained self control.

Here are some of the reasons why this was removed, and why those reasons aren't problems

  1. You can "raise" your initiative order by waiting.

Yes, but in a game where action economy trumps everything, and having "higher" initiative only gives bonuses in the first round (if at all), delaying your action to do this doesn't help anything. In fact, if you delay long enough (back to your original initiative), you will lose an entire round worth of actions which is actually a pretty large penalty in itself. (Because actions are valuable)

  1. Delay action can break spells that last "till your next turn"

From the Delay description

If you come to your next action and have not yet performed an action, you don’t get to take a delayed action (though you can delay again).

Which heavily implies that if you sacrifice a full round because of delay, one turn has passed. Plus, "turn" can be replaced with "6 seconds", so the DM should say "you need to use it before your turn comes back around or you lose it"

  1. Changing initiative requires updating the initiative list.

Because in a table top game where all the monsters are moving every round, take damage every round, using up spells and items, and the direction everything is facing at the end of their turn is critically important, it's updating the initiative table once or twice that is too hard. If for some reason this seems like too much for you, you can buy note cards, write each persons/monsters name on one, and then put them in initiative order. The person on top is the one acting, and they go to the bottom when done. When a new round starts has no mechanical meaning (other than "time is passing") but if you need to track that, you can create an extra card that is just "start of round".

  1. Two of our goals for combat were for it to be speedy and for initiative to matter.

Delay action didn't slow combat at all in my experience. In fact, for situations like this death loop, it speeds up combat by denying this type of "PC stun lock". (It's is also used very infrequently, because it is inherently a penalty, and is only used when absolutely necessary)

I have not seen any rules or mechanics that make initiative important past the first round of combat (2 if you count surprise rounds). Delay action is a sacrifice, not a buff.

  1. Moreover, we felt that toying with initiative wasn’t where the focus should be in battle. Instead, the dramatic actions of the combatants should be the focus, with turns that happen as quickly as possible.

Delay action never significantly slowed combat down more than the combat itself (in my experience). Sometimes people just want to wait on the sidelines until they are needed (usually NPCs but I've seen at least one pacifist player). You are sacrificing actions so that you can act when you are needed. Logically, a person can sit there and do nothing, but 5ed says "No, your not allowed to do nothing", but sense a character could conceivably wait until they are needed, it doesn't make sense that just because of initiative order the healer needs to watch the enemy do a second full round worth of attacks before they can heal you.

It's the DM's job to accommodate the players. I cannot stress enough that it's the DM's job to resolve issues that require characters to have meta-knowledge of their game mechanics to achieve a certain outcome. The players should be acting on what makes narrative sense, not game mechanic technicalities. Players do things all the time that there are no rules for, and the DM has to make a call on how to resolve it. In this death loop example, combat was heavily bogged down by the death loop. Either the boss should have switched target, or you should have been allowed to stand before his next attack. Even if you think delay could somehow be used to gain some mythical free advantage, the DM could rule that you take your turn when revived for that round only.

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    \$\begingroup\$ "although, those reasons are either non-problems, or resolved with DM common sense" - I think this answer would be improved by briefly explaining how/why the reasons why delaying initiative order "are either non-problems or resolved with DM common sense". If you're suggesting such a houserule, it's worth justifying why the house rule doesn't cause the problems suggested in the Sage Advice Compendium. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Nov 3 '18 at 0:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ @V2Blast I added my explanation of why Delay is not a problem (for the reasons given), as well as tried to add more stress to the point that the DM approving any house-rule that addresses this issue will do. Delay action is just the simplest that DM's are probably familiar with. \$\endgroup\$ – Tezra Nov 5 '18 at 14:10

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