I was thinking about the Great Weapon Master feat (PHB, p. 165), part of which reads:

On your turn, when you score a critical hit with a melee weapon or reduce a creature to 0 hit points with one, you can make one melee weapon attack as a bonus action.

And the Undead Fortitude trait of Zombie creatures (Monster Manual, p. 316):

Undead Fortitude. If damage reduces the zombie to 0 hit points, it must make a Constitution saving throw with a DC of 5 + the damage taken, unless the damage is radiant or from a critical hit. On a success, the zombie drops to 1 hit point instead.

If a PC with the GWM feat drops the Zombie to 0 hit points with an non-crit, non-radiant damage attack and the Zombie succeeds on the saving throw, does the PC get another attack as a bonus action?

  • Note that the rules-as-written tag is only used for special rules questions about very specific interactions. For normal questions (like this one) the tag is not needed. I have gone ahead and removed it for you. – Rubiksmoose Nov 12 at 20:23
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    You may want to wait and see how the voting weighs out before accepting an answer. – ravery Nov 12 at 20:32
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    There's definitely some contention here. While I appreciate accepting my answer, I think it'd be more helpful to you see how the voting turns out - but you are always free to accept the answer that makes sense and works for you (but I'd recommend waiting 24 hours to read and think.) – NautArch Nov 12 at 20:36
up vote 50 down vote accepted

You don't get a second hit

Undead Fortitude says (emphasis mine):

On a success, the zombie drops to 1 hit point instead.

This indicates that Undead Fortitude interrupts damage. Similar to damage reduction, Undead Fortitude activates after the hit but before damage is taken. Thus, the undead never reaches 0 HP if it passes the Constitution Save, and the GWM bonus attack isn't activated.

Order of events:

  1. You make a lethal hit
  2. The undead makes a save
  3. It's HP becomes 1
  4. GWM isn't activated.

If the ability said something similar to "the undead recovers 1 HP on a success" then he would have dropped to 0 HP and triggered GWM.

Compare to Shield and the Monk's Deflect Missiles:

Shield:

1 reaction, which you take when you are hit by an attack
...
Until the start of your next turn, you have a +5 bonus to AC, including against the triggering [a]ttack.

Deflect Missiles:

you can use your reaction to deflect or catch the missile when you are hit by a ranged weapon [a]ttack.

Both of these abilities interrupt their trigger and have the potential to prevent the incident that triggered them.

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    I did like this answer, but the comparison with disintegrate in the other answer swayed me to think this is actually wrong. – SeriousBri Nov 13 at 15:57
  • You might include the information on reaction timing in XGtE pg5. It seems to support your position here. – Matthew Green Nov 15 at 23:21
  • @MatthewGreen -- perhaps this edit serves better support? – ravery Nov 16 at 2:50

Hit 'em baby, one more time.

The most important bit of Undead Fortitude is:

If damage reduces the zombie to 0 hit points

There is clearly a gate where the Zombie is at 0HP. At that point, they can make their save and possibly continue with 1 HP, but they have cleared the 0HP gate to initiate the GWM bonus action melee attack.

The zombie may finally end up at 1HP, but that doesn't change that they were reduced to 0HP and then made a save to finally end up at 1HP.

GWM only requires that you

reduce a creature to 0 hit points with one [melee attack].

And you have done this, it just didn't stick :)

The progression went from:

  1. Zombie at more than 0HP
  2. GWM hit succeeds, reducing zombie to 0HP.
  3. GWM allows for bonus action attack from reducing to 0hp.
  4. Zombie makes CON save and succeeds. HP now at 1.
  5. GWM can be used for bonus action attack to attack again because of Step 3.

Comparison with Avoiding Disintegrate by saving at 0HP to stay at 1HP.

The following errata answers what happens when a Barbarian with Relentless Endurance can avoid disintegration because they can avoid 0HP with a successful save.

Q: If the damage from disintegrate reduces a half-orc to 0 hit points, can Relentless Endurance prevent the orc from turning to ash?

A: If disintegrate reduces you to 0 hit points, you’re killed outright, as you turn to dust. If you’re a half-orc, Relentless Endurance can’t save you.

It's clear that the save won't save them, as they have still reached the 0HP gate that Disintegrate dictates.

GWM and Undead Fortitude fall under the same gate reaching of 0HP.

The narrative

A way of looking at this is the Zombie is brought down with the hit. It's makes the save and rises again from the (un)dead. But at one point, the zombie was at 0HP and down.

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    This answer leaves many questions... like, can you attack the zombie with your second attack? If you do so, does that add to the damage inflicted stack with the initial hit to make it less likely to get back up? Honestly, I think the word instead makes it sound like that none of this actually happens, because it is replaced with the zombie going to 1 hp though... – Shadow Nov 13 at 2:11
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    I was inclined to this answer too, but "On a success, the zombie drops to 1 hit point instead." - How do you drop to 1 HP from below 1 hp? And how do you drop to 1 hp instead if you already dropped to 0 hp and are then dropping up to 1 hp? It makes even less sense than the alternative. – DonQuiKong Nov 13 at 12:31
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    The comparison to disintegrate and Relentless Endurance convinced me that this is the right answer. Disintegrate is worded similarly to GWM, and Relentless Endurance is worded similarly to Undead Fortitude including the word "instead". – Kamil Drakari Nov 13 at 15:26
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    Relentless Endurance has a clause in it that specifically makes it not work if the half-orc would die outright, and disintegration has a a clause that it kills outright at 0hp. Their interaction is unique. On the other hand, Undead Fortitude and GWM have no such clauses, so they don't interract in the same way. – Ruse Nov 13 at 16:33
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    @DonQuiKong I think the answer is that the wording is simply inconsistent. How can you "drop to 1 hp instead" if that action is conditional on "If damage reduces the zombie to 0 hit points"? The success would prevent its own trigger condition. If it said "if damage would reduce the zombie to 0" then it'd be definitive but otherwise I don't know. – mbrig Nov 13 at 18:15

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