After you roll three saves on a Death Saving Throw, you are stable and do not make other death saves. However, one of my player pointed out that if they keep rolling death saves, they might get a 20 and become conscious and be able to participate in combat again.

I'm planning to implement this rule:

After being stable, optionally you can roll a death saving throw on each of your turns. On a 20, you gain 1 HP and become conscious. Failing death saves does not destabilize you, including rolling a 1.

I don't expect this to change things much. My goal is to give characters a chance to participate in combat again without being healed by others (we don't have any healers other than a bard, who focuses on buffs/debuffs instead).

Are there any problems I should watch out for when implementing this rule?

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    "optionally you can roll a death saving throw on each of your turns" — why "optionally"? is there a reason for a player NOT to roll? – enkryptor Dec 4 at 11:47
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    @enkryptor so the player that dont want to roll does not have to roll. If they're stable and prefer to stay unconscious. – Vylix Dec 4 at 14:26
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    @Vylix there is a difference between "you must" and "you can". The latter means there is a choice to be made, by you, about if this happens or not, which makes the "optionally" redundant. – royalmurder Dec 4 at 15:03
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    @Vylix so the player that dont want to roll does not have to roll — still, is there any reason for a player not to roll? why might they prefer to stay unconscious? – enkryptor Dec 4 at 18:42
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    @enkryptor Typically, enemies won't attack an unconscious target (unless they have a reason to go for the kill), but a PC with 1 HP is a threat that can be easily taken out. So in some situations it might be better to stay unconscious and stable rather than just make yourself a target and get knocked into dying again. – John Montgomery Dec 4 at 20:08
up vote 46 down vote accepted

During the encounter

Given the unreliability and low likelihood of rolling a 20, the change has no major impact during a single encounter, and what change it introduces is positive: it gives the player of an unconscious character the possibility of regaining agency. Further, the rule makes intuitive sense given that non-stabilized characters can recover.

After the encounter

By the rules, a stable unconscious creature regains consciousness and one hit point after 1d4 hours --- much slower than the likely outcome of rolling a d20 every 6 seconds. You'll have to decide how these two rules interact and whether you want to include additional limitations.

One possible option to limit the rolls on death saves is restricting the amount of death save fails to three, after which a stable character does not die but cannot roll for further death saves.

  • I haven't played in years, but how long does an encounter typically last? There is a 50-50 chance (0.95^5 ~ 0.77) of rolling a natural 20 within 13 rounds, which means pretty good odds for reducing a 1-4-hour waiting period down to just over a minute. – chepner Dec 5 at 17:21
  • @chepner Encounters generally last a small handful of rounds, and many players don't fall unconscious until the second or third round. In my experience when a player falls unconscious, combat is over one way or the other in one to two rounds. – BobTheAverage Dec 5 at 18:03

I use this rule

I must confess that I have not really give it any thought, but nor have I noticed any real in game impact.

It certainly achieves the stated purpose of making the game more fun for players when their character goes unconscious.

To address a related issue:

Out of combat I allow people up at 1hp with any intervention. I don't force medicine checks etc. I find being unconscious is not fun, and it isn't like 1hp is going to do much if I am planning on not letting them rest.

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    I use this exact rule, with the difference that I allow them spend 1 hit die on regaining consciousness after combat. I do this because against a majority of monsters, it's more dangerous to be at 1 hp than unconscious. I don't want my players to feel obliged to take a less fun choice simply because of strategic nitpicking. I also notice that it's the same characters that use these hit dice that don't have any leftover come short rests, so don't feel like they get too many unfair advantages. – DonFusili Dec 4 at 12:38
  • Did you actually mean "Out of combat I allow people up at 1hp with any intervention" as in, as long as there is any intervention of any kind they can get to 1hp or did you mean "without"? – Sdjz Dec 4 at 13:03
  • @Sdjz Definitely with, more to encourage interaction than anything else, really it might as well be without. – SeriousBri Dec 4 at 13:24

This makes the game a lot easier.

Basically, your players just need a DC 10 medicine check and any unconscious ally will eventually be up and running. It becomes nearly impossible to die, unless the team completely ignores you or you have a big streak of bad luck.

The idea of having players remain unconscious is a) for realism (go down in combat, only come back up in a few hours), and b) to make the game hard and force decisions on players. Should they retreat for having 1 man down? Should they hole-up and recover the player? Should they use an action and healing potion to revive a fallen comrade?

In RaW, the only ways to regain HP after being unconscious are through resources (potions, spells, Hit Dice, time). This is a free way, as your players will just spam death saving throws until they're alive.

D&D 5e doesn't need a dedicated healer, and usually isn't very rough on parties that don't make many stupid decisions. This makes the game even easier, but, if you're the DM and that is the game you and your players are going for, then it's something that allows your players never to be out of combat.

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    They can still be killed. If a creature attacks a party member while they're down they mark 1 death to their death save tally. This means if a monster really wants the PC out of combat they finish the job. I agree not a great idea because it will make most encounters easier when the DM tries to be nice but it isnt exactly game breaking so long as the DM gives monsters a similar albeit less powerful ability. Say they come back after two crit success's or only have one death save and if they fail that first one they either die or are stabilized. probably could turn this into an answer but... – rpgstar Dec 4 at 11:12
  • time (short comment shenanigans complaint entered here). – rpgstar Dec 4 at 11:13
  • @rpgstar In that case, maybe, but as far as I understood, OP is only planning on adding this feature to his players, not to monsters in general. You could turn that into a nice answer, though – BlueMoon93 Dec 4 at 11:14
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    Will do tomorrow. Got to go to bed for now though. Can't miss my scheduled long rest or my party will be furious. – rpgstar Dec 4 at 11:15

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