I am unsure of how lethal and non-lethal damage interact when a character has both simultaneously.

I know if lethal damage reduces you to 0 hp you start bleeding out, and if non- lethal damage reduces you to 0 hp you fall unconscious(but don't start to die).

However what about a situation where both damage types exist on one PC? Say a 35 hp PC takes 30 lethal damage, and 5 non-lethal damage resulting in 0 hp. Is the PC dying or unconscious?


2 Answers 2


Actually, lethal damage reducing you to 0 hp doesn't make you start bleeding out.

In the "Injury and Death" section of the Players Handbook we are dealing with a few different concepts, as well as a few different states. Let's look at the states first (Emphasis mine):

Disabled (0 Hit Points)

When your current hit points drop to exactly 0, you’re disabled.

.... This, in short means that you're on the verge of unconsciousness. You can barely take any actions or you'll be unconscious.

Dying (-1 to -9 Hit Points)

When your character’s current hit points drop to between -1 and -9 inclusive, he’s dying.

This is, as you explain it, basically bleeding out.

Dead (-10 Hit Points or Lower)

I suppose this one's pretty self-explanatory.

There is of course also the state of being at 1 hp or higher, which would just be alive and well.

Now, the above references your current hit points. Current hit points is your maximum amount of hit points minus any (lethal) damage you've taken.

Now, for nonlethal damage (again, emphasis mine):

Dealing Nonlethal Damage

Certain attacks deal nonlethal damage. Other effects, such as heat or being exhausted, also deal nonlethal damage. When you take nonlethal damage, keep a running total of how much you’ve accumulated. Do not deduct the nonlethal damage number from your current hit points. It is not "real" damage. Instead, when your nonlethal damage equals your current hit points, you’re staggered, and when it exceeds your current hit points, you fall unconscious. It doesn’t matter whether the nonlethal damage equals or exceeds your current hit points because the nonlethal damage has gone up or because your current hit points have gone down.

Non-lethal damage is not subtracted from your hit point total as lethal damage is. If your nonlethal damage equals your current hit point (Your total hit points minus any lethal damage taken) you fall unconscious.

Meaning, that if we have 35 hp, we take 30 lethal, we have 5 current hit points. We then take 5 nonlethal damage, our current nonlethal damage is now equal to our current hit points and we fall unconscious.

Edit: as mentioned in the comment, we of course go staggered when the total nonlethal damage reaches our current hp. We fall unconscious when our nonlethal damage taken exceeds our current hp. Thanks Craig.

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ Minor nit: you fall unconscious when your nonlethal damage exceeds your current HP. When they are equal, you are staggered. \$\endgroup\$
    – manveti
    Mar 8, 2019 at 17:43

Non-lethal damage is never counted towards dying.

You add up lethal and non-lethal damage to determine the effect of non-lethal damage (I.e going unconscious), but not the other way around.

Another way to look at it is this: a 1 HD creature with 10,000 non-lethal damage is no closer to dying than it would be with 0 non-lethal damage.


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