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Certain creatures have a "Death Burst" ability that applies when they die, e.g. steam mephits. If the creature is only present on the battlefield due to a spell like conjure minor elementals, does the Death Burst still occur if the creature is reduced to 0 HP?

I am unsure, since the spell description states:

An elemental summoned by this spell disappears when it drops to 0 hit points or when the spell ends.

To my mind, it suggests the creature simply vanishes instead of dying, and thus the Death Burst doesn't trigger.

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Death burst applies... somewhere.

The rules on hit points in the Monster Manual (p. 7) and Basic Rules state:

A monster usually dies or is destroyed when it drops to 0 hit points.

The conjure minor elementals spell description states:

An elemental summoned by this spell disappears when it drops to 0 hit points or when the spell ends.

This is more specific than the Monster Manual ruling, but doesn't state that the creature doesn't die (or get destroyed). So because neither precludes the other, they both happen, but the order is not clear, since they both happen on the same "trigger".

On page 77 of Xanathar's Guide to Everything, the section entitled "Simultaneous Effects" states:

In rare cases, effects can happen at the same time, especially at the start or end of a creature's turn. If two or more things happen at the same time on a character or monster's turn, the person at the game table - whether player or DM - who controls that creature decides the order in which those things happen.

So the person controlling the creature on whose turn the steam mephits get destroyed determines the ordering of the interaction. This might result in incentivizing the summoner to "pop" his own monsters if he fears they'll be destroyed the next round, to get their death effect.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I strongly disagree with this answer, but can't find actual rules references to back up my opinion. In previous editions, summoned creatures didn't die when reduced to 0 hp, they simply return to their home plane. Find greater steed implies that's the case in 5e as well, but I can't find any indication that's not unique to that spell. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 10 '19 at 12:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ @gatherer818 You may just have to get used to the fact that 5e is a different game. I have never seen any indication that summoned creatures don't trigger "death" effects, even if they then return to their origin plane (see the demon introduction in the MM for an example): "When a lucky hero manages to drop a demon in combat, the fiend dissolves into foul ichor. It then instantly reforms in the Abyss, its mind and essence intact even as its hatred is inflamed." Nothing prevents the same from occurring for other summons. Remember, that the outer planes work very differently than the Material. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 10 '19 at 12:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ @DavidCoffron that actually seems to agree with me. It never dies, its form on the Prime Material dissolves and it reforms on its home plane. I played AD&D, which is where 5e takes a lot of its inspiration from, and loved it (in fact, I still have a campaign setting for 2e that I try to get players for), so 5e being different isn't a big deal; but some things shouldn't change - summoning creatures is already iffy, alignment-wise, but the fact that they respawn back home unharmed mitigates it. If they can truly die while summoned, it's Evil to summon anything that can think for itself. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 10 '19 at 16:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ @gatherer818 Nothing prevents a demon from dying and also being reformed in the Abyss. And the moral implications of summoning a thing just for it to die are definitely up for debate, but not the subject of the current question. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 10 '19 at 17:41
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This is a case of "specific beats general".

As you noted, the description of the steam mephit's Death Burst trait says:

When the mephit dies, it explodes in a cloud of steam.

However as, the spell you reference, conjure minor elementals, clearly states:

An elemental summoned by this spell disappears when it drops to 0 hit points or when the spell ends.

As the general rules states, when a creature drops to 0 HP it either dies or rolls for death saving throws, up to GM discretion. However this spell clearly states that dropping to 0 HP has a different result in this specific case. Therefore the specific rule for conjure minor elementals beats the general rule for 0 hit points.

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D&D 5e story designer Christopher Perkins was asked on twitter:

What happens to summoned elementals when they are killed in the material plane? Do they actually die or do they go back to their native plane as if the spell that summoned them ended?

Chris responded:

They die.

Conjure minor elementals says:

An elemental summoned by this spell disappears when it drops to 0 hit points or when the spell ends.

I believe the intention behind this is to not leave a body that could be looted or salvaged in any way, rather than implying that they do not die. In addition to the MM, the Player's Handbook also states:

When you drop to 0 hit points, you either die outright or fall uncounscious... PHB page 197

and

Most GMs have a monster die the instant it drops to 0 hit points, rather than having it fall unconscious and make death saving throws. PHB page 198

So, unless you are giving your summon the benefit of a death saving throw, it would be pretty dead.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I've made some edits here. Notably, sageadvice.eu is not an official source in any way, and should not be confused with the official Sage Advice Compendium. Additionally, Chris Perkins tweets, unlike Jeremy Crawford's (which aren't official anymore either), have never been official rulings, so I clarified the source of the tweet and linked it directly to twitter. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 5 at 16:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ FYI, developer/designer tweets are unofficial and may not be as obvious and helpful as we think. They change their minds about things and their 'rulings' may not be as well thought out as we'd like. And we definitely can't attribute intention without their express statements. \$\endgroup\$
    – NautArch
    Apr 5 at 16:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch Further to that, Chris Perkins isn't even the rules designer, so his rulings are even less valuable than Crawford's. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 5 at 16:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1, I concur with the others that this answer may not be correct, however, I think this is well researched with appropriate citations. You or another could take the information provided herein and expound on it to arrive at an answer which is more correct than other answers which have been provided. Good job and welcome to RPG.SE! \$\endgroup\$ Apr 8 at 21:05

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