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In the PHB, it says that a character can perform first aid in order to stabilize a dying character. The Heal DC is 15 and if the character makes it, then the character immediately stops losing HP and is stabilized. This takes one standard action. (Given that you get a move and a standard action in one round and one round is 6 seconds, then this action takes approximately 3 seconds to perform.)

Yet on page 138 under "The Combat Round", it says

Anything a person could reasonably do in 6 seconds, your character can do in one round.

My issue is the discrepancy here. You cannot reasonably stabilize someone and stop them from losing blood, etc. in 3 seconds; it's impossible without some form of magical aid. So how is it a person can perform a Heal check in 3 seconds and stabilize a dying person, when doing so is unreasonable?

Given these two contradictory rules, how long does it actually take to use first aid to save a dying character?

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  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ What exactly are you asking here? "The rules aren't realistic" is not really a question. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Apr 18 at 0:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ I know the rules aren't realistic but in this case they are contradictory. If page 138 says that anything a person ( normal real world) can do in 6 seconds your character can do in one round then it is leaving this open to interpretation. The Heal rules are specific but this rule contradicts that ruling- so my question is " Which rule is the one to go by? \$\endgroup\$ – Skidnsf Apr 18 at 0:47
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One Standard Action

With rules specific overrides general. There is a specific rules which states that a character can make a DC 15 Heal check as a standard action to stabilize a dying character. This is clearly more specific than the general guidance of what can be done in a combat round.

The rule you quote is guidance given in addition to all specific rules. It exists as a guide to decide whether actions without specific rules can be completed in a single turn.

How this works in practice:

  • Can I stabilize a dying characters in 6 seconds? Yes. There is a specific rule which says this takes one standard action.
  • Can I pop a dislocated joint back into place? There is no specific rule, so we use the general case. A person can reasonably do this in under 6 second, professional sportspeople do this all the time. The DM decides on the check, DC and action required for this.
  • Can I perform open heart surgery? Again there is no rule for this, general case applies. No person can reasonable do this in under 6 seconds, therefore it can't be done as per the quoted rule.

This rule is not about improving realism or contradicting specific rules, it is there to provide guidance for things outside of the given rules.

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One standard action.

Another answer with the same header makes good points, but avoids the main subtext behind your question. Your claim is that stabilizing someone should take longer than a single round. Your assumption is correct... and incorrect.

To stabilize means to take a patient in critical condition and get them to a state where they're no longer about to die. In our modern world, this can involve anything from treating an illness with medications to immediate open-heart surgery to extract bullets and sew up the holes they leave behind. Just deciding what needs to be done takes longer than six seconds, and actually doing it can take minutes, hours, or even days to complete. But in the field (especially in a fantasy world), stabilize has the same meaning but vastly different context.

There's no need to determine the reason the patient is in bad shape. You just saw the sword go through his soft parts and come out the other side. There's no time to worry about infection possibility or allergies to your lifesaving gear. You just have to slow the bleeding enough that your friend will survive until you can win the fight or extract him. Applying one tourniquet, slapping a wide strip of cloth with an alchemical concoction smeared on it, injecting the patient with an extract of a particular plant, any number of things could easily happen quickly enough for you to get it done with a single round. In a realistic game, they'll still need attention after the battle as well, to truly stabilize them; but their race to minus-10 is only about keeping what's left of their blood from leaving their body.

(Please don't misunderstand, linksassin's answer is excellent, but I felt this was too important to the question being asked to leave out, and far too long for his answer or even an "answer-improvment comment.)

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One Standard Action

The previous answers have done a good job of explaining how the rules work as written. RAW it is clear that stabilizing someone takes one standard action. While this is certainly unrealistic for the real life world, D&D can be an unrealistic world populated by creatures that plain don't exist in our world and, in many campaigns, powerful magic.

However....

D&D, even more so D&D 3.5, is a flexible system and has Rule Zero. Rule Zero states that the DM has the power to change, alter or adapt rules as they see fit. If you think it makes sense for it to take longer than you can certainly have it take longer.

A few points if you pursue the change the rule route:

  1. Talk first: Before making any changes to the rules, ESPECIALLY mid-campaign talk with your players. What may seem unrealistic and RP-breaking to you could be generally excepted by your players. DO NOT change the rule unless everyone agrees with the change.
  2. Consider the impact: Currently a player will fully bleed out in 9 rounds or 54 seconds max. If you change the time it takes to stabilize this should change too. you could stretch it to a full round or maybe two full rounds in the current system. Any longer would require extending the bleeding out mechanics. I might suggest -1 HP per minute instead of -1 HP per round...
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  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for mentioning that characters bleed out far faster than "realistic" too. I think this is a holdover from 2e where combat rounds were one minute rather than 10/minute, now you bleed out 10x faster. \$\endgroup\$ – gatherer818 Apr 19 at 0:52
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Part of your confusion comes in the combination of artistic embellishment we take towards taking hits and forgetting what the srd actually says about hit points.

"Hit points mean two things in the game world: the ability to take physical punishment and keep going, and the ability to turn a serious blow into a less serious one."

When a character takes damage it usually doesn't mean they get cut/stabbed/rent but could keep going. Instead it's supposed to mean that they tired themselves out resisting the hit, or parrying, or moved it to another area to be a glancing blow etc. When a character hits 0, that means that in addition to all the minor wounds, they are just simply physically exhausted, to the point that 1 more movement is likely to knock you out and tear open your wounds. The body condition of a 0 hp fighter at level 1 and a 0 hp fighter at lvl 20 are about the same; the level 20 one was just much much better at knowing who to shrug off the hits or better spreading it around.

A character below 0 isn't experiencing shock, or fatal wounds. There's no arrow through the lung or guts hanging out, that's because a character above -10 always has a 10% chance of naturally stabilizing via clotting. That means that a dc 15 heal check isn't anything more than emergency first aid to stop the one or two worst areas of trauma.

-10 is not death by modern standards, but where death and might as well be dead are the same thing. Massive blood loss, shock, sepsis, internal hemorrhaging are all things beyond natural healing and the medical technology of the setting. The count to -10 isn't bleeding out, it's bleeding beyond the point of recovery because we don't have blood bags. Magic isn't going to pull your guts back in, restore blood loss, knit your crushed chest back together, postive energy mostly just refreshes and revitalizes when using the base hp interpretation.

I'm not saying that you can't tell the story where the fighter is gutted by the dragons claws only to be rendered whole by the cleric's heal or imagine it that way, just that the rules were written with something more mundane in mind.

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