For instance, say the creature rolled a 1 on the d20, and would have gotten failed 2 death saves, but uses their pre-given bardic inspiration and actually rolls a total of 10+.

Would the creature be saved from the consequences of rolling a 1 on the d20, since it says that when you roll a 10 or higher, it counts as a success?

I know about the "specific beats general" rule, so in this case, which is the more specific rule?

If the roll is 10 or higher, you succeed.


When you make a death saving throw and roll a 1 on the d20, it counts as two failures.


No, a 1 on the d20 for a death saving throw is still two failures

As you've pointed out, the death saving throw has a specific rule that says:

When you make a death saving throw and roll a 1 on the d20, it counts as two failures. (PHB, p. 197)

It specifically mentions the number on the die, not the total, which implies that even if you somehow managed to get a +19 through various buffs and such, it would still count as a 1.

This is similar to how critical failure on attack rolls work. From PHB, p. 194:

If the d20 roll for an attack is a 1, the attack misses regardless of any modifiers or the target's AC.

Now, you could argue that because the rules on death saving throws doesn't explicitly mention modifiers, that modifiers should therefore work. However, I believe that the important distinction is that both rules specifically call out a 1 on the d20 and states the result of that outcome, and that both are more specific that the general case where attacks rolls and saving throws make use of modifiers to get higher (or lower) results.

Hence, my conclusion is that the "roll a 1 on the d20" is the more specific case, and any sources of any modifiers cannot help you to avoid that. Rerolls, though, that's a different matter entirely (I'm looking at you, Halflings...)

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    \$\begingroup\$ If you take into consideration how many ways there is to get at least +1 to death saving throw, the natural 1 clause wouldn't matter in many cases. Also, monks would not be able to die unless poked with a sharp stick while down. \$\endgroup\$ – Revolver_Ocelot Sep 18 '19 at 9:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Revolver_Ocelot: Which is how monks should always be treated :) \$\endgroup\$ – PJRZ Sep 18 '19 at 10:22

Plus (in addition to the very excellent answer by NathanS), looking at it from a non-mechanical point of view: Bardic Inspiration and Bless are things your character has. Death saves are something you do. It's not like your PC is sitting around in limbo, rolling dice, after all.

Bardic Inspiration specifically I interpret as "the bard in the party played a mighty song, thus strengthening my resolve for whatever I intend to do". Bless has similar flavour. Can't have resolve when you're unconscious, though.

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    \$\begingroup\$ But you can use your inspiration to get advantage on death saving throws, so I'm not sure I quite buy your argument. If one interprets the death save as being the character mentally working to fight off death, then the "I can't die, I have something/someone to live for" trope (which is certainly a thing in fantasy) could certainly be affected by something like Bless or Bardic Inspiration. \$\endgroup\$ – user37158 Sep 23 '19 at 2:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ All answers should stand on their own as an answer to your question. You should clearly state what position your answer is taking on the question; if you want to support another answer's arguments and add your own on top of them, you should summarize/quote those arguments in your own answer. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Sep 23 '19 at 5:39

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