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 2 failures

As you've pointed out, the specific rules for death saving throws state (PHB, p. 197; emphasis mine):

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

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 natural 1s on attack rolls work (PHB, p. 194; emphasis mine):

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 than the general case where attack 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...).

  • 8
    \$\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\$ Sep 18 '19 at 9:38
  • 11
    \$\begingroup\$ @Revolver_Ocelot: Which is how monks should always be treated :) \$\endgroup\$
    – PJRZ
    Sep 18 '19 at 10:22

You now have two failures AND a success

On most rolls a result of "success" and a result of "failure" would be mutually exclusive and the roll would have to be resolved as one or the other. However, this is not true for a death saving throw (emphasis mine):

A success or failure has no effect by itself. On your third success, you become stable (see below). On your third failure, you die. The successes and failures don't need to be consecutive; keep track of both until you collect three of a kind.

The scenario you posit, in which the player rolled a natural 1 but had modifiers that made the result of the roll a 10+, concludes in a total of two failures and a success. The natural 1 generates two failures, and the result of 10+ on the roll generates one success, and these do not contradict one another. The particular rule for death saves of "keeping track of both" means that both of these results count.

Depending on your prior conditions, you may be able to simply apply both.

Prior: 0 failures, 0 successes. Now: 2 failures, 1 success.
Prior: 0 failures, 1 success. Now: 2 failures, 2 successes.

On the other hand, prior conditions may be such that the order in which you apply them appears to matter. However, while the process is different, the result is the same, and so it is still no problem.

Prior: 1 failure, 0 successes.
Either, apply success first, then two failures - result: you die and success is removed.
Or, apply failures first - result: you die and success is not applied.

A similar method of two potentially different processes but the same end result occur for other prior conditions:

1 failure, 1 success. Result: you die.
2 failures, 0 successes. Result: you die.
0 failures, 2 successes. Result: you are stable at 0hp.
2 failures, 1 success. Result: you die.

However, the more difficult cases are when the order in which you apply the successes and failures does matter, because applying one first will immediately result in either death or stability and having to ignore the other effect. This is the case when there are already 2 successes and either 1 or 2 failures.

Here, the DM has to decide by fiat which to apply first.

There is an optional rule for resolving these competing simultaneous effects in Xanathar's Guide to Everything (p. 77):

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.

Since it will be the turn of the player actually making the death saves, that player then gets to decide the order in which to apply the results of "two failures" and "one success", which is obviously a considerable advantage in this very specific case.

  • 6
    \$\begingroup\$ I don't think the premise really makes sense here. If rolling a 1 is applied independent of normal death save rules, then wouldn't rolling a 1 with no modifiers mean instant death (two failures from a 1, plus the usual failure from rolling below 10)? \$\endgroup\$
    – 1600hp
    Nov 1 '20 at 16:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ @1600hp "If rolling a 1 is applied independent of normal death save rules". It's not. Rolling a 1N is part of the normal death saves rules. The death saves rules include specific results for when the modified total is 9-, 10+, 20N, and 1N. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Nov 1 '20 at 18:35
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ What would happen if you had 2 failures and 2 successes and applied this ruling? Would you die or stabilize? \$\endgroup\$
    – BlueMoon93
    Nov 2 '20 at 12:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ @BlueMoon93 You become undead. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 2 '20 at 12:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ThomasMarkov So that's how necromancy got started ... Kirt, while I am not sure you are right, it's an intriguing way to apply Bless/Bardic Inspiration in support of another character. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 2 '20 at 12:48

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .