Say a PC casts Shapechange on himself to turn into a Balor. This grants him some sweet abilities, such as:

Death Throes. When the balor dies, it explodes, and each creature within 30 feet of it must make a DC 20 Dexterity saving throw, taking 70 (20d6) fire damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one. [...]

The player character drops to 0 Hit Points. Does this trigger this ability?

I'm guessing the answer is a no, unless the PC would actually die, since the character doesn't die when dropping to 0—they simply change form—as per the spell:

If you revert as a result of dropping to 0 hit points, any excess damage carries over to your normal form.

Could anyone confirm or correct my guess?


3 Answers 3


Death Throes does not happen if you drop to 0 hit points

Shapechange states:

If you revert as a result of dropping to 0 hit points, any excess damage carries over to your normal form.

In other words, when you drop to 0 hit points you don't die, instead you directly revert into your normal form, so Death Throes does not take effect.

Death Throes might happen, if you die while shapechange is ongoing.

You can die while shapechange is ongoing in a number of ways, for example if you are targeted by power word kill or if you gain 6 levels of exhaustion.

However, the rules for Concentration state:

Some spells require you to maintain concentration in order to keep their magic active. If you lose concentration, such a spell ends.


  • [...] You lose concentration on a spell if you are incapacitated or if you die.

Hence, if you die while shapechange is ongoing, you simultaneously revert and use Death Throes, so it's unclear what should be resolved first. If Death Throes is resolved first, you explode and then your scattered corpse reverts. If reverting is resolved first, then Death Throes can no longer happen.

Xanathar's Guide to Everything (p. 77) has an optional rule for simultaneous effects:

Most effects in the game happen in succession, following an order set by the rules or the DM. 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. For example, if two effects occur at the end of a player character’s turn, the player decides which of the two effects happens first.

  • \$\begingroup\$ "if you die while shapechange is ongoing, you simultaneously revert and use Death Throes" -- I don't think so. In that context ("you lose concentration"), clearly the death is the trigger for the reversion. So the spell does not end until after you die (by however minuscule amount of time one might assert). Of course, this also means that the death explosion also happens after death, but because it's triggered by the death, it still occurs, even if the spell also ends at the exact same moment as the explosion (they both being triggered by the same event). \$\endgroup\$ Jan 4, 2020 at 17:18

No. The character reverts upon reaching 0 hp.

The most durable shape change, shapechange, states the target reverts upon getting to 0 hp.

If you revert as a result of dropping to 0 hit points, any excess damage carries over to your normal form. As long as the excess damage doesn't reduce your normal form to 0 hit points, you aren't knocked unconscious.

So the character does not die in the shape and then get reborn in their original form. They don't die when they reach 0 hp.

When carry over damage kills the character

Any carry over damage kills the character in it's original form... which does not have the sweet abilities of the Balor.

Other shape changing spells operate similarly

Similar spells such as true polymorph have similar wording that operate in the same way.

The transformation lasts for the duration, or until the target drops to 0 hit points or dies. If you concentrate on this spell for the full duration, the spell lasts until it is dispelled.

Related shape change question

A more in depth explanation of death while shaped changed: Does a creature die outright if they drop below negative max hit points of their polymorphed form?


You don't die so it doesn't trigger

In D&D, dropping to 0 hp doesn't necessarily mean that you die, especially if you are a PC. You can be unconscious (via non-lethal damage), you may have to roll death saving throws (via "lethal" damage), or, in your case, you may return to your original form.

And even if excess damage maked you drop to 0 hp, you are now in your normal form, so you don't trigger "on-death effects" of your shapeshifted form.

  • \$\begingroup\$ "dropping to 0 hp doesn't necessarily mean that you die" -- IMHO, this is an important point overlooked by the other (otherwise useful/accurate) answers. It's especially useful to point out that this, while normally applied only to PCs, can also apply to NPCs as required (e.g. trolls, or NPC party members, etc.). The other answers do incorporate discussion of the exact timing of death vs. reversion to original form, which can come up in rare scenarios (e.g. _"power word kill", as mentioned in one answer). So ideally, one answer would combine all of these useful notes. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 4, 2020 at 17:21

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