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If a bard selects the contingency spell as a Magical Secrets pick, and uses contingency to cast a contingent 5th-level cure wounds with the trigger "when I drop to 1 hit point", how does the incoming damage work?

Say he is at 5 hit points. Then he gets hit with 30 damage. Does the extra 25 damage take away from the 5th-level cure wounds that gets triggered?

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    \$\begingroup\$ please hold off on accepting answers (even mine) immediately. Someone might come along with a better idea! We often encourage (but not demand) that Questions wait 24 hours to accept an answer. \$\endgroup\$ – goodguy5 Feb 12 at 17:42
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The extra damage does not count against the heal spell, but you made a mistake on your contingency trigger.

The dnd-5e rules basically state that when you take extra damage over your total, you're reduced to zero hit points and need to start making death saving throws.

Dropping to 0 Hit Points

When you drop to 0 Hit Points, you either die outright or fall Unconscious

Instant Death

Massive damage can kill you instantly. When damage reduces you to 0 Hit Points and there is damage remaining, you die if the remaining damage equals or exceeds your hit point maximum.

For example, a Cleric with a maximum of 12 Hit Points currently has 6 Hit Points. If she takes 18 damage from an Attack, she is reduced to 0 Hit Points, but 12 damage remains. Because the remaining damage equals her hit point maximum, the Cleric dies.

Falling Unconscious

If damage reduces you to 0 Hit Points and fails to kill you, you fall Unconscious (see Conditions ). This unconsciousness ends if you regain any Hit Points.

So the order of things would be:

  1. Take more damage than your total hit points
  2. Get reduced to zero hit points (and go unconscious, lose concentration, etc.)
  3. Assuming instant death doesn't occur, contingency kicks in* and heals you for X hit points, making your hit point total X
  4. Profit.

*BTW: Your contingency should state "When I get reduced to 1 or fewer hit points."

As originally stated you'd have to hit exactly 1 HP for it to trigger, allowing you to blow right past 1 to 0 when you take more damage.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The text reads: she is reduced to 0 Hit Points, but 12 damage remains. so even if you get healed by X amount, you'd have X-12 HP now because you need to heal the remaining damage. \$\endgroup\$ – John Hamilton Feb 13 at 6:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ @JohnHamilton that's only for Instant Death calculation purposes. There are no negative hit points in 5e \$\endgroup\$ – STT LCU Feb 13 at 8:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ @STTLCU What I meant is, this looks like it could also prevent Instant Death clause because the contingency would kick in before the death but your new hit points would become X-12 instead of your immediate death. Or at least that's how it sounds to me. \$\endgroup\$ – John Hamilton Feb 13 at 10:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ @JohnHamilton I'm not sure, it doesn't sound right to me \$\endgroup\$ – STT LCU Feb 13 at 11:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ That's what Death Ward is for. "The first time the target would drop to 0 Hit Points as a result of taking damage, the target instead drops to 1 hit point, and the spell ends." \$\endgroup\$ – Sum of e D pi Feb 13 at 16:14
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Damage occurs all at once, thus, very technically, your contingency will not activate

The rules on "Damage and Healing" state:

[...] Whenever a creature takes damage, that damage is subtracted from its hit points [...]

It doesn't state that the damage is dealt 1 hit point at a time, it is all at once. This means that you will immediately drop to 0 hit points (as 5e doesn't have negative hit points). This technically means that contingency won't activate because you never dropped to 1 hit point, you dropped to 0.

Another thing worth remembering is that contingency always activates after its trigger:

[...] The contingent spell takes effect immediately after the circumstance is met for the first time, whether or not you want it to, and then contingency ends [...]

Even if you have it trigger when you reach 0 hit points, you will still briefly fall unconscious

This is true because contingency occurs after its trigger, and thus you would have reached 0 hit points and as the section on "Dropping to 0 Hit Points" explains:

When you drop to 0 hit points, you either die outright or fall unconscious [...]

Ultimately this means that you, for an instant, will fall unconscious (assuming you don't instantly die from excessive damage) and thus:

The creature drops whatever it's holding and falls prone.


Compare this set-up to the death ward spell which states:

[...] The first time the target would drop to 0 hit points as a result of taking damage, the target instead drops to 1 hit point, and the spell ends [...]

The death ward spell will instead cause the creature to take all 30 of the damage, and then end up at 1 hit point, never falling unconscious.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for breaking this down into steps. This answer is really helpful! \$\endgroup\$ – Senmurv Feb 12 at 22:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ Couldn't you define a matching trigger for contingency ? As in match the exact death ward wording ? \$\endgroup\$ – eagle275 Feb 13 at 13:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ @eagle Except contingency would occur after that trigger so you would actually reach 0 hit points. death ward makes a very specific exception with its timing that you can't replicate with contingency \$\endgroup\$ – Medix2 Feb 13 at 15:07
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Contingency occurs after the event defined.

The contingent spell takes effect immediately after the circumstance is met for the first time, whether or not you want it to, and then contingency ends.

This means that the damage has to occur. There's no way to "stop" in between the damage numbers, so to speak.

If you actually meant "when I drop to 1 hit point", then Contingency wouldn't actually be triggered, because the character went from 5 HP straight to 0 HP.

Assuming you meant "When my character has 1 or fewer hit points":

So, in this case, the bard would take the 30 damage and go to 0 hp. Now, Contingency kicks in. Assuming that they aren't dead for some reason, then they would gain the benefit of Cure Wounds and be at positive hit points.


A Note about 0 HP : Remember, that a creature that has 0 HP is unconscious (barring a some of exceptions(s?) - Zealot Barbarians), even if it's only for an instant. This directly affects concentration, some poisons, etc.

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