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The death ward spell states:

[...] If the spell is still in effect when the target is subjected to an effect that would kill it instantaneously without dealing damage, that effect is instead negated against the target, and the spell ends.

One example of such an effect would be failing a third death saving throw. Ordinarily you would die immediately after failing your third death saving throw but this is not the case for the Zealot Barbarian currently Raging Beyond Death:

You still must make death saving throws, and you suffer the normal effects of taking damage while at 0 hit points. However, if you would die due to failing death saving throws, you don't die until your rage ends, and you die then only if you still have 0 hit points

So what happens if the Barbarian has three failed death saves and then their Rage ends?
What instantaneously killing effect is the Barbarian being subjected to?
What exactly is negated by death ward?
Is the third death saving throw removed?


I believe my question is different from "What happens when you cast Death Ward on a raging level 14 Zealot Barbarian who is at 0 HP?" because that one asks about taking damage while at 0 hit points with death ward cast whereas mine is asking about death caused by three failed death saves.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Would it be worth asking a separate question on how death ward interacts with death saving throws without the complication of the Zealot Barbarian? It feels like there is some uncertainty on this matter. \$\endgroup\$
    – BBeast
    Mar 8, 2020 at 7:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ @BBeast Yeah I'm realizing that now too. I had thought that was a simple case, but apparently there's a great many complications in there, feel free to ask that as its own question \$\endgroup\$ Mar 8, 2020 at 7:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ Getting into this situation in the first place is weird, since it involves casting death ward on a creature who's already at 0 hp instead of doing something to raise them above 0.Since every class that can cast death ward very rarely has no options for healing... I mean, I think even spare the dying would have worked in this case. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 12, 2020 at 11:14

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It does nothing.

Death ward's second effect cares about what's causing your death. For death ward to save the barbarian, the cause of death must be (1) instantaneous, and (2) not something that deals damage. For example, it'll save them from power word: kill but not from disintegrate.

Rage Beyond Death says:

However, if you would die due to failing death saving throws, you don't die until your rage ends, and you die then only if you still have 0 hit points

Note that it doesn't say you don't die due to failing death saving throws. You just don't die of it until your rage ends. So when you stop raging, the (mechanical) cause of your death is still the three failed death saves. Rage Beyond Death does not have a power word: kill-like instant death effect at the end; it just stops delaying your impending death.

And failed death saving throws are not an instantaneous event; they're a series of events usually lasting multiple rounds. The death saving throw rules explicitly say "A success or failure has no effect by itself."

Ignore Rage Beyond Death for a moment: if you're under death ward while already dying, then there is a specific moment when you fail the third death save and the rules declare you dead. However, that doesn't mean you're "subjected to an effect that kills you instantaneously". You're dying of injuries you already received.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ What duration does death have? What is the ongoing effect of death? How dead are you on your second saving throw? Are you according to this logic, "a little dead?" \$\endgroup\$
    – Akixkisu
    Mar 8, 2020 at 6:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ I feel like this answer is: (1) going against the spirit of death ward, which is to save you from death; and (2) against the letter of death saving throws, which does not say "at the start of your turns, if you have three failed death saving throws, you die" or something to that effect. \$\endgroup\$
    – user62407
    Mar 8, 2020 at 6:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Cleric (1) That's like arguing that if you attack an enemy and miss, it's against the spirit of the Attack action, which is to hit things. Whoever decided to cast death ward in this situation made a mistake. It doesn't save people who are already mortally wounded; for that you want spare the dying or healing word or something. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mark Wells
    Mar 8, 2020 at 15:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MarkWells Your analogy is flawed on (1) as you're comparing a well defined action by the RAW such as the Attack action (I do think case both hitting and missing are in the spirit of the Attack action), and your ruling on an undefined scenario such as death ward in the OP's situation (I do not believe there's ever a scenario in which death ward is ever intended to not prevent death). And (2) simply means nothing says you die if you possess 3 failed death saves, only that you die when you gain them, which IMO is a big difference. \$\endgroup\$
    – user62407
    Mar 8, 2020 at 16:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ Let us continue this discussion in chat. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mark Wells
    Mar 8, 2020 at 23:22
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Death Ward does nothing

Death Ward states:

You touch a creature and grant it a measure of Protection from death. 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. If the spell is still in effect when the target is subjected to an effect that would kill it instantaneously without dealing damage, that effect is instead negated against the target, and the Spells ends.

In order for the Zealot Barbarian to be making death saves it would have to have fallen to 0 HP twice. The first time Death Ward would activate and end. The second time the Zealot would start making death saves and Death ward would not be active anymore. If Death Ward is still active then it would still do nothing. The Ward will negate an effect that would instantly kill the Barbarian, however, three failed death saves are not an instant effect.Since Failing death saves requires at least 2 turns (omitting damage taken) this is not an instant effect.

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"You die" is negated by Death Ward.

The effect that is negated by Death Ward is the three death saving throws combined:

an effect that would kill it instantaneously without dealing damage

Singular (that instance):

that effect is instead negated against the target.

Effect means the result of a particular influence; the influence in question are the three death saving throws, once the third Death Saving Throws (PHB 197, my emphasis) occurs:

A success or failure has no effect by itself. On your third success, you become stable [..] On your third failure, you die.

So all three death saving throw fails are negated (they do not affect the target) because they only produce the effect together that causes death. Further:

They are only reset to zero when you regain any hit points or become stable.

Death is instantaneous - it does not have any duration - not an ongoing effect. At one and two failed death saving throws, you are not dead. These failed death saving throws do nothing by themselves. Only once the third death saving throw fails you die on the spot, immediately, in an instant.

While there are a lot of events leading up to your death, the effect of death itself is instantaneous. This instantaneous effect "you die" is negated by Death Ward.

You are now not dead with three failed saving throws. What happens now?

The following comes into effect (thanks Medix2, PHB 197, my emphasis):

The successes and failures don't need to be consecutive; keep track of both until you collect three of a kind.

You've reached three of one kind (death saving throw failures) so you would stop tracking them.

You don't make certain that something has happened (keep track), so you no longer check the three of a kind conditional. You neither keep track of your success nor of your failures.

This entails that you not only don't die due to death saving throw failures, but you also don't get stable by death saving throw successes.

This lasts until you get one or more hp or until you are stabilised by other means such as a DC 10 Wisdom (Medicine) check (see Stabilizing a Creature, PHB 197). Because

They are only reset to zero when you regain any hit points or become stable.

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