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The description of Regenerate states:

You touch a creature and stimulate its natural healing ability. The target regains 4d8 + 15 hit points. For the duration of the spell, the target regains 1 hit point at the start of each of its turns (10 hit points each minute).

The target's severed body members (fingers, legs, tails, and so on), if any, are restored after 2 minutes. If you have the severed part and hold it to the stump, the spell instantaneously causes the limb to knit to the stump.

So as an example, instead of Death Ward, a Cleric casts Regenerate on a Fighter going into battle where they are hopelessly out matched.

The Fighter puts up a good fight, but brought to 0-hp, then two point-blank attacks mean immediate 4 failed death saves, all within a single round of combat. Therefore the Fighter is "permanently dead".

But can Regenerate bring them back?

A dead body is considered an "object", not a "creature". But the spell was cast while the Fighter was alive and thus a "creature" and can be a valid target of the spell. Beyond the casting, the spell only says "target". So it should no longer care about whether the Fighter is a creature or a bloody, dismembered corpse.

So every round the Fighter stands back up with 1-hp saying, "I can do this all day." Or does death invalidate the target as they no longer have a "natural healing ability"?

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No

All healing spells including Regenerate add hitpoints. They do not bring a dead body back to life.

There is no rule saying "if you add hitpoints to a dead body, it becomes alive". Moreover, not always death implies the creature must be at 0 hitpoints. For instance, Power Word Kill kills a creature without lowering its hitpoints at all.

Being dead or alive in D&D 5e is a separate state, it correlates with current HP but not directly depends from them. A spell can bring from the dead only when its description says that.

What is different about it is that Regenerate definitely helps you to automatically survive death saving throws. If you're down and unconscious but still alive at the start of you turn, you regain consciousness with 1 HP left.

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A corpse's hit points are different from a creature's

The rules for object hit points (DMG, p. 247) state:

An object's hit points measure how much damage it can take before losing its structural integrity.

If you were to allow Regenerate to continue to affect the corpse restoring hit points would not bring the fighter back to life. It would only prevent the body from being further broken. The DM might decide the corpse is already missing hit points due to damage sustained in life and so allow the spell to make the body less damaged but this is seperate from returning the body to life.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ But they are not an object until after death. In which case, they haven't lost any hit points as an object so there structural integrity is fine. \$\endgroup\$ – MivaScott May 14 at 18:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MivaScott I'm not sure where you get that idea, but I expect the corpses of people who have been killed in a battle with swords and spears do indeed show some structural damage. \$\endgroup\$ – Mark Wells May 14 at 19:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MivaScott If you're going with that line, then logically the body cannot be "fixed up" after death by restoring object hitpoints, cause you're saying that whatever state it was in at time of death is peak structural integrity (with cuts, burns, and all). \$\endgroup\$ – JB Chouinard May 15 at 15:43
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According to the Is there “flavor text” in D&D 5e spells? all text in the spell description is rules. Spell itself says:

stimulate its natural healing ability.

Dead fighter has no natural healing ability to stimulate anymore, so he cannot benefit from Regenerate, no matter if he is a valid target or not.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Understood, but "stimulate" leaves a wide berth of interpretation. Products can "stimulate" hair growth where hair is not currently growing. Couldn't a magical spell "stimulate" health and hit points? \$\endgroup\$ – MivaScott May 14 at 17:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ "Products can 'stimulate' hair growth where hair is not currently growing." [citation needed] Stimulating your scalp might help, but that has nothing to do with selling you snake oil. \$\endgroup\$ – Mazura May 16 at 5:02
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No

Dead creatures can't regain hitpoints until revived.

A creature that has died can't regain hit points until magic such as the revivify spell has restored it to life.

It's on pg 197 of the PHB, sub-section "Healing", last paragraph.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The actual quote is "A creature that has died can't regain hit points until magic such as the revivify spell has restored it to life." Rengenerate is not disqualified as a method to restore someone to life, so it can't be used as a proof that it doesn't work. \$\endgroup\$ – MivaScott May 14 at 18:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MivaScott: Pretty simply: regenerate doesn't say it restores someone to life, so it doesn't. There's no rule that says that restoring hit points to a dead creature brings it back to life. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast May 14 at 19:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MivaScott The entire effect of regenerate is to restore hit points, so if any magic that restored hit points would bring the creature back to life, that restriction would be meaningless. It would effectively say "A creature that has died can't regain hit points unless it regains hit points." \$\endgroup\$ – Mark Wells May 14 at 19:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MivaScott This rule makes it clear that restoring hitpoints and restoring someone to life are two different things. As such, there's no need to disqualify Regenerate, because there's no reason it would restore someone to life. You may as well point out that Fireball isn't disqualified as a way of restoring someone to life — there's nothing to say it doesn't, but there doesn't need to be, because there's no reason it would. \$\endgroup\$ – Peter Chaplin May 14 at 20:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ You cannot 'stimulate the natural healing ability' of 'a dead guy'. \$\endgroup\$ – Mazura May 16 at 5:10

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