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An abjuration wizard has the Arcane Ward class feature (PHB, p. 115):

Starting at 2nd level, you can weave magic around yourself for protection. When you cast an abjuration spell of 1st level or higher, you can simultaneously use a strand of the spell's magic to create a magical ward on yourself that lasts until you finish a long rest. The ward has hit points equal to twice your wizard level + your Intelligence modifier. Whenever you take damage, the ward takes the damage instead. If this damage reduces the ward to 0 hit points, you take any remaining damage.

If an abjurer is dropped to 0 hit points by means other than damage (such as by failing a saving throw against a Banshee's Wail), their Arcane Ward remains active (assuming it was active before). What happens if they are attacked whilst dying?

  • They take a step towards death; the rules on Damage at 0 hit points don't take the Arcane Ward into account;
  • The Arcane Ward continues to "block" damage, so the ward would need to be reduce to 0 hit points/the damage exceed the ward's hit point before it counts as the wizard taking damage at 0 hit points. Hence if the ward had 10 hit points and a monster dealt 5 hit points, the wizard would not suffer any failed death saving throws;
  • Both of the above; the Arcane Ward would continue to absorb damage, which may be relevant for death by massive damage, but the wizard would still suffer failed saving throws anyway);
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  • \$\begingroup\$ Are temp HP like Arcane Ward? You can gain temp HP while you're unconscious, e.g. via Druid (Shepherd) Bear Spirit totem. But temp HP don't have the "take damage instead" wording, I don't think, so interaction with "taking damage while at 0 HP" is less clear; does 0 HP + 10 temp count as being at 0? (ping @ThomasMarkov, in case you or Nathan know if there's an existing Q&A for that related question. When I have time later, I'll search for one myself.) \$\endgroup\$ – Peter Cordes Oct 13 '20 at 23:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ There is an existing Q&A: When stabilized, will receiving temporary hit points prevent failed Death Save when hit? - RAW you're still "taking damage", but arguable not to their real HP. By vote count, the consensus is that temp HP work the same as Arcane Ward here, protecting you from injury in the form of a failed death save. But RAW you could go the other way, unlike with Arcane Ward. \$\endgroup\$ – Peter Cordes Oct 14 '20 at 3:58
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You would not fail a death saving throw from taking damage while the ward is up.

The rules for Damage at 0 Hit Points say (PHB, pg. 197):

If you take any damage while you have 0 hit points, you suffer a death saving throw failure.

If you have your Arcane Ward (PHB, pg. 115) up while unconscious and are attacked, then:

Whenever you take damage, the ward takes the damage instead.

Instead indicates that you are not taking damage, rather the ward is, so you would not fail a death saving throw.

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