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Undead Fortitude. If damage reduces the zombie to 0 hit points, it must make a Constitution saving throw with a DC of 5+the damage taken, unless the damage is radiant or from a critical hit. On a success, the zombie drops to 1 hit point instead.

If a zombie has 1 HP (usually from activating Undead Fortitude), can it use Undead Fortitude again?

The description states 'drop to 1 hit point instead', which arguably 1 HP cannot drop to 1 HP. You must have more than 1 HP to drop to 1 HP. In other video games I've played, a feature like this usually also requires more than 1 HP to activate (to prevent unkillable player or enemy) - to give insight on usual game design perspective.

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Undead fortitude will work at 1hp but...

"Instead" is an ambiguous referent; 'drops' is poor word choice

The "instead" is not referring to the zombie's current total of 1hp.
It is referring to the 0 hp that it would otherwise be at after the damage.

What you are erroneously reading:

If damage reduces the zombie to 0 hit points, it must make a Constitution saving throw with a DC of 5+the damage taken, unless [...]. On a success, the zombie drops to 1 hit point instead of the 1 hp it has

What the rule intends to say:

If damage reduces the zombie to 0 hit points, it must make a Constitution saving throw with a DC of 5+the damage taken, unless [...]. On a success, the zombie is now at 1 hit point instead of the 0hp it was reduced to

It is possible for the Zombie to benefit from Undead Fortitude at 1hp.

If it is already at 1hp, it drops to 0hp and then attempts the save. If it fails, it remains at 0 hp. If it succeeds at the save, it goes from 0hp to 1hp. This is not a drop. Most of the time when taking damage, it will be at more than 1hp, so you can approximate this change of from more than 1hp to 1hp by calling it a 'drop'. But in the edge case that it is already at 1hp, it will go from 1 hp to 0hp and back to 1hp with a successful save, and this is indeed not a drop in a net sense. If it gets lucky in its Con saves, it could take hit after hit while at 1hp and not drop to zero. Which is, after all, the point of the Undead Fortitude feature.

Also note that the same, flawed, wording is used in the Half-Orc's Relentless Endurance feature, which should have the same resolution.

When you are reduced to 0 hit points but not killed outright, you can drop to 1 hit point instead.

In this tweet, Eric Green asks whether a Half-Orc already at 1hp and hit by a giant spider can remain at 1hp using Relentless Endurance, but then would drop to 0hp from poison. Jeremy Crawford responds "That's correct". Neither of them bat an eye at the Half-Orc remaining at 1hp, rather than 'dropping' from 1 hp to 1hp.

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    \$\begingroup\$ That's much clearer. I agree that 'drop' is a poor word choice for this feature, it should've be written as "On a success, the zombie is now at 1 hit points.' like you suggest. \$\endgroup\$
    – Vylix
    Dec 17 '20 at 19:18
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Yes it works.

Thematically, this makes sense - the zombie has a chance to survive any hit that doesn't kill it via massive damage, which is the prevailing trope about zombies.

From a rules perspective, dropping from 1 hit point to 1 hit point seems to make little sense, but at least to me, it makes just as much sense as dealing 0 damage:

With a penalty, it is possible to deal 0 damage, but never negative damage.

That said, it is not entirely clear RAW, so there is of course room for a DM to rule otherwise.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I've always read it as "If damage reduces the zombie to 0 hit point..." Reduces, not would reduce, so the damage has happened. They technically have 0 hp for a moment. Then they roll for a Con save, and if successful, drop from whatever hp they had before and have 1 hp instead. That's why you always double tap; because they just keep getting back up. \$\endgroup\$
    – MivaScott
    Dec 17 '20 at 19:12
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It does not make semantic sense to say your hit points dropped from 1 to 1

This is basically just a fact of Standard American English; if something drops it has to actually go down. Thus, technically, the zombie cannot drop to 1 hit point instead; this simply isn't possible. So what happens instead...?

Ask the GM

So technically it would seem the zombie simply can't drop to 1 hit point, so what actually does happen is going to be left to the GM.

What I do at my tables

I let these sorts of features activate regardless of how many hit points somebody had beforehand for two reasons:

  1. These often have limited uses or methods of getting around them (such as with critical hits or radiant damage in the case of a zombie)

  2. Having them not activate when at 1 hit point can make them go unused. Imagine you had 10 hit points and took 9 damage; now Undead Fortitude (and similar features) would simply never happen. Allowing such features to trigger when taking damage from being at 1 hit point gets around this potential circumstance.

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