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The Grave Domain Cleric's Sentinel at Death's Door class feature has the following wording:

At 6th level, you gain the ability to impede death’s progress. As a reaction when you or an ally that you can see within 30 feet of you suffers a critical hit, you can turn that attack into a normal hit. Any effects triggered by a critical hit are canceled.

PHB pg 292 describes the unconscious condition:

  • An unconscious creature is incapacitated (see the condition), can’t move or speak, and is unaware of its surroundings
  • The creature drops whatever it’s holding and falls prone.
  • The creature automatically fails Strength and Dexterity saving throws.
  • Attack rolls against the creature have advantage.
  • Any attack that hits the creature is a critical hit if the attacker is within 5 feet of the creature.

Does this mean that, RAW, a grave cleric could make it so a pc would only lose one death save from the hit, instead of two?

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2 Answers 2

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Yes, the PC protected by Sentinel at Death's Door will take a single death saving throw failure

It's pretty straightforward if we look at all the pieces in sequence, and most of the citations are already in the question.

A creature at 0 hit points is, generally, subject to the Unconscious condition, which transforms any hit into a critical as long as the attacker is within 5 feet:

Any attack that hits the creature is a critical hit if the attacker is within 5 feet of the creature. (PHB, Appendix A: Conditions, Unconscious)

When it applies, the Sentinel at Death's Door feature transforms a critical hit into a normal hit:

As a reaction when you or an ally that you can see within 30 feet of you suffers a critical hit, you can turn that attack into a normal hit. Any effects triggered by a critical hit are canceled. (Xanathar's Guide to Everything, Chapter 1: Subclasses, Cleric, Grave Domain, Grave Domain Features)

So a critical hit becomes a normal hit when this feature is activated. The remaining question is what happens on a regular hit to a creature at 0 HP:

If you take any damage while you have 0 hit points, you suffer a death saving throw failure. If the damage is from a critical hit, you suffer two failures instead. If the damage equals or exceeds your hit point maximum, you suffer instant death. (PHB, Chapter 9: Combat, Damage and Healing, Dropping to 0 Hit Points, Death Saving Throws, Damage at 0 Hit Points)

So in summary:

  • The two death saving throw failures are a result of the creature at 0 HP taking a critical hit, but only one failure would be imposed on a non-critical hit
  • A critical hit is automatic (under some circumstances) for an unconscious creature target, but this class feature converts a critical hit to a normal hit
  • And so if the feature is used then the critical hit becomes a normal hit, and the creature at 0 HP suffers the effects of the normal hit
  • That effect is a single, automatic failure on a death saving throw
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Yes, this will cancel the auto-crit.

Specific rules take precedence over general ones, and Sentinel at Death's Door, being a class feature, is more specific than the rules for death-saving throws.

Sentinel at Death's Door specifies that it can be activated "when you or an ally that you can see within 30 feet of you suffers a critical hit" (emphasis mine), meaning that its activation is based on when the critical hit is endured by the target, not by a critical hit being rolled.

The loss of two death saves to a critical hit is an effect caused by the critical hit, and therefore, that effect will be cancelled.

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