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Pretty self explanatory: A character has been shot to zero hit points and falls unconscious. A Cleric uses spare the dying on them and stabilizes them before they have a chance to make any death saving throws.

Is the character unconscious? And if not automatically, what can a PC with zero hit points do after being stabilized if they are awake?

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Creatures can't be conscious at zero HP

Spare the dying merely stabilises the target. It can't restore consciousness because it doesn't restore hit points. This is because:

  • Consciousness requires at least one hit point1.
  • (Conversely) stable creatures remain unconscious until they gain at least one hit point.
  • Spare the dying stabilises a creature, but doesn't restore any hit points.

Consciousness requires at least one hit point

If damage reduces you to 0 hit points and fails to kill you, you fall unconscious... This unconsciousness ends if you regain any hit points.

Basic Rules, p.79

Stable creatures remain unconscious until they gain HP

A stable creature doesn’t make death saving throws, even though it has 0 hit points, but it does remain unconscious.

ibid.

Spare the Dying merely stabilises creatures

As per the spell's description:

You touch a living creature that has 0 hit points. The creature becomes stable.

The creature becomes stable, but does not regain any hit points and therefore remains unconscious. As such, it is unable to move, speak or take actions:

An unconscious creature is incapacitated (see the condition), can’t move or speak, and is unaware of its surroundings.

Basic rules, p.172


1 There are a handful of specific game effects that override this general rule, such as the Zealot Barbarians' Rage Beyond Death feature.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ useful to note that these edge cases explicitly say what the player can and can't do while in this state! \$\endgroup\$
    – Olivier
    Jul 10 at 6:39
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By RAW: nothing

It takes an hour before coming round and gaining a hit point back naturally, or they need to receive some kind of healing. So in some ways spare the dying is worse than letting them make death saves since a natural 20 gets them back up!

I rule that they can continue to make death saves, they won't die, but they still have the natural 20 option.

This lets the player have at least something to do, and has never caused any issues as a player or a DM. I also rule that they get up on 1hp after combat ends quickly, unless someone has any reason to keep them unconscious. It gets the player back playing quicker, and playing is the entire reason people turn up.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I believe it actually takes 1d4 hours, not one hour \$\endgroup\$
    – Medix2
    Jul 9 at 19:57

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