In 5e DnD, the massive damage rule still applies while unconcious at 0 hp, but is the damage taken during unconciousness cumulative?

For example, a character with max 20 hp is hit for 25 damage. A second attack happens, dealing 15 damage. I see 3 reasonable options:

  • The character now dead, having taken massive damage.
  • The character has autofailed one save, but a further 5 damage would instakill.
  • The character has autofailed that one save, and only a 20+ damage attack would cause massive damage

I am in favor of the last one, but want to know of some reason beyond DM fiat for it.


3 Answers 3


The character is at either 1 or 2 failed death saves.

So our character has 20 hit points, and is damaged for 25 damage. This reduces their hit points to 0; we see in the rules for Hit Points:

A creature's current hit points (usually just called hit points) can be any number from the creature's hit point maximum down to 0. This number changes frequently as a creature takes damage or receives healing.

Whenever a creature takes damage, that damage is subtracted from its hit points.

Having reached 0 hit points, they are now unconscious:

When you drop to 0 hit points, you either die outright or fall unconscious, as explained in the following sections.

They do not die outright, because the rule for Instant Death states:

When damage reduces you to 0 hit points and there is damage remaining, you die if the remaining damage equals or exceeds your hit point maximum.

They were reduced to 0 hit points and there was only 5 damage remaining, so they do not die instantly.

Next they are hit for 15 damage, and the rules for damage at 0 hit points say:

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.

If the 15 damage was an attack from more than 5 feet away, or damage from an effect that isn't an attack (like a spell that forces a dexterity save), you suffer one failed death save. If it was an attack from within 5 feet, you suffer two, since critical hits (don't forget to roll those dice twice) cause two failed saves and the rules for the unconscious condition state:

Any attack that hits the creature is a critical hit if the attacker is within 5 feet of the creature.

You do not die instantly because the damage did not exceed your hit points maximum. There is nothing in these rules that would indicate that damage from multiple attacks can accumulate and cause instant death, instead, those attacks causing failed death saves.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Provided the 15 damage shouldn't have been doubled by the fact it was a crit \$\endgroup\$
    – illustro
    Feb 2, 2022 at 14:19
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @illustro Yeah, I assumed damage was calculated correctly. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 2, 2022 at 14:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ Its worth pointing it out as they appear to have missed the crittedness of the strike (by only applying one death save) if it's a melee attack \$\endgroup\$
    – illustro
    Feb 2, 2022 at 14:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ @illustro That's why I addressed both situations and what would cause 1 or 2 failed saves. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 2, 2022 at 14:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ Interesting that even ranged spell attacks are auto-crit if made from within 5ft. And this all applies even if you have disadvantage on the attack from something (cancelled by advantage from unconscious target for a straight roll). (But being next to your target doesn't give disadvantage on ranged attacks when they're incapacitated; disadvantage could come from being blind, for example. Narratively makes sense for a bow or crossbow, maybe less so for a sling.) \$\endgroup\$ Feb 3, 2022 at 3:35

No, damage is not cumulative

After the first hit, you are at zero HP. There is no such thing as negative HP in dnd5e.

After the second hit, you have suffered a failed death saving throw. Only an attack that does 20 or more damage would kill you outright.

Note, however, that because you are unconscious, if the second attack originates from within 5 feet of you, it will automatically be a critical hit that causes two automatically failed death saving throws. (And more damage than usual)

  • 6
    \$\begingroup\$ This answer is almost 100% correct; you say, "if the second attack is a melee attack from within 5 feet, it will automatically be a critical hit", however, any attack, ranged or melee, from within 5 feet is an automatic crit. Additionally, while you are correct in your conclusion here, it would significantly improve your answer if you cited the rules you were referring to, as written, if I didn't already know the rules and where to find them, I would have no idea if your answer was right or wrong. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 2, 2022 at 14:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ThomasMarkov You are correct, and I have edited to adjust my wording. Thankfully your excellent answer has the rules text and citations that I unfortunately don't have access to at the moment. Perhaps attempting to answer rules questions when I do not have the rules handy is a fools errand. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tal
    Feb 2, 2022 at 14:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ In all fairness, you did a better job than I would have remembering the exact details; I too thought it was only melee attacks that autocrit until I double checked, and I didn't remember the instant death while at 0 rules. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 2, 2022 at 14:36

Damage from multiple attacks is not cumulative against someone in death saves condition - which is exactly the question you asked, and now being answered. Massive damage death has to happen from a single attack.


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