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There are a few effects in D&D 5e that cause a creature to die without regard to its hit points.

One of them is the exhaustion condition, which has the effect of "Death" on a character that suffers level 6 of exhaustion.

Another is the spell Power Word: Kill, which causes a creature to "die instantly": "If the creature you choose has 100 hit points or fewer, it dies."

Neither of these effects change the state of a character's hit points. They merely change the state of whether or not a character is alive.

What happens to those hit points? Does a creature have hit points while dead? Do the rules provide clarity on what death is or means? Are hit points and "aliveness" inherently linked?

RAW and Rules as Intended are acceptable.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ A word of caution, RAW readings of what Death does to a character can lead to really nonsensical states (walking functioning creatures that are Dead but not Undead!). That being said, I'm not sure if your question makes sense because when a creature dies the corpse is an Object. \$\endgroup\$
    – user45338
    Aug 17, 2022 at 17:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ And lastly, a potential addendum that may put the scope of this question into the nebulous territory: "Does it matter if a character has hit points while dead?" \$\endgroup\$ Aug 17, 2022 at 17:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ What problem are you trying to solve? In particular, what game play would be affected by whether a creature does or does not have HP when dead? \$\endgroup\$
    – Dave
    Aug 17, 2022 at 18:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Dave the impetus for me is both curiosity and coming to a consensus ruling on what it means to be dead, for other questions. it is also fueled by this answer (though hidden) that states "The rules do not explain how to resolve this..." (rpg.stackexchange.com/a/200749/19464) which i believe is inaccurate, but wanted a space where either we could nail it down in truth or at least find a duplicate answer. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 17, 2022 at 18:05

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It doesn't matter

A creature's hit points are only relevant while the creature is alive. Mechanically, the only effect of hit points is that something bad happens when you run out of them, as described in the section on Hit Points (emphasis added):

Whenever a creature takes damage, that damage is subtracted from its hit points. The loss of hit points has no effect on a creature's capabilities until the creature drops to 0 hit points.

Specifically, the two bad things that can happen upon dropping to 0 hit points are falling unconscious and dying:

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

Obviously, if you are currently dead, then you can neither fall unconscious, nor can you die again, so hit points have no mechanical relevance while you are dead. As such, you could in theory continue to track them, but there would be no point in doing so. There are exceptions to this, such as the various Power Word spells that have an effect when a creature's current hit points are below a specific non-zero threshold. However, once again, these spells don't have any effects that would be relevant to a dead creature.

Even if you are restored to life, if still doesn't matter how many hit points you had when you died, because as far as I know, every method of restoring a creature to life also sets their hit points to a certain value either explicitly or implicitly. For example, Revivify restores the target to life with 1 hit point:

You touch a creature that has died within the last minute. That creature returns to life with 1 hit point.

Likewise for Raise Dead. Resurrection and True Resurrection both restore the target to life with all their hit points. Reincarnate doesn't specify explicitly, but it restores the creature to life in a newly created body, which does not "inherit" any of the damage sustained by the original body. In general, I am not aware of any method of raising a creature from the dead that doesn't somehow specify the new hit points of the creature upon resurrection.

As other answers have observed, the DM might rule that your corpse is an object with its own pool of hit points that determine when it is destroyed (which might cause problems for someone attempting to raise you from the dead), but if they do, these are unrelated to your hit points as a creature and have a distinct function.

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Yes, but it is different set of hit points than the ones you had as a creature.

First, we observe: a corpse is an object. Since a corpse is an object, if necessary, the DM can assign it armor class and hit points based on the rules for objects in the Dungeon Master's Guide:

Hit Points. An object’s hit points measure how much damage it can take before losing its structural integrity. Resilient objects have more hit points than fragile ones. Large objects also tend to have more hit points than small ones, unless breaking a small part of the object is just as effective as breaking the whole thing. The Object Hit Points table provides suggested hit points for fragile and resilient objects that are Large or smaller.

The DMG goes on to give a table with different hit point pools for objects of different sizes, as well as categorizing the objects as "fragile" or "resilient".

However, it is worth noting that this is still a grey area in the rules, it is not clear that you are not also a creature, just a dead creature, so consult your DM for a ruling if this every actually comes up in a game.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This may be nit-picky but in what way are the object's set of hitpoints different from the creature's set of hitpoints, being that the object and creature refer to the same "thing" \$\endgroup\$ Aug 17, 2022 at 18:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ @PremierBromanov for creatures, HP are abstraction of many things, including resolve and will to live. Objects can't have that. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mołot
    Aug 17, 2022 at 18:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ @PremierBromanov If an object goes to 0 HP, it "loses its structural integrity". You probably do not want this to happen to your corpse if you're hoping for a quick and easy revival. (Assuming your DM applies the object rules to corpses.) \$\endgroup\$ Aug 17, 2022 at 21:47
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Yes, your corpse has object hit points

When you are dead, your corpse is an object. The DM can assign hit points to it, following the rules in the DMG page 246.

For Rules As Intended on that part, here is also the ruling from Jeremy Crawford (I think offical back then, not any more):

A non-undead corpse isn't considered a creature. It's effectively an object.

What still counts as a creature is unfortunately not clearly defined by the rules. Some interpret the wording of spells like raise dead that refer to a “dead creature” as evidence that the corpse still could be considered a creature. In my view, a dead creature is a creature in much the same way, as a smashed chair is a chair, but in the end that is up to your DM.

What about the soul?

It is not exactly defined what happens upon death other than the game telling us that (DMG p. 24):

When a creature dies, its soul departs its body, leaves the Material Plane, travels through the Astral Plane, and goes to abide on the plane where the creature's deity resides.

And there is not much more on the nature of souls. In some cases, when you die your soul can be transformed to a manifest spirit like a specter. It then would have that monsters hit points and game statistics, while your corpse would remain an object.

There are also creatures without souls (constructs, for example), but PCs typically have a soul. All of this treatment of soul or spirit — along with spells like magic jar that separate your body from your soul - gets deeply into areas of the game that require adjudication by the DM, as stated in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, page 4:

The rules of D&D cover many of the twists and turns that come up in play, but the possibilities are so vast that the rules can't cover everything. When you encounter something that the rules don't cover or if you're unsure how to interpret a rule, the DM decides how to proceed, aiming for a course that brings the most enjoyment to your whole group.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Which part of the rules makes you into an object when you die? Are corpses inherently objects? \$\endgroup\$ Aug 17, 2022 at 18:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ See the linked reference Q&A which explains this in more detail \$\endgroup\$ Aug 17, 2022 at 18:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GroodytheHobgoblin We should try to avoid calling anything but the Sage Advice Compendium "sage advice", just to avoid confusion about what is official and what is not. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 17, 2022 at 18:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ @PremierBromanov I think your comment there is maybe your real question: Mechanically according to RAW, what happens when a player character dies? \$\endgroup\$
    – user45338
    Aug 17, 2022 at 18:22
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Hit points are a game mechanic. When dead, the aspects of the game that relate to HP are not relevant for gameplay. Therefore it doesn't make sense to talk about the relationship between a living creature's HP and their HP after death.

As indicated in other answers, there can be circumstances where the rules for object HP can come into play as a mechanic for adjudicating certain actions performed on/to the corpse.

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