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In our last combat the party fought some Vampires. Initial I said they turned to Gaseous Form. After rereading the rules, it says turning into Gaseous Form is standard action, and under Fast Healing it says: "If reduced to 0 hit points in combat, it automatically assumes gaseous form and attempts to escape".

So does the Vampire turn immediate gaseous? Or is it, say, on its next action, which is now only a Move Action and then can start to float away?

And hence, is it possible to say use a wooden stake though the heart, if player has an action before the Vampire's next action?

If this is possible, is this a 'coup de grace' action that auto kills the Vampire, or is there some attack roll needed?

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No.

Unlike a normal undead, a Vampire reduced to 0 hit points or less is not immediately destroyed.

Reducing a vampire’s hit points to 0 or lower incapacitates it but doesn’t always destroy it (MM 253)

Instead, it "automatically assumes gaseous form and attempts to escape" (to reach its coffin in time).

The usage of the word "automatically" suggests that the event of assuming gaseous form is triggered, as soon as the Vampire reaches 0 HP and that it does not require the "incapacitated" Vampire to do anything. The Vampire is "forced into gaseous form", it is not an action the Vampire takes. Thus, we should expect that "automatically" also means immediately.

Becoming gaseous is a Vampire’s "life" insurance. If it didn’t happen immediately, it would drastically reduce the Vampire’s chances to get back to its coffin.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is reading a massive amount into the word “automatically” that is not actually explicated anywhere in the rules. To be clear, I had started to answer this question and then came to the conclusion that I cannot; I do not think there is any way to fully and completely define how this works based on the rules text alone. Even that gaseous form replaces being destroyed is technically not actually covered by the rules, and is actually an assumption on your part—the only reasonable assumption, I’ll agree, but I think any good answer to this question has to go into how under-defined vampire is \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Commented May 2 at 17:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan "Reducing a vampire’s hit points to 0 or lower incapacitates it but doesn’t always destroy it (see the note on fast healing)." (MM 253) This means, a Vampire is not destroyed unless it doesn't reach its coffin in time. \$\endgroup\$
    – Peregrin
    Commented May 2 at 21:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ Oh! Yes, you are correct on that point, I’d missed that. Can you back up the rest of your answer like that? \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Commented May 2 at 21:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ For me it comes down to does the word "automatically" also mean like a "swift action" that is "triggered" at the same moment as the hit that takes it down to 0 or below. Or is it forced on its next action to change and float away. \$\endgroup\$
    – Bucket
    Commented May 3 at 7:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Bucket Unfortunately, we only have this one sentence ("...assumes gaseous form and attempts to escape"). But from a game mechanics point of view it’s most reasonable that the vampire does not act before its turn. Getting an action outside of one's turn is very unusual. If the the authors had intended to give the Vampire a single immediate move action, they surely would (or at least should) have stated that explicitly. \$\endgroup\$
    – Peregrin
    Commented May 7 at 10:55

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