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Whenever you drop to 0 hp you become unconscious (and are dying). If you manage to stabilize you will wake up in 1d4 hrs with 1 hp.

We had a situation where an unconscious character was stablized, but the party had no healing magic left. The unconscious character rolled a 4 on the d4. Since the other party members were reluctant to wait for 4 hrs for him to regain consciousness, the question came up if this can be sped up. They took a short rest and wanted to know whether the unconscious character would be able to use his HD to regain hp.

As the DM I ruled that it was not possible to wake him up without healing magic, because with 0 hp you remain unconscious until your hp rises to at least 1. This only happens after 4 hrs naturally. If I had ruled that a successful medic check would have woken up the character then I'd effectively ruled that using the medic skill would restore hp. And that is not the case as far as the rules are concerned (RAW).

Also, spending HD during a short rest would require the injured character to be conscious so that wouldn't be an option, either.

Did I miss something? Are my characters actually able to wake their injured comrade prematurely, or are they unable as I suspected?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Why does "spending HD during a short rest... require the injured character to be conscious"? \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Aug 8 '16 at 4:22

10 Answers 10

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You can't treat the time you spend unconscious as a short rest.

Short Rest

A short rest is a period of downtime, at least 1 hour long, during which a character does nothing more strenuous than eating, drinking, reading, and tending to wounds.

There's a big difference between that and an hour spent unconscious because you almost died. I suspect that as far as the ability to regain hit points is concerned, the "tending to wounds" bit is the most important.

As you say, there is nothing in the rules that allows a Medicine check to restore hit points. In your capacity as the DM you are free to change the rules however you wish, but within the scope of the rules, only magic or resting can restore hit points.

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    \$\begingroup\$ There is a feat called Healer that allows you to restore hit points without magic. Although the Medicine skill is not directly involved in this, it seems similar in spirit. \$\endgroup\$ – eyecosahedron Aug 9 '16 at 18:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ There is also the variant in the DMG to force the use of a Healer's Kit to regain HP during a rest. \$\endgroup\$ – Slagmoth Jan 9 '17 at 14:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is now contradicted by Jeremy =( See here. I agree, btw, that it's not totally cut-and-dry: there are weak points I see in the argument of my answer. \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Jan 9 '17 at 21:53
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The character can spend HD after an hour. (Now confirmed by Jeremy Crawford; as always, take twitter with a grain of salt.)

Just read the "Resting" rules.

A short rest is a period of downtime, at least 1 hour long, during which a character does nothing more strenuous than eating, drinking, reading, and tending to wounds. (PHB p.186, "Short Rest")

We stipulate that you spend at least an hour. The question, then, remains whether being unconscious at 0HP is "more strenuous" than eating, drinking, reading, tending to wounds.

No, it's not more strenuous. An unconscious character, by rule, can neither take actions nor move. (PHB pp.291-292, "Appendix A: Conditions") Eating, drinking, reading, tending to wounds are actions--no, not in the combat-economy sense, but in the plain-language sense.*

Perhaps, though, the mere state of being at 0HP, struggling autonomously to stay alive while mortally wounded is more strenuous? But you're not struggling to stay alive, you're stable; you're not in mortal danger and you're resting so calmly that in d4 hours you'll have regained a hit point. (PHB pp.197-198)

Having met all the prerequisites of a short rest, you gain the benefits of a short rest. This includes, per "Short Rest," the ability to regain hit points through the expenditure of Hit Dice.

But "Short Rest" says the character spends Hit Dice. To do that doesn't the character need to be conscious? It doesn't say so. If you can tell me what it looks like when a character spends a Hit Die--in game!--then perhaps we'd have to conclude that the character can't do it while unconscious. But Hit Dice are a metagame concept, methinks, and it's strange to ascribe their operation to the character.

Something being "strange" to me shouldn't sway you. But this should: contrast the requirements for a short rest with those for a long rest. The long rest has similar time and activity requirements described. Then there's this:

A character must have at least 1 hit point at the start of the [long] rest to gain its benefits. (PHB p.186, "Long Rest")

The designers were clearly thinking of exactly this situation, for when else is a character at 0HP? And they explicitly state that 0HP can't be the start of a long rest, but they conspicuously don't state that 0HP can't be the start of a short rest.

"Doesn't that moot the "regain 1HP in 1d4 hours clause?" Nope. Imagine a character with no HD to spend--they've got to wait the full d4 hours. Or a player could choose not to spend the HD and, instead, save them for later.


* - see also every time you've been sleeping vs. every time you've been awake.

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The rule on what counts as a Short Rest is as follows:

Short Rest

A short rest is a period of downtime, at least 1 hour long, during which a character does nothing more strenuous than eating, drinking, reading, and tending to wounds.

Note that it says "nothing more strenuous than" those activities. I'd say that lying unconscious is definitely less strenuous than anything listed there.

My interpretation of all this is that the HP regained from a Short Rest is gained because they have an opportunity to use regular non-magical healing on themselves, and that this takes time (which is why they can't heal this way in combat or from a Medicine check). It also requires them to rest and conserve their energy (again, not possible in combat, and the theoretical few seconds of a single round isn't long enough to count as resting).

As a DM, I'd rule that a character who cannot spend their rest tending to their own wounds for any reason (such as being unconscious) cannot regain hitpoints in this way. However, if another character tends to them, then they have spent the correct amount of time resting and having healing applied, so I'd say that counts under the above rule, and allow them to regain hitpoints as normal.

Of course, the character who helps them out can't heal during this Short Rest, because they're not healing themselves - they're attending to the unconscious character instead. This raises the obvious question of what happens if the character spent half the time healing the unconscious one and half the time looking after themselves. I'd be tempted to disallow this because the Short Rest mechanic assumes that you're... well, resting, and healing someone who's on the brink of death isn't very restful.

Personally, I'd say that if someone else helps the unconscious character, they can heal as normal. In addition, if the helping character makes a Medicine check of an appropriate DC (as a rough ballpark, 15 minus the unconscious character's Constitution modifier) then I'd allow the helping character to also heal themselves by half the usual amount. This represents how much time and energy they have left after healing the unconscious character; the more resilient they are, the easier they'd be to heal, and the more time you have to take care of yourself afterwards.

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Personally, as a DM, I always allowed waking characters, or NPC for that matter, prior to the time rolled on the d4. I personally interpret the 1d4 hours as the time you need to wake up when unconscious on your own. Basically your body and mind have recovered enough so you can roam about on your own.

If woken prematurely, I would simply strip the unconscious condition from the player or NPC but leave any other conditions. They can be woken by someone using a Medicine check or a med kit (I assume they have some knowledge of pungent salts or the like) or by applying some sort of trigger (slapping, dousing with water, or similar).

Once concious you can also start a short rest. While you can't do anything beyond simply staying awake and maybe getting sustenance (you still have 0 HP after all) you could use your hit dice for healing.

Personally, if only one character is unconscious and all others are fine, don't have them wait around and mope about. Let them have fun and create a challenge if you don't want to wake the character. Have the other PCs build a stretcher or have a strong character carry him. But without immediate danger I don't see the point of artificially prolonging the time needed for characters to heal and move on with the fun part of adventuring.

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There is a workaround

If you don't want to wait the 1d4 hours for your companion to become conscious again you could cheese your way through by damaging him when he's stable and let him make death saving throws again. If you have 3 other Players which may stabilize him as soon as he has got his first failed saving throw it should be pretty low risk.

Mechanics behind this method:

The number of [failes and successes] is reset to zero when you regain any hit points or become stable. (PHB p. 197)

&

The creature stops being stable, and must start making death saving throws again, if it takes any damage. (PHB p. 197f)

With this method, you can force someone to make as much death saving throws as needed (if you can stabilize him reliably) until he rolls a 20. Because:

If you roll a 20 on the d20, you regain 1 hit point. (PHB p. 197)

So he regains consciousness.

In my group I would interpret it as slapping someone hard in the face until he regains consciousness, with some medical treatment in between.

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Can a zero-HP, unconscious and stable character be woken up prematurely?

NO

Falling Unconscious PHB p.197

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.

You have to regain at least 1 hit point to end the unconsciousness. A successful Medicine check does not do any healing.

Did I miss something?

YES

Your statement about being conscious to spend hit dice is not correct:

Short rest PHB p.186

A short rest is a period of downtime, at least 1 hour long, during which a character does nothing more strenuous than eating, drinking, reading, and tending to wounds. A character can spend one or more Hit Dice at the end of a short rest

Unconsciousness is not strenuous in this context, that's why it happens: to rest, giving a body the best chance to heal and recover from trauma. Spending Hit Dice is the meta-game rule to cover in-character recovery, does not require an action and there is no other rule saying you have to be conscious. It is completely appropriate for a character to recover this way.


ps. This answer is intended to add brevity to what has already been said.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ "character action" is being used to describe something the character can do, and it does not state any requirement for it to be done deliberately or by conscious choice. A character carries on breathing when they are unconscious which is also a "character action". A requirement for the character to be conscious would have to be specified explicitly or tied to an Action, which would have been wrong in a different way as the character is not in a turn based situation. Important to remember is that Hit Dice are a meta game concept and don't exist for the character as such. \$\endgroup\$ – Protonflux Jan 12 '17 at 11:53
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Since no one said, they answered this here.

Can stabilized PC spend HD after 1hr short rest even though it regain 1HP after 1d4hr?

believe that is correct - at 0 hp, a short rest lets you spend HD. -M

So according to them you could benefit from a short rest while unconscious.

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    \$\begingroup\$ What an odd ruling. “Well, Jane Fighter is unconscious and not going anywhere for hours. If we rest, she'll heal faster, but if we don't, she won't. I guess we should rest.” I suppose this is one example of why Mearls doesn't give official answers, only Crawford does. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Sep 17 '15 at 16:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ According to WotC, Mike Mearls answers are not authoritative. His statements are no more official than mine. \$\endgroup\$ – Derek Stucki Sep 17 '15 at 16:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't read the colloquy as the short rest and the 1d4 running concurrently, but sequentially. Note well the second "after" in the first line of the blockquote. \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Oct 8 '15 at 18:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ Crawford's answer: "A long rest requires you to have 1 hit point at the start. A short rest has no such requirement. Neither rest requires consciousness." \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Mar 22 '18 at 17:27
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As others have already stated, it is against RAW to be able to strictly heal the character in this situation. However, it seems like from your post that you're worried primarily about giving your players too-cheap ways to regain hit points, and the future ramifications caused by your slight rule changes to allow for healing, not necessarily the strict ruling of the book.

If you feel bad about your players' ill luck in rolling a 4, I wanted to offer you another house-rule solution: reduce the time with a Medicine check, instead of just giving straight hit points. Say, for example, you allow the character to wake up in 2 hours instead of 4. That's two short rests' worth of time -- a sizeable chunk, but not too bad as long as they don't have any extremely urgent matters to tend to.

It's not unfeasible for the players to find a quiet place to hide, if in a dangerous location with wandering monsters, for 2 hours to allow their fallen member to recuperate (that is a solution I personally would go for as a player, anyway). With a successful skill check from a Ranger or Rogue, they might be able to find a concealed enough spot to last unnoticed for the duration. That is just an example scenario I came up with off the top of my head to demonstrate my line of thought when I want to "throw the players a bone" without actually just "handing" it to them.

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Referring to your point b) and assuming that Pathfinder is counted as a previous edition. If it is not, please ignore.

5e rules are unclear on this, I'm looking for an answer that either a) sites a 5e rule that says you can't short rest while unconscious (I remember reading this somewhere, but am not sure). or b) draws on previous edition's ruling on this.

In Pathfinder there is an alchemical remedy called smelling salts that does the following:

These sharply scented gray crystals cause people inhaling them to regain consciousness. Smelling salts grant you a new saving throw to resist any spell or effect that has already rendered you unconscious or staggered. If exposed to smelling salts while dying, you immediately become conscious and staggered, but must still make stabilization checks each round; if you perform any standard action (or any other strenuous action), you take 1 point of damage after completing the act and fall unconscious again. A container of smelling salts has dozens of uses if stoppered after each use, but depletes in a matter of hours if left open.

Emphasis in both quotes are mine

I could see adapting this item to D&D 5E by replacing the part about still bleeding with the need to make further death saves until stable and that you fall unconscious and have to make death saves if you perform strenuous activity before regaining hp. But this would clearly be a house-rule.

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I have to say, if the party performs a short rest, I'd allow the unconscious character to gain 1 HP and get up (regardless of what they rolled on that d4), but I wouldn't allow them to use Hit Dice. I figure the group can spend more time tending to the wounded and, in effect, aid her recovery.

In meta-game terms, it forces the party to take that short rest (which is not always possible), but doesn't take the unconscious PC's player out of the game as long, increasing their fun.

Also, there IS a way to use a healer's kit to add HP; the Healer feat (PHB 167).

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