While looking for the answer to another question, I have stumbled upon a weird curiosity in the Pathfinder (and presumably 3.X as well) RAW.


Unconscious creatures are knocked out and helpless. Unconsciousness can result from having negative hit points (but not more than the creature's Constitution score), or from nonlethal damage in excess of current hit points.

The condition itself does not cause someone to automatically fall prone. Neither do the most common causes of becoming unconscious, such as Dying or Non-lethal damage, nor less common causes, such as the Brawler's Knockout ability.
Now I wonder if I have overlooked something somewhere, since PF rules are known to be all over the place (hello, touch spells).

While any sane GM™ would probably reply to the titular question along the lines of "Yes, of course unconscious creatures fall prone, they're effin' unconcious!", this is not subject of this question. I'm only interested in the rules here, for the sake of interest and for finding the RAW answer to the question linked above.


3 Answers 3


According to the rules as written and, yes, it's as silly as it seems,

Unconscious creatures don't automatically gain the condition prone.

Proving a negative is all but impossible, and somewhere among the millions of official Dungeons and Dragons, Third Edition and 3.5 words and the subsequent millions of official Pathfinder words, there's probably a rule that assumes, implies, or maybe even states that unconscious creatures gain the condition prone upon gaining the condition unconscious, but I'm unaware of such a rule, and enough has been written about that rules quirk (and even more about the quirks of the condition dead) that I'd think someone would've found it.

Whether this is an oversight or a case of the writers presuming common sense on the part of their readers, we'll likely never know.

Note that the Rules Compendium for Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 does say that

An unconscious creature falls to the ground, helpless. (72)

Why the RC doesn't use the actual word prone here when it freely does elsewhere is a mystery.

(As an aside, while one's unconscious (or dead) one doesn't apparently gain the condition blinded either. Make of that what you will.)

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Well obviously, dying doesn't deprive you of sight, merely of life. It would be so inconvenient to be a blind ghost... \$\endgroup\$
    – Nigralbus
    Feb 23, 2015 at 13:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Nigralbus Conditions under hard, strict, take-no-prisoners RAW gets even wonkier if one persists. While a stunned or panicked creature drops what it's holding, dead and unconscious creature retain their grips on their items; thus disarming the dead is a must. And folks hurl books at the dude who says that, because they aren't on the actions list (therefore having no action associated with them), attacks of opportunity can be made by creatures suffering from a variety of conditions that otherwise prevent them from taking actions. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 23, 2015 at 14:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan Like, for example, being dead :) \$\endgroup\$ Aug 14, 2015 at 17:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ @thedarkwanderer In 3.5 when a creature's at −1 hp to −9 hp, it has the condition dying (hence the condition unconscious hence being knocked out, which isn't a game term), but at −10 hp it gains the condition dead, which prevents magical healing and causes the creature's soul to leave the body but doesn't say actions are limited in any way. I mean, we know actions are limited because we know what dead means (Hint: It means dead), but if someone were programming or making a trading card game based on 3.5 rules the condition dead would need a far stronger rules definition. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 14, 2015 at 17:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ @thedarkwanderer So, yes, like the condition dead. :-) (Note that some argue that even a creature at −10 hp is unconscious, as the amount of nonlethal damage the creature's taken (e.g. 0) now exceeds its hp. This argument gets complicated quickly by folks better at math than I.) \$\endgroup\$ Aug 14, 2015 at 22:57

I believe that the reason that RAW does not state that (all) unconscious creatures fall prone is because some creatures may not be standing in the first place. A creature that is flying, with wings, will fall and end up prone - but one that is levitating (like a beholder all the time or a drow under their spell like ability) will just float in place. While a shark that you have cold-cocked may drift slowly downwards it won't be prone quickly. If you were to manage to knock out an ooze or slime i don't think it would be considered prone. So it is left for the GM to adjudicate whether a given creature drops held items or ends up prone when it falls unconscious.


It's because technically being unconscious isn't the same thing as fainting or collapsing, it is specifically the inability to maintain awareness of self and environment and loss of ones ability to respond to outside stimuli...so technically it is entirely possible to be the medical equivalent of unconscious while standing...perhaps D&D core 3.5 took this into consideration in their rules on the state which is why it doesn't force a player to go prone and pathfinder kept that change...but as far as a RAW is concerned I don't believe that there is one

EDIT: By the way, this isn't some weird attempt at trolling or anything of that sort. I personally view unconsciousness as being the same as fainting. But apparently it isn't and losing the ability to stand while unconscious isn't a symptom or even stated as being either common or uncommon in individuals who lose consciousness based on the medical definition. And still zero RAW that backs either statement up

The most likely answer below

Edit 2: So I think I found a reason why it DOES NOT automatically apply prone, and it is simply because it applies the helpless state. This makes sense due to the helpless state incurring some of the bonuses that apply against a prone character, like the bonus on an attackers melee roll, while omitting the rules that make statements about the combat modifiers the prone character receives since an unconscious player cannot make those actions. So it simply appears that the state of helpless is a more serious form of prone based on how each one is written, hence why it only incurs helpless versus both penalties which would add up to be a +8 melee attack modifier versus a target considered to have zero dexterity

  • \$\begingroup\$ This answer seems more like a comment, or perhaps an incomplete answer. It’s certainly interesting and worth pointing out, but the question really is very specific about wanting to see RAW, so I feel like the answer (that you don’t believe RAW does automatically apply Prone to Unconscious creatures) should be first, and a little more obvious, before going into a possible explanation. (Though I do think your supposition that 3.5 authors considered the medical definition of unconsciousness is a little optimistic; it’s much more likely just an oversight.) \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Feb 23, 2015 at 16:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ It isn't that I don't think that RAW automatically applies prone, it's that nowhere are there written rules that state what happens, only implications. It's either an oversight as to adding written rules because authors assumed everyone would imagine an unconscious character to go prone, or an intended feature. Either way there is no RAW saying an unconscious creature goes prone, although rules compendium for 3.5 does make it clearer that the intention is for a creature to fall to the ground \$\endgroup\$
    – AtlaStar
    Feb 23, 2015 at 23:17

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