I was reading through the Monk rules in D&D 5e when I came across this section in the rules for Quivering Palm:

When you use this action, the creature must make a Constitution saving throw. If it fails, it is reduced to 0 hit points. If it succeeds, it takes 10d10 necrotic damage. PHB pp.80

The standard expectation of how saving throws work is that if someone's attacking you, failing your saving throw brings worse results than succeeding, so you naturally want to succeed, and your attacker benefits if you fail.

However, that isn't always the case. Quivering Palm is an example which violates that standard expectation. Suppose you're on very low HP, or you're a very low-constitution wizard with less than 100 max HP to begin with, or you may want to avoid having to make death saving throws, or worse yet, a combination of these things! At that point, failing the save and dropping to 0 HP may be a far more appealing than succeeding, taking 10d10 necrotic damage, and risking dying outright.

How do you handle this situation that seems counter-intuitive to the rules? Can the rules be reinterpreted so that the best option you're left with is not simply to fail your saving throw? Something that, like normal, gives an advantage to success over failure? Especially since, as daze413 mentioned in comments to an answer here, the character doesn't know he should fail.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think there's some case for this being a distinct question. In my opinion the talk about voluntarily failing the save is a distraction here, because the problem expressed is actually that the ability is broken in terms of how it is clearly intended to behave. The save effect is supposed to have a lower magnitude than the non-save effect, but since they operate on completely different mathematical principles, that is not the case. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 27, 2015 at 4:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ @trekkieyk I've done some editing to try and better express some parts of this issue. Please check it over and see if you're OK with it, and edit further if you'd like. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 27, 2015 at 5:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ Please quit with the comments. Answer the question if desired. Though it still looks like a duplicate to me. Closing as duplicate, unless it is edited to be distinct. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Jul 27, 2015 at 5:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ This question, if it is confined only to the high level monk skill, stands on its own. If it were to be rephrased to just address the monk skill, rather than saves in general, it should be re-opened. Some of the points in the other thread about what a saving throw represents may be raised, but with a specific save and skill effect to focus on. (Aside: 10d10 is 55 hp average). \$\endgroup\$ Jul 28, 2015 at 13:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ This definitely doesn't look like a duplicate to me... \$\endgroup\$ Mar 3, 2017 at 18:19

1 Answer 1


DMG p. 237

Remember that dice don't run your game- you do. Dice are like rules. They're tools to help keep the action moving. At any time, you can decide that a player's action is automatically successful.

and DMG p. 242


You determine the consequences of attack rolls, ability checks, and saving throws. In most cases, doing so is straightforward. When an attack hits, it deals damage. When a creature fails a saving throw, the creature suffers a harmful effect.

when read in conjunction with How to Play (PHB p. 6):

  1. The DM describes the environment.
  2. The players describe what they want to do.
  3. The DM narrates the results of the adventurers’ actions.

gives the following outcome:

  1. "The monk strikes you with Quivering Palm - there's a DCX Constitution save, if you fail you are at 0hp, if you succeed you take 10d10 damage."
  2. "Ugh! I only have a hp max of 30 and I'm at 10hp right now; if I succeed an average roll could kill me outright! Can I automatically fail my save?"
  3. "Hmm ... OK, you automatically fail; you are at 0 hp."



There have been comments to the effect that allowing the player to decide that the character automatically fails is a meta-game tactic. Apart from begging the question (Can we affirm that RPG.SE embraces a plurality of playstyles?) that meta-gaming is, of itself, wrong in some way; a meta-game solution is the only one applicable here.

In-fiction a character has been struck by an effect (Quivering Palm) which will render him unconscious if he is unlucky or kill him if he is lucky. In what fiction does this make sense? The fiction is broken; it needs an out-of-fiction solution.

We are talking about hit points and saving throws - these are meta-game constructs. The characters have no in-fiction knowledge of such things or their mechanical resolution; they only make sense to the players and the DM so only the players and the DM can make decisions about them.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I invite you to elaborate on the context and significance of this quote and connect the dots between that quote and "players can fail a saving throw if they want." A single brief quote intended for a very different context and participant (the DM), from a book the player might not even have, with a snappy "No worries" does not provide much clarity or enlightenment for newbies. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 27, 2015 at 4:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ How would the character know the of choice anyway? Did he have extensive experience dealing with high level monks? Does he think: "ok if I don't resist, this'll go alot smoother for me"? \$\endgroup\$
    – daze413
    Jul 27, 2015 at 4:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ @daze413 What does the character have to do with it? How to Play is about the players and the DM. The player knows because the DM told her; the character fails the save because the player described that and the DM agreed. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dale M
    Jul 27, 2015 at 4:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DaleM Yes, but it sounds like metagaming to me. \$\endgroup\$
    – daze413
    Jul 27, 2015 at 5:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ @daze413 Among many tables, metagaming is not seen as a bad thing, and in fact may be standard fare for play. We embrace that fact. Something seeming like metagaming is therefore not itself a problem. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 27, 2015 at 5:10

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