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D&D is well-known for having incredibly vague and weird rules about how death is defined. Using an extremely pedantic and legalistic reading of the 4th Edition rules as written, what exactly are you able to do while you are dead?

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Based on my research, it appears that death is not actually a condition and thus being dead does nothing. It is difficult to prove a negative in this sense, but I could find nothing that really defines it.

Although there are many places where being dead is called out such as in the Dying and Death section: (PHB pg. 295)

...additional damage he or she takes continues to reduce that current hit point total until the adventurer dies.

or places where it is "removed" such as in the Revive power: (Divine Power pg. 41):

The target regains enough hit points to bring his or her current hit point total to his or her bloodied value. If the target is dead, he or she revives, then regains the hit points, and is considered not to have failed any death saving throws during this encounter.

it does not appear to actually be a condition that is defined anywhere in the books except by how you can have it removed. The closest we get to a definition is in the Dying and Death category which enumerates some of main ways of having the "dead condition" as a PC:

  1. Falling below your negated bloodied value in hit points
  2. Failing death saving throws before a short or extended rest

From this lack of definition, we can only really assume that it does nothing, and since it never removes the Dying (or any other conditions), you would still have to deal with those as normal.

For PCs, this means that will still have all the disadvantages of the Dying condition (Rules Compendium pg. 231):

  1. The creature is unconscious.
  2. The creature must make death saving throws.
  3. This condition ends immediately on the creature when it regains hit points.

until they are healed, upon which they will still be "dead" but not dying, and thus no longer unconscious, they will have hit points, etc.

Interestingly, the Dying header also states that monsters "normally die when they reach zero hit points", but as death is not particularly defined, this would not appear to do anything to impair their effectiveness, meaning they can continue to fight while Dead and may be immune (depending on your definition of "exceptional circumstances") to any effects of the Dying condition.

As was mentioned above, being dead does allow you to do some things you would not normally be able to do such as being revived by Raise Dead, and it does not appear to interfere with normal life; you can still take extended rests, short rests, recover/use healing surges, etc.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Do the books actually say "dead condition", as you're quoting in the middle of your answer? Are you quoting them or using scare quotes? IIRC, dead is not a condition you can have, but it is a state you can be in. Like, I can be sitting down, or holding a weapon - these are states, but they're not conditions. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 5, 2016 at 7:15

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