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In the course of an answer to this question about ways to gain advantage on death saving throws, the following was proposed to gain advantage on a death saving throw:

Alternatively, you could be a Wild Magic Sorcerer, and use Tides of Chaos.

Starting at 1st level, you can manipulate the forces of chance and chaos to gain advantage on one attack roll, ability check, or saving throw. (PHB p. 103)

The problem to resolve:

Being at 0 hit points includes the condition unconscious. The condition unconscious includes the condition incapacitated. Being subject to those two conditions means that the Wild Magic Sorcerer has the following constraints to overcome in order to apply Wild Magic's Tides of Chaos to his death saving throw.

Unconscious (Appendix A p. 292, attack vulnerability not germane to this Q)

  • An unconscious creature is incapacitated (see the condition), can’t move or speak, and is unaware of its surroundings.
  • The creature drops whatever it’s holding and falls prone.
  • The creature automatically fails Strength and Dexterity saving throws.

Incapacitated (Appendix A p. 291)

  • An incapacitated creature can’t take actions or reactions.

Is using the Tides of Chaos an action, a reaction, or is it something else?

Raw Magic
Magic is a part of every sorcerer, suffusing body, mind and spirit with a latent power that waits to be tapped. (PHB p. 99)

Tides of Chaos is a "once per long rest" ability. Because it is Wild Magic, which is a bit unpredictable, and because it is a bit "meta-gamey" in that its function is to changes die rolls, and because a Sorcerer's magic is something inherent to the Sorcerer ...

Does Tides of Chaos' characteristic as a class feature get around the problem of being unable to act for an unconscious/incapacitated character (who wants to use it to get advantage for a death saving throw) or does being the character being unconscious trump all of that?


1 Options for action being described in "Your Turn" (Basic Rules p. 69-70)

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  • \$\begingroup\$ @nitsua60 yes, we are in combat time, or out of combat time. True for either case. Part of what I have in the other question has to do with the marked difference between 0 HP and 1 HP. Should I specify "in combat" to make that clearer? \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Aug 9 '16 at 15:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ the matter of death saves in an out of combat was addressed in this question, if that's any help. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Aug 9 '16 at 16:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ I apologize: I feel like I totally made you mangle the pithy ending to your post--I suggest you coe back to it tomorrow and write the ending you think best captures your question. (a la George, "Alright! That's it for me!") \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Aug 10 '16 at 2:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ @nitsua60 Not your problem, mine, and Adeptus' response makes me realize that I may have just gotten it wrong in how I asked it. I tried again, ,and apologies to all in getting that last bit of the question better formulated. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Aug 10 '16 at 2:39
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Yes, using Tides of Chaos is legitimate in this situation, at least until we get official errata that states otherwise (I could not find any). While you generally can't do "anything" whilst at zero hit points, you're still clinging on to (what may be your last moments of) life; you can still use your wild magic to tip the scales in your favor.

Tides of Chaos is not an ability, spell, action, or reaction, but instead is a class feature, like a rogue's Sneak Attack, for example (i.e. it modifies a specific circumstance in the class' favor). Since the RAW states it can be used for saves, this surely must include a Death Saving Throw, because it is classified as a type of save.

Granted, you can realistically only use it one time until you gain at least one hit point, since a recharge is only allowed after casting spells or a long rest, but I think it'd be exciting to use it right when you have two failures and two successes, barely pulling your character back from the brink of death...

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The sorcerer's death saving throw can use Tides of Chaos.

That's because it's not the character who is acting, it's the player. It's not explicitly spelled out, but there's a chain of reasoning that gets us there:

  1. In class descriptions, "you" sometimes refers to players, sometimes to characters. This is patently clear from reading almost any paragraph in any class description. As an example, look at the second paragraph of Tides of Chaos:

    you roll on the Wild Magic Surge table immediately after you cast a sorcerer spell...

    The first "you" clearly refers to the player, as the table is absolutely a metagame construct. The second "you" clearly refers to the character, as the player doesn't actually know how to cast any spells.

    Or consider the very first "non-flavor" line of the Sorcerer description: "the most important question to consider when creating your sorcerer is the origin of your power. The first "your": player. The second "your": character.

  2. In each usage, then, of "you[r]" we must evaluate who's being specified in context. For the salient clause of Tides of Chaos, we have

    you... gain advantage...

    Generally, then, who gets advantage: the player or the character?

    When you have either advantage or disadvantage, you roll a second d20... (PHB, p.7)

    Working our way backwards, the character certainly isn't the one rolling a d20 - the player is - so it's also the player who has advantage or disadvantage.

  3. Back to Tides of Chaos: who's "manipulating the forces of chance and chaos?" Well, the same person that'd "gain advantage on one attack roll, ability check, or saving throw." That's the player.

    If it seems strange to think of a player "manipulating the forces of chance," just think about the actual action the player takes: grabbing a second d20!


However...

There's a pretty weak part of this argument: in point 2, when I say "so it's also the player who has...." the argument infers from this sentence that both uses of "you" refer to the same entity--the player in this case. But we've seen plenty of examples of sentences in the PHB where two different uses of "you1" clearly refer to different entities!

If the above argument hinges upon knowing that one sentence uses "you" consistently, and the argument recognizes that the book does not consistently use the word, that's some pretty shaky ground to stand on.

I find it a plausible argument, though not necessarily compelling.


1 - "The two what? What was that word?" ... "The two 'you's."

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  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ As a DM, I'd probably force a roll on the surge table. You're unconscious and just used Tides of Chaos. No control over the magic coursing through your body. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Aug 9 '16 at 13:07
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Using Tides of Chaos is not any sort of action. It is a class feature that modifies a saving throw (or other roll).

The feature says nothing about it consuming any action or taking any time, therefore it is instantaneous (or simultaneous with the roll being modified).

Saving throws don't require an action, therefore neither does a Tides of Chaos-modified saving throw.

This still doesn't answer the question of whether it can be used while unconscious, but removes your stated reason for doubting whether it can. Looking at the letter of the rules, it is not trying to do anything that the Unconscious condition stops you from doing, so it should still be able to be used.

(From an in-universe explanation, you could argue that it is the sorcerer's Raw Magic autonomously manifesting itself through "body, mind and spirit" to protect them.)

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I liked all three answers and can only accept 1. +1 for this one in any event. I very much agree with the in Universe explanation as alluded to in the question. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Aug 10 '16 at 12:13

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