Inspired by this question about Frightened.

According to Appendix A: Conditions (SRD p. 192),

A condition lasts either until it is countered (the prone condition is countered by standing up, for example) or for a duration specified by the effect that imposed the condition.

While a character is Unconscious (SRD p. 193) it

  • Can't move or speak, and is unaware of its surroundings
  • Automatically fails Strength and Dexterity saving throws

If a PC under the effect of a persistent effect (such as the Sea Hag's Horrific Appearance) that allows for a save to be made each turn and then becomes unconscious, does the character continue to save against the effect?

Related: A similar question, but in Pathfinder


2 Answers 2


Yes, unconscious creatures still roll saving throws.

"Automatically fails Strength and Dexterity saving throws" implies that other saving throws do not automatically fail. The phrasing would be different if they intended all saves to automatically fail.

PHB p.179 states "A saving throw—also called a save—represents an attempt to resist a spell, a trap, a poison, a disease, or a similar threat. You don’t normally decide to make a saving throw; you are forced to make one..."

The ability to resist diseases, poisons and mental attacks does not stop when unconscious, and unconscious saving throws have historically been part of D&D. Also: the Dream spell's saving throw implicitly has to be done while unconscious. Same for Death Saving throws.

Your Sea Hag example though might have other considerations outside of your question. Example: Horrific Appearance says "A creature can repeat the saving throw at the end of each of its turns", implying that the save might be optional (and a DM might rule that an unconscious creature cannot make decisions). Also, the description continues with "with disadvantage if the hag is within line of sight". A DM might feel that an unconscious creature is not subject to this disadvantage.

  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ Always found it odd that an unconscious creature was not also considered blind... \$\endgroup\$
    – Slagmoth
    Commented Mar 15, 2017 at 20:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Slagmoth they are not blind, but they are oblivious to their surroundings. \$\endgroup\$
    – Reibello
    Commented Mar 15, 2017 at 20:14
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ I like this answer specifically because Unconscious calls out STR and DEX saves, implying you don't automatically fail other saves. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 15, 2017 at 20:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ Re: line of sight, you don't need to see the creature to have line of sight. Strange, yeah, but it just means could you see if you looked? See this related question: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/79986/… \$\endgroup\$
    – user27327
    Commented Mar 16, 2017 at 4:39

Default: No. But use your judgment.

A saving throw... represent an attempt to resist. (PHB p.179, emphasis mine.)

While unconscious you'll not be attempting anything, by dint of being incapacitated.

Death saves, of course, are a specifically-delineated exception.

That said, I think this is squarely within sensible territory for GM rulings. WIS save against an illusion? No attempt to discern, so automatically fails (and will be susceptible to illusion when waking up.) CON save against poison? Autonomic processes still work while unconscious, so let's keep them going.

  • 7
    \$\begingroup\$ Given that STR and DEX STs are explicitly called out as auto-fails in the description of the unconscious condition, we can infer that other STs must be allowed. This includes WIS STs (although if the ST requires you to be able to see the illusion, then obviously you cannot). \$\endgroup\$
    – Shem
    Commented Mar 15, 2017 at 20:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Shem that's a bridge too far for me--arguments by omission are inherently weak, IMO--but I don't think it's unreasonable. My rule of thumb is omission-->sensible ruling, not omission-->opposition to what was previously stated. \$\endgroup\$
    – nitsua60
    Commented Mar 15, 2017 at 20:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1, though I'd think that the character doesn't make its saving throw against the illusion until it wakes up and perceives it. I suppose that proves your point about GM rulings... \$\endgroup\$
    – Icyfire
    Commented Mar 15, 2017 at 20:25
  • 8
    \$\begingroup\$ @nitsua60, ordinarily, I would agree with you. Just because someone didn't say you couldn't, doesn't mean you can. But here we can be certain that CON, INT, WIS, and CHA STs were not intended to be included in this statement. If they were, they would have been included in the list. When some one calls out part of a list as having X property, and says nothing about the rest, we can assume that the rest of the list does not have that property. Also, just because your conscious mind is inactive or unable to control your body, does not mean your sub-conscious is inactive as well. \$\endgroup\$
    – Shem
    Commented Mar 15, 2017 at 20:29
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @Shem no, we can't be certain, but your interpretation is both rational and reasonable. So is nitsua's. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 15, 2017 at 21:56

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