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Imagine that a PC gets reduced to 0 hit points during a battle. The battle continues for a couple more rounds and they roll their death saves, one success and one failure (not sure if this part of the question is relevant).

Then the rest of the party defeats the last enemy and battle is over. Now what?

  1. Does the downed PC keep rolling death saves until they strike 3 one way or the other?
  2. Does everyone else repeatedly roll for Medicine to stabalise the dying PC?
  3. Or (as we've been ruling it) they are just assumed to become stabilised because combat is over (I'm fairly certain this probably isn't RAW or RAI though).

I've looked through the PHB and I've only managed to find descriptions of being stabilised during combat, not after it.

Ideally I'd like a rule quoted (or a tweet or something) to point to where such a thing is outlined in the rules, if it is written anywhere.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ related: what is the probability of surviving my death saves? \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Apr 19 '17 at 14:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ "I've looked through the PHB and I've only managed to find descriptions of being stabilised during combat, not after it." What makes you think the rules change whether you're in combat or not? \$\endgroup\$ – LegendaryDude Apr 19 '17 at 15:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ Here's a thought. If everyone just carried a Healer's Kit with them, then nobody would die. Healer's Kit = no need for a Medicine check, you auto-stabilize a dying creature with your action. :) \$\endgroup\$ – user27327 Apr 19 '17 at 16:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ The mistake you are making is believing that combat ends when all the enemies are dead/gone. It might make more sense to say that the end of combat is when there is nothing else combat related going on. And 'dying from wounds sustained in combat' is combat related. \$\endgroup\$ – Shane Apr 19 '17 at 20:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NathanS - Combat lasts 6 seconds per round, not per turn. The distinction is very important. \$\endgroup\$ – Lino Frank Ciaralli Apr 20 '17 at 13:52
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Keep the drama, because dying is dramatic!

The stabilization rules would remain the same whether in or out of combat. Given the importance of that, I would recommend following initiative order until the the PC(s) have stabilized through medicine checks or healing spells/potions/abilities.

However, handwaving stabilization wouldn't be the end of the world - although it does signify that there is absolutely no more combat occurring, which would remove some drama. Keep it going, keep them worried; end result is the same.

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    \$\begingroup\$ As an anecdote, one of my party died this way. Two medicine checks with advantage, two failed death saves (one with advantage due to Inspiration; he already had 1 failed death save from taking damage), followed by a DM-ruled last second DC 15 Medicine check to bring him back. All checks failed. The dice really wanted him to day that day. \$\endgroup\$ – user27327 Apr 19 '17 at 13:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1; I agree with this reasoning and like the answer, although I was hoping for some backing from a quote or tweet or something. Your first non-bold sentence implies that you may know of such a quote. On the other hand, I suppose I didn't explicitly say that I wanted a quote in my question; maybe I should update the question to reflect that... \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Apr 19 '17 at 13:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NathanS It's more that the rules DON'T say there is a change in system for death save mechanics. Without any explicit rules for change, the rules stay the same. And Markovchain's comment above - it's a specific real world example of why there is still a chance of failure. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Apr 19 '17 at 13:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ I see, in that case your answer addresses everything. I'll hold of accepting for a bit in case anyone else has a good answer (I'm aware that once an accepted answer has been chosen, people tend not to want to answer, and I think SE prefers that you hold off a bit for that reason). \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Apr 19 '17 at 13:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ @markovchain In the LOTR movies, Boromir died like that, after combat. You can even see the failed medicine check in Aragorn's eyes when he examines him. \$\endgroup\$ – xDaizu Apr 19 '17 at 16:27
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Carry on initiative until the player is stable or dead!

This happened in my last session, one player was down with 1 success and 1 failure when the rest of the party cleared up.
The downed player was next on the initiative rolls, so I jokingly mentioned he best not roll a nat 1... boy did I feel mean clearing up his character sheet after that.

However, the PHB does state that if a player takes 10 times as long to complete an action as they would normally take, they automatically pass (under certain circumstances) - so to my mind once all enemies are cleared, your player with the highest medicine check could spend a minute stabilising a character and succeed for definite. Perhaps you could use this to negate the need for all the rolling if you feel that makes it feel too RNG reliant.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1; I like the second paragraph a lot, since it makes sense that if you're tending to a dying character when not in the heat of battle, you can take your time and do it right rather than a quick 6-second job. That would be more in line with my 3rd option, but without hand-waving it away as we've been doing. \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Apr 19 '17 at 15:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ The problem with the 'minute of attempts' is that the downed player does not have a minute if they fail their saving throw 3 times (see Markovchain's comment in my answer). THey may be able to finally succeed their medicine check, but it's after the PC has died. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Apr 19 '17 at 15:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ that's true, a minute would equate to a full 10 combat turns. Also, it's much more likely that the downed character will be saved by each character in turn attempting a medicine check between each death saving roll. I'm just trying to breathe a little life into the RNG side of dying. Perhaps you could simply hold off death saving rolls while your friend is attempting to stabilise you, under the assumption that with all his concentration on it you aren't bleeding out as rapidly as you would be were you on the floor alone? \$\endgroup\$ – Cian Apr 19 '17 at 15:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch I personally didn't read this as 'minute of attempts', implying that someone is repeating Medicine rolls, rather that it's a minute of a PC focusing on taking care of the downed PC using their Medicine skill without a roll. I can see your point about the downed PC dying in < 1 minute anyway, but I see this as the difference between a minute's worth of continual medical attention vs a minute's worth of separate 6-second attempts. Maybe this is coming down to interpretation where there is no clear "right" answer? Although this still diminishes the dramatic effect your answer mentioned. \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Apr 19 '17 at 15:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ The idea of death saving throws is stabilizing (or failing to) without any kind of attention. Unless you're cleaving very strongly to RAW, the idea that a medic who is not threatened could take the time to do it right isn't out of whack. It could be a touch-and-go situation the whole minute, but the idea that somebody is going to up and die in a six second window with somebody actively working to stop it is a little silly. \$\endgroup\$ – T.J.L. Apr 19 '17 at 20:59
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The simple solution I use is that I keep initiative going. The downed player keeps rolling death STs on their turn, and the other players can move over to them and make medicine checks to try to help them out.

But if a member of the party has a healing potion or healing spell and wants to use it, then I drop out of initiative and narrate how they go over to their fallen friend and tend to them. Because there's no reason to bog down the game by forcing the three people between the downed character and your healer/potion holder to take their turns.

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Solution by technicality: they're still in combat

A (combat) encounter is only resolved when the danger has abated and the task has been resolved. If someone is bleeding out, they're still in danger. Ergo, the encounter has not completed, and it continues on. In particular, the combat is ongoing because the threat posed by the opponents has not ceased. This is similar to any effects (magical or mundane) which persist after the evident opponents are killed or driven off. If there's a blade barrier still going, or an alchemist's fire burning, that would affect a player where he is standing, he still needs to get out of that area and survive it. Same issue with the dying character. The combat only ends once all opponents are defeated and all threats to the party members have been neutralized. So keep running the combat until this has been achieved.

People really can die in a matter of seconds

But you may think "oh, the only threat is bleeding out, and it seems silly to let a guy die in a matter of seconds when there's nothing else threatening him." Well, this is exactly what happens in the real world. We don't have magical healing spells, but we have pretty amazing technology and training (in first world countries, at least), and even with doctors and/or EMTs actively trying to help the person they can still die in a matter of seconds. It is not unrealistic in the slightest to maintain that this character is in dire need of assistance and is straddling the line between life and death.

Death is legitimately hard to stop (sans magic)

Keep this in mind when considering whether to let a player "take 10" on a check to help the dying character stabilize. This is normally not something you're allowed to do when there is a penalty for failure—a failed disarm check triggers the trap, for example—or for tasks which you cannot casually take your time at. Trying to save a dying person is not something you can deal with in such a casual fashion even with advanced medical technology. Time is of the essence, and while a professional knows how to keep a cool head and a steady hand, that doesn't eliminate the need to act quickly.

It's D&D. Death is cheap.

So then you might think "oh, but a character dying is such a horrible thing! That's much too drastic!"

Unless you are using a homebrew set of rules or other very specific/custom setting, death is not a big deal for a party of adventurers. Resurrection spells are available relatively early, and there are likely several friendly NPC clerics that are high enough level that would be willing to do the resurrection (at cost, unless previous adventures they've done have left the cleric in their debt). In some settings it is reasonable to expect that there are accessible NPCs with access to the most powerful resurrection spells, which come with essentially no drawbacks.

A dead PC is not an end. It's an adventure hook!

Death is not meant to be the end of that adventurer's tale in D&D. It's meant to be a part of it, which he can continue on from. And what DM doesn't find themselves wanting for organic (rather than pre-planned and forced) ways to advance a story and send the players out on another adventure? Bringing back a dead companion is usually one of the best motivations for a party. If they can't do the resurrection themselves, or really want to use one of the higher level resurrections they don't otherwise have access to: use it to your advantage! Now's a great time to introduce a religion/character/cleric/organization/outsider/whatever that can fix their problem, and will be important later on.

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