Last Updated on January 10, 2023
It’s a crucial moment in the battle, and the monster strikes a critical hit. Your heart sinks as you realize that you’ve dropped to 0 hit points. Your character falls to the ground as the battle continues to rage around them. You cross your fingers that no one hits you, but your DM asks you to roll a Death Save when your turn comes around.
Some lucky people manage to play for quite a while without ever needing to roll Death Saves 5e, but if there is combat in your game, the chances are high that someday you’ll need to. We’re breaking down how you calculate Death Saves, the factors influencing them, and what it means to die in Dungeons & Dragons.
Calculating Death Saves
A Death Save is the easiest type of roll to calculate. You simply roll 1d20. If you roll a 10 or higher, it’s a success. 9 or lower is a failure.
If you look at a 5e character sheet, you’ll notice that under the Death Saves section, there are three circles under Successes and another three under Failures. Every time you roll a Death Save, you mark off one of the circles, depending on whether you succeed or fail. After three consecutive successes, your character is stabilized.
Stabilized characters are still unconscious, but they aren’t actively dying. However, if you roll three consecutive failures, your character dies. If you roll a natural 1 on the die, it counts as two failures. Additionally, if your character is damaged while making Death Saves, you mark off two failures.
On the bright side, you have a 55% chance of rolling a successful Death Save, and if you can manage to roll a natural 20, your character immediately regains consciousness and gains 1 hitpoint. Sometimes just standing up and moving out of the way can make all the difference.
Although Death Saves aren’t Ability Checks, they do count as saving throws. That means that sometimes, there are influential factors. For example, certain spells grant a creature advantage on all saving throws, so that would apply to Death Saves. The feat Lucky allows you to reroll an attack roll, Ability Check, or saving throw so that can also be used for Death Saves.
Another example of an influential factor is the Reborn lineage from Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft. One of the racial features notes that characters with that lineage have permanent advantage on Death Saves. We won’t list everything that can affect it, but you should always look at the racial, background, and class features carefully to see if anything might help in your life-or-death situation.
Dying looks different in every game. It’s up to your DM what happens to your character’s soul and how it will impact the narrative. In many cases, your fellow players will perform a spell or find a cleric to revive your character. You might need to roll a new character to join the party at lower levels or if they cannot find someone to revive you.
Under certain conditions, your character might have trouble returning to the mortal world. Depending on how willing you are to play someone new, or a temporary new character, your party members may have to undertake a journey to collect rare materials or retrieve your soul from the clutches of the afterlife.
Of course, no one ever wants their characters to die, but DnD 5e gives you plenty of ways to avoid death or have advantage on Death Saves. We advise that you keep a close eye on your hit points and hang out near your party’s healer whenever possible!