Top 3 rules questions from Dungeons & Dragons fifth-edition dungeon masters

Just under a year ago, I posted the Top 3 rules questions from Dungeons & Dragons Next dungeon masters based on questions dungeon masters at Gen Con asked a panel of designers about the Dungeon & Dragons Next rules. With Next now available as the official fifth-edition rules, some of the answers change. This post re-answers the top 3 questions DMs asked.

escape from the demon

1. What happens when a character is reduced to 0 hit points?

“When damage reduces you to 0 hit points and there is damage remaining, you die if the remaining damage equals or exceeds your hit point maximum.”

Notice that this rule avoids any talk of negative numbers. In fifth edition, negative hit points no longer exist.

Once you reach 0 hit points, you fall unconscious and must spend your turns making death saving throws. Unlike in the playtest, this is not a Constitution check, but a flat d20 roll. If you roll 10 or higher, you succeed. Otherwise you fail.

  • If you fail three saves, you die.
  • If you succeed at three saves, you stabilize at 0 hit points and stop making saves.
  • The saves do not offset each other, so if you have two successes and two failures, you lie poised between life and death.
  • Anything that damages you while you have 0 hit points counts as a failed death save and, if you were stable, destabilizes you, restarting once-a-turn death saves from 0 successes and the 1 new failure. If the damage comes from a critical hit, you suffer two failures. If the damage equals or exceeds your hit point maximum, you die.
  • A natural 20 on a save lifts you to 1 hit point.
  • A natural 1 on a save counts as two failed saves.

Fifth edition skips rules for a coupe de grace. If you want to finish an unconscious creature, you gain advantage and attacks from within 5 feet count as criticals when they hit, all as part of the Unconscious condition.

This system dispenses with the complexity of running totals of negative hit points and lets characters heal from 0, as in fourth edition. Short of massive damage, this makes characters hard to kill.

2. Can players delay?

No. Unlike earlier editions, the initiative order remains constant through a battle. If you want to hold your action, you must ready it.

3. How does readying an action work?

You can still set aside an action to trigger in response to an event, but many details work differently.

  • You take your readied action after the trigger occurs.
  • You remain at the same place in the initiative order.
  • The readied action replaces the one reaction you can use per turn. After you ready an action, you can still choose to use your reaction to do something like take an opportunity attack instead, but you may no longer take your readied action. Also, once you use your readied action, you no longer have a reaction available for things like opportunity attacks.
  • When you hold a spell ready, you must cast the spell and then concentrate on holding its effects.

Holding a spell leads to some additional complications:

  • When you choose to ready a spell, you cast it, so you spend the spell slot whether you wind up finishing the spell or letting its energy dissipate.
  • Because you can only concentrate on one spell at a time, you cannot ready a spell and maintain another.
  • While you hold a spell as a readied action, anything that can break concentration can foil your readied spell. For example, if you take damage, you must make a Constitution saving throw to keep the spell ready. The DC equals 10 or half the damage suffered, whichever is higher.
  • Presumably, you could cast a spell and hold it ready across multiple rounds, for as long as you take no other actions and can maintain concentration

The fifth edition lacks rules for disrupting spell casters, so don’t bother readying an attack to interrupt a casting.

Update: A spellcaster can hold a ready spell across multiple turns. If my ruling alone seems insufficient, look to designer Jeremy Crawford.holding a spell as a ready actio

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3 Responses to Top 3 rules questions from Dungeons & Dragons fifth-edition dungeon masters

  1. Erik says:

    Just an observation, but the rules for concentration on spells provide a mechanism for disrupting Spell Casters. This isn’t really the same as disrupting a spell before it is cast but that can be easily houseruled based on the time to prepare/cast the spell.

    ————— Basic Rules v02 pg 79 ——————————–
    Some spells require you to maintain concentration in order to keep their magic active. If you lose concentration, such a spell ends.
    If a spell must be maintained with concentration, that fact appears in its Duration entry, and the spell specifies how long you can concentrate on it. You can end concentration at any time (no action required).
    Normal activity, such as moving and attacking, doesn’t interfere with concentration. The following factors can break concentration:
    • Casting another spell that requires concentration. You lose concentration on a spell if you cast another spell that requires concentration. You can’t concentrate on two spells at once.
    • Taking damage. Whenever you take damage while you are concentrating on a spell, you must make a Constitution saving throw to maintain your concentration. The DC equals 10 or half the damage you take, whichever number is higher. If you take damage from multiple sources, such as an arrow and a dragon’s breath, you make a separate saving throw for each source of damage.
    • Being incapacitated or killed. You lose concentration on a spell if you are incapacitated or if you die.
    The DM might also decide that certain environmental phenomena, such as a wave crashing over you while you’re on a storm-tossed ship, require you to succeed on a DC 10 Constitution saving throw to maintain concentration on a spell.

  2. Ben says:

    @Erik. All true. But what I think DM David meant is you can’t ready an attack to disrupt the casting of a spell because your readied action would only occur *after* the spell-casting action of the magic-user. In other words, you can disrupt a spell that a spellcaster is concentrating upon, but cannot prevent the *casting* of a spell by – say – shooting an arrow at the spellcaster as a readied action.

  3. Ben says:

    (And if I’d ready your post more carefully, I’d seen that you already made that distinction yourself)… 😛 Never mind then.

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