On Death's Door


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On Death's Door

Every adventurer worth his salt knows that life is cheap. To pretend otherwise is the height of foolishness. However, even characters on the brink of death are capable of great sacrifice and heroic last stands.

Dropping to 0 Hit Points

When you drop to 0 hit points:

  • You gain the On Death's Door status condition
  • Your concentration is broken
  • You must make immediately make a death saving throw
On Death's Door
  • When On Death's Door, a character temporarily gains three levels of Exhaustion.
  • These levels of Exhaustion are removed if the character regains at least 1 Hit Point.

Massive Damage Massive damage can kill you instantly. 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.

For example, a cleric with a maximum of 12 hit points currently has 6 hit points. If she takes 18 damage from an attack, she is reduced to 0 hit points, but 12 damage remains. Because the remaining damage equals her hit point maximum, the cleric is mortally wounded.

Alternately, a ranger with a maximum of 12 hit points currently has 0 hit points and is On Death's Door. If he takes 12 damage from an attack, the damage equals his hit point maximum and the ranger is mortally wounded.


Death Saving Throws

While On Death's Door, you may be asked to make a special saving throw, called a death saving throw, to determine whether you creep closer to death. Unlike other saving throws, this one isn’t tied to any ability score. You are in the hands of fate now, aided only by spells and features that improve your chances of succeeding on a saving throw. Death saving throws are not affected by the disadvantage imposed from Exhaustion.

Death Saving Throw
d20 Outcome
1 You gain two Death Points
2-9 You gain one Death Point
10-19 No change
20 You regain 1 hit point

Acting while On Death's Door. Characters with the on Death's Door condition are able to move and take the Dash, Disengage and Dodge actions without penalty.

If you choose to make an ability check, use an item, make an attack action, cast a spell or use a bonus action, you are dangerously overexerting yourself. After your action is completed, make a death saving throw.

Damage on Death's Door. If you take any damage while you have 0 hit points, you accumulate one Death Point. If the damage is from a critical hit, you accumulate two Death Points instead. If the damage equals or exceeds your hit point maximum, you are instantly mortally wounded.

Death Points

Death Points represent your character creeping closer to their demise.

Accumulating Death Points. When you accumulate three Death Points, you are mortally wounded.

Getting rid of Death Points. All Death Points are removed at the end of a long rest.

Mortally Wounded

When a character receives a mortal wound, they are beyond help from ordinary or magical healing. They are stabbed in the heart, have a limb severed, cleaved in twain or worse. At most, they have only a minute to live. There may perhaps be time to deliver some final words, say goodbye, or use the last of their power to bring the castle crashing down around them.

Only resurrection magic is capable of curing a mortal wound.

On Death's Door: Use in your game

The Death's Door variant rules are designed to allow the players to participate in combat after they drop to 0, and to feel the stress of 'Fight or Flight'. While players will actually be slightly more difficult to kill, it creates the feeling of just barely surviving deadly situations.

NPCs and Death

Most DMs have a monster die the instant it drops to 0 hit points, rather than having it make death saving throws, which means most creatures are assumed to require 0 Death Points to perish. If a typical monster gains 1 Death Point by any means, they die.

Mighty villains and special nonplayer characters are common exceptions; the DM might have them be on Death's Door and follow the same rules as player characters. At the DM's discretion, they may need to accumulate 1-4 Death Points before perishing.

Knocking a Creature Unconscious

If the attack would deal the final Death Point that would kill a creature, the attacker can declare the attack to be non-lethal and knock them out instead.

Rules Conflicts

These rules by and large do not interfere with other systems and mechanics in the rules of Dungeons and Dragons. The very few exceptions I've found are listed below.

Dying and Stabilizing

These variant rules eliminate the concept of 'dying' and 'stabilizing'.

Mechanically speaking, in the vanilla rules the 'dying' status has always felt like a character has received a "Schodinger's Mortal Wound". They may or may not be actually dying, and a player who is holding in their guts needs only a Goodberry to be back in the fray. Not only that, but it's not fun as a player to have your turn skipped.

Healer's Kit

The Healer's Kit is intended to help stabilize dying players. This variant uses part of the Healer Feat to help make it useful, while keeping the idea of the medic patching someone up to get them out of harm's way.

Healer's Kit (Variant)

This kit is a leather pouch containing bandages, salves, and splints. The kit has ten uses. As an action, you can expend one use of the kit on a creature on Death's Door. That creature gains 1 Hit Point.


Healer Feat

The Healer Feat is intended to make Healing Kits more useful. This variant is based on a blog post by Chris Perkins.

Healer (Variant)
  • You have advantage on all Wisdom (Medicine) checks.
  • When you use a healer’s kit on a creature On Death's Door, that creature also regains 1d6+4 hit points.
  • As an action, you can spend one use of a healer’s kit to tend to a creature and restore 1d6 + 4 hit points to it, plus additional hit points equal to the creature’s maximum number of Hit Dice. The creature can’t regain hit points from this feat again until it finishes a short or long rest.

Spare the Dying

The cantrip Spare the Dying is intended to help stabilize dying creatures. However, these variant rules eliminate the 'dying' condition.

The original spell is intended to let players help an ally who is already in a dire situation. This alternative is intended to keep the spirit of the original spell and keeping its balance, while working within the new framework.

Rally the Dying

Necromancy cantrip

  • Casting Time: 1 reaction
  • Range: 60 feet
  • Components: V
  • Duration: Instantaneous

You boost the life spark of one creature you can see within range that is making a Death Saving Throw. That creature has Advantage on that Death Saving Throw.

Rage Beyond Death

The Path of the Zealot Barbarian from Xanathar's Guide to Everything gains the Rage Beyond Death ability at 14th level. Here's how to adapt it to your game.

Rage Beyond Death

Beginning at 14th level, the divine power that fuels your rage allows you to shrug off fatal blows.

While you're raging, having 0 hit points and being on Death's Door does not give you three levels of temporary Exhaustion. You still must make death saving throws, and you suffer the normal effects of taking damage while at 0 hit points. However, if you would die due to accumulating Death Points, you don't die until your rage ends. If you end your rage with 1 or more Hit Points, remove one Death Point.

On Death's Door: Variant Rules

Listed below are a couple of variant rules that you might employ depending on the style of game you want to run.

Death Points

How a player gets rid of Death Points makes a big difference in the way the threat that Death Points represent are viewed. Here are three simple tweaks you can make to better suit your game style.

Variant: Lingering Injuries

You remove one Death Point at the end of a Long Rest.

Variant: Heroic

During a short rest, you may expend a Hit Die to remove one Death Point. All Death Points are removed at the end of a long rest.

Variant: Unstoppable

You remove all Death Points at the end of a Short or Long Rest.

Optional Creature Attacks & Abilities

Certain creatures such as a Bodak, Catoblepas, Death Knight, or others may have abilities that give players Death Points.

This can be dramatic - imagine a Banshee's wail giving all players who hear it a Death Point as their heart skips a beat, threatening to stop in their chests. If you wish to give a monster an attack that inflicts Death Points, be careful not to make it disproportionately powerful. It should be considered approximately equivalent to granting a dangerous status effect or granting a level of Exhaustion, and should be treated with care not to make it too easy for an enemy to give a large number of Death Points in a short amount of time.

Knocking Players Unconscious

Sandman. When this creature reduces a target to 0 hp, they may choose to knock their target unconscious.

This is a passive ability that should be used sparingly as it bypasses Death Points. Players being knocked unconscious is generally not fun and these rules exist to avoid that situation. However, I can understand the DM's desire to have a creature knock a player unconscious for dramatic purposes, to be kidnapped, or for other nefarious reasons. In such a situation, a DM may want to give a creature this ability. Consider however, that if you are using these rules and you want the ability to knock players unconscious, On Death's Door may not be a good fit for your table.

Spell Variants

The following spell variants are recommended modifications, but not required for play.

Greater Restoration

Greater Restoration is modified so that in addition to all it's previous effects, it is also able to remove death points. This is the only feature, aside from a wish spell that can remove death points during combat. However, if you've managed to get a 5th level spell slot, you've earned it.

Greater Restoration

5th level abjuration

  • Casting Time: 1 action
  • Range: Touch
  • Components: V, S, M (diamond dust worth at least 100 gp, which the spell consumes)
  • Duration: Instantaneous

You imbue a creature you touch with positive energy to undo a debilitating effect. You can reduce the target’s exhaustion level by one, remove one death point, or end one of the following effects on the target:

  • One effect that charmed or petrified the target
  • One curse, including the target’s attunement to a cursed magic item
  • Any reduction to one of the target’s ability scores
  • One effect reducing the target’s hit point maximum


Revivify is modified so that while it can bring the dead back from life, it's primary function is to heal a mortal wound. Subtle distinction, but for me it improves the flavor.


3rd level necromancy

  • Casting Time: 1 action
  • Range: Touch
  • Components: V, S, M (diamonds worth 300 gp, which the spell consumes)
  • Duration: Instantaneous

You touch a creature that was mortally wounded within the last minute. That creature is healed, or returns to life with 1 hit point. This spell can’t return to life a creature that has died of old age, nor can it restore any missing body parts.




These rules were made possible thanks to the reddit D&D communities, including /r/DND, /r/DNDnext, /r/DNDbehindthescreen, /r/UnearthedArcana and more. Thank you to everyone who has looked at these rules and helped make them the best they can be!

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