In honor of Joe Manganiello’s recent appearance on Stephen Colbert’s Late Show, let’s dive into the mechanics of death saves. While we explored ways to make death more interesting back in January, we’ll explore the mechanics of death saves in this issue, while comparing them to Tomb of Annihilation’s Meat Grinder mode.
Death saving throws start on your next turn after you’ve fallen in combat. You can live by stabilizing or reviving. Ignoring external fixes, death saves allow you to do this with a best-of-five mechanic. A death save is a DC 10 check with no bonus. If you roll three successes before three failures, you stabilize and live. If you roll a 20, you gain 1 Hit Point and you’re revived.
Tomb of Annihilation released Meat Grinder mode, which bumps the death save DC to 15:
How Much Harder?
How much harder is meat grinder mode? Your odds to live go from 59.5% to 25.8% as the DC increases. Here’s how likely you are to revive on a round-by-round basis:
Alternatives to Meat Grinder
Some DMs don’t like increasing DCs as a solution because it can feel unfair to the players. Fear not, there are alternatives!
You can give death saves more gravity by making them punitive.
- Each time you fail a death save, you gain a level of exhaustion.
- Death saves don’t reset normally. Alternatives:
- Each time you rest, you reset one death save.
- Each time you rest, you reset all death saves.
- Death saves can only be removed by strong magic (i.e. Greater Restoration).
If you have any other ideas, leave them in the comments!