[RPG] Can phenomenal amounts of damage still be non-lethal


As a follow up to this question: is it possible to deal non-lethal damage even after dealing an enormous amount of damage to a target in a single turn?

Best Answer


There are a few rules that might apply here. The first is the Instant Death rule on p. 197 of the PHB:

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.

Note that this is primarily a rule for player characters; the default rule for how damage affects monsters is on the next page:

Most DMs have a monster die the instant it drops to 0 hit points, rather than having it fall unconscious and make death saving throws.

Since most of the time monsters and NPCs are dead as soon as an attack takes them to 0 HP (recalling that there are no negative HP in 5e), the instant death rule doesn't apply to them.

Finally, there is the rule for Knocking a Creature Out, also on p.198:

Sometimes an attacker wants to incapacitate a foe, rather than deal a killing blow. When an attacker reduces a creature to 0 hit points with a melee attack, the attacker can knock the creature out. The attacker can make this choice the instant the damage is dealt. The creature falls unconscious and is stable.

So, normally when a monster takes damage that would reduce its HP to 0, it dies. If it's from a melee attack, you as the attacker have the option of just knocking them unconscious. The amount of damage isn't a factor at all, since it doesn't apply to monsters or NPCs.

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