A Guide to Spare the Dying in 5e, Priestess enshrouded by holy magic

A Player’s Guide to the Spare the Dying Cantrip in D&D 5e

Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition has a variety of ways for stabilizing a creature once they fall unconscious due to getting reduced to 0 hit points. Possibly the best back-up method after outright healing spells is the spare the dying cantrip available to Artificers and Clerics.
 
But, how does spare the dying work? When should you use it? And, what classes can use it?
 
This article covers everything you need to know about the spare the dying cantrip in D&D 5e.

Let’s start things off by looking at the explicit cantrip description for spare the dying.

Spare the Dying Cantrip Description

Spare the Dying is a cantrip in D&D 5e which stabilizes a creature that has fallen Unconscious due to reaching 0 hit points. It’s a staple spell for easily surviving combat encounters in emergency situations.

Here is the spell description as found in the Player’s Handbook and DnD Beyond:

  • Level: Cantrip
  • Cast Time: 1 action
  • Range: Touch
  • Components: Verbal, Somatic
  • Duration: Instantaneous

You touch a living creature that has 0 hit points. The creature becomes stable. This spell has no effect on undead or constructs.

Source: DnD Beyond | Spells – Spare the Dying

How Does Spare the Dying Work in 5e?

Spare the Dying works like any other cantrip. The caster simply needs to declare they wish to cast the cantrip, must be able to touch their target, and must have their action available to use.

There’s a bit of confusion of exactly how spare the dying works.

On the surface, it seems fairly straight forward. It takes an action and requires the caster to touch their target to cast it. Once they do so, their target stabilizes, meaning they essentially succeed all 3 of their death saves, but stay unconscious and at 0 hit points.

But, that all actually causes the confusion. So, let’s go over exactly what the spare the dying cantrip does.

What Does Spare the Dying Do?

The spare the dying cantrip stabilizes a creature at 0 hit points. This means that creature stops making death saving throws as if they have succeeded on all 3 but the creature does not regain any hit points as a result of the cantrip.

Basically, spare the dying does exactly 2 things:

  1. Stabilizes a creature who fell Unconscious due to damage
  2. Resets an affected creature’s death saving throws

That’s it.

It doesn’t heal any hit points or restore consciousness to a targeted creature.

How Do You Use Spare the Dying?

To use spare the dying the caster usually just needs to use their action and touch their target.

It’s honestly as easy as that. Being a cantrip, a caster has no limit on the number of times they may cast spare the dying in a single adventuring day. All they need to do is make sure they have their action available and touch their target.

What to Do After Using Spare the Dying?

After casting spare the dying, the rest of the party may want to focus on preventing the affected creature from taking damage, either through protection or moving them, as they’ll have to start making saving throws again.

Ideally, the first thing you should do after using spare the dying on an Unconscious creature is to heal them. But, if you had an easy way of healing the target, you’d probably do that instead of using spare the dying in the first place.

So, let’s assume you don’t have an easy way of healing an Unconscious creature.

First, you’ll want to figure out some way of protecting the newly stabilized creature. If the creature takes any damage, they’ll stop being stable and have to start making death saves again.

Page 197 of the Player’s Handbook outlines these rules:

A stable creature doesn’t make death saving throws, even though it has 0 hit points, but it does remain unconscious. The creature stops being stable, and must start making death saving throws again, if it takes any damage.

Source: DnD Beyond | Basic Rules – Chapter 9: Combat

So, keeping hostile creatures away from the stabilized target is important. Which leads to the second thing you could try to do: move the stabilized creature away from combat.

If your character is capable, moving a creature stabilized by spare the dying or other means is a good way of protecting them and keeping them from taking unnecessary damage. Removing them from direct combat is a good method of keeping a stabilized creature, well, stable and prevent them from resuming making death saves.

When to Use Spare the Dying

Casters typically want to use spare the dying when no other healing options are available. This is because this cantrip doesn’t actually heal the target and it requires the caster to touch the affected creature, making any healing spells, especially ranged ones, preferable choices.

Ideally, you won’t have to use spare the dying to save an Unconscious ally. You’d have healing word or cure wounds or even a Healer’s Kit with the Healer feat. But, things are rarely ideal during combat in D&D 5e.

So, you’ll want to use spare the dying when a friendly creature (usually a fellow player character) falls unconscious and you don’t have access to any sort of healing methods. Usually, this means you’re out of spell slots to use a spell which actually restores hit points like healing word or heal or you don’t have the Healer feat and a Healer’s Kit.

Having spare the dying is a better alternative to making a Wisdom (Medicine) check to stabilize a creature as its guaranteed. A skill check has a chance of failing.

This means you should use spare the dying when you don’t have any healing spells but have the option to not make an ability check.

What Classes Have Spare the Dying?

The spare the dying cantrip is only available on the Artificer and Cleric spell lists.

Pretty clear here. Only the Artificer and Cleric classes have spare the dying in their spell lists.

Technically speaking, any character could get access to spare the dying through the Magic Initiate feat. But, you’d still need to pick Cleric to grab the cantrip.

Not even the Bard’s Magical Secrets feature has the ability to get spare the dying as it only allows a character to choose spells. Technically, cantrips don’t generally count as spells, but your Game Master may rule otherwise.

Now, the Paladin may get spare the dying if you choose the Blessed Warrior Fighting Style from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything.

Spare the Dying vs Healer’s Kit

Spare the Dying essentially does the same thing as the Healer’s Kit except the former has unlimited uses. However, when paired with the Healer feat, the Healer’s Kit then allows a character to restore hit points as well when stabilizing a dying creature.

At its most basic, a Healer’s Kit does the same thing as spare the dying. As an action, a creature may use their kit to stabilize a creature at 0 hit points without making a Wisdom (Medicine) check. The caveat is a Healer’s Kit only has 10 uses. Compared with spare the dying’s unlimited uses, it’s strictly worse and really only serves as a back-up if none of the player characters have access to spare the dying.

That said, if you pair a Healer’s Kit with the Healer feat, it becomes much better than spare the dying.

Basically, the Healer feat also restores a hit point when stabilizing a creature with a Healer’s Kit and has the ability to restore hit points to a creature once per rest. Of course, these each expend a use of the kit, so you’re still restricted to 10 uses before needing to buy another. But, the healing aspects of taking the Healer feat and using a Healer’s Kit outweigh the drawbacks.

When weighted against each other, a Healer’s Kit is a great fallback plan if the party’s healer can’t use spare the dying for whatever reason. On the other hand, even a non-spellcaster with the Healer feat becomes a good health-restoring character when using a Healer’s Kit, sometimes even more preferable than the typical healing classes. But, bear in mind the limited number of uses you have with a kit compared with a cantrip.

Is Spare the Dying Good?

Yes, spare the dying is a good cantrip. While there are better options in leveled spells, it’s fantastic to have on-hand as a back-up in case you don’t have any option methods of stabilizing or healing an Unconscious creature.

Spare the Dying is generally considered a great cantrip to have on hand. For some, its even considered as a mandatory pick especially if you’re playing a healer character or no one else in your party has it.

This cantrip is good because it removes the uncertainty of succeeding as a Wisdom (Medicine) check to stabilize a character, has an unlimited number of uses, and serves as a good back-up when you’re out of spell slots for casting healing spells.

Spare the Dying 5e FAQ

Is Spare the Dying a Bonus Action?

By default, no; spare the dying is not a bonus action. It usually takes an action to cast. However, the Grave Domain Cleric does get the ability to cast it as a bonus action.

By default, spare the dying is an action to cast. The only exceptions are the Grave Domain Cleric’s Circle of Mortality feature which turns it into a bonus action and using the Sorcerer’s Quickened Spell Metamagic option which uses 2 Sorcery Points to shorten the casting time of a spell from an action to a bonus action. That said, the latter requires either multiclassing into a Sorcerer or Cleric or taking the Magic Initiate feat and choose a class with access to spare the dying.

How Much Health Do You Revive With Using Spare the Dying?

Spare the Dying does not restore any hit points. So, a targeted creature does not revive with any hit points when affected by this cantrip; they become stable but remain unconscious at 0 hit points.

A creature targeted by spare the dying doesn’t regain any hit points. They become stable, yes, but they remain Unconscious and at 0 hit points.

Does Spare the Dying Reset Death Saves?

Yes, spare the dying resets death saves. Once a creature becomes stable, their death saving throws reset and spare the dying specifically stabilizes a target creature.

The rules for stabilizing state a creature’s death saving throws reset to zero when they either regain any hit points or become stable. Since spare the dying stabilizes a creature, this means their death saves reset as well.

 

Summary of Spare the Dying in 5e

That about covers everything you need to know about spare the dying.

Spare the Dying is a cantrip in D&D 5e available to the Artificer and Cleric classes by default. It takes an action to cast on a creature within 5 feet of the caster and stabilizes a creature at 0 hit points, meaning the target stops making death saving throws and their saves reset back to 0. However, it doesn’t actually restore any hit points, meaning the target remains Unconscious and at 0 health.

Is spare the dying a staple cantrip in your arsenal of spells? What was a moment when it came in clutch at the best possible moment? Leave a comment below to share you tales!

Make sure to follow Role Player’s Respite for more mechanics breakdowns, rules clarifications, and inspiration for your game!

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