What Happens When You Die In DND? (Explained for Beginners)

When your character dies in DND, several things happen all at once.

What happens when you die in DND?

When you die in DND, you can re-enter the game through magical healing, diety intervention, undead reanimation, or Dungeon Master discretion. A player can take on the role of a ghostly companion, a Non-Player Character, or create a new character. Character death is often significant in DND.

In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know about what happens when you die in DND.

5 Things That Happen When You Die in DND

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Five things can happen when your character kicks the bucket in DND.

In general, it’s up to your Dungeon Master (DM) to decide what options are available to you and the rest of your player group.

Here are the five things that happen when you die in DND:

  1. Your character comes back to life by magic
  2. Your character is resurrected by a deity
  3. Your character becomes a ghostly or undead companion
  4. Your character is gone forever, so you play an NPC
  5. Your character is gone forever, so you create a new one

Each option is unique and allows the player to continue the campaign with the other players.

Let’s go through each option so that you feel fully prepared to know how to handle what happens when you die in DND.

1) Your Character Comes Back To Life By Magic

The first option for what happens when you die in DND is that your character comes back to life by magic.

This can happen in a few ways, the most common being through the use of the spell such as revivify.

Other spells like raise dead and resurrection can also bring your character back to life.

We’ll go over the details of those spells in a moment.

Depending on the circumstances of your player’s death, the condition of the player’s body, and the context (is a battle raging around the player), different magic might be used to bring a player back to life.

Here’s a short example from a real-life game I played last year:

As the party enters the throne room, they see the body of their friend and ally lying motionless on the ground. Laying his hand on the fallen hero’s chest, the wizard begins to speak the words of a powerful resurrection spell. With a bright light surrounding him, the character’s body begins to contort and twist until he gasps for breath and opens his eyes.

The character is now alive again and can now continue adventuring with the rest of the party.

2) Your Character Is Resurrected By a Deity

A fellow spellcaster is not the only being that can bring a dead character back to life.

In some cases, a deity might intervene and resurrect a fallen character.

This is most often seen in situations where the character died serving the deity’s purpose or was fulfilling a quest for the deity. A deity might also resurrect a character to maintain balance in the world or to further their own agenda.

Here’s an example of a deity resurrecting a character:

Stricken by a giant hammer, the high priestess crumples to the ground, motionless. One of the characters kneels down and feels for a pulse but there is none. The other characters look on in shock as they realize their friend and ally is dead.

Suddenly, the room trembles, flooded with bright light. The high priestess sits up, cloudy eyes now bright with life.

3) Your Character Becomes a Ghostly or Undead Companion

In some cases, instead of coming back to life, your character might become a ghostly or undead companion.

This option is most often seen in campaigns with a heavy focus on the undead, such as Ravenloft.

As a ghost, your character would remain in the world of the living but would be largely invisible and incorporeal. This means that they would be unable to interact directly with physical objects or other creatures.

However, they could still serve an important role in the game.

For example, they could:

  • Spy on enemies
  • Scout behind closed doors
  • Advise the other players
  • Spook or haunt NPCs or enemies
  • Seek help when the other players are in trouble

This is also true if a character is reanimated as a zombie or skeleton. Your DM can decide if either of these options is possible in your game.

4) Your Character Is Gone Forever, So You Play an NPC

Another creative option is to take on the identity of an existing or new Non-Player Character (NPC).

This could be a vendor, town guard, or another minor character.

Playing an NPC is most often seen when there is already a crucial NPC accompanying the group.

For instance, when the players were tasked to escort a nobleman.

Or when the group heads out to rescue a wizard from a tribe of angry water pixes. Once rescued, the player with the dead character jumps into the role of the wizard.

The player would take on the role of an NPC for the rest of the game.

5) Your Character Is Gone Forever, So You Create a New Character

One of the most common things that happen when you die in DND is that you build a completely new character.

Starting from scratch, you come up with a new name, new character class,  and new personality.

This gives the player a chance to try out a different role.

Creating a brand-new character can be a lot of fun, especially if you’re starting in the middle of an ongoing campaign. The DM simply designs a re-introduction of the new character into the group in a way that makes sense within the story of the campaign.

In one of my campaigns, the DM ran an entire session built around meeting the new character.

Check out this good video about what happens when you die in DND:

YouTube video by XP to Level 3 – What Happens When You Die in DND?

What To Do When a Character Dies in Dungeons and Dragons?

Now that you know what happens when you die in DND, you still need a process for how to handle the death mechanically in the game.

Here’s a process that has worked for me and other DMs I know.

Death Saving Throw

Before your character even dies, you’ll make a death saving throw.

This is a very unique saving throw because:

  • It is not based on an ability score
  • It determines if you live or die
  • It’s all in a dice roll

To roll a death saving throw, you simply use a d20.

  • If you roll a 10 or higher, you succeed.
  • If you roll a 9 or lower, you fail.

You can also critically succeed or fail your death saving throw. To do so, you must roll a 20 (critical success) or 1 (critical failure).

When you roll a 1, you not only die, but you also fail the saving throw in the worst possible way.

Your DM might narrate an excruciating death equal to your bad-luck dice roll. On the other hand, if you roll a 20 on a death saving throw, you not only survive but you also get 1 hit point of health.

Feats, magical items, and magic can also aid your death saving throw.

Stabilize the Character

Even if your character fails a death saving throw, your character still has a fighting chance.

Your party can attempt to stabilize you with a Medicine Kit or healing spell.

While you lay unconscious and near death, one of the other players rolls a DC 10 Wisdom check. This is also known in DND parlance as a Medicine Check.

If the player rolls a successful DC Wisdom Check, your near-death character is stabilized.

Stabilized characters are still unconscious but they stop making death saving throws. They also don’t take any more damage.

In fact, after 1d4 hours, a stabilized character gains 1 Hit Point.

Heal the Character With a Spell Before They Die

As we mentioned, a better option than stabilization is to heal the dying character.

Here is a chart with some of the most common spells used to heal dying characters:

Spell NameSpell LevelSpell ClassSpell Requirements
Cure Wounds1Cleric, Paladin, Druid, Ranger, Bard1 Action, VS Components
Spare the DyingCantripCleric1 Action, V &S Components
Prayer of Healing2Cleric1 Action, V Component
Gentle Repose2Cleric, Wizard1 Action, VSM Components
Mass Cure Wounds5Bard, Druid, Cleric1 Action, VS Components
Chart: Spells to cure what happens when you die in DND

Resurrect the Character After They Die

But what happens if the other players are too late, are all out of standard healing spells, or fail their stabilization checks?

Your dead character can still come back to life through a resurrection spell.

There are actually five different types of resurrection spells:

  • Ressurection
  • Revivify
  • Reincarnate
  • Raise Dead
  • True Ressurection

Here is another chart with important details on each resurrection spell:

SpellLevelClassTime
Ressurection13Cleric, Bard< 100 years after death
Revivify5 or 9Cleric, Paladin< 1 minute after death
Reincarnate9Druid< 10 days after death
Raise Dead9, 17, 9Cleric, Paladin, Druid< 10 days after death
True Ressurection17Druid, Cleric< 200 years after death
Cast: Resurrection Spells for What happens when you die in DND

Decide What To Do With The Character and Player

If all of these options don’t work, the DM needs to decide what to do with the player.

That’s where the five options at the beginning of this article come into play.

Most of the time, a player will create a new character off to the side while the rest of the party continues the campaign.

Then, once the player is ready, the DM will introduce the new character into the group.

Process the Character Death In and Out of the Game

The death of a character is a significant event in DND.

I don’t think it should be treated casually, especially if the player has played the character for a long time.

Make no mistake about it, the death of a player character is a loss for the group.

It’s important to process the death of the character in and out of the DND game. In the game, you can narrate a funeral for the character.

Outside of the game (with the actual human players), I recommend processing emotions.

Other Creative Alternatives When Characters Die in DND

What we’ve described so far are the most common ways a character is spared from the clutches of death.

However, there are other creative alternatives:

  • Clone Spell – Your character magically creates a clone. When your primary character dies, your soul inhabits your clone.
  • Wild Magic Surge – A last-ditch effort spell, your dying spellcaster released a burst of uncontrolled magic. There is an approximately 2% chance of success with this option.
  • Magic Jar – While your body is snoozing, your soul goes into a magical jar. You can then take control of a creature in the area – up to 100 feet in any direction from your body. The creature makes a Charisma saving throw to try to stop your possession. If the creature fails its save, you gain control of its body. Otherwise, you’ll have to seek out another victim.
  • Rod of Ressurection – As you probably can guess from the name of the item, this rod allows you to resurrect a fallen player character.
  • Wish Spell – If another player has access to a Wish spell, they can use it to wish a dead comrade back to life.

What Happens After Death in DND?

After your character dies in DND, his or her soul goes to the astral plane.

The Dungeon Master’s Guide explains it this way:

Its soul departs the Material Plane, travels through the Astral Plane, and goes to abide on the plane where the creature’s deity resides. If the creature didn’t worship a deity, its soul departs to the plane corresponding to its alignment.

Therefore, a good-aligned character goes to the Seven Heavens.

If your character dies and he or she is an evil-aligned character, his or her soul goes to the Nine Hells.

There are also specific planes for each of the alignments: lawful good, chaotic good, neutral good, lawful neutral, true neutral, chaotic neutral, lawful evil, and chaotic evil.

What Happens When an Entire Party Dies in DND?

When an entire party dies in DND, it’s called a TPK or Total Party Kill.

While this is rare, it does happen.

And when it does, there will be much emotional fallout with the players, as everyone grasps that they will all need to build new characters.

Typically, after the players vent their anger and disbelief, the campaign pauses or ends.

When the players finish building new characters, either they re-join the current campaign or launch a completely new one.

FAQs About Death and DND

You might still have lingering questions about what happens in DND when you or another player dies.

Here are the answers to the most common related questions about death and DND.

Do Death Saves Reset?

Death saves reset if your character is stabilized by magic or a successful DC Wisdom (Medicine Check).

If you take damage, you might die.

However, if you roll a perfect 20 when you make a death saving throw, you gain 1 HP.

Is There a Heaven in DND?

There is a heaven in DND but it is different than what most people think of heaven in real life.

In DND, the Seven Heavens is a plane where good-aligned souls go when they die.

It is a plane of bliss and contentment.

Is There a Hell in DND?

Just like there are multiple heavens in DND, there are several different hells in DND.

The Nine Hells is a plane where evil-aligned souls go when they die.

It is a plane of torment and misery.

What Happens to a Tiefling When They Die?

When a Tiefling dies, they go to one of the outer planes just like any other character.

Chris Perkins, a Wizard of the Coast staff member, addressed this exact question on Twitter:

A tiefling’s soul goes to the afterlife (i.e., outer plane) it deserves based on its faith, actions, or alignment. For example, a tiefling who was lawful evil or who traded its soul to a devil would be damned to the Nine Hells. #WOTCstaff

What Happens When a God Dies in DND?

When a god dies in DND, several things can happen.

The god either disperses into energy fragments accessible by its followers or absorbs back into the ethereal nothingness of the multiverse.

A DM can homebrew any other possibility, as well.

Final Thoughts: What Happens When You Die in DND?

I hope these ideas help you prepare for when a character inevitably dies in one of your campaigns.

We have lots of other articles on here about DND – check some out before you go!

Related posts:

Sources

Wizards of the Coast – Player’s Handbook
Wizards of the Coast – Dungeon Master’s Guide

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