Helpless and saving throws


Rules Questions


Do characters receive saving throws while unconscious or helpless?
I've looked around the forums and could not locate an official response. The core rules state that unconscious characters are always treated as "willing targets" but not much else.

There was a related section on the D&D 3.5 FAQ but it only mentioned reflex saves can be made while helpless with a Dex of 0.


usually willing targets get no saves, that is why "willing target" gets mentioned at all


Depends on the effect and the related save.
Fort saves against poison, for example, are always rolled. Your body doesn't eagerly accept any venom just because you're sleeping.
A Ref save against a breath weapon may be a different matter: you're completely exposed to the area attack and do nothing to minimize the damage.
A Will save against Plane Shift, that's where you're as good as "willing".


You always get a saving throw provided the effect allows for one. We've had long discussions about how an unconscious person still gets a Reflex save, I even ran across an old post of mine today about how they still get Will saves too. A willing target may forfeit their save, but the option is still there.


"A willing target may forfeit their save, but the option is still there."

An unconscious one that is treated as a willing target means the save is forfeited

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I never understood why you are allowed a reflex save while unconscious, grappled, helpless, or anything that eliminates your being able to move that round.

I have no problem with the fortitude as that just reflexs how healthy you are in general and the condition of your immune system.

The will save also is uneffected by being unconscious, my take is your autonomic nervous system is going to continue working, although since you are unconscious and cant make the "forfeit the save" decision, your body will try and reject any effect that washes over you, including allies' attempts to heal/buff/etc you. In short, if a listed effect shows a will save, even if from an ally while you are unconscious, you should roll it.


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Clyde wrote:
I never understood why you are allowed a reflex save while unconscious, grappled, helpless, or anything that eliminates your being able to move that round.

The best way I've seen it described is saving throws are 1/3 talent, 1/3 natural ability and 1/3 luck. You get your class bonus and feats (talent) natural ability (ability score bonus) and the d20 roll itself (luck). That's why you always have a chance to save against the hardest saving throw in the game by rolling a 20. And a chance of falling flat on your face after tripping over a pebble by rolling a 1.


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Ryu Kaijitsu wrote:

"A willing target may forfeit their save, but the option is still there."

An unconscious one that is treated as a willing target means the save is forfeited

Actually, what it means is that a spell that specifies a willing target can target an unconscious person who would not have been willing had he been conscious. Teleport (for people taken along with the caster) is an example of such a spell.

I thought I saw somewhere that an unconscious target would automatically attempt a save against any effect not labeled as harmless and would automatically forfeit the save against any effect labeled as harmless, but I cannot locate that reference at the moment.

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Unconscious characters should still get saves against non-harmless spells. A reflex save (with Dex=0) in this case represents less "dodging" the attack and more getting lucky to have fallen behind some rubble or being exposed to a less intense part of an AoE. Fort and Will are innate to the character and should have full effect while helpless. Nowhere in the description of the "helpless" condition does it mention auto-failing saves.

Unconscious (not just helpless, but specifically unconscious) targets are considered willing, but even a willing target can claim a saving throw if desired. Being a willing target and voluntarily failing a save are two different choices.

As an example, there are spells which can only target unconscious characters that require saves, e.g. nightmare.


Unconscious =/= willing.

You get all 3 saves, even when helpless or unconscious.

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