Can the harm spell kill the target on a failed save? The text of the spell says the deals half damage if target makes a successful save, but it cannot reduce the target’s hit points to less than one.
I’ve always read it so that the clause “but it cannot reduce the target’s hit points to less than 1” only applies to a successful save, because a successful save is the main “topic” of the sentence. That is, I read the sentence to say, “On a successful save the target’s hit points can’t go below 1; on a failed save, the target is up the creek without a proverbial paddle.” Thoughts? [Answer behind the jump…]
When faced with a question like this, I always look to the information in the spell header. In this case, I’m checking the spell’s save entry. For harm, this reads: “Will half; see text.” The save entry line in the header is supposed to tell you what happens on a successful save, so it’s pretty clear to me spell text is talking only about the results from a successful save, and not about the spell in general. So, harm can kill the target outright on a failed save.
Purists might find the foregoing objectionable because harm is actually a reversed heal spell, and heal traditionally leaves you with a little bit of damage unhealed. The current version of the heal spell, however, has no such limit—it restores 10 points of damage per level of the caster, to a maximum of 150 points.
I also recommend that you do not require a creature subjected to a harm spell to make a save vs. death from massive damage when it has received a harm spell and made a successful save against it, even if half damage from the spell meets or exceeds your campaign’s massive damage threshold.
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