There is an interesting discussion going on at ENworld regarding the cliche dying scene. Here. It is a good discussion, with some well reasoned opinions on both sides.
I find myself on the side of follow the rules. The DM might just be trying to build an interesting fantasy scene, with drama and pathos, and not thinking too closely about the rules. The players, ever alert to challenges & to combat evil, immediately try to intervene.
DM: You find a man on the floor. He is a bloody mess, and appears to be almost dead. He motions you to come closer with a great effort while his life blood oozes readily to the floor. As you approach, he starts to speak in a faint, almost inaudible voice-
Player (interrupting): I cast a cure spell on him.
DM (surprised): Er... Um... no, he is too far gone for that. He does manage to whisper in his dying breath, "Beware the bearer of the Ruby Cup....."
Player: Wait... He was still alive and could speak but my spell didn't work?
DM: Um... Yes. Well, No. You just think you were too late.
Player: That is awfully suspicious. I cast detect magic. Do I sense any residual magics here preventing my cure from working? Then I cast detect evil. Lastly I check the corpse to make sure it is real. You know, not an illusion or something else. This is really strange. Next I -
DM (interrupting): No, really, you just were too late.
Player: That makes no sense. If he could speak, then why couldn't I save him.
DM: Listen, don't make such a big deal of it. It was just a death scene to give you information. Lets move on.
Player: Oh. Ok, I guess.
I'll quote ENworld poster Nagol, "To the DM, it’s just a bloody death scene. For the players it is a situation where their expectations for in-game effect do not match with observed effect. As far as the players are concerned this could be a CLUE."
Its not like I have never painted myself into a corner and had to come up with feeble, "just because", excuses in game. However, I find them unsatisfactory. The verisimilitude is broken if you have to move between the dramatic scenes where the rules don't function, and the scenes where players can use their skills, abilities and clever ideas to achieve an outcome. Sure, you can agree that when the DM is wearing the moose antlers you just enjoy the dramatic scene, and when he is not, you get to play. I am sure that works fine for lots of folks, and at times I may put on the moose antlers myself, but overall I try to let the players play. Even if that means they mess up my dramatic scene. That just means I should have planned it better.
There are rule ways to handle some of these kinds of issues. And in this case when I say rules, I mean more like how the world functions rules. Next time I'll write about coming back from the land of the dead.
The dice never lie