How Hit Points Work In D&D
Main Topic: How Hit Points Work in D&D
In this post Crit Academy discusses the details of D&D hit points. They are joined by the awesome crew from Inter-Party Conflict! Using the Full NerdolopediaArticle: By Jacob Waterman as a jumping-off point. Read the blog below, or watch the show above.
What are hit points in DnD 5e?
According to the PHB, "Hit points represent a combination of physical and mental durability, the will to live, and luck." When it comes down to it, hit points basically determine how much abuse a creature can take before being knocked unconscious. Many GMs often treat hit points as a sort of meat point. An attack that hits is treated as a landing blow. We don't agree with this, at least not in its entirety, and the rules support that. Otherwise, why is there no penalty for low hit points? If the characters are truly taking solid hits, they would be slower, struggle to hold items, have their vision blurred, etc.
If we treat hit points in D&D like meat points, like we often do. It sounds a lot like this:
“The fighter swings their hammer into the skeleton, shattering it to pieces. From behind another skeleton raises its sword, catching the fighter by surprise and landing a blow. A large gash is cut across their back, similar to the nine other near-fatal wounds they received in that combat. Later that night the party rests as they talk about their encounter with the undead. In the morning all their wounds will be healed and they are ready to clear the next crypt.”
D&D Hit Points: Fantasy vs Realism
“Well, that’s not how it works in the real world!”
While there are some basic assumptions about the world you’re playing in, such as gravity, weather patterns, it's important to note that the game world is not an analog for the real world! In my experience, this argument is often used to delegitimize a DM ruling or grant a player some sort of advantage. (Discuss any examples). As for fatal wounds healing overnight, it’s worth noting that the recovery of only HALF your Hit Dice during a long rest is supposed to represent this.
Player’s Handbook Gives details on utilizing downtime for recuperating.
You can use downtime between adventures to recover from a debilitating injury, disease, or poison. After three days of downtime spent recuperating, you can make a DC 15 Constitution saving throw. On a successful save, you can choose one of the following results:
• End one effect on you that prevents you from regaining hit points.
• For the next 24 hours, gain Advantage on saving throws against one disease or poison currently affecting you.
Health and Damage in Dungeons & Dragons
Hitpoints isn’t a perfect system, but it's simple enough to follow and understand, which is why Hitpoints represent a combination of physical and mental durability, the will to live, and luck. Creatures with more hit points are more difficult to kill. Those with fewer hit points are more fragile. DM’s describe hit point loss in different ways. When your current hit point total is half or more of your hit point maximum, you aren’t really showing any signs of injury. When you drop below half your hit point maximum, you start to see combat wear, such as small cuts and bruises. An attack that reduces you to 0 hit points strikes you directly, leaving a bleeding injury or other trauma, or it simply knocks you unconscious.
“When you take damage it does something to the character, whether that is losing blood, winding them, or depleting an energy barrier(temp hit points).” As a DM you can play with this. A great example is a fight between Westley and Inigo Montoya. Both begin to get exhausted and make more mistakes as the fight goes on. IMO this is a great example of the loss of Hit Points.
“I altered the way health recovered to give a sense of permanency to damage. This was to attempt to increase the amount of thought put into long trips, deep dungeon delves, and to force some downtime. Losing twenty health suddenly means a lot more when it takes a few days to fully recover as opposed to sleeping it off the next night.” While I see where he is going with this, I do think that if you’re sufficiently draining the resources (hit dice), and properly applying the only recovery half your max hit dice per long rest, this becomes a moot point.
Armor and Dodging in Dungeons & Dragons
Armor and Dodging is the game's damage avoidance mechanic. Something people are constantly arguing over, and trying to better define. Jacob recommends googling homebrewed armor and you will really see what he means. 5e uses Armor Class, higher armor means harder to hit the soft squishy flesh underneath, and dodging is...well just moving out of the way of the attack.
While it’s not perfect, I think 5e has hit a good balance and you see this in the armor stats. For example, heavy armor is just a static bonus, likely they aren’t going to dodge the attack, but their armor soaks it up(creating nicks, dings, and other defects). While leather armor, that is focused on mobility adds your dexterity to it, suggesting you’re moving and avoiding the attacks. From a narrative standpoint, the loss of HP is due to the exhaustion of just wearing the heavy armor and swinging your sword, while the loss for a ranger in light armor is from constantly dodging and twisting. The amount of physical effort and mental awareness needed to maintain this engagement gets worn down over time, thus lost hitpoints, as you’re more likely to make a mistake and get hit in the soft squishy fleshy bits.
Endurance in Dungeons & Dragons
“Endurance is often portrayed as “Stamina” but I consider endurance to also be considered for magical resources such as mana or spell slots”
I agree 100% and include this sort of context to my gains when a caster begins to run out of spell slots, or just casts a powerful spell. For example, expending one spell slot isn’t very exhausting when you have a reserve of like six of them. But, if you only have two spell slots, and you use one or half of them, your body is physically and mentally fatigued, at least when I run games.
I also consider Hit Dice as a form of endurance. This is why as you run out, it's harder to recover. Your character is really struggling and their body is having a difficult time recovering from the collection of wounds or just strain from a long march through the environment.
When it comes to how Hit Points work in D&D, there is an infinite number of ways you can handle it. Whatever you choose, it's best to not overthink it, as it's just a mechanic to represent your character's ability to resist the dangers around it. That's it.
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D&D Character Concept: The Broken Warforged
A living construct created to fight in a war that is now over, each Warforged has to struggle to live in a world that no longer needs them. Each one holds scars left over from the battles they fought- some of those scars run deeper than others.
Take a Warforged character, and make them either a Wild Magic Sorcerer or a Hexblade Warlock (or both). They each hold immense power, but the power doesn’t come from a bloodline or an otherworldly patron- the source of their wild and dangerous power is the magic that holds their broken body together. Despite ostensibly being at full hit points, the Broken Warforged has been damaged beyond repair, and now magic is seeping out of every crack. If you take the Wild Magic Sorcerer route, their Wild Surge is their body’s magical energies lashing out whenever they cast a spell. If you use a Hexblade Warlock, then their patron isn’t the magical weapon in their hand- the patron is their body, which may be developing a mind of its own, contrary to the character’s own wishes.
Whatever spells you cast, flavor them along this theme- Dancing Lights might take the form of a ghostly apparition of the Warlock’s body, floating along in an attempt to free itself from the broken cage containing it. A Fireball or Lightning Bolt spell could be a surge of uncontrollable energy exploding out of you. Maybe sometimes when you attack, your character momentarily loses control of themselves as their arms act on their own accord.
Over time, you might develop a second personality that attempts to wrest control from you. Who do you think will win?
D&D5e Monster Variant: Marilith Apprentice
This six-armed serpentine terror delights in hacking enemies to pieces with its swords, doing so with horrifying ease and astonishing grace. These creatures are often mistaken as Medusa by adventurers, due to their female upper form and snake-like lower half. Unfortunately, when they make the mistake of turning their eyes away, they are then sliced to ribbons.
The Mariliths are obsessed with mastering martial skills and often take trophy weapons from particularly challenging and fierce opponents, then hiding them away for only their eyes.
Fire immunity becomes resistance
Loses cold weakness
Change from Elemental to fiend
Spear becomes Shortsword.
Heated Body and Weapons become Weapon Dance. Change the damage to slashing.
Remove fire damage and change it to weapon slashing damage.
Parry. The marilith adds 5 to its AC against one melee attack that would hit it. To do so, the marilith must see the attacker and be wielding a melee weapon.
Shroud of Steel: The marilith’s weapons twirl in the air as if to fend off incoming strikes before they arrive, and countering with quick, unexpected swipes.
When the marilith takes the dodge action and an enemy makes a melee attack against it, the marilith can use it’s reaction to make a melee weapon attack against the creature as a reaction.
D&D Encounter: Alternate Encounter (from Gabe): The Cog Carnival
The party is in a dirty, seedy part of town- either in search of something or just passing time on their way through the city. When they emerge from the local market, they are surprised to find… a carnival?
In addition to drinks and food, this bustling attraction has an assortment of games of skill and chance- a game where you throw a ball to knock down milk bottles, another where you hit a lever with a hammer to try and ring a bell at the top, a game where you toss rings onto various pegs. Each one would be best represented by an Ability Check and a winner gets money or a trinket, but remember- if they were easy, the carnival would go out of business, and some of them just might be impossible…
But the games aren’t all there is to see- each station is run by a barker of questionable values, and the crowds are sure to attract the attention of pickpockets and cutpurses- that is, if those vagabonds aren’t in the employ of the carnival itself.
Consider having the party’s participation be somehow mandatory- perhaps they seek information from an informant who will only cooperate if the party proves their skill, or maybe they accidentally run afoul of one of the local toughs who doesn’t like these new faces getting all this attention at the carnival...
D&D Magic Item: Sword of Greenwall
Weapon (scimitar), very rare (requires attunement)
Emblazoned with the swords command word in druidic, “Blossom, vines of the sacred mother!” This thin emerald blade empowers the wielder to unleash nature’s retribution upon enemies. Small seeds at the end of its hilt can be seen blossoming and falling off when its power is released, then regrowing at the next dawn.
You can use a bonus action to speak this magic sword's command word, causing thorns to erupt from the blade. While the sword is jagged and sharp with thorns, it deals an extra 1d6 poison damage to any target it hits. The thorns last until you use a bonus action to speak the command word again or until you drop or sheathe the sword.
This sword has 10 charges and regains 1d6 + 4 expended charges daily at dawn. If you expend the last charge, roll a d20. On a 1, the sword turns to rotting wood and is destroyed.
Spells. While holding the sword, you can use an action to expend some of its charges to cast one of the following spells from it. ensnaring strike( 1 charge) per spell level, up to 4th), spike growth (3 charges), Spells cast from the sword have a save DC of 15.
D&D Dungeon Master Tip: (from Gabe)
Orange Points (or red points, or green points, or clear points, or black and gold points, or whatever)
Inspiration. Do you use it? Could you be using it more? (Probably.) If you’re like me, you forget to give players Inspiration (if you know about it at all), and even then the players forget to use it. What to do?
Here’s what to do: Get a few distinctly-colored d20s, one for each player. (In my case, orange d20s.) Those d20s aren’t for normal rolling. Instead, keep them in front of you so they’re in plain sight. Whenever a player does something worthy of inspiration, give them one of these special d20s. (“You get an Orange Point.”) Now, when that player wants to use their inspiration, they roll that special d20 along with their normal d20. Once they use it, they give it back to the DM, who puts it right back in plain view.
Because you’re making Inspiration a physical, tangible thing, kept in plain view, it’ll be easier to remember to give it out, and easier for the player to remember to use it. It’ll keep Inspiration from just being “Oh, I get to roll again” and instead it becomes, “I get to roll this special die! Awesome!”
D&D Player Tip: Don’t be a Dick
And you can avoid Dickitude by… making a portrait of your character!
Help everyone else envision your character by making a portrait of them. If you aren’t artistically gifted, don’t worry- there are lots of online resources that will let you make a character portrait very, very easily!
Heromachine(insert link) is one example- it’s an online program with multiple different free versions that give you a template and lets you choose and customize all sorts of options spanning every genre imaginable. In less than ten minutes you could have a full-color, full-body portrait of your character wielding weapons, casting spells, wearing armor, and even standing with a familiar or a companion!
Another option is HeroForge- HeroForge is a website that lets you design custom miniatures, but that’s not all! If you design a miniature of your character through the website, you can export the image and then color it using another program [Gabe’s note: I forget exactly what this process is, I’ll find out and fill in the details here] and voila! A full-color 3D image of your character (which you could then get made as a physical mini if you wanted)!
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