Hit Points For Dummies

Coming from Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (first edition) and growing up playing video games I had a very hard time grasping how Hit Points (HP) work in D&D 5th Edition. If you have every played a game where characters had life points or hit points, I am pretty sure you don’t really know how they work in 5rh Edition either.

What Are Hit Points?

Hit Points represent a character’s stamina, resilience, endurance, and life.  Within D&D there is no mechanic for characters getting tired and losing effectiveness in battle. Before you say, “What about exhaustion levels?” Don’t…just don’t.  Characters act as if they are completely unharmed until they are knocked down to 0 or less hit points. That is kind of an on and off, video game way of playing, but that is how it was designed.

Stop thinking about hit points as the body’s ability to take damage. Think of them as a character spending points to dodge or block an attack. That is why characters get more hit points when the go up levels. Those points represent the character’s ability to handle themselves in a fight.

It is not until the character is reduced to under one Hit Dice with of Hit Points that they are taking actual, life threatening damage. All of the damage to that point has been stress, strain, sore muscles and bruises. Once they get down to those last few hit points, they start taking real, sword in the gut damage. 

What About Healing and Recovering HP?

There are many mechanics in the game for healing lost hit points. From healing spells to potions to resting and spending hit dice, healing hit points is easy. If you are in a well balanced party, there will be multiple people that can help characters heal.

When I read the 5th Edition rules the first time, I thought I must be mistaken about how hit points and healing worked. Coming from decades of playing first edition, I was used to hit points being much more precious and harder to recover. Without a Cleric in the party or a sack of gold to pay for healing at the local temple, first edition characters would have to lay in bed for days, possibly weeks, healing.

Healing Potions – There are several levels of healing potions. Your DM will likely sprinkle them around the dungeon as random treasure. Depending on the setting, healing potions may be so common you can buy them in any medium sized town. Low magic settings may make them so rare as to be mythical vials of divine power.

The rules are a little fuzzy on this, but 3rd level characters with the herbalism skill,100 gold pieces of materials, 4 days to work and at least one spell slot of any kind can make healing potions 

Healer’s Kit – this is a leather pouch containing bandages, salves, and splints. The kit has ten uses. As an action, you can expend one use of the kit to stabilize a creature that has 0 Hit Points, without needing to make a Wisdom (Medicine) check.

Medicine Skill – this skill allows characters to stabilize a dying companion or diagnose an illness.

Healing Spells – Bards, clerics, paladins, rangers and sorcerers all get access to some form of healing magic.  Check the Player’s Handbook for details.

Scroll of Healing – These are almost identical to a healing potion. The difference is that they are a piece of parchment that you read instead of a vial of liquid to drink.

Hit Dice – During a short rest, characters can spend a hit dice to recover hit points. 

Arrrg! What are Hit Dice!?

Hit dice has three meanings that you really need to keep in mind. If you liked word problems in math class, read below. Easier to follow examples are at the bottom.

Class Hit Dice – each class rolls a different die for hit points. For example wizards get a D6 for hit points and Barbarians get a D12. This is referred to as the character class hit dice.

Character Hit Dice –  This is actually your character’s total level(s). A character gets 1 hit dice per class level. This means multi-class characters get 1 die for each level in each class. 

Healing Hit Dice – The character may roll any number of their Class Hit Dice up to a maximum of their Character Hit Dice during a short rest to recover lost hit points.

Practical Examples:

  • A 1st level wizard can spend 1 Hit Dice and roll 1D6 to recover hit points in a short rest.
  • A 2nd level fighter can spend 2 Hit Dice and roll 2D10 to recover hit points on a short rest.
  • A 3rd level wizard with 1 level of rogue can spend up to 4 Hit Dice to roll 3 D6 and 1 D8 to recover hit points on a short rest.
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