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Hit Points, Our Old Friend
Legends and Lore
Mike Mearls

I n D&D Next, hit points and Hit Dice are an abstraction that we use to model more than just a character's physical durability. In fact, we have three elements that tie into a character's hit points and Hit Dice.

  • Physical capacity for punishment, which is measured through a combination of size, bulk, and durability. An elephant or a hill giant has plenty of hit points due to raw physical endurance and bulk. Big creatures can take a lot of punishment.
  • Energy and experience, which is measured by a creature's ability to turn a direct hit into a glancing blow and ignore minor aches and pains. Frederika, the 10th-level dwarf fighter, can turn even a giant's crushing strike into a near miss. She might take 30 points of damage from the hit, but in terms of physical injury she might not have more than a light bruise. The same attack against Samwell, the 1st-level halfling fighter, turns him into a dead, bloody mess. Poor Samwell lacks the training and experience to avoid the worst of the attack.
  • Luck and cosmic significance, which is the simple truth that in a world of high magic, gods, and planar powers, some creatures are consigned by fate to take on a great task. The sword blow that slays the common soldier is a glancing strike against the hero destined to stand at the center of important events. A white dragon ambushes the wizard Mordenkainen and unleashes a ferocious attack. The wizard avoids death by stepping aside at just the right moment. He might suffer a few cuts, but through luck, coincidence, or fate, he stepped to the side just as the dragon was about to attack.

Here's a brief overview that gives you an idea of what happens when a creature takes damage.

A creature with more than half its maximum hit points has nothing more than the superficial signs of injury. There might be a few tears in its armor or clothes, or it could have a dent in its shield, and it has not yet suffered any serious physical harm beyond a scrape, light cut, or bruise. Anyone looking at the creature likely doesn't notice that it has been involved in a fight.

A creature with less than half its maximum hit points has suffered a few noticeable cuts or bruises. A casual inspection or quick look reveals that the creature has taken a few hits, so it is noticeably injured.

A creature that is reduced to 0 or fewer hit points has suffered a direct hit—enough to knock it unconscious. The attack that dropped it caused a serious injury that might crack bones and cause heavy, ongoing bleeding.

Consider the example of a giant spider attacking a 1st-level fighter who has 10 hit points. The spider's first attack deals 3 damage, and the fighter must make a Constitution saving throw against its poison. The bite barely broke the fighter's skin, but just barely. The mark from the bite will clear up in a day or so. The fighter has a scratch that most people would overlook.

The next bite reduces the fighter to 3 hit points and requires another saving throw. This bite causes a noticeable injury since the fighter now has less than half of his or her hit points. The fighter will wake up the next morning with a scab over the bite, and it might take another couple of days for the injury to disappear. A good rest erases most of the real physical effects of the injury. Anyone looking at the fighter would immediately notice the nasty-looking bite wound.

If the spider drops the fighter, it lands a deadly attack. The wound is vicious and ugly. It bleeds freely, and only prompt attention or sheer luck can save the fighter. If mundane bandages are all the fighter's companions have on hand, it will take a couple of days for the fighter to return to action. At this point, there's a chance that the fighter will have a lasting scar, and he or she needs magic to get back into the fight in the short term.

That description covers hit points. I can't imagine the playtest leading us to purge hit points from the game. In terms of mechanics, I think the best thing we can do is keep the number of hit points for each monster or character manageable and make sure we have a good narrative explanation for how they work.

Introducing Hit Dice

Hit Dice aren't part of 4E, but they were in every other edition of the game. This time around, we're recruiting them to help with a crucial element of the design. We want to make the cleric as optional for a group as a fighter, wizard, or rogue.

First, it's worth noting why we want to reduce the party's reliance on healing magic. One of our goals for the next iteration is to add an unmatched level of flexibility. We want to make a game where one DM and one player can play through an adventure without undue need for house rules or changes to the core system. We'd prefer that if half the group misses a session, the DM can still run something without having to change the basic rules for the campaign.

In our current draft (the one you'll be able to playtest beginning on 5/24), Hit Dice represent your character's ability to recover from injury without the use of magic. Think back to the explanation of hit points above. When a character loses hit points, he or she can recover them through rest. Your character can overcome many cuts and bruises by catching his or her breath, but there is a limit to the amount of punishment your character can overcome.

Over time, if your character takes too many injuries, they start to add up. Just as several, low-damage hits eventually drive a character to half hit points and then to zero, so too do they affect your character's ability to recover from damage.

Your character gains Hit Dice just as he or she did in editions before 4E, though some classes use different dice now. Fighters gain a d10 Hit Die per level, clerics and rogues gain d8s, and wizards gain d6s. When a character rests, Hit Dice allow that character to regain hit points. Your character is bandaging wounds, applying healing herbs, having some food and water, and otherwise spending time to recover. You can roll one or more of your character's Hit Dice to determine how many hit points mundane treatment allows him or her to recover.

It's important to note that Hit Dice come into play to represent mundane healing. Potions and spells restore hit points and ignore Hit Dice. If a character relies on natural healing, it takes quite a while to recover.

When a character rests for an extended period of time, he or she regains Hit Dice. In other words, a longer rest allows your character to regain Hit Dice. Shorter rests allow you to spend those Hit Dice to regain your character's hit points.

We hope that Hit Dice hold up in the playtest. As with any new mechanic, we'll keep a careful eye on feedback and ask a number of questions about it in our surveys.


In February, we posted a survey to gather some feedback on the Legends & Lore column. We'd like you to let us know how we're doing by taking a follow-up survey, which can be found here.

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