• The VOIDRUNNER'S CODEX is coming! Explore new worlds, fight oppressive empires, fend off fearsome aliens, and wield deadly psionics with this comprehensive boxed set expansion for 5E and A5E!

D&D 5E D&D Next Blog - A Close Call with Negative Hit Points

log in or register to remove this ad


First Post
"Negative hit points shouldn't exist, but characters shouldn’t die outright at 0."

Seems like the best option to me, for whatever reason, I never found negative hit points likable. The death saving throw mechanic in 4E was a improvement, but I would like a better system to be implemented.

An example of how I would like to handle death is that a character has to keep making death saving throws until they fail 3. Once you fail 3, you're dead. If an enemy tries to finish off a character, if they (very likely) hit, the dying character fail an additional saving throw (a way around not having negative hit points). A heal check (a minor action in 4e terms) by an ally can stabilize a character.
Last edited:



Given the choices, I'd favor unconciousness at 0, with any healing done "stabilizing" the character and bringing them to either a minimum of hit-points(like 1 or 2), or 0. In 4e good healer and a character with a nice con score can often wind up going from -10 to +40. I think that's a little bit excessive.

But wasting everyone's trying to save they dying just makes the continuing combat even more difficult and more likely to be lost.

I dunno, I think 4e got a little silly in it's healing, but I don't want a system that kills my players too easy. I WANT to make them work for their achievements, but likewise I don't want to wholesale slaughter my party every other night.


"Negative hit points shouldn't exist, but characters shouldn’t die outright at 0."

Seems like the best option to me, for whatever reason, I never found negative hit points likable. The death saving throw mechanic in 4E was a improvement, but I would like a better system to be implemented.

Agreed. I'd do away with negative hit points and just have death saves.


First Post
I'd like to get rid of negative hitpoints. They are one of the roots of the reasons that D&D's death and serious injury rules are so frustratingly bad... Death at zero hitpoints might be worse, but there are certainly better solutions.


A house rule I like is: Once you hit 0 hp, you start taking damage to your Con. This damage doesn't effect your bonus or penalty, but if you hit 0, you're dead.

If you are healed, you heal from 0, because your hp never drops below 0, but you don't get your Con back, except by resting (or Spell X).


First Post
In a game where the healer can add their Wis modifier to the healing, I am not concerned the healing won't be enough. Even at 1st level, using a 1st level spell, the minimum healed should be 4. So, start healing from the negative number. You can't remove every unfortunate occurrence from the game, nobody want to play the Nerf version of D&D.


First Post
Bruce's example has someone rolling a 1 to heal... so, that implies there are some mighty small healing options too. (Ie, it's not just 1/4 hp + wis + dice)

I put no negative hp, don't necessarily die at 0, as well.

Jeff Carlsen

I wrote the following as a comment there, but I'll repeat it here:

If hit points don't represent wounds, but represent your ability to turn a serious blow into a lesser blow or shrug off minor damage, then hit point loss doesn't represent serious injury but is more a form of combat awareness and stamina.

This means two things. First, that dropping to zero hit points means that a strike got through your defenses and caused a serious wound. Second, that most magical healing isn't really healing wounds (at least not major ones), but is instead refreshing the character's stamina and battle awareness.

So, when you drop to zero hit points, you're wounded, staggered, and bleeding out. You should also have to make a save to stay conscious.

Magical healing should stabilize you, and give you back hit points, but not remove your wounds.

I don't know if negative hit points are the best way to represent wounds and bleeding or not. But for the sake of discussion I'll use them.

If you take six points of negative hit point damage and are healed for twelve points, then you should have twelve hit points AND six points of negative damage. You should probably also still be staggered unless you take a feat that lets you ignore wounds.

Only natural recovery or very powerful magic should be able to heal negative hit point damage.

* * *

Now I want to add just bit to what I wrote above.

What I wrote is my preference, and I think that it opens up a lot of options as to what you can do with wounds, the staggered condition, and damage types. If a sword drops you, you've been impaled. A mace has broken your bones. A fireball has burned your flesh.

It also provides a more consistent opportunity for a character to be staggered. To fight on even when you can barely move and you're bleeding to death. Sure, this might require a save every round to stay conscious, but it's cool.

Still, the biggest advantage with what I posted above is that it can be modular.

  • Pulp Rules: If your group doesn't want to deal with long-term wounds, then negative hit points simply disappear with any magical healing.
  • Lethal Rules: If you want something more lethal, add a injury chart with some lethal options.
  • Grittier Rules: If you want wounds to happen more regularly, add a massive damage save.
Last edited:

Tony Vargas

Or, they could go with the 4e system as presented in the article, but because -bloodied can be such a big number, layer on a second 'dying' mechanic. A three-strikes kind of thing. Call it a 'Death Save.'

If it were tracked on a daily basis, instead of just by encounter, or just until you're back up, that'd go a long way towards making up-from-0 seem less 'realistic.' Even when you're cure-wounds'd or warlord-shouted up from -lots to 0+surge, if you've failed a death save, you are still closer to death next time.

Remove ads