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5E Hit Point Maximum and Exhaustion

Ath-kethin

Adventurer
At level 4 exhaustion, a character's hit point maximum is halved. How would this affect a wounded character? A friend and I were discussing the situation and had two differing opinions, which basically boil down to interpretations of how hit point damage is applied.

Let's say you have a character who has a maximum of 100 hit points. The character is injured in combat and takes 50 points of damage, so they are down to 50 current hit points. The character then is afflicted with 4 levels of exhaustion. Does the character die/drop to 0?

Approach #1: One approach is to say that no, the character still has 50 hit points, they just can't be healed (since their hit point maximum is not 50). This approach views hit point damage more or less temporally, and since the prior damage all happened before the reduction of the maximum there's no immediate affect on the character's health due to the exhaustion level. This approach also seems to be in keeping with the more player-friendly, "kid gloves" approach 5e is often accused of following.

Approach #2: The other approach is to say that the character has a a maximum of 50 hit points and has taken 50 points of damage, and is therefore now at 0.

Approach #2 makes the 4th exhaustion level far more dangerous, but since Level 4 comes after the 3rd level of exhaustion (which is where the character has disadvantage on attack rolls and saving throws), it might make sense. After all, if you follow Approach #1, Level 4 exhaustion seems pretty tame compared to Level 3, or even Level 1-2.

I've looked through the three core books and there is no definitive answer that I can find. The Search function on these boards didn't reveal any other discussions of the question. So what do y'all think?
 

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[MENTION=6798775]Ath-kethin[/MENTION] My thinking is that the wording of the Exhaustion rules is different from the wording of the Wraith's Life Drain. The Wraith's Life Drain clearly inflicts damage and reduces maximum HP value. Exhaustion does not.

Approach #1 is correct.

However, it's worth pointing out that effects of Exhaustion are cumulative, so at Exhaustion level 4, the poor PC would suffer...
  • disadvantage on ability checks
  • speed hlaved
  • disadvantage on attacks and saves
  • hit point maximum halved
 


Ath-kethin

Adventurer
The whole discussion is relevant to something I'm preparing for publication, so I need to err on the side of "most common interpretation of the rules' wording" here. I'm interested in as many opinions as I can get here.

[MENTION=20323]Quickleaf[/MENTION] I had looked at the wraith (and wight) for assistance in making a call, and both are interesting in that they almost treat current and maximum hit points as two distinct if related pools.

Ultimately, I was surprised to find no real guideline on how to handle maximum hit point reduction in relation to current hit points. Hence my question put to the expert minds at EN World.
 

Satyrn

First Post
Ultimately, I was surprised to find no real guideline on how to handle maximum hit point reduction in relation to current hit points. Hence my question put to the expert minds at EN World.
Whenever D&D Beyond gets to its character manager, maybe they'll have automated applying exhaustion. If they do, however they do it is likely to become considered the standard way.
 

jaelis

Oh this is where the title goes?
Do what it says to do, which is approach #1. It doesn't say to change your current hp, so don't, unless you run into the separate rule that your current hp can't exceed your max.
 

Do what it says to do, which is approach #1. It doesn't say to change your current hp, so don't, unless you run into the separate rule that your current hp can't exceed your max.
There's no explicit rule saying that you lose HP if your max HP ever becomes lower than your Max HP, but there are several places where it says that current HP can't exceed Max HP, so the only way to stay compliant with that rule is to assume that any HP in excess of Max HP are lost.

Whether or not you regain those HP when your max HP returns to normal is a mystery.
 

The whole discussion is relevant to something I'm preparing for publication, so I need to err on the side of "most common interpretation of the rules' wording" here. I'm interested in as many opinions as I can get here.

[MENTION=20323]Quickleaf[/MENTION] I had looked at the wraith (and wight) for assistance in making a call, and both are interesting in that they almost treat current and maximum hit points as two distinct if related pools.

Ultimately, I was surprised to find no real guideline on how to handle maximum hit point reduction in relation to current hit points. Hence my question put to the expert minds at EN World.
Fantastic to hear you're publishing :)

You basically have the right sense of it: current HP and max HP are distinct. Altering one does NOT alter the other, unless specifically stated in the text (e.g. Wraith's Life Drain).

To further understand the difference, you can look at spells like aid and aura of life and bigby's hand and greater restoration and harm and heroes' feast which make it very clear they're meant to be distinct.

Also, in case you're thinking exhaustion is an anomaly in reducing max HP without touching current HP....look at the bite of the Death Dog in the MM.

[SECTION]Bite. Melee Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target.
Hit: 5 (1 d6 + 2) piercing damage. lf the target is a creature, it
must succeed on a DC 12 Constitution saving throw against
disease or become poisoned until the disease is cured. Every 24
hours that elapse, the creature must repeat the saving throw,
reducing its hit point maximum by 5 (1d10) on a failure. This
reduction lasts until the disease is cured. The creature dies if
the disease reduces its hit point maximum to 0.[/SECTION]
 

Ath-kethin

Adventurer
I'd forgotten about the death dog's attack, which is ironic since I actually just used them in an adventure.
 

[MENTION=6798775]Ath-kethin[/MENTION] My thinking is that the wording of the Exhaustion rules is different from the wording of the Wraith's Life Drain. The Wraith's Life Drain clearly inflicts damage and reduces maximum HP value. Exhaustion does not.

Approach #1 is correct.
Yes, this. Maximum hit points and current hit points are two discrete integer values. There is no general rule that ties an increase or decrease in one value to an increase or decrease in the other, except insofar as current hit points cannot exceed maximum hit points. Therefore, a decrease in maximum hit points does not result in a decrease in current hit points unless the current hit points are greater than the maximum hit points or the effect specifically says current hit points are also decreased (i.e., it does damage).

That's the RAW, pretty clearly in my judgment. And it doesn't seem to produce any particularly nonsensical results in-universe: it makes sense that a wounded character could become exhausted without dropping dead. And while nobody can accuse me of playing with kid gloves, I don't go out of my way to make nonlethal situations unnecessarily lethal either. So I'd stick with the RAW.
 


bid

First Post
Another for #1.

Aid explicitly mention both.

At the end of a long rest, you'd both recover from exhaustion and regain all lost hp. Unless you force the wrong order, you'd get both.

This only leaves greater restoration that only mentions max hp. This one requires further healing.
 


aco175

Hero
Now, what would happen if the character with 100hp was damaged to 75hp before taking 4 levels of exhaustion? His HP maximum would be 50, but he is at 75 current. Would the extra 25 disappear, remain until damaged, or be treated as temp HP.

I would be tempted to have them disappear since the exhaustion would most likely come from environmental effects and be from fatigue.
 


Harzel

Adventurer
Now, what would happen if the character with 100hp was damaged to 75hp before taking 4 levels of exhaustion? His HP maximum would be 50, but he is at 75 current. Would the extra 25 disappear, remain until damaged, or be treated as temp HP.

I would be tempted to have them disappear since the exhaustion would most likely come from environmental effects and be from fatigue.
RAW current hit points cannot exceed hit point maximum, so they have to disappear unless you wish to house rule otherwise.
 

Ath-kethin

Adventurer
Now, what would happen if the character with 100hp was damaged to 75hp before taking 4 levels of exhaustion? His HP maximum would be 50, but he is at 75 current. Would the extra 25 disappear, remain until damaged, or be treated as temp HP.

I would be tempted to have them disappear since the exhaustion would most likely come from environmental effects and be from fatigue.
This very question came up in the same discussion as the one in my original post, and we pretty much agreed on the "temporary hit points" interpretation.

However, we both and forgotten the bit about how current hit points can't exceed maximum hit points. Of course, temporary hit points do just that, so hmm. . .
 

Now, what would happen if the character with 100hp was damaged to 75hp before taking 4 levels of exhaustion? His HP maximum would be 50, but he is at 75 current. Would the extra 25 disappear, remain until damaged, or be treated as temp HP.
I have them disappear, and not regained if exhaustion is removed:

75/100 > exhaustion > 50/50 > exhaustion removed > 50/100
 

schnee

First Post
I have them disappear, and not regained if exhaustion is removed:

75/100 > exhaustion > 50/50 > exhaustion removed > 50/100
As harsh as that is, I think it's the right interpretation, due to the complexity of bookkeeping of tracking that previous HP amount as a 'hidden variable' behind the temporary exhaustion amount.

It would mean, 'I took 6 more damage, that means I'm at 44 now, 69 after exhaustion lifts'. I'd expect that kind of complication in AD&D, but not in Basic or 5E.
 


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