D&D 5E Why the disparity in hit dice between classes? between classes vs. creatures?

DND_Reborn

The High Aldwin
This is just to be a discussion about hit dice (and the hit points gained from them). I'll start by stating a few premises about hit points (and thus hit dice) as I see it. Of course many of you might not agree with some or all of these premises, but for the sake of discussion I would appreciate it if you respond in agreement with them and thanks.

1. Hit points are abstract. While a part of them represents "meat" or "body", the ability to withstand physical damage, the bulk of hit points represent skill in avoiding damage, reflexes, divine favor, luck, etc. Spending hit points when you take damage from a successful attack or failed save, is primarily these abstract factors being used. The metaphysical energy for your ability to avoid serious injury, etc. is expended. Damage which would kill a less-skilled creature is instead avoided entirely or reduced greatly.

2. Hit points do not differentiate between types of damage. Damage from a sword is the same as damage from a failed save versus radiant, from a fall, etc.

3. Creatures hit dice type is determined by size. Arguably this is because larger creatures have more "meat" or "body". I do not think it would be reasonable to argue the greater hit dice type is due to the metaphysical aspects of hit points such as skill, reflexes, luck, etc. because otherwise all creatures of a certain size would have that same benefit or others.

4. Having more hit dice means a creature has greater ability to withstand physical injury, more skill at avoiding or mitigating it, more divine favor, more luck, etc. This is why characters gain hit dice as they gain levels. Experience translates into "more" of the metaphysical aspect of hit points, and perhaps a part of those hit points are also the enhanced ability to withstand physical pain or injury (this would also be partly represented by the Constitution bonus to hit points).

QUESTIONS:

1. Why would a barbarian earn a d12 for hit dice, while a sorcerer gains only a d6? What is the reason why some classes have larger hit die types than others?

2. Medium creatures use a d8. Most PCs are medium in size, so why not give them the same d8 for hit dice? If we did, would it be too harsh on small characters to give them the d6 small creatures gain for hit dice?

3. Due to the metaphysical or abstract nature of hit points, why is only the Constitution modifier used? Would the other abilities represent other abstract aspects of hit points, such as Dexterity representing the reflexes aspect, equally well? What about Wisdom or Charisma representing divine favor or luck, etc.?

4. Could hit dice be gained in ways other than by leveling, such as a magic item?

5. Could a creature or character have more hit dice than its level?


That's it for now. Of course I have my own views on all of these questions, but instead of potentially biasing responses by putting my own thoughts down at this time, I am curious to hear your thoughts on the questions.

Thanks to all who take the time to reply, it is much appreciated!
 

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aco175

Legend
Good points. Not sure how much is legacy from when wizards were frail and had 1d4, but if you survive and make it to higher levels, you get more power than the rest from your spells over HP.

NPCs and monsters get 1d8 from being medium, but these are also NPCs and monsters where the PCs are different and supposed to unique. We use those words for explaining everything else, so not sure if we should compare them.

I'm not sure if the classes with less HP make it up in other areas to keep classes 'balanced' like what 5e wants to do. I' m sure this is widely speculative.
 

Phion

Explorer
To answer questions in order

1. Why would you choose a Barbarian after level 5 if you could just fireball a room? It is a simple response because anything more is simply excessive. At the end of the day it is a role playing game and how many hits you can take will define your role in the group dynamic. If you want a real world explanation, it ties into how harsh a life you have lived; when I was younger and did more martial arts I had leather like skin on the bottom of my feet from all the movement I did barefoot on a wooden floor, going back to martial arts after 8 years my feet are now soft and they are bleeding on the floor because I had been living a life of sloth.

2. See above. The need of the game as well as some people just doing things/ living in a way that makes them not equal in toughness to others.

3. There is an argument for this. However keep in mind 5e is all about keeping things simple so goes against design philosophy.

4. Sure why not. Not sure if there is a magic item that already does this officially, pretty sure I could cheese a current way to do it with a bit of time. I would be cool homebrewing a item that does such a thing.

5. Might argue against this. Why would you need to when you could just use features to increase HP or recover it? We already have ways to cheese our health beyond our normal baseline. Anything after that is just adding layers. If you need more layers to the game there is older editions and Pathfinder.
 

Kobold Stew

Last Guy in the Airlock
Supporter
1. Because part of what is being abstracted is the ability to take a hit. That's why it is tied to class -- sorcerers haven't practiced taking a punch, etc., and barbarians have.

2. You could do this, and it would reduce differentiation between characters. Many groups (a majority, I expect) play with standard hit points per level -- that also reduces variation, but acieves the aim of leting the fighty-guys withstand being hit better than non-fighty guys.

3. Partly, legacy reasons; the game has constitution and wants it to do something. Partly, because while HP are abstracted, they are not independent of physical qualities. Constitution is the best ability to represent physical aspects of health that are being represented by HP. A case can be made for any of the abilities, but they (mostly) feed into the game in other ways. We know how Dex keeps you alive in the game: by helping you avoid being hit in the first place (Armor Class). Con reflects what happens after you are hit.

4. Sure.

5. "Level" is also abstract, so it becomes a matter of definitions. But you might want to look at how 3rd ed. incorporated both "level adjustment" and humanoid hit dice in their monstrous characters -- so a first level gnoll would have two "levels" of humanoid (no real abilities) and one level in Ranger (say) and functionally be a thirdlevel character, with three hit dice. Also in AD&D Rangers started with 2d8, and gained a d8 after that.
 
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Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
1. Why would a barbarian earn a d12 for hit dice, while a sorcerer gains only a d6? What is the reason why some classes have larger hit die types than others?
I mean, the “real” (or at least Doylist) reason is tradition. Barbarians are traditionally tough, sorcerers are traditionally squishy. But if you want a Wattsonian explanation that fits the understanding of hit points and hit dice above, the training to become a Barbarian is more physically demanding than the training to become a Sorcerer. Even if a Barbarian may not necessarily be taller or weigh more, they are more physically conditioned to tolerate injury. There’s also probably an element of that abstract luck/training/whatever as well. Barbarians are front-line infantry, sorcerers are back-row artillery.
2. Medium creatures use a d8. Most PCs are medium in size, so why not give them the same d8 for hit dice? If we did, would it be too harsh on small characters to give them the d6 small creatures gain for hit dice?
Again, mostly tradition. But you could think of it as being a matter of their class training having a significant impact on their physique. Yes, it would be unbalanced for Small races to have a smaller hit die than r everyone else, unless you gave them some other advantage to compensate for the roughly -1 HP per level.
3. Due to the metaphysical or abstract nature of hit points, why is only the Constitution modifier used? Would the other abilities represent other abstract aspects of hit points, such as Dexterity representing the reflexes aspect, equally well? What about Wisdom or Charisma representing divine favor or luck, etc.
Again, tradition.
4. Could hit dice be gained in ways other than by leveling, such as a magic item?
Sure, I guess. There aren’t any such items in any official sources as far as I know, but if you wanted to make one yourself, there’s nothing stopping you.
5. Could a creature or character have more hit dice than its level?
Not by the official rules, but again, nothing’s stopping you if you want to homebrew something.
 
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Fanaelialae

Legend
1. A barbarian has more hp than a sorcerer because they are meant to be tougher. That said, I think that the HD difference is largely due to legacy. You could certainly give barbarians and sorcerers the same HD, and then simply give barbarians additional mitigation to compensate. However, one of the nice things about HP is that the disparity is minimal at low level (around 6 HP at level 1) but increases significantly with level (63 HP at level 20).

2. You could give all medium sized characters a d8, assuming you provide classes that are meant to be tough with alternative mitigation. Small sized creatures could have a d6, but would need some additional mitigation as well.

Of course, you could go the other way and take away mitigation from less tough classes. For example, imagine if casting a spell reduced a caster's max HP by X for the rest of the day. A caster could have the same HP (and even AC) as the barbarian, but would be less tough than the the barbarian if they cast any spells.

3. Sacred cow?

4. Sure, why not?

5. Absolutely. If you convert monsters from the the MM to an equivalent level (such as for calculating an ECL for a monster companion), they'll frequently have more HD than their level. Simply because of how monsters are designed.
 

1. Why would a barbarian earn a d12 for hit dice, while a sorcerer gains only a d6? What is the reason why some classes have larger hit die types than others?

2. Medium creatures use a d8. Most PCs are medium in size, so why not give them the same d8 for hit dice? If we did, would it be too harsh on small characters to give them the d6 small creatures gain for hit dice?

3. Due to the metaphysical or abstract nature of hit points, why is only the Constitution modifier used? Would the other abilities represent other abstract aspects of hit points, such as Dexterity representing the reflexes aspect, equally well? What about Wisdom or Charisma representing divine favor or luck, etc.?

4. Could hit dice be gained in ways other than by leveling, such as a magic item?

5. Could a creature or character have more hit dice than its level?
1. Crude old-fashioned attempts at class balance and role protection is the reason why some classes have larger HDs. The Barbarian has more because the assumption is he'll be in melee, and the extra HP are to encourage him to take that risk and make it more survivable.

2. I think this would make Small PCs less popular, but if you gave them something in exchange, it might not be a big issue.

3. Good question re: CON. It's because CON is otherwise an almost completely pointless/vestigial stat in 5E. Because HP are so useful (and they are), the bonus HP from CON are a big deal. Likewise I'm pretty sure 95% of the reason Concentration exists as a check (not just a limit to number of spells maintained) is to try and give CON a reason to exist when we're way past that.

4. There's no really good reason they couldn't be, though it might be better to have it be a fixed amount of HP. I daresay some item or another historically has done this.

5. Yes, and I'm very sure it's happened in at least one edition with some obscure class or another (I seem to think some class in something started with 2d4 HP or something). It's probably not a great idea though. Happens all the time with monsters.

You're missing:

6. Why is the HD rolled to regain HP mechanic in 5E is half-baked?

And the answer is because WotC realized they needed to not make people reliant on magical healing, but hadn't come up with any particularly good solution by the time they "went live" with 5E, so went with a really underdeveloped approach. Worlds Without Number does the obvious thing and makes magical healing "use up" these HD, and I hope DND2024 takes a similar approach personally.
 

Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
in the original game everyone got d6 Hit points on the basis that a commoner had d4 and weapons did d6. ie a single good whack could kill a commoner and a base hero was able to survive a little better.
All weapons doing d6 also makes sense since a skilled knife fighter can kill a commoner as easily as a barbarian with an axe. Characters differetiated themselves based on how skilled they are with a weapon not on how big their weapon damage dice are

Unfortunately someone decided that bigger weapons should do more damage and thus was born the HP spiral that has existed ever since.

I'd be happy if every character got d8, give Barbarians damage reduction and small d6 characters a dodge bonus
 
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DND_Reborn

The High Aldwin
Thanks to everyone for replying so far. I want to give it a day or two before I reply to the responses, just to give others a chance to chime in.

You're missing:

6. Why is the HD rolled to regain HP mechanic in 5E is half-baked?

And the answer is because WotC realized they needed to not make people reliant on magical healing, but hadn't come up with any particularly good solution by the time they "went live" with 5E, so went with a really underdeveloped approach. Worlds Without Number does the obvious thing and makes magical healing "use up" these HD, and I hope DND2024 takes a similar approach personally.
LOL actually I didn't miss it. I understand this approach to healing hit points by spending hit dice, but we can discuss it further later on if you wish.
 

LOL actually I didn't miss it. I understand this approach to healing hit points by spending hit dice, but we can discuss it further later on if you wish.
Fair enough lol it's kind of my biggest question about HD with 5E!

I had another thought on 4 - magic items - you already gain HP from stuff like items with give you bonus CON or set your CON to a value (which exist in 5E), so gaining HD from a magic item (including spendable HD for healing) would probably be fine. The only issue is that if you're in a game that uses rolled, not fixed HP from HD, when do you roll them, and do you ever re-roll them?
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
6. Why is the HD rolled to regain HP mechanic in 5E is half-baked?

And the answer is because WotC realized they needed to not make people reliant on magical healing, but hadn't come up with any particularly good solution by the time they "went live" with 5E, so went with a really underdeveloped approach. Worlds Without Number does the obvious thing and makes magical healing "use up" these HD, and I hope DND2024 takes a similar approach personally.
Hit dice worked the same way since pretty early in the D&D Next open playtest, with the only significant changes being when they increased the length of a short rest to an hour, when they removed the requirement to spend a use of a healer’s kit to spend them, and when they changed long rests to only give back half of your HD instead of all of them. They had plenty of opportunity to iterate on the mechanic during the playtest but didn’t, which suggests to me that it wasn’t a matter of not having time to develop the idea, but rather a matter of the mechanic having been satisfying enough for enough of the players polled right off the bat that they were afraid to mess with it too much from there.

I’m hoping that the autognome in Unearthed Arcana is a sign they finally feel like they can explore the design space of hit dice a bit more. Fingers crossed that the ‘24 revisions do something with it.
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
You're missing:

6. Why is the HD rolled to regain HP mechanic in 5E is half-baked?

And the answer is because WotC realized they needed to not make people reliant on magical healing, but hadn't come up with any particularly good solution by the time they "went live" with 5E, so went with a really underdeveloped approach. Worlds Without Number does the obvious thing and makes magical healing "use up" these HD, and I hope DND2024 takes a similar approach personally.
I disagree. Hit dice are trying to solve a fundamentally different problem than their "equivalent" in WWN.

In 5e, HD are intended, as you say, to keep players from being wholly reliant on magical healing.

Whereas in WWN, it's designed to establish a limit on how much you can be healed in an adventure. Once you're out, you can't typically be healed, even by magic. This is at least in part because, in SWN and WWN you can have characters with unlimited healing potential (and are therefore limited by the amount of healing their target can receive).

Don't get me wrong, I liked healing surges in 4e a lot. Those are conceptually much closer to WWN in terms of design space than 5e HD.
 

Quartz

Hero
4. Could hit dice be gained in ways other than by leveling, such as a magic item?

In various editions there was the Potion of Heroism. This added up to 4d10. There was also a Potion of Super-heroism too.

As for HP, try this: everyone rolls d6 plus Con bonus, but clerics add an extra +2 per level, fighters add an extra +4 per level, and barbarians add and extra +6 per level.
 


Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
In various editions there was the Potion of Heroism. This added up to 4d10. There was also a Potion of Super-heroism too.

As for HP, try this: everyone rolls d6 plus Con bonus, but clerics add an extra +2 per level, fighters add an extra +4 per level, and barbarians add and extra +6 per level.
That math is off if you’re trying to emulate the class HP disparity of 5e. Increasing die size by one category is equivalent to +1 HP per level, not +2.
 

billd91

Not your screen monkey (he/him)
QUESTIONS:

1. Why would a barbarian earn a d12 for hit dice, while a sorcerer gains only a d6? What is the reason why some classes have larger hit die types than others?
Because they play different roles in the D&D game - some are expected to soak damage or are expected to need to do so more than others. Some are intended to be more vulnerable to damage than others and differing hit dice incentivize different ways of playing the characters.
2. Medium creatures use a d8. Most PCs are medium in size, so why not give them the same d8 for hit dice? If we did, would it be too harsh on small characters to give them the d6 small creatures gain for hit dice?
Yes it would be too harsh. Various iterations of D&D have experimented with different ways of modeling character size differences and most of them haven't been worth the complication (particularly to hit/defense modifiers and weapon sizes). Given the core importance of hit points for nearly all characters, handicapping small creatures that much would be excessively painful.
3. Due to the metaphysical or abstract nature of hit points, why is only the Constitution modifier used? Would the other abilities represent other abstract aspects of hit points, such as Dexterity representing the reflexes aspect, equally well? What about Wisdom or Charisma representing divine favor or luck, etc.?
Since the beginning, while hit points have always been abstracted and included a variety of non-physical factors (luck, skill, divine protection, whatever), physical toughness has always been a component. And a high Con character has, therefore, gotten a bonus to their hit points for a long time. From a game design standpoint, this is a pretty good thing as it means that characters have to be built with multiple goals in mind when it comes to rolling/picking their base 6 stats and that means trade-offs need to be made and no single stat is dominant.
4. Could hit dice be gained in ways other than by leveling, such as a magic item?
5. Could a creature or character have more hit dice than its level?
There's generally no way to gain hit dice from any source other than leveling up for a character. It's a fairly important limiting factor for them. Monsters can have considerably more hit dice than their CR value. But then, they do a lot less with their hit dice other than gain hit points.
 

1. Why would a barbarian earn a d12 for hit dice, while a sorcerer gains only a d6? What is the reason why some classes have larger hit die types than others?

Like people have said, tradition. It fits the roles of the characters but it goes back to 1E when clerics had d8, fighters d10, thieves d6, and magic-users d4.

2. Medium creatures use a d8. Most PCs are medium in size, so why not give them the same d8 for hit dice? If we did, would it be too harsh on small characters to give them the d6 small creatures gain for hit dice?


Easier just to mess with the number of HD and Con modifier rather than put a third variable in there. They did have different-size HD in 3e, not sure why they quit.

3. Due to the metaphysical or abstract nature of hit points, why is only the Constitution modifier used? Would the other abilities represent other abstract aspects of hit points, such as Dexterity representing the reflexes aspect, equally well? What about Wisdom or Charisma representing divine favor or luck, etc.?


Probably tradition again--DEX does raise AC and make you harder to hit, for instance. Characters have been piling on extra HD at each new level since 0E.

4. Could hit dice be gained in ways other than by leveling, such as a magic item?


I mean, you could--people have always made homebrew items. There were items like the potion of heroism and superheroism that would temporarily add them on in older editions, as said. I suspect hit dice are seen as too permanent for something 'detachable' like a magic item. But no reason you couldn't invent a shield that gives d8 extra HP as a magical property.

5. Could a creature or character have more hit dice than its level?


It's an interesting idea. You could just boost CON to give the extra HP though, to reflect the creature's toughness.
 

Yaarel

Mind Mage
Re the hit dice of the player classes, the non-Fighter classes are moreorless "spending" their hit points to purchase other features.

Re the hit dice of the monster statblocks, the hit points correlate tightly with CR, attack, damage, DC and saves, but not much else.
 

A quick history lesson, since legacy answers a lot of questions. Hit Dice were a term used back in miniature wargaming, and when fantasy rules from it became the combat mechanic for early OD&D, it came along. HD was used to determine your attack ability and HP, as each representing the average number of hits it would take to kill you ("hit" dice). Originally everything used 1d6 (sometimes modified by a -1 or +1), and they were not directly equal to level. Fighting Men gained them quickly, while the magic user gained them slowly. While the name HD remained, the concept has been completely forgotten over the editions (it might even have been modified by one of the OD&D supplements).

  1. The Barbarian was introduced in AD&D 1E supplement Unearthed Arcana. Before this point, the range of HD was based on the class: fighters with 1d10, clerics with 1d8, thieves with 1d6, and magic users with 1d4. The monk and ranger were different, and while I don't remember the monk, the Ranger started with 2d8 and had a 1d8 after that. The Barbarian broke this mold, and I assumed this was to make up for the fact that they'd be lower level forever (xp per level was based on class, with barbarian being three times higher than fighters). This legacy was continued in 3E and 5E (I don't remember 2E or 4E)
  2. Once HD (and everything else) was moved away from just being d6, monsters normally used 1d8 as the standard. The meant from a design perspective thieves were physically weaker and magic users significantly weaker than the "average" creature of their HD. This idea still technically holds, but with only Sorcerer, Warlock, and Wizards weaker than medium creatures, while the martial classes are all better, with the Barbarian much better. To move everything to size would make small races harder to play, and completely unbalance the classes. It could be done, but most of the classes would need to be rebalanced to reflect this.
  3. As size takes "meat" into consideration, so would Constitution. Having a higher Con would mean you had better meat, making you tougher. Secondly, and probably more importantly, Con also represents your ability to endure. Whatever the impact of HP, your character suffers some physical or mental impact from damage, and having more Con means you can endure the pain/loss of wind/anguish better.
  4. There's no reason why not, but there's no official material that does so yet.
  5. Almost no creature has a class level, so they all have more than their level.
 


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