D&D New Player Guides

D&D Rookie Camp #3: Character Health and Defense

Alright rookie, you now know how Ability Scores and Skills work. Now it’s time to teach you about Hit Points, how to keep them and what to do when you can’t keep them.

At the top of the middle column of boxes on your character sheet, you’ll see a section made up of several smaller squares, starting with Armor Class, or AC. AC is the number that your enemies must meet or beat when rolling an attack against you. Your character’s AC is calculated by using a base of 10 + your Dexterity modifier + the AC bonuses of any armor they are wearing and whether or not they are carrying a shield.

Next to the AC box is the Initiative box. This is the modifier you add to your Initiative rolls at the beginning of battle. This number is your Dexterity modifier. If two or more characters roll identical Initiative rolls, the players can decide amongst themselves who goes first. Ties between players and DM-controlled characters can be decided in a similar fashion.

The next box is your character’s speed. This is the number of feet your character can move each turn. Your character’s race determines the base speed. Dwarves get the short end of the stick and can only move 25 feet per turn while most other races have a base speed of 30 feet. Magical items and certain spells can affect your speed.

Below those three boxes are two larger boxes to keep track of your hit points, or HP. On the line marked HP Maximum, you put your total HP. At level 1, this is calculated by the max number on your character’s Hit Die + their Constitution modifier. For instance, if your character’s Hit Die is a d10 and their Constitution modifier is +2, their starting HP is 12. When your character takes damage, simply write their running HP total in the space under the Max HP line.

Certain spells, magic items or potions can give your character temporary HP on top of your normal HP. You keep track of these points under the HP box. These points go away once they’re used up. Remove these points first, before you remove HP from your Max HP total.

The next box is a place to keep track of your Hit Dice. Your Hit Dice are determined by your character’s class and are used to heal during short rests. You start out at level one with one Hit Die and add one die for every level you gain. To heal during a short rest, you roll any number of your Hit Dice you want and add your Constitution modifier multiplied by the number of Hit Dice you used to the result. When you take a long rest, half of the Hit Dice you’ve spent are replenished.

Hit Dice are also used to increase your Max HP when you level up. Roll one Hit Die and add your Constitution modifier and then add that total to your character’s Max HP. If you think you might roll terribly, you can always take the average of the die roll, as shown in the Player’s Handbook for your class.

It’s also worth noting that if your character boosts their Constitution modifier, you can modify their Max HP to reflect the new score. For instance, if your character is level 5 and they boost their Constitution modifier from 13 to a 14, it changes the modifier from +1 to +2. You can then add 1 + your level to your Max HP.

Finally, there is a box that no player ever wants to mess with, but will most likely have to face, especially at lower levels: the death saves box. In it you will see six bubbles labeled Successes and Failures. When your character is dropped to 0 HP, death saves kick in. For each of your turns after going to 0, until you are healed, you must roll a d20. On a result of 10 or higher, you succeed from falling into the clutches of death and fill in one Success bubble. On a roll under 10, you fill in a Failure bubble.

At three Successes, your character stabilizes, meaning they will not die. You stay at 0 HP until someone in your party heals you. If an enemy attacks your prone body before someone can heal you, you must start the death saves process again. And since you’re character is prone, all successful hits are considered critical hits. And since you don’t have HP to take, you suffer two automatic death save failures.

If you fail three death saving throws, or have an enemy hit you more than once while you’re unconscious, your character is officially dead. Gone. Kaput. Only a revivify spell or a resurrection spell can bring them back.

Now you know how to calculate HP, AC and deal with death saves. Our next installment will finish the math portion of the character sheet and deal with weapons, attack spells, equipment and currency.

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