As the rest of the party chooses to look away, the useful warlock mutters incantations to her patron to refresh her spells, infusing her body with the Eldritch powers that would allow her to cast spells after even the shortest of rests. However, she is not the only one taking advantage of the brief respite as the bloodied barbarian and fighter wrap their injuries, as well as a grateful bard who found himself in unexpected close combat when part of the direwolf pack managed to get past the front line.
Story-wise the pervious paragraph is the type of tale that the DM bring the world to life while mechanically such a short rest is the perfect time to bring out an important but often under-talked about mechanic in 5E D&D: character hit dice.
A player starts with one hit die at level one and gains one additional hit dice every single level up. Hit dice can only be used in-game during short rests, the type of die changes based on class, and are used to recover from injuries or add new total hit points upon leveling up.
While they don’t come up often, understanding how hit dice work is an important part of learning the 5th Edition system and making sure you are playing your character correctly in-game as well as during level ups.
How Do Hit Dice Work?
Hit dice are a 5E mechanic that allows player characters to heal from wounds without using items or magic during a short rest and help determine new hit points when leveling up. This crucial mechanic only comes up during these two situations, but they are crucial to both leveling up your character and then keeping them alive in campaign.
Hit Dice During Level Up
Hit dice are determined by class and rolled to get hit points. With the rules as written (RAW), a player has the option of either rolling the hit die or simply claiming the average of hit die (3 for a d6, 4 for a d8, etc).
Some DMs prefer to force rolling, or have rolling at low levels then full hit points rewarded at higher levels. Ask the DM their preference for how to handle hit points with leveling up, as messing with the hit dice is pretty common for Dungeon Masters who like to homebrew 5E rules.
However, rules as written hit dice at level up:
- The hit dice is based on class
- You can roll for hit points
- You can take the average of the die for hit points
- Your character’s Constitution modifier is added to the total
- Hit points gained must be a minimum of 1 even if a bad Constitution would lead to a zero or negative number
Hit Dice When Healing During a Short Rest
Using hit dice in-game means taking a short rest. Hit dice aren’t needed for long rests because players recover all of their injuries during a long rest, and also recover all spent hit dice.
To use hit dice you can roll one at a time (or a few at a time) to make sure you don’t overspend. On a short rest you heal the number you roll on a hit die AND your Constitution modifier.
HIT DICE EXAMPLE 1: You have a sorcerer who has a Constitution of 14 who rolls three hit dice to recover some health during a short rest.
You roll a 2, a 3, and a 5 after rolling 3d6. The sorcerer thus recovers 16 hit points (2+2, 3+2, 5+2) since the Constitution modifier is added to every single die roll.
HIT DICE EXAMPLE 2: Your barbarian with a Constitution of 18 tanked like a champ, but could use a bit of patching after coming down from their most recent rage.
They roll 2d12 rolling a 4 and an 11. The math (4+4) + ( 11+4) means they heal a healthy 23 hit points during the short rest, and are ready to tank once again!
HIT DICE EXAMPLE 3: Your level 3 rogue/level 3 ranger took a beating and needs to use all his hit dice on a short rest to recover. He has a Constitution of 12 for a +1 modifier.
For the 3 levels of rogue the player rolls 3 d8 hit dice, and for the 3 levels of ranger the player rolls 3 d10 hit dice. The player rolls 3, 3, 4, 5, 7, and 8. This is 30 hit points plus another 6 for the Constitution modifier, for a total healing of 36 badly needed hit points.
The hit dice that are rolled are considered spent until players take a long rest, at which point up to half of the total hit dice a player has can be recovered. In most campaigns (outside of pure dungeon crawls) this means there won’t be too many problems keeping most of your hit dice ready to go, but they are a resource and since you only get half back during long rests, be weary in campaigns where you have multiple short rests on average before getting the chance to take a long rest.
When Do You Get Hit Dice?
Every player gets one hit dice per level. So if players start at level one, they have one hit dice and then for each additional level, another hit die is added to their pool. So for every single level up, another hit die is added to the pool.
When it come to getting hit dice, back, that’s a different situation.
If you spend hit dice during a short rest, those dice that are rolled are out of commission until you take a long rest. That means a level 6 character has 6 hit dice, so if they need to roll 5 during the first short rest, they only have one left to use if another short rest takes place before the party gets to relax and take a long rest.
However, the player does not get all their hit dice back during a long rest. They get half of their total hit dice back. So if the player has 10 hit dice total, they get up to 5 hit dice back.
Hit dice, like spells to all non-warlock classes, are fully re-charged during a long rest and are not needed for healing during said long rest.
Hit Dice by Class
The value of a character’s hit dice depends on the class. Two classes roll a d6 for a hit die, seven classes roll a d8 for a hit die, three classes roll a d10 for hit die, and the mighty barbarian rolls a d12.
5E Classes that have a d6 hit dice
5E Classes that have a d8 hit dice
5E Classes that have a d10 hit dice
5E Class that has a d12 hit dice
How Hit Dice Work When Multi-Classing
Much in the same way ability score improvements and feat opportunities level up by class level, hit dice are attached to levels by class. That means it is possible that a player would have 2 or even 3 types of hit dice. A prime example would be the popular ranger/rogue multiclass. Supposing a character was 12 rogue/8 ranger.
In that example 12 hit dice that cold be used during a short rest would be d8s (rogue) and 8 of them would be d10s (ranger). It’s the responsibility of the player to keep track of this during a campaign and to decide which hit dice to use on any given short rest.
How to Improve Your Hit Dice
While adding total hit points to a 5E character or healing during a short rest are the two situations where all players deal with hit dice, there are a few very narrow situations where an item or a feat can make hit dice more powerful, or add to their effectiveness.
The Durable Feat Improves Hit Dice for High Constitution Players
The durable feat is fairly unimpressive in 5th Ed, but it does improve hit dice and can be very useful in the very narrow application of a good old fashioned dungeon crawl. This is because a player who has the durable feat always get a minimum of double their Constitution modifier when rolling a hit dice.
So for a high Constitution character like a Barbarian who has a +4 modifier, that means the hit die can never be less than an eight, and then you STILL get the Constitution modifier added to that hit die.
This even applies to spellcasting classes so a Sorcerer with a d6 hit die who has the Durable feat with an 18 Constitution still gets a minimum of 8 hit points despite only having a d6 hit die.
The Chef Feat Works with Hit Dice
Any player who eats a healing snack prepared by a player with the Chef Feat in 5E while on a short rest, if they spend one or more hit dice during a short rest will also get to roll an additional 1d8 and recover that amount of hit points in addition to what the actual hit die rolls provide.
This isn’t a direct effect on a player’s hit dice but it is a supplement to them.
Dwarven Fortitude Racial Feat Gives Hit Dice Versatility
Dwarven Fortitude is a racial feat from Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, and actually gives hit dice some really remarkable versatility. When it comes to this racial feat, it allows a player to roll a single hit die if they take the Dodge action, and they then regain hit points during that dodge as if the die was rolled during a short rest.
If you’re relying on the Dodge action, this can be a great way to keep a Dwarven rogue up during action.
Aberrant Dragonmark from Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron
This is a very niche book and many aspects from the book aren’t going to be allowed by the DM unless the game is in this setting, but it’s still worth the ask even if the setting is different. This versatile can do a variety of things depending on the setup and play, and one part of this feat is allowing hit dice to be spent in a different way.
Players with the Aberrant Dragonmark feat who cast a 1st-level spell through their dragonmark can roll a hit die, and whether that number is odd or even drastically affects what happens next.
- If the number rolled is even, take temporary hit points equal to that roll.
- If the number rolled is odd, another creature within 30 feet will take that much force damage (or the caster if no one else is in range).
The Bard’s Song of Rest
The Song of Rest is a feature of the Bard class which allows everyone in the party to recover an extra hit die’s worth of hit points when actually using hit dice. This comes in during a short rest and can be very useful for a party.
Two Specific 5E Magic Items That Affect Hit Dice
This comes from the Acquisition Inc 5E books, and as expected with anyone who has watched this series grow from podcast to PAX mainstay over the years, it has some pretty wild stuff. This includes two magic items that affect hit dice.
Living Armor – This is actually a cursed magical item, in that if actually feeds off the hit dice of its host in order to survive. After a long rest the armor must be fed half the remaining hit dice or else the wearer takes a level of exhaustion.
Piercer (Magic Item) – Not to be mistaken with the Piercer Feat from Tasha’s, this item will allow a character to always take the maximum amount of hit points for each hit die spent. Pretty good deal, right? However, the character must also eat twice as much food to prevent the exhaustion condition from taking hold.
So it’s like a teenager hitting a growth spurt.
5E Hit Dice, In Conclusion
While hit dice can seem a bit intimidating at first as you’re trying to figure out everything, the mechanics behind them are actually really simple. These are used to add total hit points to your character when you level up or to recover hit points during a short rest. That’s 99% of what you need to know about hit dice and how they work in 5th edition D&D.
However, with the right items and feats you can make these useful things even more versatile and practical for a campaign.
Now you know all you need to know about the mechanics of hit dice.
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Proud to embrace the locally created moniker of “Corrupt Overlord” from one of the all time great Lords of Waterdeep runs, Shane is one member of the Assorted Meeples crew and will be hard at work creating awesome content for the website. He is a long-time player of board games, one time semi-professional poker player, and tends to run to the quirky or RPG side of things when it comes to playing video games. He loves tabletop roleplaying systems like Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder, Werewolf, Fate, and others, and not only has been a player but has run games as DM for years. You can find his other work in publications like Level Skip or Hobby Lark.