The foul powers bestowed by a lifetime spent studying the dark, necromantic arts cannot mend broken bones or heal torn flesh in the truest sense, but if your party finds itself low on healing magic with potions in short supply, every wizard worth the contents of their component pouch should be prepared to imbue themselves with the eldritch mockery of a genuine healing spell: False Life.
False Life really is one of those spells that people seem to love or hate, so today we’re going to break down what it does and how it works and answer the all-important question: is it actually any good?
- Casting Time: 1 action
- Range/Area: Self
- Duration: 10 minutes
- School: Enchantment
- Class: Sorcerer, wizard, artificer
- Level: 1st
- Damage/Effect: Buff
- Attack/Save: None
- Components: V, S, M (a small amount of alcohol or distilled spirits)
You infuse yourself with necromantic energies, granting yourself a facsimile of life. Gain 1d4 + 4 temporary hit points for the spell’s duration.
At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 2nd level or higher, you gain 5 additional temporary hit points for each slot level above 1st.
What Is False Life?
False Life is a 1st-level necromancy spell that infuses the caster with a handful of temporary hit points for the next 10 minutes, making them more survivable in combat.
When cast using a higher-level spell slot than 1st, the number of temporary hit points granted by False Life increases by 5 for every spell slot level. It’s rare for an upcasted spell to give a flat numerical benefit rather than increase the number of dice rolled, but False Life is a pretty unique spell and fills a pretty unique role in an arcane spellcaster’s roster of magical effects.
Who Can Cast False Life?
In addition to sorcerers, wizards, and artificers — all of whom have access to False Life via their class’s spell list — several subclasses also learn this spell, including the Death and Grave Domain clerics, and warlocks with the Undead or the Undying patrons.
Warlocks can also gain access to the spell via the warlock invocation Fiendish Vigor, which allows them to cast False Life at will without the need for material components and essentially provides a near-constant 5-8 temporary hit-point buffer to the character.
Is False Life a Good Spell?
As a rule, arcane spellcasters don’t have access to especially powerful healing spells. Bards and Artificers can cast a few, but the three full-caster classes that focus on arcane rather than divine spellcasting (wizards, warlocks, and sorcerers) don’t have access to healing magic without a quirk of their subclass, a feat, magic items, or some other aftermarket character modification.
Wizards, warlocks, and sorcerers have access to some of the most powerful spellcasting in the game, but clerics are the ones with healing spells.
In order to increase the survivability of squishy spellcasters with fewer hit points than your average hobgoblin at 1st level, False Life lets wizards and sorcerers buff themselves up with some temporary hp, even increasing their hit points above their current maximum.
The result is that you can end up with a 1st-level wizard walking into a fight with more hit points than the party barbarian. If your party is short on healing spells (usually because the cleric player decided to be one of those offensive spellcasting fire-worshiping clerics again), then being able to give yourself a little extra juice before a tough fight can make all the difference.
How Do Temporary Hit Points Work in DnD 5e?
Unlike actual hit points, temporary hit points have an expiration date (okay fine, I suppose we’re all going to die someday, so unless you’re playing a high-level monk, everyone’s hit points technically have an expiration date… there’s no need to be an ass about it). Sometimes that means they last until you take a long rest. With False Life, your temporary hp only lasts for 10 minutes, which is an eternity in combat terms and a very short section of the adventuring day — meaning this is clearly a spell you’re supposed to fire up when trouble is imminent.
When you gain temporary hit points, you don’t add them to your pool of real hp. Instead, they sit on top of your hit-point pool like a shield or buffer — like oil on top of a tangy vinaigrette. Temporary hit points are a buffer against damage, a pool of hit points that protect you from injury.
When you have temporary hit points and take damage, you reduce your temporary hit points first, and any leftover damage carries over to your normal hit points. For example, if you have 5 temporary hit points and take 7 damage, you lose the temporary hit points and then take 2 damage.
Because temporary hit points are separate from your actual hit points, they can exceed your hit point maximum. A character can, therefore, be at full hit points and receive temporary hit points.
Healing can’t restore temporary hit points, and they can’t be added together. If you have temporary hit points and receive more of them, you decide whether to keep the ones you have or gain the new ones. For example, if a spell grants you 12 temporary hit points when you already have 10, you can have 12 or 10, not 22.
If you have 0 hit points, receiving temporary hit points doesn’t restore you to consciousness or stabilize you. They can still absorb damage directed at you while you’re in that state, but only true healing can restore you to consciousness or stabilize you.
How To Use False Life in DnD 5e
Because temporary hit points aren’t something you want to apply to your character after the fact, you should think about using False Life as a pre-battle buff. It’s something to throw onto your wizard before initiative is rolled. Doing it in the fight is usually not going to be as useful as throwing out a damage spell of the same level to end the fight sooner seeing as the right damage or control spell will always move the needle farther than a small injection of temporary hit points.
My personal favorite use for this spell is as a trap, fire, or other environmental-hazard soak. Throw it on your character, and run across a room full of poison darts or through a wall of fire. Of course, if you’re worried about getting attacked, Shield is also a strong option in this case.
When cast at higher levels, the additional 5 hp per spell slot effectively gives you an extra level’s worth of d8 Hit Dice, meaning that you’re usually going to go from ultra squishy frontliner to on par with the party’s beefier martial characters. For spellcasters who like to stay close to the action, like Bladedancer wizards, False Life can easily become a staple defensive option.
Otherwise, there are probably going to be more effective ways that you unlock at higher levels to spread the healing around (Aid or the Inspiring Leader Feat), or balance defense with offense (Armor of Agathys).
Frequently Asked Questions
How Many Times Can I Cast False Life in a Row?
You can cast it as many times as you have spell slots, but each new result can only replace your existing temporary hit points.
Do Temporary Hit Points Stack?
No. You cannot combine temporary hit points from two different sources. When you have multiple sources of temporary hp, you choose which one to keep and which one to discard.
Can You Cast False Life on Others?
No. The range of the spell is “Self,” and therefore, it can’t be cast on anyone other than the caster.
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I played my first tabletop RPG (Pathfinder 1e, specifically) in college. I rocked up late to the first session with an unread rulebook and a human bard called Nick Jugger. It was a rocky start but I had a blast and now, the better part of a decade later, I play, write, and write about tabletop RPGs (mostly 5e, but also PBtA, Forged in the Dark and OSR) games for a living, which is wild.