How Temporary Hit Points Work in D&D 5e (With Examples)

Last Updated on November 13, 2023

Temporary Hit Points

Some spells and special abilities confer temporary hit points to a creature. Temporary hit points aren’t actual hit points; they are a buffer against damage, a pool of hit points that protect you from injury.

When you have temporary hit points and take damage, the temporary hit points are lost 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 to 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 save you.

Unless a feature that grants you temporary hit points has a duration, they last until they’re depleted or you finish a long rest.

Source: 5th Edition SRD

Temporary Hit Points Explained

Temporary hit points are a pool of hit points that exist to protect you from taking actual damage in D&D 5e. Normally, when you get hit by an attack, you take whatever damage is rolled. With temporary hit points, that damage is first applied to your temporary pool and anything left over gets applied to your actual hit points.

Let’s look at another actual example. 

Your character has 20 hit points and takes 5 points of damage.

That will simply bring you to 15 current hit points. This is a normal combat damage calculation, and it’s as simple as subtraction. 

If that same character also has 4 temporary hit points, the math looks a bit different. Now, you’ll fully deplete your 4 temporary hit points and have 1 point of damage remaining.

This 1 point gets taken from your hit points and you now have 19 current hit points.

How Long Do Temporary Hit Points Last?

Temporary hit points generally last until they are depleted or until you finish a long rest. Of course, certain effects may cause them to end sooner or may put a specific duration on the hit points themselves.

Let’s look at a couple of examples. We’ll be looking at the Sword of Life Stealing and the Potion of Heroism.

The Sword of Life Stealing reads as follows: “When you attack a creature with this magic weapon and roll a 20 on the attack roll, that target takes an extra 10 necrotic damage if it isn’t a construct or an undead. You also gain 10 temporary hit points.”

Naturally, we only really care about the 10 temporary hit points. This is our simple example since the source of our temporary hit points doesn’t add any extra contingencies. 

With this sword’s temporary hit points, we keep them until they are depleted or until we get a long rest in.

On the other hand, the Potion of Heroism reads as follows: “For 1 hour after drinking it, you gain 10 temporary hit points…”

This text makes it very clear that our temporary hit points only last for 1 hour. 

In this case, our temporary hit points disappear when we take a long rest, when they are depleted, or when an hour has passed, whichever happens first.

Temporary Hit Points From Multiple Sources

Probably the biggest mistake new players and DMs make when dealing with temporary hit points arises when a character would receive them from multiple sources. A character can only benefit from temporary hit points from one source. 

This means that if I drank a Potion of Heroism on one turn and then rolled a 20 with my Sword of Life Stealing on the next turn, I wouldn’t end up with 20 temporary hit points.

So, if temporary hit points don’t stack, what do we do? Well, we simply take whichever source offers us more temporary hit points. 

Temporary Hit Points and Concentration

How do temporary hit points affect concentration?  

If you aren’t aware, concentration is a part of casting spells in 5e that allows spells to last for a certain duration at the expense of, well, a caster’s concentration. 

There are plenty of rules to go along with it, but the relevant one is that casters have to make a saving throw to keep their concentration when they take damage

Jeremy Crawford, lead game designer for D&D,  has stated that “When temporary hit points absorb damage for you, you’re still taking damage, just not to your real hit points.” This means we would make a concentration saving throw even if our current hit points aren’t affected.

As always, your gaming group can decide for itself what the rule should be.  We’re just giving you what you need to make an informed choice!

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