Last Updated on December 8, 2021
Tired of yet another low level character dying to goblin arrows?
Of building your third wizard in as many sessions because you rolled badly on a random encounter table?
Of not feeling like a badass because the DM’s kobolds just can’t seem to stop rolling crits?
May I suggest the Tough feat?
The perfect solution to a tough campaign, whether your character is a puny spellcaster with a halfling’s handful of hit points or a hulking He-Man homage with a huge… haul of health (? Okay, I ran out of steam there at the end, but my point stands), the Tough feat is a simple, elegant way to ensure that your character has a good chance of staying alive and kicking for approximately one more round of combat.
And, in many cases, one more round is all you’re gonna need.
What’s a Feat?
Feats are an optional, woefully underused feature of D&D 5e.
Whenever your character has the option to take an Ability Score Increase, you can instead opt to choose from an extensive list of feats – special abilities, buffs, and tweaks that have the potential to completely rework the way you play your character, or just provide a nice incremental buff.
How Does the Tough Feat Work in DnD 5e?
The Tough feat is one of the simplest feats to pick up in Dungeons & Dragons 5e. While some feats require you to keep track of new abilities, spells, and special conditions, Tough just makes you… tougher.
Your hit point maximum increases by an amount equal to twice your level when you gain this feat. Whenever you gain a level thereafter, your hit point maximum increases by an additional 2 hit points.
Source: Player’s Handbook
It really is that simple. When you take this feat you get a nice retroactive pile of hit points equal to twice your level. So, a 4th level Dwarf Barbarian who takes this feat immediately gains 8 hit points.
Then, each time the Dwarf Barbarian subsequently gains a level, they get an extra 2 hit points in addition to the result rolled on their Hit Die (a d12 in our barbarian’s case) and their Constitution modifier.
Is the Tough Feat Good?
Essentially, the Tough feat (assuming you play a character from 1st to 20th level, which is admittedly rare) gives your character an extra 40 hit points over the course of their adventuring career.
At lower levels, this feat can – under the right circumstances – be a literal lifesaver. Characters between 1st and 3rd level have a tendency to die to, well, just about everything.
A lucky goblin’s critical hit, a failed Dexterity saving throw, or a 30 foot drop while trying to scale a perfectly normal hill all have the potential to send a budding adventurer into the grim realm of death saving throws.
Classes with d6 Hit Dice like the Wizard and Sorcerer can begin the game with a truly measly number of hit points – especially since neither of these highly cerebral spellcasters have much reason to invest in a higher Constitution score.
Also, when you’re lower level and your hit point pool is smaller, you also run the risk of getting killed outright.
If you ever take damage that brings your hit points far enough below zero to equal half of your hit point maximum, you die.
No death saving throws, no second chances – roll a new character (or contact your friendly neighborhood necromancer).
Because lower-level enemies and hazards usually deal smallish amounts of damage, just a few extra hit points here and there could make the difference between an adventurer’s long and fruitful career and yet another character left dissolving inside a gelatinous cube.
Also, while an “extra 40 hit points at 20th level” doesn’t sound very impressive, it’s worth keeping in mind that if your character rests often enough, even a small boost to your max hit points is going to pay some pretty huge cumulative dividends.
For example, take out 4th level Dwarf Barbarian. She takes the Tough feat at 4th level, immediately gaining 8 hit points.
Assuming she takes one long rest and two short rests per day, during which she heals to full hp – not even taking into account any healing she receives – the actual “extra life” she gets every day is 24 hit points.
That’s 168 hit points every week she spends adventuring.
The Tough feat is more less a way to give yourself a bigger Hit Die.
In all honesty, I kind of wish this was what it did, as you’d trade off max hp increases for better hit dice-based healing on short rests, but D&D 5e seems resolutely committed to ignoring the concept of “incremental dice chains” (the idea that you can increase or decrease a die by a “step,” turning a d8 into a d10, for example), so here we are.
On balance, the flat 2 hit point boost per level actually averages out to be slightly better than increasing your HD by a “step” as it’s a guaranteed boost, rather than being change-based.
It’s actually pretty much equivalent to increasing your character’s Hit Die by two increments.
So, if you’re a wizard with the Tough feat, you’re essentially turning your HD into a d10 (the same as a ranger or a fighter), which is pretty neat.
Tough vs. Constitution: Which Is Better?
Now, you can technically achieve the same result as the Tough feat by increasing your Constitution modifier, as two extra increments of two ability score points (from 12 to 16, for example) also boosts the amount of hit points you gain each level by 2.
Not only that, but Constitution is also helpful when maintaining spells that require Concentration, resisting the effects of Poison, and staving off levels of exhaustion – to name just a few applications.
However, if it’s raw hit points you’re after, the Tough feat is a much smaller investment.
The necessary Constitution increases required to produce the same results can’t be achieved with a single ASI, and you don’t retroactively gain a bunch of hit points.
So, if it’s just hit points you need, consider this feat.
If you’re a character that casts a lot of concentration-based spells (like a paladin) or your DM just looooves trying to poison you, then maybe a Constitution bump is the way to go.
When Should I Take the Tough Feat?
The nice thing about the Tough feat is that it’s very forgiving as a pickup at later levels.
Because you retroactively gain a chunk of hit points whenever you choose the Tough Feat, there’s little opportunity cost to waiting a few levels (assuming your character isn’t in desperate need of some extra tankiness).
Some feats (like Magic Initiate, for example) get considerably less potent as your character gains levels. However, Tough scales quite nicely.
At lower levels, it’s a great feat for hanging on for just a few more rounds, and later in the game, you’re basically getting enough extra health to tank an 8th or 9th level spell.
Extra hit points can be crucial if you’re fighting magic users with access to spells like Disintegrate or Power Word: Kill.
There are two common reasons to take the Tough feat: making a weak character more survivable and making a tough character tougher.
If you find your d6 Hit Die wizard repeatedly a lot closer to death than you’d like, then the Tough feat is a great way to round out their survivability – especially if you’d rather focus on flinging fireballs than wasting spell slots on Shield or Misty Step to escape.
Likewise, martial characters with relatively low Hit Dice, like rogues and monks, can benefit hugely from this feat, as it gives them the confidence to get into melee range and start dishing out damage.
If you’re playing one of the squishier martial classes in a party with no dedicated tank or healer (like a ranger, fighter, paladin, or cleric), you and your allies are going to have to spread that damage around a little more, and the Tough feat does a lot of heavy lifting in these scenarios.
But what if you are the tank? A lone paladin or barbarian in a party of ultra-squishy wizards, sorcerers, and rogues with cartoonishly low hp pools matched only by their laughably hittable ACs?
Looks like it’s up to you to try and absorb just about as much damage as human(oid)ly possible.
Subclasses that focus on drawing enemies in while the rest of the party pelts them with spells and missile fire (anything with compelled duel or pretty much all barbarians, to be honest) are going to love the extra layer of security that the Tough feat affords.
Can I Take the Tough Feat Twice?
Sadly, you cannot. In the Player’s Handbook, it’s stated on page 165 that “You can take each feat only once, unless the feat’s description says otherwise.”
The Tough feat makes no mention of being able to take it multiple times, so you can only take it the once.
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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.