Determining Hit Points

One puzzle I’ve had for a while is how to calculate hit points. The D&D 3.x model failed for me in some degree because of the emphasis on Constitution compared to Hit Die. At higher levels the martial characters (who were supposedly tougher than the non-martial characters like wizards) often had hit point totals almost indistinguishable from the non-martial characters because it was easy to pump Constitution, and the hit point bonus could come to outweigh the Hit Die. Given that ‘bigger Hit Die’ was supposedly an advantage and ‘smaller Hit Die’ was supposedly a limitation, this didn’t set well with me.

I’d also like to get away from rolling hit points altogether. I’ve seen many different schemes to solve the ‘bad hit point roll’ problem, and I’m tired of it. Instead, hit points will be calculated. I’d like to see the following features of a hit point determination mechanism.

  • Martial characters really do tend to have more hit points than non-martial characters.
  • Reduce the emphasis on Constitution.
  • Make low-level characters a little more durable (give them some more hit points).
  • Use a couple of simple calculations instead of rolling dice.

This shouldn’t be too hard.

First Attempt

On my first attempt I came up with a simple formula.

Hit points = Constitution + level * n

Where n = 3 to start, but can be modified by talents and whatnot. For instance, the Toughness talent increased n by +1 per tier.

This resulted in high-level wizards without Toughness having Constitution + 20*n = 60 + Con hit points, and high-level fighters without Toughness having… Constitution + 20 * n = 60 + Con hit points.

Well. A tax on martial characters, just to have the hit points needed to do their jobs. That’s not acceptable.

I tried a few variants (add Combat Training Bonus to n, or half), but this made Toughness too mild, so I had to turn up Toughness (+2 per tier) and things got a little goofy. Add in that there is almost no difference between low-level martial characters and low-level non-martial characters and it doesn’t work well for me.

Second Attempt

I recently realized that in editions previous to 3.x martial characters had about twice as many hit points as non-martial characters. The hit dice were smaller and the Constitution bonuses didn’t apply nearly as often – and when the Constitution scores were high, non-martial characters were constrained in how much of a bonus they could apply. While I don’t want to go back to the multiple modifier amounts used in AD&D, the ratio of hit points wasn’t that bad. So, what else do martial characters have about twice as much of as non-martial characters? No, not a duck, that’s a different show. A classic, but not what I’m looking for.

The answer is, of course, Base Attack Bonus. Which is calculated as Level Bonus + Combat Training Bonus, and Combat Training Bonus even goes up before Level Bonus for martial characters. Let’s change the formula a little:

Hit points = Constitution + BAB * n

Let’s double n as well (for reasons that will become apparent shortly). This gives us high-level martial characters with Con+120 hit points, and high-level non-martial characters with Con+60 hit points. This is moderately close to what I think the D&D 3.x designers expected. It takes Constitution almost completely out of the equation apart from base hit points, which in reconsideration is a little too far. Let’s put Constitution modifier back in, since it no longer outweighs ‘hit die size’ (‘bigger hit dice’ is now modeled as a higher multiplier rather than more or less static amount).

Hit points = Constitution + BAB * (n + mCon)

You need to have a Con of -2 or less to not get at least one hit point when your base attack bonus goes up, which I think is not really a problem since you’d be dead anyway.

Given a martial character with Con 24 and a non-martial character with Con 24 (between tier bonuses and talents it’s not very hard to hit this at high level), the martial character has 24 + 20 * 13 = 284 hit points. The uber-buff nonmartial character has 24 + 10*13 = 154 hit points – a fair whack, almost as many as the not-so-tough martial character, but the tough martial character can still take a bunch more damage. A half-martial character (rogue or cleric-type) with BAB +15 at this point would have 24 + 15*13 = 219 hit points.

This looks pretty reasonable to me.

I should look at low-level characters as well to see that there is a difference between them.

For 0-level characters the difference comes down to Constitution score. Most people (average Con 10) would have 10 hit points, a poor beggar or child (Con 6, say) has 6 hit points, a tough guard (Con 13) has 13 hit points. The differences aren’t very big, but I’m okay with that. These are basically normal people, not heroes, but they still have a moderate amount of resilience – even the beggar has about as many hit points as a typical starting wizard in D&D 3.x, and the guard has twice as many as that.

For first-level characters a martial character has Con + 1*(6+mCon) hit points, so even a Con 10 warrior has 10+6=16 hit points, and a really buff (Con 18) warrior has 18+10=28 hit points. The addition of Con to base hit points makes a big difference (D&D 3.x, these characters would have 10 or 14 hit points). A non-martial character has only ‘Con’ hit points (BAB +0), so 10 hit points, or 18 if he’s really buff. A D&D 3.x wizard at this point has either 4 hit points or 8.


Let’s review the design goals and see how this fits.

  • Martial characters really do tend to have more hit points than non-martial characters.

Almost self-evident because hit points are derived in part from one of the key elements of martial characters, but also demonstrated above. Non-martial characters have about half the hit points of comparable martial characters, semi-martial characters end up somewhere between them.

  • Reduce the emphasis on Constitution.

Somewhat achieved. Constitution has a greater effect at low level because it is the character’s base hit points, but it no longer makes other elements almost irrelevant.

  • Make low-level characters a little more durable (give them some more hit points).

I think this was clearly achieved. Almost all adventurers will have rather more hit points than previously, especially noticeable at low level, and even the weakest common characters have decent amounts, though nothing special.

  • Use a couple of simple calculations instead of rolling dice.

This is done.

All things considered, I think this is pretty close to what I am aiming for.

Other Considerations


I’m not sure how or even if Toughness should be brought in. If it increases n by +1 per tier it has less effect than improving the Base Attack Bonus (at least, until the BAB gets fairly high) and it’s clearly inferior to improving Constitution. At +2 per tier it might be workable, but then we can end up with 500 hit point characters at the high end (and it still makes only minimal difference for low-level characters). I’m not convinced this is bad or good, but it’s something to consider. Maybe I’ll just make it a flat +10 per tier bonus to hit points – nice at all levels, without overpowering at the top.

Non-martial Combat Training

One of the faster ways to improve hit points, if you’re willing to spend the talent slots on it, is to pump the Combat Training Bonus. Each +1 on the CTB is worth six hit points (or more, most likely) and makes you better at hitting things. I can easily see otherwise non-martial characters taking these talents just to get their hit points up, with that other benefit. I’m not sure I like this, but I suspect it isn’t really a big problem. Maybe increasing Toughness to +15 or +20 hit points per tier (better than is likely to be gained by improving BAB twice, until the Con bonus gets big) will cause Toughness to be the preferred path.

Improving Constitution

This looks like it’s in a reasonable place. The non-martial characters don’t gain so much from doing this any more, while martial characters do, so the characters who should be very durable are more likely to take talents that improve that while non-martial characters are likely to go another route (Toughness).


For now, I’m going with the following formula:

Hit points = Con + BAB * (6+mCon)

Toughness gives a bonus of +20 hit points per tier.


  1. hadsil

    I like this. While Constitution modifier still affects hit points somewhat, it’s not the sole thing. It diminishes the “Adventurer’s Tax” of needing at least a 14 Con.

    Some people might have aesthetic objection to the similarity of hit points over time across many characters, NPCs, and monsters (if they go by the same formula). I don’t, but some people are ornery that way.

  2. The odd thing about similarity of hit points over time is that that is what should happen anyway. 10d10 rarely deviates much from 55 — the potential of a 10 is there, as is the potential of 100, but (without having done the math) I suspect you don’t often get as many as 10 points from the mean, given true dice.

    When you get to 20d10 or 30d10, you might as well not even roll.

    If two large dragons with the same Con at the same level have exactly the same hit points, who cares? The difference probably would’ve been less than one hit worth of damage, so it really doesn’t matter.

  3. Doug Lampert

    Going Way Back here.

    Your formula was Hit points = Con + BAB * (6+mCon), based on expert starting at level 1.

    For even Con scores this is the same as HP = -2 + (BAB + 2) * (6+mCon).

    Including Basic as a Tier gives everyone 2 more BAB, dropping the -2 as irrelevant we get HP = BAB*(6+mCon). This needs a special rule for any level 1 characters with no Martial Training or toughness, but should work fine otherwise. You may want to drop toughness to 15HP/tier or so, so as to avoid having it be “too good”.

    • Enzo Chittock

      What do you do about creatures with no constitution, such as undead? Also if lower level characters and creatures have significantly more hp, that means you’ll have to up the damage on certain hazards, as the damage from stuff like falling or being crushed by heavy objects is entirely based on the 3.x method of calculating hp.

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