Hit Point Monster
Although pursuing a high Armor Class is a great path to survivability for a Dungeons and Dragons character, it is not the only one. A survival-oriented character can do worse than to focus on hit points. A true hit point monster can shrug off damage that would put the fear of death in lesser sorts. But how do you max out your hit points?
Ability Scores The best way to amass hit points is through a high Constitution score. Start as a gnome or dwarf, for the +2 racial bonus to Con. With an enhanced 18 or 20, you get basically double the hit points of a character with no Con bonus. Push all your ability score boosts every four levels into Con, and get your hands on magic items that boost Con, starting with the Amulet of Health.
Feats If you value hit points above all else, you can take Toughness every time you have a feat coming to you. That's +3 hit points each time. If you take two levels of fighter (thus picking up two bonus feats over those a character is always entitled to), that's a total of +27 hp over your first 18 levels. But is it worth it to sacrifice the other capabilities that those feats would have given you? Tough choice. By the way, acknowledging that Toughness is underpowered as a feat, your DM might be open to revising the feat so that it offers more bang for the buck.
Class A true hit point monster has no choice: Those sweet 12 hit points at first level force your hand into barbarian. And just sticking to barbarian is not a bad option. But consider these other options:
- Fighter: Like I was saying, two levels of fighter net you a base d10+3 for hit points each level, taking Toughness for your bonus feats. That's an average of 8.5 hp per level, versus the base 6.5 per level of a barbarian. But if you continue that strat, taking Toughness at even levels and nothing at odd levels gives you an average of 7 hp per level, only 0.5 above the barbarian average, and with none of the class features (and extra skill ranks) that a barbarian enjoys. So just take two.
- Cleric: If your DM lets you use the Luck Domain power to reroll hit point dice, then it is worth it to take a level of cleric just for the domain power. Yeah, you only get to roll a d8 for that level's hit die, but thereafter, if you roll a low on a barbarian or fighter hit point roll, being able to give the die another toss is totally worth it! (see below.) Oh, and the cleric ability to use cure wounds wands is a sweet sweet extra bennie for after the fight is done. However, if you have taken a level of cleric, you will suffer a 20 percent experience point penalty if you let your multiclass progression get uneven. If you are looking at a barbarian2/cleric1/fighter2, you are fine, but pushing barbarian further above cleric makes the penalty kick in. So you should multiclass -- into a prestige class -- after that.
- Horizon Walker: It gives you nothing special to boost hit points -- in fact, the d8 for hit dice is pretty crappy -- but if you need to multiclass, the fighter BAB progression and the immunity to fatigue are both nice for a barbarian rager.
- Dwarven Defender: Yes, you have to become lawful, so you lose the ability to rage, but you do get a sweet d12 for hit dice and pseudo-rage via defensive stance, plus AC bonuses.
- Dragon Disciple: This PrC also gives that sweet d12 for hit dice, and you gotta love that +2 Con at level 6. But you have to take a level of sorcerer or bard to qualify. If you go this route, take the level of sorcerer, grab a toad familiar for +3 hp, and choose verbal-only spells, like Light, True Strike, and Feather Fall, that you can cast in armor. Oh, and make sure your Charisma is an 11 or 12!
Magic Items There aren't any permanent core items that give you hit points, but potions of Aid and False Life can give you a temporary boost. If you end up taking a level of cleric, a wand of Aid is a nice low-level item. At higher levels, there is a cute trick you can pull. Take the Leadership feat and grab a cleric or cleric/barbarian as your cohort. Buy a pair of Friend Rings. The cohort's job is to wear one ring and sit at home with a cure wand. With the ring active, she takes half the damage that is done to you. After she (you) is first wounded, the cohort spends her time curing. If she gets too low, she turns off the ring. Make sure she's a gnome or dwarf like you.
Armor Get yourself some admantine armor, which offers damage reduction. Any damage absorbed by the armor is damage not taken by you. And you might as well go for a high AC as well as high hit points -- that way you gain the benefit of both high AC and high hit point strategies.
Okay! Let's do the math. To start with, it is easy to guesstimate hit points per level usually. Average hit points per level depend on the die rolled: d4=2.5, d6=3.5, d8=4.5, d10=5.5, and d12=6.5. (Some merciful house rules let you reroll ones, which skews the average up half a point, but we'll stick to core rules here.) However, what if you do use the Luck Domain reroll on hit dice? What does that do to the average? Well, I still have nightmares about my undergrad statistics course more than two decades later, but my back-of-the-spreadsheet calculations suggest that for d10s, rerolling 5s and under will give you an average of 6.75 hp per die, and for d12s, rerolling 6s and under will give an average of 8 hp per die.
For those who might want to see that math, here is my spreadsheet. (3MB zip file)
So, let's sample at levels 5, 10, and 15.
Level five (9,000 gp): Dwarf Barbarian2/Cleric1/Fighter2 with 21 Con (16 base, +2 race, +1 at level 4, +2 amulet). Feats: Toughness x4. Gear: +2 amulet of health. Hit Points: Levels B12+C4.5+B8+F6.75x2=38; Con +25; Feats +12; Total 75.
Level ten (49,000 gp): Dwarf Barbarian2/Cleric1/Fighter2/Sorcerer1/DragonDisciple4 with 24 Con (16 base, +2 race, +2 at levels 4&8, +4 amulet). Feats: Toughness x6. Gear: +4 amulet of health. Hit Points: Levels B12+C4.5+B8+F6.75x2+S6+DD8x4=76; Con +70; Feats +18; Total 164.
Level fifteen (200,000 gp): Dwarf Barbarian2/Cleric1/Fighter2/Sorcerer1/DragonDisciple9 with 30 Con (16 base, +2 race, +3 at levels 4-12, +2DD, +6 amulet +1 tome). Feats: Toughness x8. Gear: +6 amulet of health, +1 tome of con. Hit Points: Levels B12+C4.5+B8+F6.75x2+S6+DD8x9=116; Con +150; Feats +24; Total 290.
Add in +4 Con when raging, and we're looking at 320 hp at 15th level. Not too shabby.
This is part of an extended series on Survivability in Dungeons and Dragons.