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There's a wizard (effective character level: 5) in our party who is very low on HP (has a total of about nine, if I remember correctly), thanks to an initial low CON and an acquired template (+1 ECL) that lowered it even further. The character is quite a great one: it's memorable and interesting, but his low HP makes any sort of combat encounter rather risky for him, and, consequently, for the party itself. Problem is, the party has a number of fighter-types, whose players enjoy the occasional skirmish...

How could the DM boost, or help (such) a character boost its HP and/or combat readiness? (The less deus ex machina and more official the method, the better.)

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5 Answers 5

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It is usually considered outside the DM's job scope to directly increase the hit points (or combat effectiveness in general) of one particular character. Players have a certain amount of freedom in how they build their character, which occasionally means they shoot themselves in the foot.

But the DM can do some things like:

  • Offer a way to remove the template. if it was acquired in-game, it may be removable in-game. Level adjustment usually does seriously bad things to a character's power.
  • Introduce UA's LA buyoff rules. They come with their own bag of problems, but eventually, they should lead to the character's number of HD (and thus HP) catching up.
  • Retcon the ability score generation. Less desirable, but the option is there. If the player did the original ability score generation very badly, such as assigning too low a Con score due to just not knowing how the system works, or rolling very bad statistics to begin with, this can be handwaved in.

But. An easier route than fixing the character by DM intervention might be to just point out the options available to the character to the player. The Wizard class has a great many powerful defensive spells to increase their survivability, even at low levels, and even in core. And Wizards can easily learn new spells. Defensive spells include:

  • False Life, 2nd level necromancy. A single casting lasts for a long time and just about doubles that particular character's HP.
  • Invisibility, 2nd level illusion. Most creatures at that level have a hard time even finding an invisible creature in combat, dealing damage to them even more so. Blinding Color Surge (Player's Handbook 2) is an effective in-combat option that serves a similar purpose.
  • Mirror Image, 2nd level illusion. It's possibly the most effective defense a spell slot can buy at this level.
  • Mage Armor, 1st level conjuration. Because it's cheap AC, which never hurt. Luminous Armor (Book of Exalted Deeds) is really, really effective at this, too.
  • Nerveskitter (Spell Compendium), 1st level transmutation. Increases Initiative, which makes the character less vulnerable at the start of combat.
  • Battlefield control in general, such as Obscuring Mist, Web, Silent/Minor Image and Fog Cloud. In the long term, these are likely to become the primary means of a Wizard's defense.

The DM can also, very easily, add specific items to a monster's treasure hoard to help with the problem, provided the players are wise enough to let the wizard wear or use them:

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+1 Nice list of useful spells; as usual it's better for a Wizard not to get hit in the first place! –  Rob Apr 1 '13 at 21:15

This is caused by a series of problems within the system that is best solved by ret-con and houserule

I’m completely serious: D&D pretends that all ability scores are equal, but they aren’t. Constitution should be almost everyone’s second-highest ability score, particularly low-HD classes that really only ever have need for one ability score (like Wizards with Int). His Constitution shouldn’t just be “not low,” it should actually be quite good. His HP will still be fairly low despite this, because of the d4 HD. I don’t think there’s a lot to be gained from having such low Con that you do not feel you can safely take part in major parts of the game.

Furthermore, Level Adjustment is a terrible system; Wizards apparently actively disliked the idea of players playing as monsters, and quite intentionally over-LA’d most monsters to discourage players from choosing them, or to punish players who ignored that discouragement. I strongly recommend houseruling an LA +0 version of the template, potentially with other drawbacks instead of LA. Level Adjustment, as you have noticed, leads to heavily skewed characters, where they have, e.g., inappropriately high ability scores, but equally-inappropriately few HD (i.e. lower HP, base saves, skills, and so on). This is very bad for the game. The entire LA system is weak. If you indicate which template he has, I’d be happy to give my thoughts on what would maintain the important parts of the template for character/backstory purposes, without requiring the LA.

If you really must have something by the book...

Level Adjustment Buy-off is a start

Unearthed Arcana’s LA buy-off rules are harsh, but with only LA +1 they can work. These work best if your DM handles XP by the book, i.e. “XP is a river” and lower-level characters get more XP so they eventually “catch up.”

I don’t really like this solution because it’s a “suffer now to be overpowered later” which is bad design, and because I despise mixed-level parties: they cause huge headaches for the DM. Also, because this is only a partial solution, since the Level Adjustment is not the only problem here.

Faeries Mysteries Initiate would solve a lot of the problem, but...

The Faerie Mysteries Initiate feat from Dragon vol. 319, among other things, allows a character to use Intelligence instead of Constitution to determine HP. This is grossly overpowered and I do not recommend allowing it. It’s also Fearûn-specific, and race-specific as well, though those things can easily be waived if you like.

If this does get allowed, make it very clear that there will be significant roleplaying requirements, and this is going to be a unique benefit for this character, not a feat that people can start adding as part of their backstory.

Some kind of cursed-but-with-positive-side-effect item?

You could have the character be “cursed” or equip a “cursed” item which gives them more HP. Presumably this is attached to some actual curse that is negative, but maybe it’s an interesting, roleplaying negative that the player won’t mind nearly as much as the character. This fixes the mathematics issue, and adds plot-hooks to boot. But it’s also fairly fiat-y, plus I don’t really have any ideas off the top of my head what the curse would be.

Player’s Handbook II has retraining rules

But they don’t really help here. Just adding this so you don’t waste time digging out the book to check if they’re useful.

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I'm completely unfamiliar with latter-day DnD (wandered off into other systems post-2.0 and never came back) but in this abstract situation what I'd do is:

  1. The problem you're trying to solve is not the character's low HP. The problem you're trying to solve is that this makes the game not fun for the players. Discuss with all your players and figure out exactly what is taking the fun away.

  2. Make up a solution which makes sense in-character for this character. This might be a straight HP boost, it might be special magical armor, it might be an always-on ability that makes his dodge be ridiculously high, etc. Be imaginative.

  3. Have a session or two which is devoted to earning that solution. Roleplaying character changes is always more fun.

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+1 for no.3; make them work for it! –  Rob Apr 2 '13 at 16:07

I think the primary consideration here is teamwork. D&D is a game meant for fighting, and spellcasters have always been a somewhat long term investment. Ernir definitely has the right idea to start with. Depending on the wizard's school, he has a nice array of spells to at least reduce his chance of being hit or even being a target.

However, those other players need to help him if he is as fragile as you say. Some of this is strictly narrative, some of it is tactical.

  • Fighters can very commonly draw aggro, especially if the wizard in question isn't casting threatening spells.

  • If you're using a battle map, they can use terrain and placement to prevent enemies from getting to the wizard.

  • Tougher members says that they are protecting the Wizard (From a mechanical standpoint, you can say that the Wizard is "taking cover" for +4 AC)

  • If there's a cleric in the group (and there should always be), healing and protect spells can also play a huge part.

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Cross Class into Barbarian. Just kidding...

Cross Classing could be a interesting way to do it, the only problem is they would be less specialized. Maybe go on a hunt for a relic or artifact that raises his CON and/or Hit Points.

An alternate, yet laugh inducing suggestion: How about you make a Brain Leech latch onto his head. Then when he makes a check to remove it tell him it was a "partial success".

Oh not a bad roll Jim, you yanked the leech making it and writhe in pain. But in your haphazard removal of the wriggling beast you forced it to nick the section of your brain that controls your nervous system. You don't feel any pain in the removal or when it bit you in the hand trying to remove it. Matter of fact, you don't feel much of anything.

He could gain a increase to his HP Total, increase his CON, or maybe give him a damage reduction. Even better, you could let him remain conscious down to -9 HP, effectively giving him 10 more health.

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