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I know what temporary HP do: they provide a buffer, while leaving the original state of the character intact (if you receive temp HP while bloodied, you don't stop being bloodied, for example).

What I want to know is what do they represent, and if there's a general way of roleplaying them. The question arose because normal HP already represent more than just health (-2 hp doesn't imply a wound, say), and so Temp HP seem a bit redundant on the RP side of the equation.

I can understand particular cases: "A sudden favor from Moradin leaves you feeling better than you can remember, prime for battle" == +6 temp HP over your top HP, but the general case, if any, eludes me. I'd also like to know the rationalization for adding them into the game, but that's a bonus.

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up vote 15 down vote accepted

While I wholeheartedly agree with @wax eagle's answer from a personal standpoint, I don't see that sort of description used in the rules anywhere. The compendium describes Temporary Hit Points for 4e in the following way:

Temporary Hit Points

[...] Small reservoirs of stamina that insulate you from losing actual hit points.

It is therefore helpful to reacquaint ourselves with the 4e definition of hit points.

Hit Points

Over the course of a battle, you take damage from attacks. Hit points (hp) measure your ability to stand up to punishment, turn deadly strikes into glancing blows, and stay on your feet throughout a battle. Hit points represent more than physical endurance. They represent your character’s skill, luck, and resolve—all the factors that combine to help you stay alive in a combat situation.

So in essence, temporary hit points are that surge of adrenaline or burst of strength that allow you to shrug off attacks that would normally weaken you. This makes sense when you take into account the numerous sources of THP - anything from divine power1 to infernal energy2 to friendly encouragement3 to sheer martial agression4.

  1. "(Deity)'s grace compels you to stand firm with a sudden burst of stamina."
  2. "You absorb the pain of a nearby ally, granting you the resolve to shrug off the next attack that hits you."
  3. "Bob's battlecry inspires you to hold your ground with renewed vigor."
  4. "As your enemy hits you, you welcome the pain and sweep in to deliver a vengeful counterattack. Your strike fills your veins with a surge of adrenaline."
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The bit about "small reservoirs of stamina" I didn't know, and is useful. Thanks. – Adriano Varoli Piazza May 26 '11 at 14:17
good point. I forget the the HP model is less about injury and more about stamina and durability. Honestly I'm not super simulationist so I really just think about them as HP, to be preserved at all cost... – wax eagle May 26 '11 at 14:28
The main thing is that as they are called HP, they often get mixed with the concept of "Health points"; it is important to remember they are actually hit points, makes it easier to understand – Cristol.GdM Jan 13 '12 at 14:48

I think it depends on the power.

  • Health-related, hp can be regained once lost: I describe every wound as healing up a little or being a little less severe than expected.
  • Health-related, hp cannot be regained once lost: I describe the first wounds magically healing up as soon as they're inflicted.
  • Divine blessing: adding some sort of divine glow often works.
  • Physical/magical shield: I describe the blow being turned aside, but also apparent weakening or destruction of the shield.
  • Motivational: I scale down the description of the severity of the original injury ("the blade cuts deep, but you're not out of action yet!")
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I find it easier to represent HP as mix of morale, health, ability to sustain physical injury and luck. Therefore I usually think and roleplay temporary hit points as luck (the foe hits the hero but not that bad) or morale (the hero ignores part of the damage and keeps pushing the combat forward).

By the way, I use the same interpretation for non-magic damage resistances.

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Temporary hit points can be modeled with the concept of an energy shield (magical, mechanical or otherwise).

In the computer RPG Knights of the Old Republic you had consumable energy shields that filled your arm band slots. They were commonly found in the world and could absorb a certain amount of damage. I have always pictured THP this way.

A good way to RP them would be "You suddenly feel a wash of (insert power source here) energy surround you, you feel invigorated." Or you could try - "A magical shield surrounds you ready to stave off the next hit from your opponent."

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+1 This is exactly how I always pictured temp hp. Also similar to a Power Word: Shield in World of Warcraft. – dpatchery May 26 '11 at 13:18

Temp hit points are very often granted by powers that involve some sort of action that has a different target from the beneficiary and requires an attack roll, granting temp hit points as a residual effect to success. This is the drums of war, the planting of the banner on the battlefield. It is success breeding success, and residue of great actions. The residue may be loose magic, favor of a god or a rush of adrenaline and pride from watching something awesome. Beneficiaries are bolstered when it is there turn to engage, feeling a little less pain.

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