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The following is what happens to hit points and hit dice at the end of a long rest (PHB p. 186):

At the end of a long rest, a character regains all lost hit points. The character also regains spent Hit Dice, up to a number of dice equal to half of the character's total number of them.

Under this normal rule, the following two effects occur at the end of a long rest: the character regains all their hit points, and the character regains half their hit dice. These effects are independent (they manipulate different resources), so the order they occur does not matter.

The Slow Natural Healing variant (DMG p. 267) changes that rule in the following way:

Characters don't regain hit points at the end of a long rest. Instead, a character can spend Hit Dice to heal at the end of a long rest, just as with a short rest.

Under the variant, the following two effects occur at the end of a long rest: the character regains half their hit dice, and the character can spend their hit dice to recover hit points. These effects are dependent (they manipulate the same resource), so the order they occur does matter. Here's the problem: the order is not stated in the text. It's an emergent property of how those two rules interact with each other, and that interaction is ambiguous.

Disregarding the possibility that they happen simultaneously (which I believe is still ambiguous), there are two well-defined orders:

  1. The character regains half their hit dice, then they can spend their hit dice to recover hit points.

  2. The character can spend their hit dice to recover hit points, then they regain half their hit dice.

To show the practical difference, suppose I have 2 of 5 hit dice (each is a d8 with a +0 CON modifier) and I spend as many as I can. Here's the result under each case above.

  1. I regain 2 hit dice, leaving me with 4 of 5. Then I spend all 4 of them, leaving me with 0 of 5. I regained 4d8 hit points.

  2. I spend all 2 of my hit dice, leaving me with 0 of 5. Then I regain 2 of them, leaving me with 2 of 5. I regained 2d8 hit points.

Since the results are different, the order must matter.

Which is the correct order: regain hit dice first or spend hit dice first?

I do not think there is a RAW answer, so a correct answer will likely be RAI.

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There's no difference.

But wait! In one case you regained 4d8, in another 2d8. Surely there's a difference!

But you're not really coming into the end-of-rest time in the same situation, despite the fact that in each case you've got 2 of 5 HD. You're comparing a character who exhausted all of their physical resources yesterday with one who didn't, and are finding that they today have different healing capacities. To see how this is the case, we need to backtrack a little bit, assuming that in either case the character had full HD a day ago1...

Case 1: regain, then spend--rewinding it.

In order to come to the end of the rest with 2 of 5 HD the character must have spent 3 HD at the end of their last long rest.

Case 2: spend, then regain--rewinding it.

In order to come to the end of the rest with 2 of 5 HD the character must have spent 5 HD at the end of their last long rest.

A day ago the character spent two fewer HD a day ago in case 1 than they did in case 2.

Case 1: regain, then spend--playing it forward.

You're correct that this character gets to now spend up to 4 HD.

Case 2: spend, then regain--playing it forward.

Your're correct that this character gets to now spend up to 2 HD.

Now the character can spend two more HD in case 1 than in case 2.

It may seem counterintuitive, especially given your correct analysis in the question-post. But there's functionally no difference in the two schemes2, it's just a bookkeeping thing3. That said, pick one as a table and go with it.


1 - if this seems disingenuous, know that all the following analysis relies on is the notion that there exists some time when the character had the same hit dice, and let's consider the day that follows that time.

2 - There might be an edge-effect at level-up, all depending on how you handle that as a table. But that also works out on the other end, so unless you're gaming your character down to the level of whether you expect the campaign to end on an odd or even level, it all comes to nothing.

3 - Only word in English with three doubled-letter pairs consecutive. Enjoy your daily dose of vitamin T.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Actually it does make a difference, in the case that you have lost hit points but have all of your hit dice at the end of the day. If you spend half your hit dice, under case 1, you would be missing half your hit dice, but under case 2, you would have regained hit points but still have all of your hit dice for the next day. You could avoid getting into that situation to begin with, sure, but it's a situation that can happen, and did happen once or twice when I used this variant in a campaign. \$\endgroup\$ – xanderh Jul 21 '19 at 10:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ ...but couldn't you just short rest first? It seems like the ability to choose to short rest (and thus spend HD) prior to long resting would be pertinent here. \$\endgroup\$ – Ben Barden Nov 15 '19 at 22:25
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You get HD before getting HP.

I believe that you use HD at the end of the rest, but you regain HD over the rest. I don't think the "at the end" part of the phrase applied to the second sentence. Reading them separately,

The character also regains spent Hit Dice, up to a number of dice equal to half of the character's total number of them.

And you can use them at the end to regain HP.

a character can spend Hit Dice to heal at the end of a long rest

The wording my be interpreted differently by others, but it does this seem intuitive to me. Either way, I'll try to explain my reasoning of why this makes sense.

If you regain HP before regaining HD

  • a character that used all its HD does not regain any health after a long rest. You'd need to rest the additional hour. In 8 hours, you only gained the ability to rest, but you rest for 8 hours and then bandage yourself up.

  • you can have a long rest, get all your HP back (by using less than half your HD), and still end with all your HD as well. It looks to me that this variant rule wants to avoid such cases, as it is slow healing.

By gaining your HD before your HP, you solve these problems. If you used all your HD, then you can regain some health after an 8-hour rest. And if you do replenish your HP in a long rest, then you won't have all your HD available to you during the rest of the day.


Consider a traveller that everyday gets somewhat hurt. While he can recover during the night, he is expected to be worse at recovering in short breaks than someone who was completely fine the previous day. In other words, this character, hurt before his long rest, is supposed to have less HD available to him in short rests during the day than another character who was fine before his last long rest.

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    \$\begingroup\$ ...but couldn't you just short rest before the long rest? \$\endgroup\$ – Ben Barden Nov 15 '19 at 22:25
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You're right, the rules are ambiguous and both orders are arguable. However, the order of the rules strongly suggests that they should be applied in to order they are written - first restore hp, then regain HD. When an algorithm/procedure/recipe is written down, the order the steps are written is almost always the order they are performed.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I think your answer would be improved by stating why you think they are written in that order. I'm guessing you mean basically "HP then HD" whether the "HP" is regaining all your hit points or spending dice to regain hit points. Is that accurate? Because that would be reasonable, but I don't think your answer clarifies that. \$\endgroup\$ – Bloodcinder Jul 19 '17 at 1:37
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The accepted answer here is right in an important respect, and wrong in an important respect. It has been pointed out in comments but it is worth writing it out as a full answer.

The difference is insubstantial as far as long rests are concerned.

This is true. How that technically works is, given your first long rest after having full hit dice, the HD-then-HP order takes you over your hit dice maximum, and those extra 2 dice then vanish into the aether. So if you then use up 3 hit dice, your running total is 2 HD and at your next long rest you have two more to spare, so you can heal a maximum of four hit dice. If you follow the HP-then-HD order, no dice vanish into the aether and your running total is 4 HD and at your next long rest you can heal a maximum of four hit dice. These two situations are basically then perfectly symmetric as far as long rests are concerned.

But short rests and homebrew also exist.

But you can also spend hit dice in short rests, even with this variant, and that puts the lie to the claim of “no difference.”

Also, even if you played with a variant of Slow Natural Healing that blocks using hit dice in short rests (!), some homebrew rules are affected by the fact that in 4E, there was a similar notion to hit dice called a healing surge, but those could be spent both inside of combat via your second wind and in/out of combat via healing magic. So you would have to also make sure that you are not using any of those rules, and that the only way to spend hit dice is long rests, to make it truly irrelevant. In every other case, there potentially is a real difference here.

So if you consider a short rest after this first long rest, in the HD-then-HP order you only have 2 hit dice to spend during the short rest, while in the HP-then-HD order you have 4 hit dice to spend. Consider a session with the following structure:

  1. Party enters The Forest, has some fights along the way, camps out outside of The Dungeon. Long rest.
  2. Party enters The Dungeon, has some fights along the way, camps out inside of the Dungeon. Short rest.
  3. Party faces off against the Big Bad, wins, gets The Thing, and escapes, camping out outside of the dungeon. Long rest.
  4. On their way back through The Forest, some Minor Goons try to waylay the party and steal The Thing. They are easily defeated and the party makes it back safely.

The key is that those extra 2 hit dice could make a life-or-death difference in facing the Big Bad, even if it's all the same when they get around to the Minor Goons. There are real circumstances in which those two hit dice can mean the difference between life and death for your character, because you might not get a long rest right before a boss fight.

The three tiers of being nice to your players

So there are three tiers of how nice you can be to your players. Here they are, in order from nicer-to-them to meaner-to-them:

  1. Players get hit dice first, and then hit points, but they do not have hit dice limits until the long rest is over. So, after The Forest those extra hit dice do not evaporate into the aether.
  2. Players get hit points first, and then hit dice. This gives them maximum healing ability during short rests.
  3. Players get hit dice first, and then hit points, having to respect the hit dice limits throughout.

I will say that for story reasons I prefer (1) and (3) over (2), because HP-then-HD has this really weird pathology where, in all of the cases where this matters, you can end up taking a long rest that is much less healing than a short rest which happened prior.

In fact if you think about what smart players would do in the case of (2) above, they should really just take a short rest immediately after their long rest to recover a few more HP before they head home. Strange, right?

Connection to bigger issues in the world

I have to mention that this is a special case of what in accounting is called a “cash flow” problem. The idea is that even if long-term your financial status is solid (i.e. you don't have a revenue problem), you could still run into short-term problems if you overextend yourself. So if we stipulate that on average you as a person will make a fixed amount of $1k/week, you still have a strong reason to prefer “I get paid for the next four weeks up-front” to “I get paid each week at the start of the week” to “I get paid each week at the end of the week” to “I get paid for all of it at the end of 4 weeks.” Yes, after 4 weeks the amount made in each of these 4 cases is exactly the same—but in each pair, there are some situations where your accounts run dry in the latter where you would not have gone broke in the former. It’s the same thing if you’re planning a big party (say, a wedding) that comes near what you can financially bear: you want to pay your vendors as late as they will let you, and you want to dig into emergency funds etc. as early as you can, so that you do not ever have trouble putting food on the table in your day-to-day life.

And managing a company’s financials is the same thing; you might have a bunch of invoices out that on paper mean that you have an extra million dollars in the bank and are very successful revenue-wise and profit-wise... but if your actual bank balance is hovering near zero because your clients are taking a while to pay those invoices to you, you nevertheless have a cash-flow problem on your hands. Because your employees do not want to hear “hey, uh, I can’t actually pay you the full amount this pay period, but we’re gonna work real hard to make sure that we can make it up to you by the next one”—like, that can be a fatal mistake to your company.

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