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Can Life Transference consume your temporary HP?

Last session our only healer (paladin) fell unconscious because he didn't have enough time to cast his healing abilities before he reached 0 HP (he was trapping an harpy with his arms). So I want to get some healing capabilities... but I am a wizard and Life Transference is the only spell I found to heal others.

So my idea is in the first turn cast False Life (I already have the spell) to get temporary HP, then cast Life Transference to "send" that "self-healing" to another PC, and finally use False Life or Vampiric Touch (I can learn it) to recover some HP (temporary or real ones). But I am not sure if that is possible.

Our GM said about Life Transference:

  1. "You do it willing over yourself, so it surpasses any effect, shield (I think that includes temporary HP)"

    And that is an huge problem because that does 4d8 and I only have 32 HP... it can kill me.

  2. "Necrotic damage always surpasses temporary HP"

    Again the same problem.

  3. "If I want (but I don't), necrotic damage could rot your body, or need high level healing spells"

    Oh, oh, that doesn't sound very fine.

I don't know much of D&D 5e so I am not sure if what he is saying is true. Could someone help me? I'll be very glad if you could quote some of the guide books (our GM accept any book).

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3 Answers 3

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Yes

A wizard can use False Life and Life Transference to heal someone else.
From OP:

So my idea is in the first turn cast False Life (I already have the spell) to get temporary HP, then cast Life Transference to "send" that "self-healing" to another PC, and finally use False Life or Vampiric Touch (I can learn it) to recover some HP (temporaly or real ones). But I am not sure if that is possible.

Long answer:

Temporary Hit Points:

When you have temporary hit points and take damage, the temporary hit points are lost first, and any leftover damage carries over to your normal hit points.

Vampiric Touch:

Make a melee spell Attack against a creature within your reach. On a hit, the target takes 3d6 necrotic damage, and you regain hit points equal to half the amount of necrotic damage dealt.

By RAW a character which uses Life Transference or is attacked by Vampiric Touch spell would eliminate the target's temporary hit points first with any additional damage caused to normal HP after it, the spell does not care if the damage dealt was to real (permanent) or 'fake' (temporary) HP and still restores half of the total necrotic damage dealt.

Being immune or resistant to necrotic damage matters for the Vampiric Touch or Life Transference damage and regained HP, the HP being temporary doesn't.

Unless your GM house-ruled this then indeed you can turn temporary HP into actual, real permanent HP as by the book.

Life Transference is not different from how necrotic damage is handled. You should by RAW/RAI be able to cast False Life on yourself then transfer real HP to the one in need. Necrotic damage is just like fire or ice damage which one could have resistance or immunity against but it does not ignore temporary HP. No powerful divine healing or such is required just because it is necrotic instead of ice or piercing damage (as example).

You do it willing over yourself, so it surpass any effect, shield (I think that includes temporary HP)"

"Necrotic damage always surpasses temporary HP"

"If I want (but I don't), necrotic damage could rotten your body, or need high level healing spells"

These are not by RAW or RAI, no such rules exists, Either these are house rules or a big misunderstanding about necrotic damage, a GM mistake.

If the GM indeed rules that necrotic damage ignores temporary HP and shields (which makes no sense) then the use of that form of damage just greatly increased in your game, making magical weapons with that type of bonus damage, or the spell Vampiric Touch a more potent offensive option. If necrotic damage ignores in your GM's house rules a shield ask if it also ignores a full plate.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This answer needs to be updated due to errata: media.wizards.com/2020/dnd/downloads/XGtE-Errata.pdf \$\endgroup\$
    – Yakk
    Jun 22 at 2:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Yakk what do you think is wrong with it based on that errata? It states that "You take 4d8 necrotic damage, which can’t be reduced in any way", but I see no problem with this as temporary HP doesn't reduce damage in any way, it's simply an alternate type of HP. You still take the full damage even if you take it with temp HP. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kryomaani
    Jun 22 at 4:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Kryomaani This answer treats the damage as "any other necrotic damage", which is incorrect given that the damage is no longer "any other necrotic damage". It needs updating because it is arguing from incorrect premises; this doesn't mean the conclusion is wrong, it means the argument is wrong. The argument might be easy to repair, but it needs repair. \$\endgroup\$
    – Yakk
    Jun 22 at 13:30
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None of what your DM said is a rule from any rulebook. Damage is the same, no matter the source (barring specific special rules). There is no general rule about damage inflicted upon yourself. Temporary HP should protect you from it as per the rules governing it:

When you have temporary hit points and take damage, the temporary hit points are lost first, and any leftover damage carries over to your normal hit points. (PHB 198)

Necrotic damage is no different from other damage:

Different attacks. damaging spells, and other harmful effects deal different types of damage. Damage types have no rules of their own, but other rules, such as damage resistance, rely on the types. (PHB 196)

By the book, it should not have lasting effects on your body, nor does it interact with temporary HP in any special way.

If your DM wants to introduce any of these as rules to his game, he is free to do so, but it will be a houserule. I also recommend discussing it with his players.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This answer needs to be updated due to errata: media.wizards.com/2020/dnd/downloads/XGtE-Errata.pdf - I wrote a brief, not great, answer reflecting that errata below. It would be better if a better answer included it instead! \$\endgroup\$
    – Yakk
    Jun 22 at 2:50
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Life Tranference is unique.

You take 4d8 necrotic damage, which can’t be reduced in any way

Your DM is within reason to rule that "losing temporary HP instead of normal damage" is "reducing the damage".

When you have temporary hit points and take damage, the temporary hit points are lost first, and any leftover damage carries over to your normal hit points. For example, if you have 5 temporary hit points and take 7 damage, you lose the temporary hit points and then take 2 damage.

The loss of temporary HP caused the damage you take to be reduced from 7 to 2 against your normal HP.

Now, this is only one reasonable reading; the other one is that the damage is just applied to temporary HP first and consumed by that, not "reduced". But your DM choosing this other reading isn't being unreasonable, they are just aren't following sage advice.

This was changed in an errata: https://media.wizards.com/2020/dnd/downloads/XGtE-Errata.pdf

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    \$\begingroup\$ This seems incorrect, having temporary HP doesn't reduce damage you take in any way. See page 16 of the sage advice compendium for a similar matter: "When temporary hit points absorb damage for you, you’re still taking damage, just not to your real hit points." \$\endgroup\$
    – Kryomaani
    Jun 22 at 4:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Kryomaani Is that "I disagree with this reasoning", or "I disagree with a DM being within reason to rule this way"? \$\endgroup\$
    – Yakk
    Jun 22 at 14:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ A bit of both, as in that this is clearly not RAW based on the wording of rules around temporary HP and the sage advice. If the DM was doing this while attempting to play RAW, they'd be making a mistake with their reading of the rules, but the DM is of course free to house rule as they wish and in that case there would be little issue. I've played at a table where losing temp HP didn't trigger concentration checks and it didn't cause any game breaking issues but it does certainly make concentration spells a lot stronger and the game as a whole is balanced around the RAW implementation. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kryomaani
    Jun 22 at 20:23

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