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Wraiths have the Life Drain action; on a hit, it forces the target to make a Con save to avoid having their max HP reduced:

The target must succeed on a DC 14 Constitution saving throw or its hit point maximum is reduced by an amount equal to the damage taken.

Specters also have a similar ability.

Temporary hit points are said to protect you from injury.

Temporary hit points aren't actual hit points; they are a buffer against damage, a pool of hit points that protect you from injury.

Will Life Drain's max HP reduction work if the damage you take is less than the temporary hit points you have?

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Life drain's effect is the same with or without temporary HP

Rules as Intended: Damage to temporary HP still counts as damage

Per this Jeremy Crawford Tweet:

When temporary hit points absorb damage for you, you're still taking damage, just not to your real hit points.

So, when the Life Drain ability says "hit point maximum is reduced by an amount equal to the damage taken" that means that max HP will be reduced by the amount of damage done regardless of temp HP.

So, the temp HP absorbs as much damage as it is able to absorb, but that damage is still considered taken (no matter how much or little temp HP you have). Then, that damage number (which again is unaffected by how much temp HP you had), is subtracted from your HP maximum. Your current HP will also be reduced if the HP maximum is reduced to below your current HP.

Jeremy Crawford has agreed with this interpretation in this tweet:

Q: You are hit by a Specter's Life Drain for 10 damage. You have 8 temporary hit points. Is your Max HP lowered by 2 or by 10?

A: By 10

So, to answer you question directly:

Yes, Life Drain's max hp reduction will work if the damage is less than available temporary hit points.

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    \$\begingroup\$ In some sense, the max hp reduction "pierces" the temp HP, because even if the dmg is absorbed, you still lose HP because the max HP reduction. \$\endgroup\$ – Vylix Jul 25 '18 at 15:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Vylix: Indeed! And this actually causes creatures with temp HP to effectively take more damage to max HP draining abilities than those without as I say in my answer to this question. \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Jul 25 '18 at 15:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Vylix The Max HP reduction isn't damage. It's not 'piercing' the temp HP, it's entirely different mechanic. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Jul 25 '18 at 15:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch Yes. But if you have full (non-temp) hp, the end result is that you have a smaller amount of hp. For instance, if you have 20 HP and 8 temp HP, take 10 life drain, you'd end up with only 10 HP, which would also be your max. As a DM I would probably houserule it to have you end up with 10 HP and 8 temp, but that's not RAW. \$\endgroup\$ – Tin Man Jul 25 '18 at 17:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ One small difference is since it interacts with your max HP, if you weren't at max you're better off with the THP. Using a modified form of your example if you had 5/20 HP and 8THP and got hit for 10 life drain, you'd still be standing at 3/10 HP \$\endgroup\$ – Lunin Jul 25 '18 at 19:18
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Life Drain is independent of Temporary HP

Temporary HP do not change your Hit Point Maximum, it is a different mechanic entirely.

Your Hit Point Maximum remains unchanged when you have Temp HP. You simply have Temp HP that lies as a buffer between your regular HP (which has a maximum) and damage you'd take to your Hit Points.

In this case, the Life Drain HP reduction is not a damaging effect and does not interact with the Temp HP mechanic. It only affects the Maximum HP mechanic.

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