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The wight has an attack called Life Drain:

Life Drain. Melee Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, reach 5 ft., one creature. Hit: 5 (1d6 + 2) necrotic damage. The target must succeed on a DC 13 Constitution saving throw or its hit point maximum is reduced by an amount equal to the damage taken. This reduction lasts until the target finishes a long rest. The target dies if this effect reduces its hit point maximum to 0.

A humanoid slain by this attack rises 24 hours later as a zombie under the wight's control, unless the humanoid is restored to life or its body is destroyed. The wight can have no more than twelve zombies under its control at one time.

If the same wight hits a character with it multiple times, or a number of wights hit the same character with it, assuming the character fails their Constitution save each time, do the max HP reduction effects stack?

I know magical effects don't normally stack, but this isn't listed as being magical. Additionally, if it doesn't stack, I can't see how most characters could ever have their max HP reduced to 0.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Are you asking about them hitting the chaaracter all in the same round, or over the course of a given combat that lasts for multiple rounds? \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast May 14 at 13:57
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It looks like the answer is: No it doesn't stack

While this may be a magical effect, the combining of magical effects you are referencing refers to spells specifically.

Combining Magical Effects

The effects of different spells add together while the durations of those spells overlap. The effects of the same spell cast multiple times don't combine, however. Instead, the most potent effect-such as the highest bonus-from those castings applies while their durations overlap.

For example, if two clerics cast bless on the same target, that character gains the spell's benefit only once; he or she doesn't get to roll two bonus dice.

(Player's Handbook, page 205)

Bolded by me.

As you can see this rule is referencing spells.

However, there is also this errata to the DMG:

Different game features can affect a target at the same time. But when two or more game features have the same name, only the effects of one of them—the most potent one—apply while the durations of the effects overlap. For example, if a target is ignited by a fire elemental’s Fire Form trait, the ongoing fire damage doesn’t increase if the burning target is subjected to that trait again. Game features include spells, class features, feats, racial traits, monster abilities, and magic items. See the related rule in the “Combining Magical Effects” section of chapter 10 in the Player’s Handbook.

The Life Drain ability which wights possess is not a spell, but rather a creature's ability. But apparently in recent errata it doesn't stack.

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    \$\begingroup\$ That is really strange then. Unless you have roll up a character with crazy low max HP (eg. wizard with no CON bonus) and your psycho DM throws a wight at your level 1 party and they max out their life drain damage roll on the wizard then I can't see how the wight is going to suck out enough max HP to ever kill someone. Oh well, rules are rules. \$\endgroup\$ – Allan Mills May 13 at 0:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ This doesn't make a lot of sense. In effect, if you were fighting 3 red dragons and they all used their breath weapons against the party, anybody who had already been hit by one in the same turn would simply ignore the others following this. \$\endgroup\$ – Lino Frank Ciaralli May 13 at 1:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ That's my pointy. I don't see how this doesn't fit the same model. There's no effect you're suffering called Life Drain from the attack. Like a Flametongue's fire damage, the life drain portion of this attack is instantaneous, except it also reduces your max hit points in the event you fail the save. Again, there's no condition it puts you in, so I don't see how you're equating it to the overlapping durations. \$\endgroup\$ – Lino Frank Ciaralli May 13 at 2:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ @AllanMills While I don't know about the stacking max HP drain part, the attack still does damage even if the lifedrain doesn't kick in. The zombification part says "A humanoid slain by this attack" not "A humanoid drained to 0 HP b this attack" though so it could slay foes and turn them into zombies even if they didn't cause max HP to go down once. \$\endgroup\$ – Lunin May 13 at 4:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ Understand the reasoning in the answer, but agree with @LinoFrankCiaralli. It seems the intent is for it to stack. The reduction may last until rest but it seems more of an instantaneous effect. Otherwise you could use the same argument to say any effect that causes hit point damage doesn't stack! And I know we're supposed to not assume designer intent, but this is a case where it seems logical to assume the max hp reduction works the same as normal hp damage. \$\endgroup\$ – PJRZ May 13 at 7:27
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Yes, it "stacks".

There is a ruling on combining game features, but that is only talking about ongoing continuous effects. i.e. the effect that is causing ongoing damage rather than the damage itself. Consider the example given there:

For example, if a target is ignited by a fire elemental’s Fire Form trait, the ongoing fire damage doesn’t increase if the burning target is subjected to that trait again.

As it states, this is talking about the ongoing effect (the ignition from the Fire Form trait, which you can only be affected by once even if affected by more than one fire element) and not the damage itself, which is obviously 'stacking' damage each round.

The wight's attack does not say this is an ongoing continuous effect. Like the damage itself, it is an instantaneous effect that reduces your max HP. To see it another way, there is no reason for it not to behave with the same logic/rules as ordinary HP damage (otherwise you could argue that HP damage doesn't 'stack' if you get hit by the same sword multiple times!).

The sentence in the wight's attack, strongly suggests this is the intent:

The target dies if this effect reduces its hit point maximum to 0.

Comparison with standard Hit Point and Damage Rules

Standard damage rules state:

Whenever a creature takes damage, that damage is subtracted from its hit points. The loss of hit points has no effect on a creature's capabilities until the creature drops to 0 hit points.

Again, this clearly doesn't last only while you are getting damaged. The source of the damage may be instantaneous or ongoing (damaging you each turn), but the damage, unfortunately, accumulates until you drop to 0 HP or until you get healed via some other effect or until you rest:

At the end of a long rest, a character regains all lost hit points

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  • \$\begingroup\$ why is stacks in quotes in the title? \$\endgroup\$ – András May 13 at 9:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ @András: Just because I felt that stacks wasn't really an appropriate word for things like taking damage to HP, but this word was used in the context of the question. \$\endgroup\$ – PJRZ May 13 at 10:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think the point of that final quote was that any character high-enough level to be in a position to be fighting a Wight is almost certainly going to have a large enough HP maximum to not get 1-shotted by this ability. Correct? \$\endgroup\$ – T.E.D. May 13 at 13:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ Can you address "This reduction lasts" part of the Ghoul's ability directly? Ie, state that the effect of a magical ability that has a duration does not mean the magical ability itself has a duration (in other words, is not instant), or describe when that rule should be followed and when not? \$\endgroup\$ – Yakk May 13 at 15:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Yakk: I expanded on the comparison to standard HP and damage. Does this make sense? \$\endgroup\$ – PJRZ May 13 at 16:06

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