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Suppose I am an abjuration wizard with 3 temporary hit points and 5 hit points on my Arcane Ward. If I take damage, which hit points absorb damage first? For example, what will be my status after taking 4 damage? Will this damage force me to make a saving throw to maintain concentration? (In case it matters, assume that I have 30 hit points.)

As written, it seems that both effects trigger simultaneously (emphasis added):

Arcane Ward:

Whenever you take damage, the ward takes the damage instead.

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.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Just wanted to say, I really enjoyed thinking about this question and other ramifications, so thank you! \$\endgroup\$ – Medix2 Dec 24 '19 at 3:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Medix2 For what it's worth, this almost wasn't theoretical. Last night I was playing an abjuration wizard with both Arcane Ward and temp HP, but the issue never came up because I never took any damage. \$\endgroup\$ – Ryan C. Thompson Dec 24 '19 at 4:27
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The ward takes the damage first regardless of what order they apply

The following Q/A establishes that damage to your temporary hit points still counts as you taking damage and with that knowledge, there are two possible cases:

This is also supported by lead game designer Jeremy Crawford in an unofficial ruling (a tweet):

Q. How do the Abjurer's Arcane Ward and Temporary Hitpoints interact? Do they stack? If so, which is depleted first?

A. An abjurer's Arcane Ward takes damage first. Any leftover damage is taken by temporary hp, then normal hp.


It's different if you believe temporary hit points taking damage doesn't count as you taking damage

This stance is taken by the second answer to the initially linked question and in this case, the order will matter because either clause applying will result in you no longer taking damage.

In this case I would default to the optional rule from Xanathar's Guide to Everything for resolving simultaneous effects:

In rare cases, effects can happen at the same time, especially at the start or end of a creature's turn. If two or more things happen at the same time on a character or monster's turn, the person at the game table - whether player or DM - who controls that creature decides the order in which those things happen.

Either way, you never make a concentration check

Note that under either belief, no matter what, a concentration check will not be made. In the first account the ward is always taking the damage, not you; in the second account either the ward of the temporary hit points take the damage and neither would count as you taking damage.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ So in the example, the ward would absorb all 4 damage and no concentration check would be required? \$\endgroup\$ – Ryan C. Thompson Dec 23 '19 at 14:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ @RyanC.Thompson Yes because you haven't taken any of the damage, it was all redirected to the ward \$\endgroup\$ – Medix2 Dec 23 '19 at 14:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ @RyanC.Thompson I've edited my answer a bit \$\endgroup\$ – Medix2 Dec 23 '19 at 14:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ This ambiguity would all have gone away if they would have added just one word to the feature's description (although I think "instead" does this for me). If it had read "Whenever you would take damage", but again I think "instead" means that you never take the damage but meh. \$\endgroup\$ – Slagmoth Dec 23 '19 at 15:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Slagmoth That doesn't fix much, since you still have to decide whether THP being damaged counts as "taking damage" \$\endgroup\$ – Medix2 Dec 23 '19 at 15:52
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Arcane Ward

The arcane ward is a magic barrier that takes damage like a shield. You have to go through this barrier before you can take physical damage. Once you go through this barrier the temporary hp gets affected.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I agree this is the logical interpretation, but I'm looking for a RAW justification. \$\endgroup\$ – Ryan C. Thompson Dec 23 '19 at 14:08
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It's your choice(*)

From Xanathar's Guide to Everything, page 77:

In rare cases, effects can happen at the same time, especially at the start or end of a creature's turn. If two or more things happen at the same time on a character or monster's turn, the person at the game table - whether player or DM - who controls that creature decides the order in which those things happen.

Here we have two instances of "X happens when you take damage", so you can choose which one happens first.

* However...

When you redirect the damage to your Arcane Ward, you no longer take that damage ("(...) the ward takes the damage instead."), which means you do not have to make Concentration checks. Technically, this means that temporary hit points are no longer in consideration, since you're no longer taking damage, unless the Ward has less hp than the damage redirected to it.

Temporary hit points, on the other hand, are granted to your character and are a part of that character ("[Some abilities] confer temporary hit points to a creature."), so damage to temporary hit points is still damage to the character, and calls for Concentration checks.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Typically you don't take damage on your own turn though, so wouldn't it be more likely to be the enemy's choice under this interpretation? \$\endgroup\$ – John Montgomery Dec 24 '19 at 0:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ By strictly reading RAW yes, possibly, though I believe RAI meant to refer to the person controlling the creature that the effects happen to, in this case the Wizard's player. \$\endgroup\$ – Mark wishes Monica well Dec 25 '19 at 22:01

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