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I'm DMing a 6 person campaign in 5E and one of my players made a Warlock that is dreadfully sick, but is bolstered by the Undying Warlock patron. How can I balance giving him mostly temporary hitpoints as a more flavorful replacement for normal hitpoints? For instance he might only have 4 HP but have 12 temporary hitpoints that cannot be regenerated via healing or hit dice, but may be replenished after a long rest. This is a first level party, and the player likes this idea, but does not know much about D&D.

Is there a good, balanced way to implement this? Alternatively, is there a balanced homebrew Warlock patron or other mechanic that does something similar?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Why are you doing this? If he made character with low HP on purpose, why would you want to take it from him? \$\endgroup\$
    – Mołot
    May 23, 2020 at 17:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Mołot Sorry, the point was not to make a weak character per se, but to make a low hit point/low vitality character for flavor purposes that can still be balanced or strong. How can I edit my title to reflect this? \$\endgroup\$ May 23, 2020 at 17:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ Still, he wanted low HP, why are you forcing temp HP on him? \$\endgroup\$
    – Mołot
    May 23, 2020 at 18:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Mołot This is the way we have chosen to express this part of the character. It is not being forced upon him, and he suggested it in the first place. \$\endgroup\$ May 23, 2020 at 19:11

2 Answers 2

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There are spells and abilities available to warlocks to get temporary HP

One way to have this character make use of temporary HP is to take advantage of the ways in which a warlock can gain temporary HP by themselves (since their magic comes from their patron, flavour-wise, this also suits the narrative explanation about the patron keeping them alive).

The Undying patron grants false life as an expanded spell (SCAG, p. 139), which would allow the warlock to gain temporary HP at 1st level, although this would use one of the warlock's spell choices. An alternative is picking the armor of Agathys spell, which also gives the caster temporary HP, plus some way to deal damage to attackers.

At 2nd level, when the warlock gains access to Eldritch Invocations, the invocation Fiendish Vigor allows the warlock to cast false life at will (although they would then be unable to upcast it as they would if they were to cast it via spell slots as per my first suggestion).

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This answer assumes these special homebrew temp hp stack with all other temp hp, contrary to the normal rules, but are always used up last. If that's not the case, the option can't really be balanced very effectively.

Upper Bound

You can put an upper bound on the number of temporary hit points to replace hp above whatever minimum number you picked with by figuring out how many effective hp you expect the character would have normally. That is to say, if the character normally would have max hp 16 and you expect they'd normally probably get 8-10 points of healing between long rests, you know there's no way the character's new homebrew post-long-rest total hp+temp hp should be above 26, and it probably shouldn't be above 24.

Lower Bound

Temp hp are worse than regular hp, so clearly you must at least increase their base effective max hp by 1. If they normally have max hp 16, then having max hp 4 and 13 temp hp would be the minimum.

Probably, to keep the feature as not seemingly negative at each level up, it would be good to add at least 1 hp per hit die, provided that doesn't raise the total above the upper bound. So, if the 16 hp warlock is 4th level, you would want them to have 4 hp and 16 temp hp instead.

Consequences

This warlock will want to take long rests a lot, regardless of what option you pick, which is different than normal with warlocks. This warlock will also need less healing, thus freeing up healing resources from the party for other characters. This means you will probably want to err on the lower side of the zone, and you might even want to only give out an effective hp point less than once per level (perhaps 1:2 levels, or 2:3 levels).

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