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Certain creatures have abilities which can reduce a character's maximum HP, and usually if it gets reduced to 0 the character dies outright.

Suppose a HP30 PC is wild-shaped/polymorphed to a creature with 50HP, they get into a fight with a Wraith and take a few hits dealing a total of 30HP. If they failed the con saves, that PC's max-HP is reduced by 30, but it's still at 20.

An interesting, perilous situation.

Do they die instantly? Would feel a bit unfair since they're standing there with a bunch of HP. Is the damage just shrugged off like normal damage upon return? The Druid's wild-shape section is quiet on status conditions, though it's pretty blatant about HP:

When you transform, you assume the beast’s hit points and Hit Dice. When you revert to your normal form, you return to the number of hit points you had before you transformed.

That sounds like a free pass, but it would reduce the danger of these fights considerably. I've been assuming the PC becomes a sort of 'dead man walking' where if they revert the HP reduction will carry and they'll die instantly. But I'm not sure.

If that's the case, they've got a 'Crank' like situation where the PC has less than an hour (before the wild-shape/polymorph wears off) to find a Heal or Remove Curse.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't want to yank your chain or anything, but does Remove Curse actually get rid of the Max HP Reduction? I suppose that might constitute a curse, but I don't have a MM on me. Looking at the description in kevin.matheny's post, it looks like some sort of supernatural effect, period. And if that is the case, then Remove Curse doesn't really do much. \$\endgroup\$
    – Javelin
    Feb 1, 2015 at 19:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ Neither Heal nor Remove Curse will remove this effect. \$\endgroup\$
    – Miniman
    Feb 2, 2015 at 9:31

5 Answers 5

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When you Wild Shape/Polymorph you "assume the beast’s hit points" thus essentially creating a new, separate pool of HP from your own, original form similar to how Temporary Hit Points work, as Alexis Wilke has stated.

Damage taken in animal form doesn't affect your original form's HP unless you're dropped to 0 HP in animal form and there's excess damage. Nowhere is it suggested that max-HP reduce would work any differently. Because Wild Shape/Polymorph gives you a new pool of HP (as supported by Jeremy Crawford in the link below), only that pool is affected by the reduction.

So, using your example, if a PC has 30 HP in their original form and transforms into a beast that has 50 HP, the PC effectively has 50 HP. If the PC has their max HP reduced by 30 while transformed then they don't die as a result of having 0 HP because they're using the beast's HP and they still have 20 HP left in that pool.

As for whether the max HP reduction carries over to your original form when you revert, according to Jeremy Crawford, lead rules designer, the answer is no:

Jonathan Longstaff
@pukunui81
@JeremyECrawford What happens when a wildshaped druid that has had its HP max reduced reverts back to normal? Does the reduction carry over?

Jeremy Crawford
@JeremyECrawford
Wild Shape—a reduction to hp maximum doesn't carry over from your beast form to your true form or vice versa.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Wow, not how I would have ruled, but I personally tend to weight toward his tweets in-game to reduce argument time. Good to know. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 29, 2017 at 8:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ In effect, Wildshape is "Open Druid's head, uninstall brain, store druid's body for later. Open creature's head, install brain (discard current brain if present)." When the creature's body dies, reverse the process. \$\endgroup\$
    – T.J.L.
    Jun 22, 2017 at 18:50
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As written, the attack of a Wight reduces the hit point maximum of the target:

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.

I believe the intent of the life drain ability is to introduce the risk of death, and thus, my read is that the interaction of these two would indeed result in your perilous situation, where returning to the original form would return to the original hit points, but with a Hit Point Maximum now less than 0, resulting in instant death.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I would interpret "target" as the bear/wolf/beast the druid has wild shaped into, rather than the druid. HP damage taken while wild shaped doesn't carry over to the druid, so why would Max HP Reduction carry over? The "perilous situation" could add some interesting drama, but I'm leaning toward the "free pass" approach with this one. \$\endgroup\$
    – RayB
    Feb 1, 2015 at 20:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ "Target" isn't precisely defined in the PHB, and doesn't seem to be defined in the DMG at all (at least, it's missing from the index). I think the RAW is pretty much silent, which leaves us in interpretation territory. My take is that the intent of the life drain ability is to give the risk of death, while the intent of returning to original HP when leaving Wild Shape/Polymorph is to reduce/ignore damage. Since the max HP reduction isn't "damage" per se, that leaves it unaddressed by the WS/Poly ability. Thus my interpretation. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 1, 2015 at 23:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ I do think yours is a valid possible interpretation. Perhaps we should consider other effects or conditions that would or should carry over from the wild shaped form to the druid, such as paralysis, blinded, poisoned, etc. If these effects persist when shifting out of wild shape, then it's reasonable to rule that the reduction of HP Maximum remains in place as well. As a DM, however, I wouldn't want to leave my players in a "don't shift or die" type situation if it didn't add to the story/fun. \$\endgroup\$
    – RayB
    Feb 2, 2015 at 4:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ @RayB, considering other effects is a great idea for understanding the RAI. Regarding your second point, I agree. But putting a Wight into the mix introduced the risk of character death in the first place, so from a DM perspective it's not a new risk. It is a new situation, and if adding the "don't shift or you'll die" element distracted from the overall story, I'd probably leave it out. My sessions are usually emergent enough that it would be a fun addition. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 2, 2015 at 13:50
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Reduction of maximum hit points applies to the druid in any form

JC says otherwise in his rulings, however, this relies on a new concept of "changing hp pools"--which is not part of the existing rules. If you prefer to play RAW and make your own rulings when needed, this answer may help you.

5e has concepts of "hit points", "hit point maximum", and "Hit Dice". Here is a description of each:

Hit Points

A creature's current hit points (usually just called hit points) can be any number from the creature's hit point maximum down to 0.

Hit Point Maximum

At 1st level, your character has 1 Hit Die, and the die type is determined by your class. You start with hit points equal to the highest roll of that die, as indicated in your class description. (You also add your Constitution modifier, which you’ll determine in step 3.) This is also your hit point maximum.

Hit Dice

Your character’s hit points define how tough your character is in combat and other dangerous situations. Your hit points are determined by your Hit Dice (short for Hit Point Dice).

Wild Shape changes only your hit points and Hit Dice

Wild Shape

When you transform, you assume the beast’s hit points and Hit Dice.

Nothing is stated about your "Hit Point Maximum", so we can safely assume that your maximum hit points are not changed.

Note that modifying your hit die or constitution can result in a change to your maximum hit points. There is no reason to think that changing con or hit die alone would remove Draining Kiss.

Example

A druid with 30hp transforms into a cow with 50 hp, and then takes a 30 maximum hit point reduction as a result of a wraith.

  • Druid before transformation: 30/30 hit points
  • Druid after transformation: hit die and con changes result in 50/50 hit points
  • Druid is hit by Life Drains for a total of 30 damage: max hp adjusts to 50 - 30 = 20. The druid is now at 20/20 hp
  • Druid reverts transformation: hit die and con change, resulting in max hp 30 - 30 = 0. The druid is now at 0/0 hp, and is dead.
  • Druid transforms back into a cow (somehow): their hit die and con change, returning back to 20/20 hp.
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    \$\begingroup\$ You say that maximum hit points are not changed, yet later in your answer you state the Druid's HP after transformation as "50/50". Surely by your logic it would be 50/30 (which I would say is impossible) or unchanged at 30/30 (because the maximum doesn't change)? If "hit point maximum" has any semantic meaning, it must be your maximum number of hit points. \$\endgroup\$
    – Vigil
    Jun 14, 2020 at 11:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Vigil: "Note that modifying your hit die or constitution can result in a change to your maximum hit points." - while Wild Shape does not change your max hit points, your change in hit die or constitution will change your max hit points. For example, cows have d10 hit die, and +2 con, this will result in a change of max hit points from a d8 druid with +0 con. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 15, 2020 at 0:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ @user-024673 I'm confused by your last comment about if wildshape does or does not change the druid's max hp. Before casting their max hp was 30. After casting it's 50. I don't understand the relevance of asserting that wildshape doesn't change the max hp. It is a consequence of changing the hit dice and constitution which is what the spell does. So altering the max hitpoints is a direct consequence of the effects of the spell is it not? \$\endgroup\$
    – GcL
    Apr 29, 2021 at 16:04
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An effect that reduces the druid's hit point maximum is not the same as damage, so changing forms does nothing to remove that effect. Notably, the Druid's Wild Shape only switches out the current hit points, not any modifications to your hit point maximum. This is similar to the rules for a druid affected by conditions, which carry over between forms.

So yes, your druid would be in a Crank-like situation, with only the remainder of the wild-shape form to live unless another effect can help. Here's the wraith's Life Drain (emphasis mine):

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. This reduction lasts until the target finishes a long rest. The target dies if this effect reduces its hit point maximum to 0.

While the Druid has the maximum HP of 50-30=20 in wild shape they will be fine. But when the Wild Shape expires, if the Wraith's Drain Life is still present, they would revert to their own stats and keep the Drain Life effect (assuming they haven't somehow long rested) and die with a Maximum HP of 30-30=0.


Aside: As an analogy for any Magic the Gathering players, this situation is much like trying to save a 2/1 creature from a combat with a 1/1 Infect creature (which put -1/-1 on creatures) by using a Giant Growth to give it +3/+3 until the end of this turn. The 2/1 creature would indeed live through combat and have a -1/-1 counter on it. It would be a 4/3 until the Giant Growth effect went away. Since it would still have the -1/-1 counter, it would die as a 1/0.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I question whether the MtG analogy is useful, since in that game, the rules actually define how all those effects interact. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mark Wells
    May 20, 2020 at 23:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ While the two systems are distinct, there is something to be said about the overlap in player base, game design, and publishing company. Many principles, such as "specific beats general" and "can't beats can" are present in both rules. Of course, the GM can modify the game as they see necessary, but that doesn't change how rules interact or the general design principles. Effects only do what they say, nothing more, nothing less. \$\endgroup\$
    – ryanyuyu
    May 21, 2020 at 12:19
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RAW the reduction carries over; arguing otherwise is special pleading

There are many different effects that might persist on a druid when they change form using wild shape. The clearest examples are Conditions, because the rules for ending them are explicit:

A condition lasts either until it is countered (the prone condition is countered by standing up, for example) or for a duration specified by the effect that imposed the condition.

A reduction in hit point maximum is not a condition, but in the absence of an explicit rule regarding it, we can look to the example of Conditions as a guideline. Other persistent effects behave differently when the recipient's form changes (cf. Disease), but we know they behave differently because they say so; There Are No Hidden Rules. So unless something else in the rules says otherwise, we can assume that a reduction in maximum hp will last until it is countered (in this case if the description of wild shape said it removes the effect) or until it reaches its duration (which is listed in the specific effect that imposed the reduction).

Taking the second part first, reductions in hp maxima from undead (cf.vampire) and fiends (cf. succubus) typically last "until the target finishes a long rest". The reduction from a clay golem (a construct) lasts "until removed by the greater restoration spell or other magic", while the Harm spell inflicts this effect for one hour, but also specifies that it can be ended before then by "[a]ny effect that removes a disease". To my knowledge, no effect that reduces one's hp maximum specifies that it can removed by changing form, such as through wild shape, polymorph, shapechange, etc.

As far was the wild shape itself, we are given explicit indications of what is carried over to the new form (your alignment, personality, and Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma scores, all of your skill and saving throw proficiencies, your concentration on a spell you’ve already cast, and the benefit of any features from your class, race, or other source) as well as what is not carried over (your game statistics apart from what was listed above, your hit points and Hit Dice, your spellcasting ability, your special senses). For a few things you actually get to choose whether to retain them or not (your equipment). This is a pretty long list, but it is not complete - while your hit points (not carried over) includes your hit point maximum, it does not explicitly include temporary reductions to your hp maximum. We are thus in the position of having to judge whether this effect is carried over or not - and the only principle that makes sense is to assume that it does unless it says otherwise.

Consider this with Conditions - if your druid was Prone, or Charmed, would wild-shaping into a new form counter the Prone or Charmed condition? No, because the rules for Conditions explicitly say they would not. If your druid was under the persistent effect of a spell like barkskin while in their natural form, would it apply when they assumed their wild shape? Yes, because the precedent of Conditions makes us expect effects to carry over unless something says they don't. Likewise for a pre-cast mage armor, or a guardian of nature spell, a shield of faith, or other spells.

Thus, RAW, the reduction in hp maximum should indeed carry over to the new form.

RAI or special pleading?

PurpleMonkey, the author of the accepted answer to this question (which says that the reduction would not carry over) in another accepted answer about barkskin says:

Wild Shape also says nothing about ending any effects that are already applied to the target, so things like Conditions and spell effects would carry over from one form to the next

So why would they think that reductions to hp maxima would be different, why is it not a 'thing like' Conditions and spell effects?

Because Jeremy Crawford tweeted a very explicit statement that they are different:

Wild Shape—a reduction to hp maximum doesn't carry over from your beast form to your true form or vice versa.

Now, we know that Crawford's tweets aren't official, but that doesn't mean they aren't useful. I, for one, find them very useful when trying to tease out intent in RAW that is ambiguous, confusing, or poorly worded. But none of these are the case here; the RAW clearly indicate that the reduction should carry over. Worse, if you follow the whole twitter exchange, Crawford's argument (in my opinion) quickly becomes self-contradictory special pleading. When asked why a reduction in a hp maximum doesn't carry over, he says:

The forms have their own hp pools. Their current and max hp change independently of each other.

This invents a new term, "hp pool", that has no game definition. It then begs the question of, if current and max hp changes are truly independent of one another, why then does wild shape specify that excess damage done to one form carries over to the other form? To this he responds:

One hp range absorbs as much of the damage as it can, and the other hp range picks up the slack.

So, okay, if you exceed the damage that one form takes it is taken up by the other (even though they are independent). But wouldn't this mean, then, that if a reduction in maximum hp in one form took that form below zero, then the other form would 'take up the slack' and suffer a reduction in maximum hp to make up the difference? Apparently not, since in the same exchange he says that in this case

Wild Shape—you die if a vampire spawn reduces your hp maximum to 0 while you're in beast form

It becomes clear that this ruling - reductions to maximum hp simply don't carry over - is his position, but it is not really connected to any other rules. If you, as a DM, like this ruling, then you should implement it. But you should also understand that it is not RAW.

This becomes even more clear when you consider effects that raise your hp maximum, like being the recipient of an Aid or Hero's Feast spell. I think any player whose druid was under the effects of one of these would not expect their benefits to end when the druid wild shaped. And a DM who adopted Crawford's ruling that reductions in hp maxima don't carry over is in a tricky position then, since Crawford did not tweet anything about increases, so there is not even a RAI justification. RAI as informed by tweets are great when they help us understand the consistency the underlies the RAW. When they simply present special cases not connected to anything else, I think they do more harm then good.

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