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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 '15 at 19:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ Neither Heal nor Remove Curse will remove this effect. \$\endgroup\$ – Miniman Feb 2 '15 at 9:31
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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, one of the lead designers and official rules arbiter for 5e, 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\$ – keithcurtis Jan 29 '17 at 8:16
  • \$\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 '17 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 '15 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\$ – kevin.matheny Feb 1 '15 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 '15 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\$ – kevin.matheny Feb 2 '15 at 13:50
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The hit points of the beast you transform into are similar to temporary hit points (PHB p. 198)

For the Druid, it clearly says (PHB p. 67):

[...] If you take 10 damage in animal form and have only 1 hit point left, you revert and take 9 damage.

So in this case, your Max. HP is reduced by 9 HP anyway.

The temporary hit points (PHB p. 198):

[...] If you gave 5 temporary hit points and take 7 damage, you lose the temporary hit points and then take 2 damage.

As we can see, the same as the shape shifter.

Note that it is very likely that all the beast animal hit points will be gone by the first set of damages (the claw or bite of the undead) and thus the drain will occur on the druid rather than the beast (whether the transformation happens at that time or right after.) There are no exception about necrotic or other types of damages.

This is very similar to the Paladin spell, Heroism (PHB p. 250), that gives you temporary hit points on each turn for 10 turns.

Of course, that applies to the players enemies too.

In regard to this comment:

That sounds like a free pass, but it would reduce the danger of these fights considerably.

Not really because in most cases you need magical weapons or at least silvered weapons to inflict damage on undead. So a beast will not help much other than maybe disturb the undead and thus give advantage to another fighter's attack.

If you really want to go after undead, being a cleric and using your symbol to turn undead would be way more powerful. You can keep (or at least try) all undead at bay except the one you are fighting...

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This doesn't appear to actually contain a clear statement of a solution to the asker's predicament among the analysis \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Feb 9 '15 at 1:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ This argument falls apart just after the first quote block; taking damage and having your max HP reduced are not the same thing. \$\endgroup\$ – T.J.L. Jun 6 '17 at 20:17
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Assess the HP's as a percentage, then simply transfer that percentage over to the other form. Otherwise the polymorph gives a free pass. Much too potent for my taste.

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Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Hi Bruce, and welcome to RPG Stack Exchange. Please check out our tour to see how we work here. Do you have citation to back this up with? We expect rules answers to provide guidance on how the rules work and include reference back to those rules to back themselves up. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jun 6 '17 at 20:10

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