Posted by : David Guyll April 27, 2012

It's good to see that the vast majority are in favor to at least some form of limited self-healing. Personally I had grown tired of relying on the casters to keep the game going last edition, and 4th Edition made it easier--I would daresay possible--to manage without a healer at all, or at least without having to burn through cash stocking up on healing potions and wands (the latter of which required characters to spend ranks on Use Magic Device).

The thing is that if hit points do not--and never did--simulate physical trauma, then there is no reason to severely cripple their "natural" recovery rate. 2nd Edition did this at 1 point per day, though 3rd Edition allowed you to get away with 1 per level, so long as you got a full day's rest. A Heal check might have been involved, as well.

Healing surges provide a nice, solid mechanic for giving players an idea of how much more punishment they can endure, as well as providing a resource that could feasibly be used for other things, such as fueling rituals and/or abilities. For example, what if sorcerers got at-will spells, but no encounter or daily magic, and instead had to spend healing surges. This could work for other spellcasters, representing them becoming exhausted. It would also work for martial types.

Some players claim that healing surges can strip out the drama of a situation, since players can crawl out of a pile of rubble and "magically full-heal", but this does not seem much different from just having a cleric spam cure whatever wounds until the character is topped off (or drinking a bunch of potions). Heck, give her a few levels and she can just conjure up free food and water, and also instantaneously alleviate ability score damage and level drain (assuming the characters did not burn cash on items that can do all that, anyway).

Things that might help is preventing characters from using all the surges that they want. After a battle characters might be able to spend just one, or could only spend enough to get to a certain percentage (say, bloodied value or 3/4s or something). An extended rest would allow them to exceed this amount, but to avoid a lengthy nap resetting all their stats to full, you could also cap the recovery rate. So, fighters might get 4 + Con modifier back, wizards 2 + Con modifier, or characters might only get back their Con modifier (so tough characters still recover faster). This way characters would still want to be stingy with their hit points and not just blow through surges willy nilly.

There could also be rules for extended injuries, so characters could suffer penalties for taking critical hits (perhaps in lieu of extra damage, similar to that mechanic in Dresden Files that lets you keep going, but at a cost). Things that healing surges cannot fix. I think this would work for grittier games, even going so far as specifying what sort of injuries that curing spells can fix (something I remember from 2nd Edition). The balancing act would be making it so that an injury is cumbersome, but not adventure-stopping. I would also like to avoid the whole ability damage fiasco of 3rd Edition; just give me flat penalties so I do not have to go back and re-factor my attacks, damage, skills, etc.

{ 2 comments... read them below or Comment }

  1. The problem I have with surges as a 4E referee is that there are so many hidden hit points that it's hard for me to get a feel for how my group is actually doing. Maybe this just comes from more experience, but I have been running almost weekly for about 9 months now. I think a more simplified self-healing system might work better, something that did not require bookkeeping and did not also use the surges for other things (like powering abilities). Cross-functional things like that should be kept to a minimum if the game is to be modular. Maybe even just regain all HP after an encounter (like Halo shields almost). That's really what many groups do with surges and wands of cure light wounds anyways. Why bother tracking the surges? I've also played 4E with AD&D death rules (dead at -10, -1 per turn etc) but kept the surges, and that worked okay and seemed to increase the peril of being at negative HP somewhat.

    Another option would be to allow a general self-heal action that anyone could spend a turn on and regain N + Con mod HP, where N was some constant, or perhaps equal to the level.

    This is probably too deadly and old school for you, but I find this injury table quite interesting, though I've never played with it:

    http://trollsmyth.blogspot.com/2008/06/playing-with-death-and-dismemberment.html

    Using a system like that, you could have HP recovered automatically at the end of an encounter, but injuries would not heal. So as long as players can keep their HP above zero, they would be fine, but if not there is a chance of death or permanent injury (only recoverable by natural healing or magic).

    For my more lethal B/X game, my house rule is that there are no negative hit points. If you are reduced to zero or below, you make a save versus death and if you succeed, then you are knocked unconscious but if you fail then you are killed. It works really well because it is super simple, and offers players a second chance, but still leads the threat of death.

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  2. @Brendan: I use the exactly same rule in my B/X. Save vs death or you're gone.

    This resiliency stuff is one those where wizards could give us a couple of working alternatives and let the DMs adjudicate what flavor they want their game to be. I don't mind HPs coming back fast after an extended rest but the recovery of 'surges' (stamina, short term healing) could take longer. That way there's no immediate need for the CLW wand but there's still some attrition in your ability to bounce back.

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