Posted by : David Guyll March 01, 2013

For the past few weeks Legends & Lore has brought up the issues of healing, first by asking if removing the cleric as a necessary element of play was something that they should be doing (Yes!), then by pitching an adjustable-yet-flat healing rate (No!).

Both 2nd and 3rd Edition have pretty much always assumed that you had a cleric, or someone else capable of casting cure etc wounds spells multiple times per day (which in 3rd Edition could be summed up as either a favored soul, or the stop-gap approach of "guy with lots of healing wands"). Otherwise you had to rely on natural healing which, to put it nicely, was slow: if you wanted to keep adventuring you got back one-a-day, but if you stayed in bed recovered either three per day in 2nd Edition (I think, might have been two), or one-per-level in 3rd.

The major downside, similar to wizards running out of spells, is that running out of healing magic effectively puts a stop to the adventuring day, unless you have access to a bunch of magic items that can heal you. I find it strange that for so long, the party was often reliant on one person to keep everyone up and running, especially when a single die roll could kill your character: I ran a short-lived Age of Worms campaign sans cleric, and my players did not enjoy burning through a huge chunk of cash for a wand that only the bard could use, which unfortunately required that she be conscious (which was a hard criteria to meet when you have an AC of 14 and only 8 hit points).

Another issue is the expectation that you will have access to healing magic, regardless of what kind of cleric you were wanting to play, which was lessened when 3rd Edition allowed clerics to swap out spells for healing magic as long as you were either Good, or Neutral and opted to channel positive energy (and even more so in 4th, where every cleric had access to a few encounter-based heals). For some clerics--Healing, Protection, even War--I can buy it, but what about those that want to worship a trickster, or a god of knowledge or crafting? Why do they have automatic access to healing magic?

For several reasons 4th Edition made it very possible to adventure without having a cleric--or really, any kind of healing class--on hand. The biggest step was by giving every character access to a measure of self-healing in the form of healing surges. The amount that each character had access to depended on your class and Constitution modifier, but since they always restored a quarter of your total hit points, fighter-types tended to have more, and benefit more from them.

Another, more controversial change, was that a long rest topped you off in every regard: hit points, healing surges, and per-day abilities. For better or worse this meant that, aside from the odd disease, that after a good night's sleep you were ready to head back into the dungeon. Finally, there were plenty of other, equally serviceable classes that could substitute for a cleric, each with their own theme and playstyle.

As of the eight playtest packet, the default healing rules in 5th Edition are kind of in the middle: you get a number of Hit Dice equal to your level, which vary depending on your class and Constitution modifier, so at the least fighters tend to recover more hit points than wizards. While you regain everything after a long rest, you do not get many (again, the number equals your level), so most of your healing depends on how many healing spells the cleric has access to.

I think that the best approach is to build a system where there is no assumed healer or access to certain magic items, but the party can keep on adventuring without having to spend several days taking it easy. By not requiring players to pick certain abilities within certain classes, it provides a lot of freedom on both sides of the screen: Dungeon Masters can run low-or-no magic campaigns, hand out the items they want in high magic campaigns, and worry less about time-sensitive adventure objectives. Cleric players can worship and pray for whatever spells they want, without having to worry about making the wrong choice or running out of certain spells.

3rd Edition's Unearthed Arcana has a lot of hit point sub-systems that can be mined, in particular Vitality and Wound Points: though more complex than just having a single pool of hit points, you could make effects that apply to only one pool. Vitality points would be based on your class and represent how hit points can let you evade blows, or turn an otherwise lethal blow into a minor wound, while Wound points would be derived from your Constitution score and represent your overall physical toughness.

The refocus action (and warlord powers) might only restore Vitality points, and they could completely fill up after combat is over as part of the whole short rest routine. Wound points would recover more slowly (at an hourly or daily rate, ideally based in some way on your Constitution), but could be restored using magic, or maybe on a limited basis using healing items and skills.

I have said before that being able to make a useful fighter/wizard early on is part of my litmus test for liking a Dungeons & Dragons game. Being able to make a viable adventuring party using any iteration of the hit point and healing rules is another. I get that they want to make the "basic" setting of the game, well, basic, but I think that people can handle fairly simple mechanics like Hit Dice/healing surges/reserve points. At the least I would like one set of healing rules that lets the party get away without a cleric, but does not see a massive power boost by the inclusion of one.

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

  1. I'm coming to the conclusion that the only solution here is an "all of the above" approach to diversifying healing options.

    1. Make not just playing a cleric but the action of healing more interesting, in the same way that martial damage dice and maneuvers make playing a fighter more interesting. Yes, the cleric has other spells; those are interesting enough on their own, and they're also a completely different area of combat functionality.

    2. Include multiple non-clerical healing classes; either put them on equal footing, or make it possible through internal class options for them to take equal footing without sacrificing so much that they are strictly inferior to just playing a cleric in the first place.

    3. Both strengthen and diversify the Specialties that grant healing ability. It's strange that such a core gameplay function is represented by exactly one Specialty at this point. A Specialty doesn't have to be on equal footing with a class, but it does need to be as good as other Specialties.

    #1 is intended to make the healing action appeal to more players - ideally it would wind up feeling like something other than sacrificing your own "fun" to make someone else have "more fun." (I, at least, have often heard playing the healer described in that way.) It's entirely possible to design healing as a tactical experience rather than an afterthought.

    #2 is intended to make it so that people who are good with playing "the healer" but don't want to play a cleric have some options. The party does still have to be able to go on without any of these classes.

    #3 is intended to make it so that fighters, rogues, wizards, and whoever else can contribute some healing without abandoning the archetype and class functionality that drew them to their class in the first place.

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  2. I suppose, that current DnD-ish HP won't work even with best tuning operations. As long HP has 2 different meanings (1st: 0HP battle is over and 2nd 0HP adventure is over) and more important different expectations we won't have good solution.
    The "textual" expectation is:
    - (1) "the battle ends when monsters HP is 0"
    - (2) AND "we have to threat players of loosing battle - wins but close to zero 0 HP"
    - (3) AND "we want to play multiple battles in one run without delay"
    If we balance (1) and (2) then there is no way to satisfy (3) (because we start next battle with values close to 0 HP)
    If we balance for (3) we won't satisfy (2) (because there will be no threat of lowering close to 0 HP)

    I like Vitality-like idea. For example if we expect 5 battles in one run, then we could have: 25HP. At start of each battle you get 25VIT, after battle if you are bloodied, you loose 1/5 of HP (because of planned 5 battles), if you died because of -xVIT, then you are dead (or something).
    This way we can threat during battles and keep playing without interrupts.

    But is is another factor to bookkeep...

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  3. It is very difficult to accurately gauge resource expenditure, especially in combat due to numerous factors, which can include character builds, tactics (flanking, setting up combos, etc), misses, critical hits, etc.

    The idea behind going with VP as a kind of "combat/narrative shield" is added durability, as well as to better rationalize how some healing effects (namely non-magical stuff) works.

    I would like to see this, or something like it, as a thing that people can playtest to see how it works in the long run.

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  4. I'm helping a friend of mine with a new RPG that he's working on, and we might use something like that. When we put it on the interwebs for beta, would you offer an opinion?

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  5. The system, I mean.

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  6. I've never played with it, but I've always loved the idea of the Vitality and Wound Points system presented in 3E's Unearthed Arcana. I think it strikes a good balance between combat fatigue and actual damage, allowing the players to recover quickly for another fight, but retain major consequences for long periods. And, as you bring up, I think it offers a lot of flavour to healing classes and spells, allowing differentiation between abilities that actually heal and abilities that invigorate. The only downside is the complexity, but if the system were built with it in mind (even as an option), I don't know that it would be as much an issue.

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  7. @Anon: Sure!

    @Svafa: I am seeing if people at my work wanna play in a 3E Age of Worms game. If they bite, I am going to pitch the UA VP/WP optional rule. Hopefully it will make things easier if no one plays a cleric, unlike last time.

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