Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Healing in RPGs - Resource Management or Daily Recharge?

In the latest episode of The Brainstorm Podcast, we discussed healing in RPGs, mostly in the different editions of D&D. One thing that struck me is how the later editions made healing easier and less of a resourced needed to be managed.

Up through 2e, Clerics & Druids had to use specific spell slots for healing spells to the exclusion of other types of spells. Given a choice between Bless and CLW, I'd go for CLW every time.

3e introduced spontaneous casting of healing spells. Now you could memorize what you wanted and yet had the flexibility to burn a spell memorized to cast a healing spell. The resource management is loosening up. Oh, and healing spells at nearly every spell level. No longer are levels 2 thru 3 a barren wasteland bereft of healing.

4e had Healing Surges, which made healing much more accessible and lessened the need for specific healing classes.

5e has it's Hit Dice Pools. And long rests. Healing is no longer a resource to be managed, at least as I see it.

For me, the sweet spot is somewhere between earlier editions and 3e. I'd allow one swap per spell level, and allow the burning a higher level spell slow for a lower level healing spell.

Just some thoughts that came up after listening to the episode.


  1. One thing that healing after a hour rest does is force the DM to hit those wandering monster tables frequently. In the 5e games I've een running, healing has certainly been a resource management issue, but only because I push pretty hard when they try to rest too close to danger. In fact in last night's game, they had to resort to searching the local mushroom patch for something that might heal them. They're pretty sure the mushrooms they took err umm ate healed them - they certainly made them feel better! The S&W game I was running, however, really needed some additional healing just to keep the party near the action. Of course, they have no cleric.

  2. I haven't had the opportunity to play 5E again, but I do like the idea of having Hit Dice actually have a functional application outside of helping track level advancement. Yeah, it does look like it can dilute the need for a healer, but it's no different than using magic and brute force to remove the need for a party thief. Besides, what are we going to do when we don't have time to recover our spent dice? Sometimes, we won't be able to take the desired rests due to outside story elements... (do we follow up on the time sensitive clue that was just uncovered, or take a long rest to restore our healing pool?)

    That was one of my biggest issues with 4E -- the whole concept of healing surges just seemed to reinforce the video game aspect of the game. That was part of why I chose not to play... I could almost work my way past the complete reworking of the system, but decided that I didn't have to.
    The 3E concept of spontaneous casting was more acceptable to me, but I felt it was a bit arbitrary to just give that as a standard ability. It was an artificial reinforcement of the cleric as healer image that had become the stereotype. I preferred to adapt the concept of the spheres of influence and domains to have the spontaneous ability reflect the clerics method of worship. Often, the domain spell slots were the spontaneous options, rather than one time bonus slots.

    But ultimately, I think healing is as much of a resource management situation as the Gamemaster decides to make of it, not the rules.

    1. "the whole concept of healing surges just seemed to reinforce the video game aspect of the game."

      While I understand that view point, if you set aside the "video game" argument for the moment, you could also see healing surges as that adrenaline rush / second wind that one could get during battle.

      Think of Inigo Montoya with a gut would and two shoulder piercings. He seems done in, until he taps that inner strength to avenge his father.

      That's how I prefer to think of healing surges.

  3. It's not like the old days, but my 5E games do have a funny little dance around the minigame of healing. Hit dice resources can deplete faster than you can recover them if you're not careful (since a long rest only gets half your HD back) and only the fighter has any opportunity to use them during battle, so they are definitely something you hold on to until you know you need it.

    It's hardly the same as my old 1E/2E days when adventurers tracked their daily healing through rest over weeks to recover hit points, and went into battle with wounds more often than not, but 5E's resource management has its own charms.

  4. When play is episodic rather than serial; when healing potions are as near-by as the local magic shop (yuck); healing is not really a factor.

    When the game turns into fantasy Oregon Trail, and everything you have access to is on the sumpter or the nag... Healing is deadly serious business.

    I rather prefer a game where the difference between a 9th level fighter and so much worm food is how many days' recovery he's had since the last time he had to fight for his life.

  5. Having played a lot of 4E I find that the way healing surges work is a common misconception by people who haven't played the game. Healing surges were not meant to be a way in which characters could heal themselves without the need for Clerics, rather they were a limit on the amount of healing one could receive over a given day.

    Almost all healing in 4E, whether it was spells, potions, or special powers, required characters to spend healing surges in order to receive the effects. If your fighter used all of his surges for the day, he couldn't get any more healing until he rested. This prevented PCs from carrying around stockpiles of healing potions enough to fill an apothecary.

    Also, most characters had very limited ways to heal themselves without outside help. The only self-heal action was Second Wind, which could only be used once per combat. The rest of the healing surges could only be accessed by using a potion or through healing spells and the like.

  6. You assume healing magic and skills and potions are readily available. My players live in fear because finding a capable healer is not easy. As to magic healing you, they've never encountered such a thing.

  7. I haven't read the DMG suggestions for alternate healing yet, but one idea that was floated in the play test is that Hit Point do not regenerate during a long rest... That you can only regain them through spending Hit Dice or healing magic.

    This adds a lot more of the resource management back into 5e.


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