The Two Faces of Healing

February 3, 2012

How Should the New D&D Handle Healing?

This is kind of rough and dirty. I’m throwing it out as a quick response to Bruce Cordell’s recent D&D Next article about healing, which you can read here. Of course, just because it’s a quick response, doesn’t mean it is not also a long response because, hell, its me. I’m just warning you that its not exactly polished.

As I see it, the problem with discussing healing in Dungeons and Dragons is that healing is really two seperate issues, but the distinction is rarely made. That makes it difficult to discuss how healing should be treated because the two different functions pull the game in two different directions. So, let’s talk about it.

While healing primarily refers to magical healing, I’m talking about all healing here. Natural healing. First aid. Healing by having a warlord yell “suck it up” really loud. All of it. Any way of removing wounds and restoring hit points is healing.

The first face of healing is tactical healing. Healing during battle.

The second face of healing is recovery. Recovering from the events of a battle or adventure or any other form of really bad day that pretty much defines anything that happens to an adventurer when they are not asleep.

At first blush, these things don’t seem very different. They seem to perform the same basic function. But D&D 4E is the first edition of D&D to acknowledge the difference. Sadly, that may be little more than a consequence of the dichotomy between combat and non-combat that 4E set up for pretty much everything in the game.

During battle, healing is a defensive tactic. It reduces the effectiveness of the enemy’s attacks by undoing those attacks. It also allows combattants a better chance of winning battles of attrition by outlasting the enemy. The dirty little secret is that tactical healing isn’t as much about survival as it seems like it should be. What do I mean by that?

Well, IN THEORY, speaking in 4E terms, healing ability should be a tactical option on par with marking, dealing extra damage, battlefield control, and so on. Its a way of getting a tactical advantage over an enemy. Healing is part of a combat strategy. You could bring four damage dealers and win fights quickly and decisively or you could bring two damage dealers and two healers, with the healers limiting the amount of damage dealt so that the damage dealers can afford to take twice as long to win the fight. IN THEORY, those two parties should end combats roughly equal.

Now, this is a great idea (IN THEORY) because it means no party should ever HAVE TO bring a combat healer. The player who gets off on being the healer can pull that off and everyone else can be the thing they want to be. If the various tactical options are balanced (damage dealing vs. healing vs. other defensive options vs. other offensive options), it all works out well (say it with me: IN THEORY).

But the key to this working IN PRACTICE is that healing also needs to be as costly or difficult as the other tactical options. A damage dealer has to work at getting the bonus damage. A defender has to work at keeping the right foes marked and staying in their faces. And so on. Choosing the marking or damage dealing strategy puts some constraints on the choices the PC can make. Every strategy has a price. And the challenge of winning a battle is balancing those prices against the benefits of the strategy (e.g.: the thief deciding whether to attack a preferable target without combat advantage, attack a less-preferred target with combat advantage, or giving up an action to set-up combat advantage next round).

It can be argued that this is where 4E drops the ball. It sounds like such a good idea to say “the healer doesn’t have to give up anything to be the healer,” and they said that time and again when previewing 4E. And it was true. Two heals per combat as a minor action that did bonus healing, plus powers that hit, dealt damage, and healed, plus utilities that allowed a little more healing at a price. It was all very nice for the cleric who didn’t want to be a healer cleric.

But it meant that tactical healing wasn’t really tactical healing anymore. It meant that healing was something that a lot of parties could bring to the table without paying much of a price. Especially when so many classes got healing abilities. That meant that every party was probably going to bring healing. Even the guy who didn’t want to be the healer cleric was okay healing the party because it didn’t cost them anything.

So, to balance combat, the designers needed to assume that most parties would have access to the healing. They worked it into the numbers and even controlled how much healing could be brought to bear so that they could know just how much healing a party could dish out. Unfortunately, that took combat healing out of the realm of the tactical option and into the realm of neccessary for survival.

Now, all of that about 4E is an aside. Because there are counterarguments that can be leveled. After all, combat healing is a staple of the genre and something people expect to be there. And if you don’t balance for it and control it, it becomes hard to set challenges. And, if you make healing too costly, the people who will want to do it are few and far between. I’m not saying 4E failed to handle healing well. I’m just looking at it from both sides here.

Long story short: tactical healing IN THEORY works best a combat strategy, a defensive strategy that allows the party to mitigate damage and outlast their opponents. IN THEORY, it is not neccessary for survival, but instead is one possible tool parties can bring to a battle to use to their advantage.

Okay, now, just hold that thought for a moment. Because we need to look at the other side. Recovery.

Recovery is the healing that happens between combats and adventures. Its what let’s the party keep going into the next encounter or adventure. No matter how skilled a party is, they are going to need it eventually. Adventurers get beat up. People take damage during combat. They spring traps. They freeze crossing the Tundra of Frigid Icy Death or waste away crossing The Toxic Swamp of Terrible Wasting Poison, and so on.

Now, interestingly, recovery isn’t really about survival either. Its more about letting adventurers keep having adventures without starting every encounter at a disadvantage. It makes it easier for a DM to design challenges by knowing that, at the very least, the party isn’t going to go into a fight with one foot already in the grave. And that’s true whether it takes them five minutes of short resting or a few days sleeping it off or just licking their wounds while they travel from point A to point B. It means the game can go on even if the party has a really bad turn of luck or handles something incredibly stupidly.

Now, the argument about whether recovery should be easy or hard is much more subjective. There is something to be said for the party having to live with the consequences of poorly handled battles and there is something to be said for letting the party start every battle or adventure at a set level of power. But regardless of where your personal opinion falls on that spectrum, we can all agree that at least some recovery is neccessary for the game to continue running. The party needs some way to recover itself from, at the very least, the worst of disasters.

So, this is where things get funky. Tactical healing seems to work best when it is an optional strategy. Recovery healing is something that works best when it is readily available in some form or another to all parties. Tactical healing, to prevent it from becoming neccessary for survival, needs to have a cost on par with other tactical options. Recovery healing needs to be readily available in some form and therefore needs to be cheap.

And that is where healing suddenly becomes tricky. Prior to 4E, the game did not distinguish between tactical healing and recovery. A cure spell was a cure spell was a cure spell and it didn’t matter whether it came from a cleric, a potion, a wand, a staff of healing, or an NPC. If you wanted to have options for recovery healing, you also had tactical healing as an option, and the DM knew that and had to balance combats accordingly, which lead to the idea that tactical healing was neccessary, which found its way into the collective consciousness of gamers, and now we’re here having conversations about what sort of healing options clerics should have in the next iteration of D&D.

4E did a much better job with healing overall. Recovery healing was cheap and easy (though, depending on where you fall on the spectrum of “living with the consequences’ I mentioned above, you might think it was too easy). Tactical healing was ackowledged as a different kettle of fish and, while you can argue that it was also perhaps it was not costly and still assumed to be neccessary, it was a move in the right direction that got sidetracked a little by game balance issues and wanting to make healing classes more approachable.

The reason I bring all of this up is because Bruce Cordell wrote a short article on healing in the next iteration of D&D which ended with a poll about what options for healing clerics should have. And frankly, I think the question is a very important one, but I think its also being asked the wrong way. I think that the two faces of healing need to be acknowledged and addressed and that each requires a different solution.

Now, those of you who know me well know that I hate the segregation of gameplay mechanics and the game’s narrative. I hate artificial designations like “in combat” or “not in combat.” I hate the very suggestion that something might or might not be possible because “we’re in a combat” and for no other reason. So, it seems very odd for me to be suggesting such a dichotomy. But in this case, I think that the best way to give healing its due is to acknowledge the dichotomy.

So, here are my criteria for handling healing:

I think tactical healing needs to be an option, not a requirement, and that it needs to carry the same cost as any other tactical option. This is not as impossible as it seems. After all, if you figure the average damage output of a monster, the average attack roll, the average armor class, and the average number of HP that someone can heal, you can equate healing to an AC bonus. That is, you can say an average of 8 HP of healing has the same statistical impact as a +4 to AC. Likewise, you can say that if a PC does X amount of damage in a round and suffers Y amount of damage in a round, a certain amount of healing is worth another round of attacks against a monster. And so on.

I think recovery healing needs to be freely available in a variety of ways so that the game is never stopped dead by a party that is too weak to continue. Now, I do think there should be some limits. For example, it should take enough time that the DM can set up difficult choices like “continuing to the next encounter or risk failing at the adventure because time ran out” or “recovery costs gold” or “recovery can only bring you back to 75% of your max HP.” Something to ackowledge consequences and give the DM tools to set up risks and choices.

I think different forms of recovery healing should have a much narrow power scale. That is, magical healing should be a little better than natural healing so that characters who bring those options feel good about the choice, but not so much better that a party that doesn’t bring magical healing is hamstrung. I think the best healing options should be available between adventures when the party is in town or in camp, but these, again, should not be too much better than options between encounters. Just enough to drive home the difference between sleeping in a nice warm bed (or paying a temple healer) and sleeping under the stars with some bandages and on-the-road healing.

My suggestion for magical healing would be this: suppose healing, by its nature, is just difficult and time consuming. Assume that magic, by its nature, doesn’t improve on natural healing too much. Just enough to make it handy to have but not required. Suppose the best any form of magic can do is accelerate the natural healing of the body. Assume that any baseline healing spell takes several minutes to work.

Assume that magical healing of this nature is an easy option to attain. Any spellcaster can pull it off (with some slight variation between arcane and divine and primarl and elemental and diabolic and necromantic and whatever ends up in the next D&D). Any party with a spellcaster can pretty cheaply have access to it. Maybe make it a skill to put points into, a chooseable class feature, maybe a feat if that’s balanced against other feat choices. Whatever.

Now, assume that some spellcasters can overclock their healing as it were. Assume, for example, that a cleric trained in healing, can crank a lot of energy and power into a person and pull off the same sort of healing spell in seconds rather than minutes. This takes a spell slot, requires a standard action, expends an encounter power, has to be prepared, whatever. This is the tactical healing option. It costs something because its a tactical option. In fact, maybe this ability is one of several class features available, like choose between Turn Undead, Bless this Party, or Combat Healing. So that the cleric (or whatever) only has the option if they choose it as part of their class design. This allows them to say “I’m not that kind of cleric” without earning the party’s ire and gives them a different (balanced) tactical option as a reward. Make it both a tactical choice (with a cost) and a chosen (rather than assumed) class feature. Balance it against other tactical choices and other chosen class features.

When you design the game, assuming you’ve made combat healing balanced against other spell choices and tactical options and balanced the combat engine in general, you don’t have to treat healing as a part of balance at all. It just becomes one tactical tool the party might bring, just as good as a bless spell or a sneak attack or whatever. It is not a neccessity. Parties do not have to bring it along. And parties that do bring it along aren’t really better off than other parties because they gave up other tactical options to have it.


22 Responses to The Two Faces of Healing

  1. Bill on February 3, 2012 at 3:04 pm

    I think you’re on to something when you mention tactical healing, “the same statistical impact as a +4 to AC.”

    Magical healing, as it were is (of course) magic. Magic fails. Why not make healing, say, from a far, something equivalent to +4 VS AC? You can go even further in saying that if you want you can have the healer go into combat and do a touch-based heal (+X vs base AC). Combatants are constantly on edge while fighting – always keeping their mental and physical guard up while in the fray. A stray bit of magic (whether good or bad) should have to pass through that physical/metaphysical barrier.

  2. TheGreatZomboni (Scott) on February 3, 2012 at 3:19 pm

    Very well written! Especially with what you say about tactically healing and what it’s “value” is. They talked during DDXP about charm person being worth 10.5 points of damage, but how much healing is either of those worth.

    It’s also an interesting point you made, that 8 hps is equal to 4 AC. Is that a different spin on it. Maybe a priest doesn’t focus on healing – rather focuses on trying to prevent damage to begin with – similar to wards or skins in skyrim

  3. The Angry DM on February 3, 2012 at 3:30 pm

    Just to be clear… the 8 HP being worth 4 AC thing was just random numbers I pulled out of my head by way of example. I have no idea how much healing is actually “worth.” I’m reasonably sure we could work it out to some extent for previous editions, but who knows what D&D Next is going to look like anyway, except for ‘friends and family’ that is. HA!

  4. hvg3 on February 3, 2012 at 6:36 pm

    I actually ran a few encounters a while ago with pure-roll classes (ie five strikers, five leaders, etc). They all did work reasonably well, though the leaders had the hardest time, even in the undead encounter (I had the teams fight a few different monster types). The limit on their healing meant that eventually, they had nothing left to give, whereas the defenders kept marking, and the strikers kept dealing large damage.

    The controllers, with their secondary striker nature, were one of the better groups!

    I have also played in a longer-term campaign which had a group made up of four strikers (and when they died, we rotated in more strikers). This was again just to see how well the ‘play anything’ idea worked. For the strikers, we noticed two things: combat was a whole lot faster, and if we hadn’t won it in the first couple of rounds, we were most likely going to lose it. It was still playable, but certainly needed a different mind-set!

    My point in my ramblings? :D The tactical choice of healing in 4e is quite workable and balanced, in my experience. Sure, those parties with leaders have the advantage of stronger healing, but with extra strikers, the monsters go down quicker; with extra controllers, monsters can be set aside until later (often keeping the party healthier); and with extra defenders, the monsters are focused on the harder defences, and become less effective.

    Ultimately, from a player and a DM perspective, I much preferred the tactical healing of 4e (compared to 3e and 2e).

    Now, as to out of combat healing? Yeah, I would like to see less instant-refreshing…but not to the level of “the paladin needed weeks of rest after the stirges”, as Dave Chalker mentioned. That sounds like the whole 5-minute workday again (just with two weeks of fast-forwarding at the end of it). Have an encounter, then everyone rests up until the players are all available again…


  5. Deacon7 on February 4, 2012 at 7:49 am

    One solid issue to consider tho is tracking damage from session to session. Assuming that a complete ‘reset’ of all damage and abilities can’t be easily done, and assuming that a potential month can pass between game sessions, remembering or tracking the bouncing ball of health can be a pain. I understand that’s a record keeping issue, but my group is often bi-monthly in schedule, and for some games practically seasonal, so it has become a challenge for some of our less seasoned players. Also, if a player misses a session, others who use his character as filler have issue with knowing how many surges, action points and dailies have been used.
    Often we just default to “Sure, you have everything.” but I have long considered it an issue in D&D that the most accurate timepieces are characters who cast a spell 24 hours ago <we used to call it the "cleric clock" or got 7 hours and 59 minutes of sleep. I'm not sure there's an easy work around or a solution. I've just often thought this detracted a good deal from actual game play and would hope it gets addressed in some upcoming edition.

  6. Justin Alexander on February 4, 2012 at 4:38 pm

    “After all, if you figure the average damage output of a monster, the average attack roll, the average armor class, and the average number of HP that someone can heal, you can equate healing to an AC bonus.”

    Unfortunately, this doesn’t actually work in anything remotely resembling actual practice. It doesn’t even work within the very narrow limitations of My Precious Encounter design as implemented in game like 4E or (even more narrowly) D&D Gamma World.

    To drastically simplify, let’s take a simple system in which you can build an encounter of a given level using either a single monster (X) or two monsters (Y and Y). In this drastic simplification we only care about the average damage done by the monsters per round, with the expectation that the damage between the two encounters should be the same (since they’re the same level).

    Ignoring all magical buffing, let’s consider each encounter:

    Encounter 1 – Monster X: Monster has a +10 to hit and does 10 points of damage on an average hit. A PC of this level is expected to have AC 21. Monster has a 50% chance of hitting, so his average damage per round is 5 hp.

    Encounter 2 – Monsters Y and Y: They’re a lower level, so let’s say they have a +8 to hit. The target AC is still 21, so they have a 40% chance of hitting. There’s two of them, so they should each only be doing 2.5 hp per round (for a total of 5 hp per round). So they should each do 6.25 damage on an average hit.

    Now, let’s add magical buffing. We want to figure out how much healing is equivalent to a +4 AC boost for these PCs.

    For Encounter 1, the +4 AC boost means the monster drops to a 30% chance to hit. Which means his average damage per round has dropped to 3 hp. Ergo, +2 hp of healing per round would be equivalent to a +4 AC boost.

    For Encounter 2, the +4 AC boost means the monsters drop to a 20% chance to hit. Which means that their average damage per round drops to 1.25 x 2 = 2.5 hp. Ergo, +2.5 hp of healing per round would be equivalent to a +4 AC boost.

    Which means that 2.5 hp = 2 hp.

    Whoops. That’s a 25% margin of error.

    The numbers here, of course, are arbitrary. But they demonstrate the general principle: The rules for what would be an “acceptable” encounter (in order to maintain the balance you’re looking for) would have to be incredibly rigid and very, very narrow. (And that’s just to accommodate this one metric when, as you note, there are actually several metrics you need to simultaneously balance.)

    @Deacon7: “I have long considered it an issue in D&D that the most accurate timepieces are characters who cast a spell 24 hours ago <we used to call it the "cleric clock" or got 7 hours and 59 minutes of sleep."

    Eh. That would be like OD&D characters noticing that it always takes EXACTLY 10 minutes to search a given length of corridor. Or noticing that wandering monsters always show up EXACTLY on 10 minute intervals (always 20 minutes or 40 minutes after the last encounter; never 19 minutes or 42 minutes). Or 3E/4E characters noticing that they always have to move EXACTLY 5 feet; they can never move just 3 feet or maybe 6 feet.

    In other words, you're treating the abstract mechanics of the game as if they were accurately reporting precise measurements from the game world. Once you start doing that, you're going to end up with absurdities everywhere you look.

  7. The Angry DM on February 4, 2012 at 5:45 pm

    Justin, I think you have a very unreasonable expectation of the level of precision with which D&D or any game can be balanced, especially when dealing with random numbers, player and DM behavior, and so on.

    Let me throw out a few examples of what I mean.

    First, you point out that, given your numbers, +4 AC would be worth 2 HP or 2.5 HP of healing. That’s all well and good. But its hard to give someone half a hit point or roll half a hit point on a die roll. But I would point out that a healing spell that heals 1d4 points nicely skirts your results. 50% of the time, people are going to be within one hit point of your results. Now, if you had chosen higher numbers and I could reasonably work with multiple dice (say 2d4), we could start talking about deviation from the mean result rather than talking about 25% precision.

    Second, what you have really pointed out is that +4 to AC does not always have the same value. Specifically, it is more valuable when a character is being targeted by multiple opponents rather than one. And this is true of many things in an RPG. A bonus to attack is more valuable to someone who can make multiple attacks in a given round than someone who can only make one. A bonus to damage is more valuable to someone who is more likely to hit. And so on. And, of course, smart players recognize these things and take them into account when choosing their tactics.

    So, certain assumptions need to be made about the normal sorts of situations PCs will find themselves in (such as the expected encounter size, assumptions about player behavior, and so forth). The farther you deviate from these assumptions, of course, the less precise the balance is going to be. And an acceptable level of precision needs to be chosen (or at least assumed).

    And, of course, there comes a certain point where designers will also have to eyeball things and make some arbitrary calls (that are, hopefully, if the designers are good at what they do, pretty close to realistic) about the value of things. So, we can say 1d4 healing is close enough to +4 AC, or decide that because +4 AC becomes more valuable when surrounded by multiple attackers, 1d4 healing becomes less valuable when surrounded by multiple attackers, we’ll increase the amount of healing or decrease the AC by some amount. Then we’ll playtest the damn thing a few times and see how well it feels. And then we’ll tweak it accordingly.

    If you expect 100% precision from any sort of game balance or believe you can do it purely by the numbers, I have to call your expectations unreasonable. But you can get in the ballpark and then rely on playtesting, tweaking, and designers being good at their job to get something that plays reasonably well.

    But I feel all of this is ancillary to my point anyway. There are two different forms of healing and they have different purposes within the game. These two purposes needed to be treated differently and often end up at cross purposes. I believe that a balanced solution is entirely possible to given a reasonable expectation of balance.

  8. Anaxetogrind on February 5, 2012 at 1:06 am

    Well written article especially for it being “hastily” written. Two quick thoughts.

    My biggest concern with healing is 1. It doesn’t create batman style characters, with utility belts of resources slung around there waist. Barbarian temp HP and self healing I’m looking at you. As long as a party is still interdependent on each others skills and abilities I am all for tactical healing duties being shared beyond your standard cleric. 2. In a modular dnd next I want to be able to control the rate of recovery healing for the party. I don’t wanted it dictated but be able to adjust it based on narrative. To do this today I have to add in house rules and spend time explaining/justifying those rules to the players. Much better to set an expectation from the start and have it built into the math.

  9. Argokirby on February 5, 2012 at 12:57 pm


    I think this is a great article that really hits the nail on the head when it comes to the problems with healing. The truth; as you point out, is that there are two problems and we are looking for a single solution.

    As I was reading I had this thought I wanted to share with you about a possible 2 part solution.

    For tactical healing have it be resource based similar to AD&D where a cleric has to choose to sacrifice to use it, and have the result be random and modified just like a sword attack would be. i.e. Cure Light Wounds heals 1d8+cha.

    Outside of combat allow for healing rituals. Several rituals could be created for several levels. Rituals can be cast by more than just the cleric if in scroll form, take a long time so cannot be used in combat without having to say “hey you cant use this in combat”. In fact, if things are really dire creative players could find a way to use a healing ritual in combat if they wanted. (I see them barricaded in a room with the fighter holding the door while the cleric casts a ritual to bring the ranger and wizard back to consciousness.

    What I really want to see go away are healing surges.

  10. Quirky DM on February 5, 2012 at 7:56 pm

    Splitting healing into tactical and non-tactical is a great insight. It’s a tough problem because as soon as there are any consequences that can be cured with rest, the 15 minute workday pops up. Which should strike designers not as a problem with mechanics, but with adventure design. (I mean, id I had to fight 50 slavering orcs who’d taken over a castle, I’d prefer to do it one at a time and space them out a few days apart) So there’s probably no problem there.

    I wonder if making healing as effective as extra striking is enough. The reason 4E made healing so easy is because for the majority of people, healing is not sexy, it’s a burden. Players didn’t want to be the one who sat in the back so other players got to do all the killing. The dragon slayer is the one who rides off with the princess. The guy who reattaches the dragon slayer’s arm might get a nice spot as an advisor somewhere, but that’s as high as they can hope to rise in current fantasy literature. So they made healing easy so players could be healers and still kick butt. Because if healing and kicking butt are equally effective, players are going to choose kicking butt.

    So do we make healing more effective so it’s a better option and encourage its use? Do we leave it that way and make healers rare because they’re not as “fun” to play? Or is there another solution out there somewhere?

  11. The Angry DM on February 5, 2012 at 11:03 pm

    Well, that’s my point. If tactical healing is treated as one possible defensive tactic rather than a neccessity, it doesn’t have to be sexy or encouraged. The party can either bring a healer OR bring a striker (or whatever) and remain equally as effective. A party without a healer can function just fine. And the people who do enjoy healing as a primary strategy can play that way.

    But when in-combat healing becomes a neccessary part of any strategy, when it becomes something that it is assumed every party will have access to, and when combat is balanced to expect a certain amount of healing, you need to make healing sexy OR make it so easy with minimal cost that it really isn’t tactical healing. And, when you do that, every group of players feels like they HAVE TO bring a healer.

    4E got close, as I said, but in the end, it still carries this feeling that a party needs to bring a leader and that the leader’s primary contribution is going to be healing.

  12. Ensign Expendable on February 6, 2012 at 11:28 pm

    I like the idea of being able to cut out a healer from a party and replace them with a striker and still be able to function without ‘breaking’ the game. That makes the game more flexible in that you can have games with premises that don’t allow magical healing (I’m thinking post cataclysm, pre-Goldmoon Dragonlance or something like LotR) which move away from D&D’s traditional sweet spot without having a nightmare balancing encounters to avoid a 5 minute work week or multiple TPKs in a session. I realise that low magic, low healing, low fantasy isn’t really what D&D is about though so it’s unlikely to be the focus of design and testing of the next version. And there are plenty of games which fulfil that need.

    Being able to adjust recovery healing for the style of game you wish to run might be interesting. But I’m willing to work with whatever mechanics D&D Next gives us for that.

  13. Justin Alexander on February 14, 2012 at 6:26 pm

    “Second, what you have really pointed out is that +4 to AC does not always have the same value. Specifically, it is more valuable when a character is being targeted by multiple opponents rather than one. And this is true of many things in an RPG.”

    Well, no… Also, you’re missing the point.

    For example, let’s go back and add Encounter 3: Monster A and B have the same have the same to hit bonus as the monster from Encounter 1 (+10). We want them to have the same expected damage, though, so they can only do 5 points of damage on a successful hit. (Each of them is doing 2.5 per round, for a total of 2.5 x 2 = 5 hp per round, just like the single monster in Encounter 1.)

    Now, let’s drop the +4 AC bonus onto the PC. Monsters A and B have their hit percentage drop to 30%, which means each of them is now doing 1.5 point of damage. 1.5 x 2 = 3 hp per round. This, you’ll notice, equals the effect of a +4 AC bonus in Encounter 1: The AC bonus was not, in fact, more valuable just because there were more targets.

    You can get similar results by increasing the number of monsters to 4 (2.5 average damage on successful hit, meaning 5 hp of expected damage per round; after the +4 AC adjustment those values drop to 0.75 and 3). And so forth.

    “So, certain assumptions need to be made about the normal sorts of situations PCs will find themselves in (such as the expected encounter size, assumptions about player behavior, and so forth).”

    And my point is that the types of restrictions you would need to put on these values would make 4E’s very narrow limitations on acceptable encounter building look like a libertarian paradise.

    The encounters I’ve proffered, for example, indicate that if you equalize encounter builds so that (a) all monsters have the exact same to-hit bonus and (b) their total average damage per round is identical, then you can actually calculate how many hit points of healing each +1 to AC is worth.

    … unless, of course, the rules include something like a +2 bonus to hit from flanking. That would throw everything out of whack again. (And, again, that’s just one example.)

    And you can say “ballpark is acceptable”, but the reality is that a 25% shift in the amount of damage a monster deals out can be the difference between TPK and a cake-walk.

  14. The Angry DM on February 14, 2012 at 9:42 pm

    Justin, thanks for taking the time for your thourough mathematical analysis, but it only further demonstrates your unreasonable expectations of “perfect balance.” If you strive for such perfect balance, you will be normalizing encounters to such a degree as to make them dull. 3rd Edition managed to equate 1d8+Level HP of healing to a +2 bonus to AC. 4E managed to equate a healing surge + 1d6 to a dragonborn’s breath weapon. You’re asking too much perfection.

    Regardless, you are completely missing the point of the article, which is not a mathematical analysis of healing, but a comment on the roles of healing in the game and that healing serves not one, but two purposes. If you’d like to comment on that, I’d be happy to read it. But at this point, I’ve really got nothing more to add to your math analysis. We can agree to disagree if that’s what we have to do. But please try to keep further comments on topic, thanks.

  15. Arlough the Wonderfuzz on March 15, 2012 at 5:57 pm

    Well, let’s approach from a different direction and challenge some base assumptions.
    Assumption: Combat Healing is a necessary part of D&D
    Challenge: Combat healing is a relic of previous editions
    All that Combat Healing does is allow for more grindy combat. It permits encounter design that rewards wars of attrition over clever use of power and tactics.
    Assumption: Without combat healing, leaders serve no purpose.
    Challenge: Leaders should never have been about combat healing. If that was really what they were about, we should have called them Support instead.
    Leaders could be about party synergy, enhancement, tactical positioning, and added effectiveness.
    Assumption: We need it in there because many players [will complain / are only used to attrition / feel it should be like it always has been… etc.]
    Challenge: DND 5 is supposed to be modular. Make Recovery Healing a core aspect, and Combat Healing a module that can be added for those who like attrition.
    * Recovery healing can then be done easily out of combat through skills, rituals, or even player effort etc. Also, give some way to boost the healing done.
    * Combat healing can only be done via consumables and a second wind (untapped reserves, etc.) That would reduce the bandoleer of bottles of red and the quiver of heal sticks, but not eliminate them (for the players who like that kind of thing.)

  16. Michael West on March 28, 2012 at 7:31 pm

    I don’t mind the combat healing in 4e. I do mind the large number of healing surges available to each player and the ability to use them at-will outside of combat. I limit my players to the one use of a daily healing surge outside of combat … this represents normal daily healing. They still can initiate a second wind in combat. If a character has been reduced to one hit point and has no access to magical healing how can he regain full health in less time than it takes to watch an episode of House? The fact that he can regain 1/4 of his hit points is pretty amazing. Magical healing is relatively cheap and perhaps there should be a healing ritual that converts money into hit points, but the players have to feel the pain or the game just becomes a monotonous slug fest with one combat after another interrupted by short rests after which everything resets.

  17. SLOTH on April 27, 2012 at 11:00 pm

    Reading this and having just read your article on envounter-based abilities, I’m trying to figure out a way to make it so that while resting is a viable option, it’s not encouraged. Why does it matter what rituals you can use for recovery when you could just sleep it off? I sort of like the adrenaline idea (as in I love the idea but am not enamored with how you suggested it me implemented). Perhaps now would be a good time to take a page from FPSes and have abilities that scale up as you rach up kills or lose hit points? You could also tie that into tactical healing and have abilities which heal hit points when you kill someone, though that may not count as tactical healing since it doesn’t take a move… PS: Sorry if my thoughts are a little disjointed, it’s late where I’m posting from.

  18. Adjusting 4E « Jack's Toolbox on June 16, 2012 at 3:20 pm

    […] lot of this is based off of comments made on Dissociated Mechanics, Defining Your Game, and the Dual Faces of Healing, probably some other sources and influences as well.  Right now I only have a few beginning […]

  19. The Next D&D N5xt « Jack's Toolbox on June 29, 2012 at 4:54 pm

    […] attack, or heal and cast a spell, or whatever.  This concerns me because it’s essentially the biggest tactical failing of 4th Edition.  Tactical Healing works best when it’s a choice you need to make, like […]

  20. Zwets on September 9, 2012 at 4:17 pm

    I would like to make a case for the 3 faces of healing.
    As in, you missed a very important function healing has.

    I agree, that healing comes in recovery and in combat flavors and that before 4th edition, the cost of ‘in combat resources’ (spell slots, or the -5 spell level penalties G.U.P.S. imposes) was generally very high when used for recovery healing, but other options for time acceptable recovery healing where almost non existent (sleep it off, bandages barely do anything )

    However I do not agree that combat healing is entirely replaceable.
    The choice between giving +4 AC or X points of healing to make an ally survive another turn is indeed interchangeable enough to make that kind of healing optional.

    No matter what defense buffs you give him, someone who is knocked out won’t just get up again. Be it their own fault or just the bad luck of taking 2 critical hits in a row, at some point someone will end up on the floor.
    In combat healing is great for giving them a second chance, learn from their mistakes and continue with the game. Getting them back in the game at the expense of some resources is a lot more fun than having that player staring blankly ahead, going: “I can’t do anything, I’m busy bleeding to death.” occasionally rolling a death saving throw.

    Now getting someone off the floor, does not have to be ‘healing’ it is simply an ability someone has, giving up resources usable for other things to ‘fix’ an ally who went down.

  21. BKRS on November 20, 2012 at 5:40 pm

    I have just realized I use your idea of “recovery healing should be different” since a while.
    During combat I mark the characters that suffer large or special damages (or I just don’t like them), and after the combat when the adrenalin surge expires they have to roll for permanent damages. They get something between “nervous twitch” and “sucking chest wound”. Now these will give them some disadvantage unless they have some ways to remove them. Removing them needs either a special spell or potion. General condition restoring spells don’t work on them. For a wizard’s speech impediment they had to locate a specialized healer, it was a nice adventure in itself, with the wizard not being able to cast complex spells.

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