Your Best Resource: Healing Surges

by Wimwick (Neil Ellis) on May 28, 2010

One of your most important, yet overlooked resources as a PC, are your healing surges. Healing surges in 4e D&D are the difference between life and death. Effective use of those healing surges can mean the life or death of you and your companions.

Healing surges are a new mechanic to D&D that were introduced with 4e. No longer do you heal a certain amount of hit points by resting or from relying on the Cleric to have enough healing spells or the right combination of healing potions. Now every PC is equipped with the ability to heal themselves during and after battle.

Healing surges are a game changer. They allow the party to keep fighting and to fight in new ways. Of course leader classes can augment the amount of healing that surges provide. Many classes have powers that allow you to expend healing surges. Additionally, many magic items also allow you to expend healing surges.

We’ve written articles on healing previously. I’m Your Cleric, Not Your Bitch remains one of our most controversial articles. It also spawned the article Brave Warrior Heal Thyself. Both of these articles discuss ways that healing surges and healing powers should be used. Brave Warrior, Heal Thyself goes further by providing a list of items that allow the PC to use a healing surge outside of the second wind action.

Healing surges are a finite resource. Every PC has a set allotment that they can use between extended rests to keep them healthy and in fighting shape. They question you need to ask yourself is are you using your healing surges effectively? If your supply is replenished after each extended rest, are you going into an extended rest having exhausted all of your healing surges?

Allow me to provide an example. The current make-up of our party lacks a leader. My character has 10 healing surges. Generally we have three combat encounters before taking an extended rest. Let’s assume that I’ll use my second wind during each fight and then I use one more healing surge after each battle ends. So far that’s only six of my 10 surges used up. This still leaves me with four remaining healing surges. If I go into an extend rest at this point I’ve left resources on the table. It would be the same as going into and extended rest without using all of their daily powers.

In short if you aren’t using all of your healing surges before an extended rest you aren’t maximizing the potential of your PC.

This is where items that are powered by healing surges and utility powers that do the same thing become useful. This is where the D&D Compendium or Character Builder is essential in assisting you in finding items or powers that can use or are powered by healing surges. The D&D Compendium currently lists 477 items and 304 powers that are keyed to the search term healing surge. With this many options, there’s bound to be something suitable for just about every character regardless of their class or paragon path.

Skill Powers from PHB3 present new utility powers that allow PC to expend healing surges during combat. Specifically those keyed to the endurance skill. Abilities like Third Wind, Reactive Surge and Inspiring Fortitude are all great ways to get more out of your existing healing surges. Most potions also require healing surges to power them. Effective use of these types of consumables can go a long way in changing the course of a battle.

Are you using your healing surges in the most beneficial way? What creative ways have players at your gaming table used healing surges to alter the outcome of a battle?

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1 Mike Katz May 28, 2010 at 10:28 am

The downside to spending healing surges is that the usually take up a standard action (though some are minor or on other’s turns) which means that you have to decide between doing damage and healing yourself. If you’re particularly beat up and one of those other use-a-surge skills aren’t as useful in a given round as making an attack, it seems silly to use it up just to “get one’s full value in resources” each day.

I’ve noticed a pattern, I don’t know if it’s DM-specific or character-specific but generally per campaign I’m consistently either dropping surges regularly or hardly ever.
.-= Mike Katz´s last blog ..Ferris Dragonborn’s Day Off =-.

2 Liam Gallagher May 28, 2010 at 11:03 am

I reccomend Reactive surge, it’s a tenth level endurance utility power. Once per encounter, as an immediate reaction to becoming bloodied you get to spend a healing surge. Doesn’t get any eaiser than that.

3 mc_monte May 28, 2010 at 1:21 pm

With my Wizard in LFR games, I regularly found I wasn’t taking much damage or using many surges. Wizards aren’t the squishies they used to be, particularly if you’re like my character — a Staff of Defense wizard with leather armor, the highest possible INT, a high CON score, and a few other AC boosts. Couple that with Wizard’s impressive escape tools like Shield and Wizard’s escape — my wizard has little to fear in combat. So I put my HP and surges to work by taking the Blood Mage paragon path. Not only does the path come loaded with some of the best control features around — you can turn your HP into extra damage, it’s utility power lets you turn a surge into an encounter power, and the 16th level feature turns your Second Wind into the best minion-sweeper in the game.

I’d also encourage most characters to pick up a Salve of Power. It has been errattaed — but this is one change that instead of making the item useless, cut off the abuse while making the item attractive to all characters to keep around for a long time. Like the blood mage power, it lets you trade a surge to recover an encounter power — as a minor action!

4 Wimwick May 28, 2010 at 10:58 pm

@ Mike Katz
I find that we certain PCs you either use all your surges or you don’t. PCs who don’t normally use all their surges need to optimize. By using their surges effectively they may find that their party members aren’t taking as much damage as enemies are dropping faster.

@ Liam
Reactive surge is a great way to get some extra healing during combat or to use it instead of your second wind.

@ mc_monte
You make some great points about the squishy classes not being so squishy anymore and the need to find other ways to use their resources. Salve of Power is a great item to have on hand.

5 tl May 29, 2010 at 10:09 am

I disagree with going to rest with 0 surges theory.
usually, encounters end in not to great a spot to rest. so after you do your last encounter for the day, you first have to find an appropriate place to rest, and then rest for 6 hours before you get your juices running again.

now, D&D being the game it is, there’s always danger of monsters everywhere. are you sure you want to be out there, in the wild, for, let’s say, 10 hours (finding an appropriate cave/room/glade + resting), with no means of healing yourself?

ambushes, night attacks, betrayals… all some of the best tools DM has up his sleeve become a LOT more difficult, if you spent your last surge in that ogre fight you thought is your last…

6 Swordgleam May 30, 2010 at 9:15 am

I’d have to agree with tl. Plus, there’s playing an RPG as a game and an RPG as a story. My party always rested when it was nightfall because very scary things came out at night. Didn’t matter if they’d only had one encounter since sunrise. They didn’t care about optimizing their damage dealt per day, they cared about doing things that made sense for their characters.

7 mc_monte May 30, 2010 at 1:01 pm

@tl and Swordgleam

Keep in mind that the options that let you take advantage of your surges start to come online when the party hits the paragon tier. At this point, worrying about being safe at night naturally becomes less of an issue — the party has the tools and resources through magic items and rituals such as Secure Shelter, Eye of Alarm, Rope Trick, and various travel rituals such as Eagle’s Flight and Linked Portal. In fact, by 16th level, the notion of “resting” to take an extended rest is turned completely on its head by the Fantastic Recuperation ritual (for the groups that have the money to afford it)

I should also mention the absurdly useful ritual Comrade’s Succor, which for a practically trivial component cost allows you to pool your party’s healing surges just like you had an Artificer around. So if the 6-surge Rogue gets beaten to a pulp or the Blood Mage has burned through himself completely, Conscore McSword can donate two or four of his 14 surges.

The likelihood that everyone in the party is going to spend all of their surges is very low, and given that an efficient party has all these extra tools at their disposal; I fail to see the risk as significant.

8 Swordgleam June 1, 2010 at 9:23 pm

@mc_monte, I don’t mean they save their surges because they think they’ll have encounters at night – I mean they stop adventuring at night so they can be somewhere safe (as with the rituals you mentioned). They aren’t worried about fights at their campsite, but they aren’t going to keep on fighting through the night, so they stop, even if they have plenty of surges left.

9 mbeacom June 22, 2010 at 6:18 pm

I’m with Swordgleam on this one.

As a DM, if my PCs were worried about using every surge all the time, resting with zero, you can bet they’d start seeing more interrupted rest periods and unplanned encounters just when they think they’re done for the day. I always save some for later because in good D&D, you NEVER know what’s coming next and you might end up resting when you thought there was a battle coming, and vice versa. I can’t imagine a campaign where the PCs could PLAN out their surge use, since the PCs should never know when they have the opportunity to get them back.

Love the blog by the way, I just found it and bookmarked!

10 jim August 18, 2011 at 9:08 pm

I have a simple question with your ability mods. once every two levels you gain one point with the mod +1/2 lvl. so this means that this number becomes your new Ability mod, correct? and you will always look at the second column which will be your new ability mod (the mod+1/2 lvl)? this? would also mean your initiative and surges/day will go up?

11 Ameron August 18, 2011 at 10:01 pm

Your initiative does go up as your level increases. Your number of healing surges only increases if you pump up your Constitution at levels 4, 8, 14, 18, 24, 28. The number of surges is based on your Constitution ability score without the +1/2 level modifier.

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