Making Healing Easier in D&D Next

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on July 24, 2013

life-giver-elmoreOne of the challenges most commonly faced by adventuring parties is the ability to heal wounds quickly and easily. Time heals all wounds, but in the heat of battle time is a precious commodity. You’re not likely to leave the fight and rest for a few days when you can keep swinging your blade or slinging your spells in hopes of defeating the foe in front of you right now. That’s where magical healing comes in.

In 4e D&D the leader classes took on equal responsibility for healing. The powers to heal were abundant, minor actions that you could throw around from great distances. Let’s face it, in 4e any party with a half-competent leader shouldn’t have suffered many losses. Between Healing Word (or the equivalent) and Second Wind there was plenty of healing to go around. Healing was fast and easy.

As appealing as this abundant healing was to some players (me included), it was a radically different approach than what we’d seen in previous editions of D&D. Traditionally in D&D the Cleric was the healer. Other classes had abilities and powers that let them provide supplemental healing but the Cleric was usually the primary medic. This is the direction that magical healing has taken in D&D Next – it’s back to the Cleric as party healer with Paladin, Ranger and Druid providing back-up support.

Making the Cleric special again by giving them exclusivity in the super healing department is fine with me. However, most healing is now limited to a range of touch. The Cleric has to get up close and personal to heal the wounded or revive the fallen. This is how things used to work and it looks like this is how things will work again. Fair enough. But after playing 4e for so long it’s tough to go back to the idea that healers are hands on.

In many of the recent D&D Next games I’ve played in, the party finds that the PCs in the front line are constantly taking the brunt of the damage while the ranged attackers sit safely in the background unscathed. A lot of the players running Clerics have adopted the stand in the back and used ranged weapons approach. It’s a good way to ensure the Cleric’s survival, but it makes healing those who need it a lot tougher. We had this problem when we played 3.5e and now we’re facing it again in D&D Next.

The easiest way to resolve the issue is for the DM to create a house rule that gives healing magic greater range. This works but it’s boring and lazy. I’m reminded of a creative solution that one of my DMs came up with when we were playing a long term campaign in 3.5e. He created a solution for a problem we were facing with the mechanics and turned the issue into a really interesting plot element.

Let me provide a bit of context before discussing the solution. Four of our five PCs were heavy hitting melee combatants (all strikers when converted to 4e). The fifth PC was the only healer, a Ranger/Cleric who used a bow. The four melee PCs usually took the brunt of the damage while the only PC capable of healing them stayed back picking off enemies from afar and avoiding melee dangers. Even if the Cleric wanted to heal the wounded PCs it would take him one or two rounds just to get close enough. The mechanics of the game were making it difficult for us to do what we wanted.

Rather than just change the rules and allow the Cleric to heal from a distance the DM decided to work the problem and the solution into the story. In character the PCs realized the difficulties they faced by not having a frontline Cleric at their side in melee. The side quest to find a solution eventually uncovered a lost ritual that allowed brothers to share their life essence.

dragon-back-tattoo-1By undergoing the ritual each PC was branded with a special and highly stylized tattoo that covered their entire back (think Dragonmark). Any PC with the tattoo could transfer some of his life force (hit points) to a wounded brother within line of sight that shared the mark. The PCs were unable to learn exactly how the branding worked but they knew that they could safely transfer about ¼ of their maximum hit points without any long term repercussion (the equivalent of a healing surge before such a mechanic existed). The heroes realized that they could try to transfer more hit points if they wanted to but there could be dire consequences up to and including permanent loss of hit points to the one sending their life force.

These tattoos allowed the Cleric to transfer his own hit points to the wounded allies and then use his healing magic on himself to top up. It was genius. It overcame the mechanical limitation of the spell while adding something fun and different to our campaign.

The DM constantly put us in situations where we were tempted to transfer more hit points than we knew was safe in order to test the characters and force them to make hard choices. When a PC was killed the party contemplated trying to revive their fallen comrade using the magic tattoos despite the uncertainty of harmful effects to the living PCs (we didn’t try it, but we gave it serious contemplation).

Much later in the campaign the DM used the tattoos against us. It turned out one of the main villains also had the tattoo magic. He’d learned to manipulate it to siphon away the life force of those branded. The villain had all his slaves and soldiers branded against their will and took what he wanted of their life force as needed. This made him extremely hard to fight and practically impossible to kill. It also put the PCs in jeopardy because he could try to take their life force too.

What began as an idea to compensate for the lack of healing at a distance became one of the most integral points in our long term campaign. Whether or not the DM intended this from the outset is unclear, but it remains one of my favourite campaigns and that element is certainly a huge part of what made that saga worth playing.

Those of you playing D&D Next after coming from 4e who are having the same challenges as me, how have you overcome this issue? Is the Cleric forced into the thick of it whether he wants to be or not? Have you house ruled any changes to healing to make the transition any easier? Do you think that removing most ranged healing is an improvement?

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1 Emanuele Galletto July 24, 2013 at 10:14 am

As you wrote, Next shares this kind of problem with 3.5, and yes, unless your cleric is a melee combatant (like a dwarf cleric or a heavily armored priest), you will often prefer a ranged approach to fights… finding yourself in trouble when it comes to healing (actually, healing can be a problem even when you’re a melee cleric, because of attacks of opportunity when casting Cure Wounds).
In 3.5 this problem was never solved “by the rules”, while in Pathfinder they dumped Turn Undead and gave the cleric Channel Energy, which fills an entire area with positive energy, healing the living and damaging the undead (1d6 plus 1d6 for every two levels beyond first, and doesn’t provoke any opportunity. This kind of area healing can be troublesome if you’re fighting living enemies because they get healed if within the area of effect, but you can take the Selective Channeling feat which lets you exclude up to (Charisma modifier) targets when channeling. A Pathfinder cleric can use this power up to 3+Cha modifier times per day.
Channel Divinity is an option in Next too, but has a totally different use (as far as the last update goes) and the healing option only affects one creature, although healing a considerable 2d10 to begin with. In addition, clerics in Next can only channel a few times per day, thus making the choice of the channel type an important decision. I guess they felt the presence of Hit Dice already granted some healing capacity to PCs, and thought Next encounters would be faster than 4E’s, thus not needing a lot of healing during the combat itself (once the baddies are dead, the cleric runs towards any injured PC and can touch it to deliver some healing).
As much as I like your DM’s take on ranged healing in 3.5, it’s a house rule (even if incorporated in a story element) and I’m not sure this is appropriate when playtesting a new edition. We’re building a full new system, WotC is asking for feedback and we can still hope there will be an improvement on healing. Some 4th edition choices were driven by the system’s mechanics and didn’t follow any real or fantasy-world logic (INT-based melee attacks and the likes), while with Next we’re back to a more “traditional” D&D ruleset. However, as much as I frowned when reading an Avenger would attack with a sword while using Wisdom (my high perceptive skills won’t make lifting a metal sword any easier if my Strength is 10), when it comes to spells we have no obligation to follow the rules of physics and ranged healing seems perfectly reasonable. I’d suggest writing to the developers (or simply wait for the usual feedback module in the mail).
Personally, I’m not using house rules when playing D&D Next, but I think that Cure Wounds could be 25 feet ranged. That, or including a Second Wind-like rule that lets you spend 1 hit die as a standard action.

2 LordOcampo July 24, 2013 at 10:46 am

Second Wind seems a better choice. While making healing a touch ability does make sense, the fast pacing of combat in 5E makes people forget how easy it is to get a TPK.

3 spellczechmate July 24, 2013 at 11:43 am

The dnd next playtest version 060713 spells list has healing word added (back) to the cleric list, at a range of 50ft. It does less healing than cure wounds, to account for the extended range, but still scales up with higher level slots.

4 Scott Walker July 24, 2013 at 1:54 pm

In summary, I like the touch requirement.

Now here is my rant…

One of my favorite D&D characters was a 2nd Edition Cleric named Darby. He was a melee combatant because he needed to be close. He charged into battle yelling “Bwaah!”. The call is remembered by all who played with him, and some who followed too. Healing should be special and hard to come by. Player tactics need to involve protecting that which is most important to their long term survival. If that healing needs to be close, then play accordingly. Sometimes that meant Darby got the best magic items, or others PCs would give up attacks to feed him a potion… he had to be up. The net result was a tough party, that kicked a lot of ass. Until that is, he sat in what later became known as Darby’s Chair. But that is a long story.

In 4th, healing is too easy to come by. As a DM that has taken parties all the way to 30th… Dropping a PC, never-mind killing one, is hard to do. I can’t imagine a TPK, without putting the players way over their heads from an encounter DC standpoint. That all said, my only TPK as a DM was in 3.5 edition’s Castle Ravenloft… why? The party failed to protect the only PC that could raise dead. And they had the opportunity to save him and choose other actions in combat… that was the disappointing part. Net result was they never finished it… Strahd lives on in undeath! 😉

I welcome D&D Next’s return to Clerics being special healers. Player tactics should solve the major healing difficulties, not the DM.
* Do a withdraw from combat to move closer to the Cleric to get healing,
* Put the cleric in the middle and use combat actions to buff the Cleric’s defenses, block attacks, etc.,
* The Cleric can run in when needed too,
* Other ideas and methods are out there I am sure.

It has been a while, since I opened a 2nd or 3rd Ed. book, but there were/are ways that work without needing house rules. I am sure either the old tricks or new ones will be used in D&D Next. The only pre-4th issue we had, was when no players wanted to be the party healer… 4th at least allowed a party of almost any combo of roles, to be successful adventurers.

In summary, I like the touch requirement.

5 Ameron (Derek Myers) July 24, 2013 at 2:25 pm

I was careful not to say all healing in D&D Next requires touch because I knew there were a few powers and spells that could heal from a distance. The ones we’ve see in action most at lower levels (such as Spare the Dying that revives an unconscious character) does require the Cleric to touch the recipient.

@Scott Walker
Great comment; great feedback!

“Do a withdraw from combat to move closer to the Cleric to get healing”

I think this is THE most important piece of advice D&D adventuring parties can receive. Players have to remember that just because they can attack a monster on their turn doesn’t necessarily mean they should attack a monster on their turn. Strategic withdraw to move closer to the Cleric (a.k.a. the guy who can keep you alive) should never be overlooked as a possible option.

6 JYANTA July 24, 2013 at 2:50 pm

Yea with Healing Word (heal 1 ally up to 50ft, Swift), Mass Healing Word (heal up to 6 allies up to 50ft, Swift), Channel Divinity: Restore Health (heal 1 ally up to 25ft, Action), Prayer of Healing (heal 6 allies up to 25ft Action) you have lots of ability to heal range. So you don’t heal as much as a cure wounds but you can heal from afar. There is a lot of healing in Next that you can do.

Now one thing I dislike in Next from 4e was losing all the ways of healing. I loved the Warlord idea, and the Artificer where you could heal with different power sources (I played a lot of low magic games where wizards and clerics were hunted). I wish there was more way then just Administer First Aid or taking Healing Initiate to gain Spare the Dying.

Now one thing I really like in Next is the Cleric’s Domains. I have a Cleric Dwarf of the Stormcaller. I crush my enemies with Channel Divinity: Divine Wrath and Storm’s Fury. With my Splint Mail +1 and Shield I have a nice AC of 21. Weapon Mastery and Imposing Shield are my Feats giving others around me protection (DIS to attack people next to me in melee) and when I attack I get:
1d8+3(roll twice and take highest) + 3d10 for Divine Wrath or all creatures within 10ft of me including target take 3d8 (Storm’s Fury). Yes I have less HP then a Paladin but I like the more options that Cleric gives to heal people and unique abilities. Oh did I mention that if I don’t want to swing with my warhammer I also have shocking grasp, thunderwave, sound burst and lightning bolt… Muhahahaha.

7 John M. July 24, 2013 at 3:29 pm

I am playing a Dwarf Cleric in our Next Encounters sessions. I had never played a cleric but remember a how much more they were involved in melee in 2E. Like JAYANTA I am sitting at a nice AC of 21 as well and swing a warmer +1. Thus far I have found that the other players at our location tend to get too far from me and make it difficult for me to get to them in a turn unless I double move. They have started becoming more dependent on tactics and less on healing now and we are doing better because of it. I am really starting to like Next.

In my home game (4E) I use a similar method with my wife and daughter. Since they are the only PCs I have I came up with a way to prevent me from adjusting adventures too much. Both PCs are sisters and have a ring given to them by their father before he died. I call it the Ring of Duplicity. As and encounter power you can use the ring to create a duplicate of yourself, with all of the options and powers you have. This allows me to have a 4 PC party with which I can normally run an adventure with little effort. Optionally, they are capable of siphoning off HP from their duplicate to aid them in a time of need, but the duplicate cannot do the same. Once the duplicate is reduced to 0 HP it vanishes, along with all gear. It is more like a projection of one’s self to aid in battle and bring a 2 PC party up to 4 PCs. It seems to work well for us and both are able to play two characters that are identical thus eliminating the need to learn a second character. They are both playing Elf rangers so have 4 mobile strikers on the field makes for some interesting encounters.

8 Vobekhan July 25, 2013 at 5:02 pm

I like the fact that healing is once again the Cleric’s chance to shine, even if the druid and paladin can do some too. And with the update allowing a ranged heal at lower power it provides even more tactical choice.

Mind you we havent had a cleric in the Encounters group for a few weeks now as the player has other commitments in the summer and the party is relying on the paladin and any healing potions they can find (they have been lucky enough on the treasure chart – I always ask a player to volunteer to roll d20 for treasure generation).

However to say a Cleric is only there to be a team medic would be incorrect, as noted above, a storm domain cleric can access some impressive offensive magic when needed.

Even though I havent had the chance to play my Next pc lately, as I’m taking my turn DMing for my playtest group as well as Encounters, Cleric is usually my go-to class of choice (regardless of edition) I’m sure some version of Horgar will be singing prayers to Moradin and quaffing quantities of “holy water” soon enough.

9 monty July 29, 2013 at 12:37 am

I personally feel the opposite about healing.

I think that effective, in-combat healing should be powerful, but slow and rare — and possibly a high-risk, high reward thing, as in packing healing means you can’t pack other tactical options, like buff or damage-dealing magic. However, it can save your life. This means it’s a tactical option that you take at the cost of something else… the a “emergency defence/ trump card” ability, contrasted against powerful offensive save-or-lose and high damage spells. In-combat healing, however, is never essential and never assumed by the game rules, and encounters and adventures are written under the assumption that many groups will not have it.

Comparatively, out of combat healing should be super-effective and fast. Free of the stresses of battle, groups should be able to quickly regenerate their hit points and major resources, and the game rules generally assume that groups will head into each battle relatively fresh.

Think the “Vigor” line of spells from 3.5 — these spells gave you fast healing 1 for 1 minute/ level — making them poor combat healing spells, but AMAZING for topping off outside battle.

This spell was the bread-and-butter of one of my old 3.5 era groups that had plentiful access to Use Magic Device (for Wands of Vigor), but had little in the way of in-combat healing. They had fantastic damage output, supreme mobility, great range, and solid control — but no healing in combat. This meant battles were quick, decisive affairs, and the group had to plan carefully when fighting opponents with significant staying power as they did not have the healing or hit points for attrition.

Given that HP are already abstract, imagine if all PC’s simply regained hit points equal to their CON modifier every minute or so outside battle. Perhaps tending their wound with the Heal skill improves this somewhat, and PCs having Second Wind as an “emergency button” 1/ encounter — but no concept of Healing Surges. Obviously, with the return of Vancian casting in 5E

10 Joe Lastowski August 6, 2013 at 11:33 pm

In an earlier NEXT playtest, we ran a group of all clerics (just after they released the different domain rules), and our Interfaith Ministry had no problems with healing, since we all could do it… but we also didn’t need any other classes, since the war clerics were as good as fighters, the shadow cleric was as good as a rogue, the arcane cleric was as good as a wizard, etc.

In a later NEXT playtest, when I was DMing, I almost killed several PCs with a bunch of low-level orcs, but that same party went without using any healing against a dragon that was 5 levels higher than the party, because it could barely hit them.

I think NEXT needs to do a better job balancing bigger things like enemy difficulty and challenge level before things like healing can be accurately judged, though I agree that focusing on touch-based healing powers does force the party to stay more clustered.

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