One 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.
By 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?
- Staying Alive: 8 Ways to Keep Wounded PCs in the Game
- Never Leave a Man Behind
- Should I Fight Or Should I Heal Now?
- Your Best Resource: Healing Surges