Greatest Hits 2013: Making Healing Easier in D&D Next

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on December 22, 2013

While the Dungeon’s Master team enjoys some well-deserved vacation time, we’re breaking out the greatest hits and shining a spotlight on a few of our favourite articles from 2013. We’ve searched for hidden gems that our newer readers might have missed and our long-time readers will enjoy reading again. Enjoy a second look at these greatest hits from Dungeon’s Master.

Obviously there have been some changes to D&D Next since I wrote this article back in July. As was pointed out in the comments of the original article, there are healing powers at higher levels that do allow the Cleric to provide healing from a distance. But this article is more than a critique on a few powers in a beta version of D&D Next.

The reason I chose to include this article in the Greatest Hits this year was because I think players going from older editions of D&D (including 4e) to D&D Next need to realize that healing magic is special. In D&D Next it’s not as plentiful or commonplace as it was in 4e. Fewer classes can heal wounded PCs and there’s no Second Wind or other mechanic that allows everyone to just heal them self. The lesson here is that tactics must change as the rules change.

Too many players believe that they should run headlong into combat and throw consequences to the wind. They’ve played other version of D&D where the healer will swoop in, heal them, and keep them on their feet. Since that’s less likely to happen in D&D Next while the battle’s still raging on, using smart tactics is more important than ever before.

Players need to be more keenly aware of how many hit points their character has and how likely they are to lose them given each round the circumstances. In D&D Next there are fewer hit points per character per level (than 4e, anyway) which makes every fight life threatening. So as long as healing require an up close and personal interaction with a Cleric PCs should stay near the healer or make sure he can get to them easily.

From July 24, 2013, Dungeon’s Master once again presents: Making Healing Easier in D&D Next.

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 Brian Criswell December 22, 2013 at 4:04 pm

Personally, I have found the D&D Next Cleric’s Healing Word to be sufficient. 50 foot range and swift casting time handles most situations that cure wounds does not. You just sacrifice one healing die for the additional range.

Besides that, our group uses a lot of temporary hit points and stuff like mage armor when the situation calls for it. Nothing is quite like not getting hit in the first place!

2 Brian Criswell December 22, 2013 at 7:40 pm

I was looking at the comments in the original posting, and I agree with much of them. I only started D&D in September, so Clerics have always had Healing Word as far as I am concerned. 🙂 That has been incredibly useful to keep party members going while not being clustered with the front line fighters. My Cleric generally stayed 25′-30′ back and usually used Healing Word or moved in with Cure Wounds.

Healing is very precious in Next, as our group has learned as we happened to have 3 Mages and a Druid lately. We have had to be careful, use temporary hit points, mage armor and good tactics to quickly take care of enemies. Some +4 robes and +3 staffs that our DM regrets handing out in a hoard treasure (with some very good rolls) have also greatly enhanced our survivability.

I think it comes down to the balance point being somewhere other than where it has been in the past. Time will tell whether it is better, worse or just different.

3 Brian Criswell December 22, 2013 at 7:41 pm

Figures. It doesn’t show me my previous comment, so I post another one. Now I can see both comments

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