First, this is my first blog post, so if I am breaking any conventions (written or unwritten) of blogging, feel free to let me know. Second, I hope people find my thoughts interesting and are willing to have conversations on my ideas.
We know from general feedback on the forums and from Mike’s recent L&L article that healing needs a major overhaul. I am going to take a stab at this topic and explore what I think modularity means and how it can be used to let people play the game they want.
Let’s start with the basic premise the DDN is edition for all and the way to achieve this goal is through modularity. However, I think there are actually two types of modularity. The first is distinct rules modules that can be placed on top of the simple core. Things like combat systems, casting systems, followers, and castles. These all are basically binary toggles in nature – either they are on or off. Even things like backgrounds and themes fit this description, either you use them or you don’t. I think there is a second set of rules modules that are not toggles but are instead dials that can be used to adjust certain parts of the game to achieve the desired feel, tone, and style of game. I posit that healing is a dial type module.
All the dials have to have an assumed or default position or setting that is aligned with the core rules. When you turn the dial up or down, a certain feature of the game is adjusted to taste. The rules need to not only give the different dial positions, but also explain what happens when you change the dial and give recommendations on other modules that work well with each variant. The various major rules modules that are likely to get a lot of use need to at least make sense with each dial position (even if they are not an ideal match). In short, none of the modules (toggle nor dial) can be built in a vacuum. Each must be considered in the context of the others. Clearly this is no small task.
Back to healing. The default position of the healing dial needs to be aligned with the core rules. So what are the hallmarks of the core rules? Simplicity, understandability, ease of use, veteran familiarity, and rookie accessibility. The default healing rules need to meet these criteria and then provide options for turning the healing dial (and adjusting other game components) to achieve a certain feel.
My proposal does not try to emulate a specific type of healing from the past, as this can end up alienating some people. Instead I will use general game concepts that are familiar in any edition, as well as borrow or repurpose some specific elements from certain editions.
If we look at popular fantasy literature, movies and so forth, we do not see a lot of dedicated healers (clerics), healing devices (potions and wands), or adventures frequently cut short by injuries (x minute work day). Characters keep pushing through minor cuts and bruises, fatigue, and other setbacks. Only the occasional major injury or disease really changes the pace. We also know the R&D team has talked similarly about reducing the need for dedicated healers and to make adventuring without specialized healing resources possible.
Now to the nuts and bolts. Taking all of this into consideration, I propose the following default rules for healing. During combat, any character can take the “quick breath” action to regain a small static number of hit points. The number can be based on a fraction of max HP or calculated based on some combination of class, level, and constitution. A character can only take this action if they meet three conditions – they must not be threatened at the start of their turn, they must have at least one HP, and they must be at or below half the max HP. I will call this half way point “winded.” This approach means that a party without dedicated healing can stay in a battle by controlling conditions to allow characters low on HP to take a round or two off to catch their breath, but no one can just hang out in a corner to get all their HP back.
At the conclusion of a combat, characters can take a little time to get themselves together. I will call this period “quick recovery.” Unless the DM really wants to push the party hard, once you are “out of rounds,” each player can do a few things to get their character ready to move on with their adventure. This could include things like allowing ranged characters to recover some ammunition (arrows, bullets, thrown hammers, etc.), allowing characters with a refreshable resource (mana, power points, fatigue, etc.) to regain some potency, and of course some healing. During a quick recovery, each character with at least one HP can regain their winded (half max) number of HP. Having a specific quick recovery concept built into the core makes it easy to add modules that have an encounter resource management component (be it point based, or discrete like the ‘E’ in AEDU). As long as you stay above zero HP, you can keep pushing on if your group is prudent.
Finally, you can get a good night’s rest; I will call this “extended recovery.” During an extended recovery you regain all your HP, as long as you have at least one HP. The extended recovery can also be used to recharge any daily resources, and can have the requirement of only being allowed once per 24 hours.
I have created three specific self-healing methods – catch breath, quick recovery, and extended recovery – each of which works with the simple core rules. In their default form they require no extra tracking or resource management and rely on calculations done once per level (to determine your winded number and your quick breath value). Together they also provide a common language that can be used in designing various resource management systems that can sit on top of the core. I have also recreated 4E’s “bloodied” in “winded,” which provides an easy to identify trigger that can be used in designing many capabilities and effects. What I have not done is use any numbers. The numbers can be set initially based on the designers ideas about HP math and refined through playtesting along with other numbers. I have not assigned specific lengths of time to quick and extended recoveries; these can be set based on the DM/group/needs of the campaign. I have also not addressed death and dying and how to regain HP when you are at zero or below.
It is not too hard to see how various abilities could be built for healers, healing magic, and healing items to improve or supplement this natural healing. More important though is how the natural healing can be adjusted through the dial of the healing module.
First let’s look at turning the dial down towards increased lethality and grittiness. For the mid-combat quick breath, you can reduce the HP it restores, or reduce its availability by adding a limited number of uses per combat or per day. However, it should not be removed entirely, as other mechanics will be built to enhance the healing granted by quick breath. At its lowest level it would restore only one HP with no level scaling. HP values are likely to be such that at even first level, this will not be a good use of your action unless coupled with some form of enhanced healing. For the end of combat quick recovery, you can also reduce the HP gained or add a daily limit. The lowest level of this should be regaining your level HP, as again there will be other features that boost this healing. The extended recovery can also have its HP regained lowered, but again I think the lowest setting should be your level in HP. In all cases a dice based variant can be used to replace static values for those who like this type of randomness, as long as the dice averages are roughly equal to the static values.
Now let’s look at turning the healing dial up towards reduced lethality and greater durability. For quick breath and quick recovery, the HP value can be increased. Resource management can also be added with a number of times per combat or per day feature, but with higher limits than when you turn the dial down. And again randomness can be added with a dice mechanic. Extended recovery already restores you to max HP, but could be enhanced with additional capability to shake off long term effects (such as diseases and curses).
The last part of this puzzle is where do clerics and characters with the healer theme fit in? The healer theme should enhance the natural healing rather than provide new means of healing. The cleric is a bit trickier. If the basic cleric has access to cure x spells, it will still dominate healing, even with the generous natural healing in the default healing rules. I think the answer is to re-focus the cleric’s general healing on treating long term or more serious effects (such as diseases, curses, and level or ability drain/damage). I would restrict the cure x spells to the cleric’s life domain, so that someone who wanted to be the combat medic type cleric can do so, but it is no longer assumed.
Taking all this together, someone who wanted to create a gritty old-school style game could do so with the following healing settings of the healing module. Set the catch breath value at one HP; set the quick recovery value at your level in HP limited to con bonus times per day; and set the extended recovery value at your level plus con bonus in HP. You also give every cleric the life domain for free in addition to their chosen domain so that any cleric can fill the same (and now necessary) role it served in the past.To me, this kind of rules construction is what the promise of modularity is all about.