Today’s D&D Next post at the Wizards site by Bruce Cordell is titled Time to Heal and discusses the role of the Cleric class and how it relates to healing through the life span of Dungeons & Dragons. There’s a nice little recap of how healing and the Cleric class have both worked in previous editions, and then there is a poll asking how people prefer the mechanics to be handled. Reading about how healing worked in previous editions brought forward some experiences that I am dying to share with you.
After the announcement of 4th Edition D&D, Dave decided he wanted to run a finale 3rd Edition (3.x in actuality) campaign to send the edition off in style. Gathering a group of players mostly from around where I live, Dave kindly traveled a decent distance to plan and run the game for us. One of the first things that happened amongst the players during character creation is that a friend of ours called playing the cleric. This wasn’t too surprising if you know anything about the cleric class in 3rd edition and how overpowered it can become, but even this early in the process I had a small suspicion that healing would be an issue for this party. As such, and inspired by an excellent character in the Wheel of Time novels I was reading, I decided to give a serious try to playing a Bard character for the first time. This allowed me to play a character type that I wanted to play while still having access to healing spells if the need arose.
Dawn of the Selfish Cleric
Before I get too far into this, let me say that I do not hold any grudges against this player (he is a regular in my current ongoing game) and he was never elusive or deceptive about the type of character he was playing. With that out of the way, I will say that there was quite a bit of tension in this party based on the fact that we were adventuring with a cleric that did not seem to know how to heal. Ever. Having chosen his domains in the direction of war, death, and destruction, this cleric instead become potentially the most powerful and dangerous member of our party through the entire course of the game.
We all knew that within the mechanics of the game he could give up his spell slots in exchange for healing, which sounds like a great mechanic. However, it can lead to a lot of animosity when it is paired with a character who responds to healing requests with, “I’m not that kind of cleric.” There were rare occasions where he would choose to give up a spell slot for healing, but that was almost always in a situation where my bard character could not immediately heal one specific party member, the selfish cleric himself. I imagine if you looked at his healing habits through 14 levels of adventuring that he healed himself 80-90% of the time, with the rarest of heals going out to another character (most likely my bard, so he could wake up and heal the other party members).
The surprising part for me was that I felt some angst for playing a bard that had to be the party’s primary healer, but in the end I found it as an incredibly fun and rewarding experience. The only aspects that led to conflict around the table was that the selfish cleric player did not put any effort into differentiating between his character’s decisions and his desires as a player, so we as the party felt like both the player and the character were being really dickish. In the end I think the experience became more funny to us than anything else, and obviously I look back on the whole selfish cleric experience as just another great D&D story to share.
Avoiding the Non-Healing Jerk Situation
Going from the selfish cleric experience to running an ongoing 4th Edition D&D campaign with my wife playing the only cleric in the party was a revelation to me. I say this because, just like the player in Dave’s last 3.x game, my wife has chosen very few healing spells and powers as a cleric in 4e. However, what we have seen across 25 levels of play is that she still acts at the party’s main source of healing and is a crucial resource to the group’s survival. The 4e cleric class has the option of being even better at healing by taking as many additional healing powers as they want, but without those they still fulfill the vital role of the healer that is so valuable in many D&D groups.
My experiences are why I am very happy to see the “A cleric should have a combination of free healing and ‘spell slot’ healing” option in the lead on Bruce’s D&D Next poll (leading with over 60% of the votes at the moment). It is the option I voted for, because I think it is the perfect balance that the cleric class needs in D&D. What I hope comes about next in the discussions about D&D Next is the idea that healing, hit points, and damage in D&D go way beyond the way the cleric class is handled. 4th Edition illustrated this point nicely with the inclusion of healing surges and second wind, which are two aspects of the 4e design that I think could use some careful consideration. In addition, my experiences as the primary healer bard illustrate that other classes with access to healing are just as important to the conversation. I liked that 4e had the leader role as a defined element tying these classes together, but I always felt weird about the implication that having a cleric in addition to a warlord, bard, or artificer would be overlapping roles for the party.
Moving Forward with D&D Next
As I’ve stated before, one of my biggest hopes is that I will be able to play a style of D&D very similar to my experiences with 4th Edition with the system that is being called D&D Next. I would love to see a module for this new edition of D&D that allows something more like “heroic survival” that incorporates healing surges and second winds into the game. Having some characters at the table with this option and others without it wouldn’t be too difficult to manage, and if it were applied to tough fighter or barbarian characters or even available to Dwarf characters as a feat or bonus I think it could really add a lot to the game. This would allow me to continue running and playing the game with some of the flavor of 4e D&D without forcing everyone (even at the same table) to use that style of healing.
No matter what D&D Next ends up looking like, the issue of healing goes way beyond the cleric class and I’m sure quite a bit of attention will be paid to how that all ends up coming together in the end.