Monday, June 11, 2012

The new pace of healing in D&D

While I'm generally happy with what I've seen in the D&D Next playtest, one thing that I'm still a bit unhappy about is the rate of healing. Now, I've written on healing here before, but I think this warrents a new post. Basically, I think they've got the rate of healing wrong for the timeline.

I'd like to spell out first why the daily healing mechanic found in the D&D Next playest (and 4e) is wrong, and suggest one possible solution for this.

Recall that the adventure is the new encounter. This means that the standard of balance is adventure-based, and the adventure is the timing unit that designers are supposed to be thinking about. So fighters might do more in combat but less during exploration and interaction, and that's fine. A fighter's background and theme and race may play more of a role in the other areas to make up for his class not doing that.

But the rate of healing, along with the rate of spell recovery, is daily. The day and the adventure are not the same. So I'm really opposed to daily healing, meaning a PC recovers all or most of his health (hit points, surges, hit dice, whatever) each day.

The mismatch between the adventure and the day is particularly salient for wilderness adventures, where encounters might happen days apart. If part of the point of random encounters is to reinforce the dangers of the wild, daily healing is bad. If wilderness encounters before getting to the dungeon are desired, daily healing is bad. Unless the wilderness is going to be significantly more challenging than the dungeon (i.e. one wilderness encounter taxes the party at the per-day level), daily healing is bad. The list could go on. But this complaint isn't just that daily healing makes PCs feel like superheros. It really limits certain styles of play.

What would be a better solution? The old AD&D method of regaining one HP per day of rest is, perhaps, a bit extreme on the other end of things. For an adventure, we don't need PCs to sit out for a month at a time regaining hitpoints. What we need, however, is a system where the trials of the treck to the dungeon, or to wherever, matter. I think the simple way would be to ignore the fact that a daily rest restores HP at all. What if a daily rest only restored hit dice, not hit points?

If a daily rest restored hit dice but not hit points, that means a character might spend the hit dice and regain, roughly, half his health. Perhaps more if the rule where your constitution modifier is your minimum hit die roll is in play, or in play for extended rests. It means after a day of trecking through the wilderness, your character might still have full hit points, but not hit dice. Healing becomes a bit more valuable, but you could still make the decision to rest for an extra day for more healing as needed. In older editions, the cleric could often use a day's worth of just healing spells to more or less heal the party fully. So one to three days of rest to get back to full strength seems resonable, even if you're exploring the underdark.

With this system, if you're just rolling the dice without any crazy modifiers, any PC should be back up at or near full HP plus full HD after three days of rest. That seems like a more reasonable rate of healing. Its still fast, mind you. Maybe an injury system could also be used to slow things down for PCs who were knocked down to 0 HP or something. Maybe the base system should be half your hit dice back and having a Bard or Warlord or Druid or someone with the herbalism skill could help accelerate this a bit to hit that 3 day mark, instead of a week.

This type of extended rest can be situational as well. Upon returning to some comfortable inn or sanctuary character may heal faster. Taking a comfortable extended rest might restore some HP as well as hit dice. Or perhaps comfortable resting places offer the option to apply your constitution bonus as a minimum die roll, ensureing that characters with a high constitution heal a bit faster than ones with a low constitution. I'm not sure what the best way to implement this is.

This solution is quite similar to what I came up with for my 4e Dark Sun game. When traveling in the wilderness, they only regained HP at night, not all their surges. Not regaining surges meant that a taxing wilderness journey was actually taxing, even if the party could throw all their daily resources at any enemies or obstacles they encountered along the way.

This solution could be refined or even refuted, but I'd like to see how this variant plays out.

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