I’ve been thinking recently about healing out of combat, and it’s led me through some strange places.
Overall, though, I think they could make for longer ‘days’ and simpler play overall, and reasonably get rid of that stupid healing stick that it seems like everyone carries in his pocket… which can only, in my opinion, be a good thing.
Existing Healing Models in D&D
Out of Combat Healing in AD&D
One hit point per day of rest. I think the rule was the same, but I can’t seem to find it in the BECMI Rules Cyclopedia.
Out of Combat Healing in D&D 3.x
Once a party bootstraps and reaches a certain level of wealth, one of the most efficient ways to spend their money is to ensure they have a wand of cure light wounds available at all times. This provides about 275 points of healing (mean; 1d8+1 fifty times is 5.5 hit points on average fifty times, and with that many rolls you’re going to end up quite close to the mean). At low levels this provides multiple hit point top-ups per character, greatly extending the party’s combat durability for the day. At high levels it doesn’t stretch as far, but they become proportionately cheaper compared to the treasure the PCs can expect to acquire in the additional fights.
TL;DR: you can reasonably expect PCs to go into every fight with full hit points.
You can also heal naturally, one hit point per level after a night of rest, doubled for a full day of bed rest.
Out of Combat Healing in D&D 4e
During a short rest (five minute rest), you can spend as many healing surges as you want, recovering 1/4 your maximum hit points with each one.
During an extended rest (6+ hours, at least 12 hours between them) you recover all hit points without spending any healing surges (and in fact, recover any healing surges spent prior to the extended rest).
Out of Combat Healing in Trailblazer
When you take a rest in Trailblazer, there are two primary effects. All ongoing spells expire, and you recover a number of hit points equal to half your maximum.
Proposed Healing Model
This is where I might have to talk fast, since it took me a couple of days to accept it myself.
What are Hit Points?
Step the first, we should review what hit points really measure. Doug said to me once something rather like “hit points are the measure of a creature’s ‘hard-to-kill'”.
At various times hit points have been described as “fate, luck, toughness, and other things that prevent a character from getting killed”, and similar ideas. That is, “how much hard-to-kill” the creature has.
It does not measure ‘just’ meat. If it did, it would be pretty hard to have a human with more hit points than a horse, let alone something like a bear. But in D&D high-level characters do, because they have lots of hard-to-kill. Whether because the character has unnatural durable thews, has an indomitable will and desire to live, has fantastic agility and ability to avoid serious injury, has been touched by the gods, or is just a lucky son of a bitch, he has a lot of hard-to-kill. Attacks that would kill a lesser man leave him relatively unscathed — a little bruised or cut up, but otherwise mostly okay.
Until he runs out of hard-to-kill. At that point he has been beaten down, he is mentally exhausted and gives up, his injuries and fatigue hamper is ability to dodge, the gods forsake him (or vice-versa), or his luck runs out… and the next attack might be enough to kill him.
I have seen a similar description of hit points in previous editions of D&D (or AD&D). It works pretty well as an abstraction, even to the point of explaining why cure light wounds can fully heal a peasant but do almost nothing for a high-level fighter: the peasant has very little hard-to-kill, and thus is easily restored to what little he has, while the hardened warrior who has faced down armies and demons (and perhaps armies of demons) has a great deal of hard-to-kill, and minor magicks to little to recover it.
I’ve spoken to several practiced (read: black belt) martial artists, at least one of which has competed on the Canadian national team, and they’ve confirmed that in most fights, most ‘successful attacks’ really don’t cause much injury. However, they can easily disorient, distract, or inhibit the ability to fight — they wear down the fighter’s hard-to-kill until the opponent can land a winning (which I will take as ‘killing’ for this purpose) attack.
Being punched in the face doesn’t necessarily cause any severe damage. Even a broken nose is not that serious an injury. However, it’s hard to fight successfully when your face is suddenly pain and you can’t see because your eyes are watering. Within the bounds of this model, it is not unreasonable to consider such an attack to take away a fair bit of “hard-to-kill” — if you can’t see, it’s much easier to hit you again.
This sort of reasoning can lead to death spiral mechanics, but I think they are not needed (especially since they tend to make for distinctly unfun play).
Granted, the above suggests it the model best suits unarmed combat, but I think it can apply to armed combat as well. I have seen various armed styles that make regular use of nonlethal attacks to inhibit or otherwise reduce the opponent’s ability to fight effectively before landing a ‘serious injury’. If you can’t reach his head or heart, go for what you can reach — hands, arms, legs, whatever, and work him down. Shield bashing can be a remarkably effective technique, even though it often does relatively little trauma.
Here is where things take a sudden jump. What if most ‘damage’ sustained in a fight is simply wearing down hard-to-kill, and not significant trauma? If this is the case, it should be relatively easy to recover, so let’s try a simple rule.
When you take a rest out of combat, you catch your breath, clear your mind, refocus your will, clean and bind wounds, and so on. You recover all hard-to-kill (that is, hit points) that are not associated with serious trauma or systemic injury.
Perhaps the simplest definition of serious trauma would be a successful critical hit.
“‘Put a bandage on it’? I can see your lung!“
Systemic damage? That could be caused by poison or disease, probably by necrotic/negative energy damage. Possibly falling, I don’t know yet.
As long as you survive a fight, you get back probably a fair amount of the hard-to-kill you’ve used by taking the time to clean up and regroup before moving on.
Consequences of this Change
I see the following consequences of this change:
- This should do quite a bit to extend the adventuring day, at least as far as hit point damage is concerned, without requiring the ubiquitous healing stick.
- In fact, I’m pretty sure the healing stick first showed up in D&D 3e. Let’s get rid of it, it serves little purpose in combat and is no longer needed out of combat, and could cause this new scheme to not work right.
- If someone wants to burn up a really big healing stick (staff of healing) on out of combat healing, I won’t stop him. But I might point and laugh.
- This should do nothing to extend a particular combat because it does not provide a way to recover hard-to-kill during a fight.
- A critical hit with a greataxe now has more effect than three hits with a greataxe, which should make the critical ‘bigger’ than before.
- No real extra work for the DM (the monster goes down, he goes down, and I don’t care if he gets up).
- In fact, may make it easier to take prisoners, simply rule that when a creature is out of hard-to-kill he’s helpless and can be rescued if desired, or left to (probably) die. It might be worth considering the attack to be fatal anyway if the last one was a critical hit — you wanted to capture him, but he was so out of hard-to-kill that he ran himself right onto your blade.
- For that matter, ‘0 hit points’ might now just mean helpless. Forget the fallen until you have time to do something with him. Unless he has a way to act while helpless.
- Over the course of a day, the party can still get worn down (by criticals, if nothing else), but is unlikely to suddenly ‘run out’ (as they might with the healing stick).
Other things to consider when making this change:
- As mentioned above, lose the healing stick.
- I want to simplify spell durations anyway, and Trailblazer seems to have a decent mechanism here. Let’s say that all “combat” duration spells expire when you rest… so do you rest and recover hard-to-kill, or keep your buffs up? This can provide an incentive to keep moving, which in turn reduces the “start all fights with full hit points” behavior mentioned earlier.
- If this is a tough decision, things are right.
I haven’t tried this change in play. It seems consistent with where the game has been going for a while (D&D 3.5 it just became a paid-for tax — you could earn enough money with the extra encounters to pay for the wands of cure light wounds, in D&D 4e and Trailblazer it’s pretty close to built-in, as long as you don’t get your hit points get too low before you rest). It doesn’t add work to me, it makes some effects a little scarier compared to normal damage, it may make it easier to not-kill things (when it’s out of hard-to-kill and helpless you can do what you want, so if you want to capture you can).
This looks worth a try, I think.
I’m really pleased by some of the results people have described in the comments below. It sounds like this works for them exactly how I’d hoped.
That said, to address some of the concern about this being overly generous, you could have critical threats cause trauma rather than requiring actual critical hits. A confirmed critical hit would no longer just do trauma, it does extra trauma. This would ‘reduce the extension’ granted by the hard-to-kill model of hit points — it’s still extended, but the increased ability to do trauma reduces that.
This also helps make a bigger difference between weapons, at least when dealing with characters important enough to care about the distinction: bigger threat range means you’re more likely to do trauma, but less of it on a successful critical (smaller but more reliable persistent effect), while a a smaller threat range and bigger multiplier means less likely to do trauma, but when you do there’s a chance it’ll be a lot (less reliable but bigger persistent effect).