Saturday, April 28, 2012

In defense of the healing surge


Is this where I audition for DnD Next?

It has been a while since I have written an article like this. But I have seen a couple of things lately that I would really like to respond to. Specifically I have seen a lot of comments on this article about self healing in DnD next that make me cringe. When I see people attack the way I like to play D and D my first response is to attack them back. I mean we are playing a game with floating wolf spirits, magical elves, colossal pixies, and dragons. Do we really need to quibble over whether the dragon bit me in half or only made me bloodied? I don’t think so.

 I like to keep healing abstract, and I don’t think insisting hit points are damage does any favors to the game. Furthermore, I feel that insisting healing surges, and non-magical healing are game-y, misses the point. But, if I simply respond with a pat answer and put down their style of play I am not any better than they are. So, I feel a more detailed defense of some of the “game-y” elements that 4e added is in order. I hope to see them available in DnDnext, but I don’t think anyone is doing it wrong if they don’t like them.
Heroic characters in fiction often call on inner reserves of strength. Almost every action movie has a fight scene where it looks grim for the hero, but somehow they pull through. Whether it was John Mclane in Die Hard, Rocky Balboa in Rocky or pretty much anyone Arnold Schwarzenegger played you could expect the hero to go down to one knee and then stand back up, spit and get back into the fight. There are some good examples in the fantasy genre as well. To use King Leonidas in 300 as an example might be stretching fantasy as a genre to its limit, but it works. The best example by far is the death of Boromir in Lord of the Rings.

A rousing speech can wake the dead. Okay not literally, but there are plenty of examples of using a rousing speech to get people into a fight, or back into it. Additionally yelling snap out of it and slapping someone to wake them up happens so often it is a trope. In fact a recent episode of mythbusters found that slapping someone can increase their adrenaline which would give them a boost. I think the best example of this idea was when Tinker Bell was brought back from the verge of death by clapping.

Yes but he didn't know the peasants were going to rebel
Not everyone wants to play a Cleric. I know this is more of a metagame concern, but I think it’s good to at least keep the idea that we are creating a game in mind. I have done a medieval history simulation, in a history class. It has its place. Honestly it was kind of fun thinking about being a peasant for a bit. In general however, I refer you to Mel Brooks, “It’s good to be the king.” But, there are many things about medieval reality that just wouldn’t be fun in a game. I don’t want to write a history paper here, but if anyone is interested in a list I’ll be happy to write one for you.

The main thing is that it’s not fun to be knocked out of the action. It’s bad enough to be out for a round or two, but with more realistic healing you either need access to magical healing or you could be out for weeks or months at a time. As a player it isn’t fun to be pigeon holed into playing something you don’t want to play, or to be out of the action for a whole session or even more because of a few poor dice rolls. I am of the opinion that while the threat of death is needed for the game to be fun, but actually dying is usually anything but fun for a player and can wreck havoc with your plans as a dm.

As the dm having really fragile characters can be very limiting to the types of encounters you want to run. If the characters can’t bounce back from encounters fairly quickly you have to be very careful with the balance. More importantly if your characters have to rest for weeks between encounters to become healed you either need to hand out tons of magic or the system will play havoc with your pacing. The players play havoc with things enough you don’t want the system to do it as well.

How many weeks do I need to rest to get rid of this face?
I feel gritty, realistic combat has a place in D and D.  I’d like to say here that if you want gritty, realistic combat play another game, but I have committed to not being an edition warrior. I understand the motives for a more realistic expression of combat. I certainly feel that if someone wants to use wounds or some other mechanic to track damage that the game should let them. I do get irritated with people who say there is something wrong with how I play the game because their abstraction is more realistic than my abstraction. I hope I have made the case that my abstraction deserves a place in the game as well. If I have go and vote. Let's make DnD Next a game we all want to play. Until next time remember don’t let your DM tell you no. It’s always, “Yes, and…?”


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