Monday, October 10, 2016

Clerics and Healing

To Healbot or Not to Healbot

How many times have you sat down at a table and seen the following:
Player 1: "I'll play a fighter!"
Player 2: "I'll play a wizard!"
Player 3: "I'll play a thief!"
Player 4 (arriving late): "Crap. I guess I'm healing."

DM: "Welcome to our table! So all the major roles are filled out, the party needs a priest."

Or some variation there of? I've seen it often enough to start thinking about it - and recent iterations of the game have also attempted to address this concern. When your cleric feels that all they can do is heal, it isn't necessarily the most fun for the player. You take a support role while other players get to be front and center on the action. I understand where - for some - that is neither enjoyable or fun. What's the point of all those spells that Clerics get access to if all they are doing is casting cure [x] wounds?

As a result, I started thinking about alternatives to Clerical healing. Over the years I've come up with a number of solutions to the problem, and thought I'd share them.

Potions and Poultices

The first and most obvious is just to increase the number of healing potions the party has access too. Most of the time I've seen this issue addressed, this is usually the recommendation - and it's perfectly valid. There is nothing wrong with handing out healing potions. The goal is to keep the number of potions limited to be roughly equivalent to what the cleric would have provided in healing spells. Potions have another advantage in that they are at risk as well - just like a cleric. A character that falls down a pit trap might lose the potions they're carrying.

Poultices are a "low magic" potion, and are available in the Player's Option Spells & Magic book. They have a perfectly good rundown on the items, though I personally change it:

Healing Poultice (20gp): Good for a number of wounds, this thick poultice has a sharp and aromatic scent, similar to lemons and mint. It usually comes in a small ceramic pot, and when applied to a wounded person it helps reduce swelling, clean wounds, and ease pain. When used, the healing poultice restores 1 point of damage per application. If the character immediately rests for eight hours after application, under proper care such as a character or NPC with the healing proficiency, the character restores an additional hit point. Such pots have four uses.
Using the ones in the book are fine - though I find that they are made with the idea that the characters will have access to a healer and I would never do a good job of tracking what wounds were caused by what.


The idea of the adventuring surgeon is fairly well established. Dr. Watson is a great example of an adventurer who is also a medical doctor. However, it isn't a role that is often taken by players. When considering healing options, however, a character with surgical training could be an excellent choice. Within my games I had surgery as a non-weapon proficiency:

Surgery (Wizard, Priest) 
# of Slots: 1 | Relevant Ability: Intelligence | Check Modifier: -2 
Surgery is a skill set often maligned by "true" healers. However, although their focus is on removing infected teeth, setting bones, and occasionally more complicated affairs - they provide valuable medical services to communities, and are often found in small villages and farming regions tending to the myriad injuries seen in such settings. A surgeon with a well stocked surgical kit is able to restore 1 hp per injury received by a character. Each injury requires it's own skill check. A surgeon without tools cannot attempt to heal any injuries. Adhoc tools (i.e. using a dagger instead of a scalpel) impose an additional -2 penalty. Working within a well stocked surgical shop removes the penalty. Surgical kits cost 30gp for the initial tools. Although many of the tools are reusable such as scalpels and forceps, after restoring 2d6 hit points, the surgeon has to pay 5gp to restock necessary supplies such as thread, splints, and bandages. 
A surgeon who combines their skill with the alchemist, healing or herbalist non-weapon proficiency is able to restore 1d4 hit points per surgical attempt. They only check against the surgery skill, but restocking their surgical kit requires that they test the other skill (i.e. an alchemy check to make sure that the sulfur powder is effective). Having more then one does not increase the number of healing dice, but does allow for a +1 for each additional skill for a maximum of plus two. Thus, the surgeon has the alchemist skill, and gets to heal for 1d4 points. They later add healing, and get a +1, and then later add herbalism for an additional +1. 
For example, Mally is a Gnomish illusionist, alchemist, and surgeon. She and her adventuring party have been beset by goblins, and her friend - the halfling fighter Arwin - has taken a nasty blow. She throws a quick color spray and as the goblins reel from the magical surge of vibrant colors, she and Arwin beat a hasty retreat. Safe, she pulls out her surgical kit as Arwin struggles out of his boiled leather breastplate, and checks the wound on his shoulder. The goblin blade bit deep and she knows that those disgusting creatures do NOT clean their swords. She pulls a yellow powder out of her surgical bag and sprinkles it on the wound. Arwin gasps in pain but knows not to yell. He instead just glares at the ceiling. Mally winces and apologizes and fishes a well bitten leather strap out of her bag. She gives it to Arwin who clamps down on it. As the sulfur works, Mally seals the wound up and stiches it together. She applies a healing salve and then bandages it up tightly. For these actions, Arwin is healed for 1d4+1 points of damage. 

This is a skill set which can also be used by fighters and thieves as well. Dr. Watson, for example, could be seen as a fighter with a high intelligence allowing him to have bonus NWP slots that can be used for healing, herbalism, or alchemy. 


In Dragon Magazine issue 221, there was an article called "The Little Wish" which converted cantrips into a non-weapon proficiency. I thought this was an amazing idea and include it in all my games when I DM. In addition, I converted Orisons into the same kind of non-weapon proficiency, and allow them to restore some hit points per prayer.

Orison (Priest) 
# of Slots: 1 | Relevant Ability: Wisdom | Check Modifier: -2 
Orisons are the collection of minor prayers, rites and rituals that make up the core tenants of the faith in a particular god. A character with this proficiency knows enough about the rudiments of their faith that they can take on the role of a priest and officiate over certain ceremonies, knowing how to properly beseech their god or goddess. When the character attempts to pray, they must outline what it is they are praying for first. Following this description, they then make their skill check. The Religion non-weapon proficiency provides an additional +1 bonus to that skill check. Other adjustments might be made by the DM as they see fit. For example, a God of Agriculture might grant a healing request if the characters are attempting to defend farmers, and thus forgive slight errors (i.e. the players get a +2 bonus). Characters who have not followed the tenants of their faith would have penalties.  
If the check is successful, the effect comes to pass. such as healing 1 point of damage, or more - some healing gods might restore 1d4 hit points at the DMs discretion. Gods of war might bless weapons to cause an extra 1 or 2 points of damage. The final form of help is up to the DM. Players should not attempt more prayers then they have a wisdom bonus. Each additional prayer above that imposes an additional penalty of 1. Thus if the character's wisdom bonus is 2, and they pray four times, the fourth prayer is at a -2 penalty. Any prayed for result lasts for one round per wisdom bonus of the player, or per level if they are a cleric or paladin - whichever is higher. Failure could have serious consequences, including insulting the Gods at DM's discretion, requiring penance before prayer can be attempted again.

One major advantage of this approach is that it also makes more sense from a NPC perspective. Suddenly, you don't have class level NPC clerics everywhere, but instead you just have lay priests with high wisdom scores who are really good at praying. They are able to manage the church successfully without being the rare breed of warrior-priest who goes forth to vanquish evil.


Finally, I've allowed arcane casters to have access to the Cure [X] Wounds spells in the form of Mend [X] Wounds. Each mending spell restores a d6 instead of a d8, but is otherwise the same. The spells are reversible and allow the wizard to inflict damage. No other aspect of the spell changes.

I find that that these spells are great as they make the necromancer a more viable specialist - by providing reinforcement to the "white necromancy" aspect. Books such as the Deeds of Paksenarion by Elizabeth Moon and the Bardic Voices series by Mercedes Lackey include arcane healing. As a note the Deeds of Paksenarion is heavily based off of the game - so the inclusion is an interesting addition based on how well the book covers traditional D&D tropes. Some of the concepts from the first book include: 

  • Paks laying on hands after the events of Dwarfwatch
  • The fact that recruits with the Duke's Company train on four weapons, matching the four weapon proficiencies of first level fighters
  • The concept of magical arms and armor being easier to use, both lightweight and stronger compared to mundane weapons
Back on track with the goal of this thread - the main point being that clerics shouldn't be the only source of healing. By providing spells to wizards as well, you spread out the healing burden.


When all you are allowed to do is heal the others, many players feel like they are taking a back seat. Not all, but some. Giving options for a party to spread that burden around allows that burden to be shared - and lets the priest use some  of their other spells and abilities. Hopefully you find these rules helpful! Thoughts and feedback are always welcome - leave your comments below!

1 comment:

  1. In Castles & Crusades Illusionists can heal, too. Because there Illusion is a mix of Alteration and Illusion magic in that the will of the caster actually changes the reality perceived by all others.

    It's a bit like your necromany solution. And I like it.