Friday, February 8, 2019

Howardian Healing

I was re-listening Dan and Paul's livecast about clerics while I was out driving today because...well, football season is over (and the regular news is depressing) and I'd finished all their other recordings

[and, yes, I'm a big geek. Thanks]

...AND I was listening again to their complaints about the cleric class that I mentioned a couple days back and they did have this solid one about "siloing" healing magic in a single class. Part of Delta's reasoning for chopping the cleric class and making healing potions common and readily accessible is to take the onus off a single (or pair) of party members being responsible for the "medic" role. Instead, everyone has their own responsibility for their health.

[ if they didn't already. Risk-reward, people]

*AHEM*  Anyhoo, it occurred to me that even though my re-skinning of the clerics as bards and witches might give you the same spell suite in a more palatable package (my main reason for doing it), you still have that "onerous burden" of one person being called on to bandage the aches and pains of the team.

Which isn't a terrible thing, by the way...I mean, everyone has some role in a party (Do fighters complain about being meat shields? Do wizards whine about being the artillery?), and a cleric is no different. Some folks even get off on the position...I mean, they relish being relied on to patch up the group's hurts. Personally, I always had fun with it (the couple-three times I played a cleric)...though I also just enjoyed being The Hammer of God (B/X clerics having the same potential in melee as a fighter).

But it's still putting all your healing eggs in one basket. The cleric's supposed to be responsible for caring for the physical well-being of the party (in a game where hit point attrition is the main source of "resource management"). Party health (HPs) is the fuel that lets the players drive. If the one "pumping station" (the cleric) goes down, it's only a matter of time before you're out of gas.

Thinking about this, I was reminded of those old TSR modules adapting Bob Howard's "Hyborean Age" to AD&D...Conan Unchained and its ilk (the "CB" series). I've only ever owned CB2: Conan Against Darkness, but I definitely read through the others, including Red Sonja Unconquered, and they all have the same basic rules relating to the Hybrid setting: lack of demihumans, lack of "artillery-type" magic spells (fireballs and such), lack of heavy armor (it's present but uber-expensive), and, of course, lack of clerics and healing magic.

The rules provide a couple things to offset the absence of clerics, the first being an (unknown) number of "Luck Points." These don't heal a person; instead they're used to do thinks like make an extra attack, or automatically hit, of knock someone out, or spring away from a trap in the nick of time, etc. Luck's purpose is to aid the character in the adventure so the character quickly progresses before attrition sets in...and luck always runs out (eventually).

The other rule is a more straightforward offset: characters heal faster than normal. All Hyborian characters heal one hit point per day, whether they're resting or not, and they heal half their Constitution per day (rounded down), when they actually take the time to rest.

Considering that most of the pre-gen characters have high (14+) scores in Constitution, that's quite a bit. Conan has an 18 Constitution (duh) and can heal his 100 hit points in less than two weeks. Most of these characters can go from zero to full in 10 days; that's pretty darn rapid considering the amount of punishment needed to take them to 'death's door.'

But in retrospect, I'd say the main reason this works is because these modules are designed for high level characters, and all the pre-gens have a ton of hit points. If you were running low level characters, this would seem supernaturally rapid...1st level characters would hop up after a day or two of resting with nary a scratch, regardless of the clubbing an ogre had given them the day before. To me, that's a little too close to "long rests" and "healing surges" for my taste.

However, for folks who simply want to supplement character healing such that the players are not entirely reliant on the party healer, it's not a bad start (better than stashing healing potions all over the setting like a video game, IMO). Here's how I'd modify it:

  • Characters heal one hit point per day, regardless of rest
  • Characters at rest (in comfortable surroundings, not on an adventure) regain one-half their level in hit points per day, rounded up. The number of hit points gained per day may not exceed the one-half the character's Constitution score.
  • Characters at rest and being ministered by trained healers (as defined by your campaign: could be the House of Elrond, a temple of pacifist priests, or some roadside witch) regains hit points equal to their level; such places should generally have a price associated with their use. Again, the hit points regained may not exceed one-half the character's Constitution score.

This should still allow some fairly rapid recovery. I would only institute these rules in a game where access to healing magic was limited or restricted.


  1. Divine magic goes way beyond cure light wounds. I won’t go into it. You know it. Making clerics into healbots is really shortsighted even in B/X.

  2. I like it. Will probably use something similar in B/X type of games.

    In AS&SH, characters regain 1 HD's worth of hit points per day (e.g. 1d10 for fighters, 1d4 for necromancers). I think a full day's rest gives you the maximum on the die, but I might remember it wrong. Granted, negative hp is a thing, and those points only heal at a rate of 1/day, so positive hp is assumed to be only bruises and such.

  3. I'm fond of the "hit points aren't meat points, but instead luck/combat ability/fatigue" idea and so characters regain a little resting for a turn in dungeon and all of them sleeping. Going below 1 hp means taking an actual injury though, roll on a Death or Dismemberment table.

    Makes characters slightly more survivable at the cost of lost eyes and limbs. Healing magic can be rare because it's only really special because it either removes lasting wounds or is instant in combat hp.

    1. @ Unknown:

      I'm quite fond of this concept, too (I've used it a couple-three times in the past, including in 5AK). It's one of the reasons I'm not completely put off by the idea of a "second wind," even though I absolutely DETEST the idea of multiple SWs and surges.

    2. I like this option - it seems more reasonable. Maybe a (rolled) HD worth of hp for an hour's rest & recovery? Just one though, no rolling multiple dice ala 5E. I'd also allow a good old "bind wounds" roll immediately after combat. Anyone can do that and heal 1d3 hp for a turn's effort, rather than (or prior to) the full HD in an hour recovery.

      Maybe allow "body" points (real damage) equal to CON for the damage below 0hp, healing as you propose, JB, and using that death & dismemberment table on top of it, just for fun. Was there a particular one you use, @Anon?

    3. I like the the method Crypts & Things (and other rule-sets) employs. HP are the fatigue and superficial damage,etc. Once that is gone you start taking hits to your constitution which is real damage. HPs recover quickly, constitution damage much more slowly.

  4. Really enjoyed this post and featured it on my podcast

    1. Right on...I'll try to check out your podcast tomorrow. Thanks for the mention!