Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Heal me!

I have been playing DnD 4th for some weeks now and am starting a new Pathfinder (DnD 3.75) campaign this week and I have noticed a serious tendency for healing classes to be overpowered.  My theory on this is that people normally don't want to play healers and so game creators have gone out of their way to stack on powers to entice those who are looking to be leet to make healers more enticing.  Let's be frank:  If you have a party of Wizard, Rogue, Fighter and your Cleric buddy has no attacks and can only cast spells out of combat you are going to want him in your party anyway because he can heal you after the fight.  No matter what else a Cleric can do they are going to be needed to heal and expected to heal - their other contributions are immaterial.  Unsurprisingly most people aren't super interested in the role of cheerleader because it doesn't feel especially heroic nor is it interesting strategically.  Given that players end up not wanting to have to be the healer  and so game designers keep adding on bells and whistles until the healing class looks appealing.

The trouble with making healers awesome though is they end up being one man armies.  In particular in 4th clerics were completely overpowered because they got powerful attacks spells that hit enemies but not friends - and also got to cast absurdly powerful heals with their minor actions.  In my current game Ziggyny is playing a Shaman and they seem to be utterly nuts because their attack spells and utility are fantastic and worth playing on their own but when they can also cast heals that heal/prevent 37 damage with their minor actions... other classes seem pretty pathetic in comparison.  It seems the same way in my Pathfinder campaign where I am playing a cleric.  I have lots of good spells, good armour, great saves, good hitpoints and I also get to do extremely powerful AOE heals (2d6 at level 3) 7 times/day.  I looked at the cleric class with the AOE heals removed and compared it to a wizard or sorcerer and concluded that I would still be extremely strong and given that I could still heal reasonably I would be welcome in any group.  I then considered how good a character I would be if I had the AOE heals but none of the rest of my powers and decided that I would still be a good character!

So the current class design for healers in DnD seems to be that they are as good as any other class but get immensely powerful heals tacked on top.  I don't much like this theory and I wish that the responsibility for healing was spread out around the party a little bit more.  I really enjoyed the initial idea for 4th in which non healing classes were able to heal themselves by spending healing surges and that this plan would reduce the necessity for a healer in the group.  It hasn't worked.  In 4th edition the power of a healing surge needs to be substantially increased and the bonus that a healing class gives to the healing surge needs to be substantially decreased - probably reduced to zero.  In that way the idea of people protecting themselves with the Second Wind action and using powers that let them spend healing surges makes a lot more sense and healers can be a backup system for the one guy who gets beat up really badly rather than the sole provider of super powered healing spells.  I like the idea of a class that defends other people and heals them but I think the best way to make that work is a lot more of defending and a lot less of 'wizard who can also heal the entire party by themselves'.

When the Rogues, Wizards and Fighters can take care of themselves a lot of the time the Cleric can be a much more versatile sort of character and not feel like they are there just to help their buddies feel invincible and heroic.  I also like the idea of being able to play when your healer can't show up - sort of like when somebody else in the party is away and things are trickier but manageable.


  1. In 3.0/.5/.75 the issue lies with clerics rather than healers at large. They just have too much going for them to be reasonable and have been well know as the most powerful class in the game early on.

    1. Same spell rank progression as Wizards.
    2. More casts than Wizards.
    3. Spontaneous spell casting for heals.
    4. Medium armor, d8 hit-dice and shields.
    5. Makes any fight involving the undead pure lol.
    6. Two domains and associated bonus powers???
    7. AoE healing that doesn't even count against spells per day?
    8. Infinite 0-level spells.

    I am fairly sure that 4th is not meant to be a balanced experience and that your thoughts on their design of healers for 4th are correct.

  2. Yeah, I played a cleric several times in our old battlemap scenarios where we had a big map and a bunch of characters designed for PvP duke it out. Clerics were pretty sick then, and certainly very powerful in group scenarios. This adding in of massive free AOE healing seems a little nutty, though they did scale back clerics in other ways. They took away heavy armor proficiency, gave other casters better hitpoints and nerfed some cleric spells.

    After a pretty heavy evaluation of the classes tonight I concur that clerics in particular are the issue: Druids aren't particularly good, but they aren't even particularly healers anyhow. Only one real healing class in a game where every group wants a healer makes me a sad panda.

  3. As someone who has played a healer extensively and generally gravitates to support roles as a whole, although there isn't the traditional sense of "epicness" that comes from healing, I find the support its own reward. Ensuring a group can successfully complete a dungeon, to me, is more valuable than if I was just one more DPS class.

    That being said, I've noticed the increase in love healers and support have received in gaming as a whole - and I love it. I find my role continuously gets more and more powerful while others seem to lose their luster.

    You mentioned players being able to fill all roles. I invite you to take a look at some of the latest footage from Guild Wars 2 - this is exactly what they're doing. Each player is a tank, DPS and healer all in one. Every class gets one, and only one, heal spell. You can equip single target heals, self heals or group heals, but at the end of the day everyone has one. Might be interesting.