There is nothing wrong with tending the wounded. If you’re playing in a game with hit points, you want some way to make those numbers go back up. Potions, healing wands, and dudes in white robes are a mainstay of the hobby for a reason. They help you to avoid the dreaded 15-minute adventuring day, and can get an ally back in the fight when combat gets hairy. If you happen to identify as a healer though, there is one critical thing to keep in mind: you must be more than JUST a healer.

Before we go any further, I’m going to quote the redoubtable Treantmonk. His thinking on the subject of healz has influenced me personally and the community at large. I doubt I could put it any better if I tried:

Why isn’t the Healer useful in combat? There are two ways you can live your “pretend” life – “reactively” or “proactively”…. Simple truth: The mechanics of the game make preventing damage more efficient then healing damage after the fact. That’s not to say a well placed “Heal” or even “CLW” never has use in combat – but if you’re doing your job – it should never be required as a primary role.

Spending your action to maybe-possibly-hopefully counter an enemy action puts you, on average, at a net loss. That’s why Pathfinder’s heal spell is the gold standard in the system. It typically heals more damage than monsters can dish out in a turn. For similar reasons, 5e’s counterspell is far more devastating than dispel magic. They both have their place, but spending your reaction rather than your action to blank an enemy turn puts you ahead in terms of the action economy. This is what Treantmonk is getting at in terms of healing and efficiency. I would go a step further though. I believe that the reactive/proactive divide runs deeper than questions of combat effectiveness. It gets to the very soul of gaming: what makes something fun? 

In answering that question, let me ask you another. When you’re watching a nature documentary, who do you root for? The fox pouncing face-first into the snow, or the field mouse hiding invisibly in its den? The bear or the salmon? The marlins or the bait ball? We tend to identify with the active participant, and that holds true in gaming as well as the Discovery Channel.

When you’re on offense, you can point towards a demonstrable effect that you had on the world. I killed the monster. I buffed the fighter. I walled off the threat. When you’re sitting back on defense, it’s a lot harder to point at the thing that didn’t happen. I healed you for 25! I mean, the monster died before its next turn, but better safe than sorry! My point is that your actions in combat represent a piece of your overall ability to affect the world. When it’s your goal to prevent the world from changing (read: keeping your buddies alive) your impact might be enormous, but it feels lesser. I think this might have something to do with Oracle’s bad attitude in today’s comic.

Consider this. When the oradin build first hit the net, people absolutely lost their shit over how cool it was. That’s because they could suddenly do the healing thing while still kicking ass. It was the “non-healbot healbot,” and people ate it up. Same deal with 5e’s much-loved healing word. Everyone wants a bit of emergency healing in the party, but only so long as they can…ya know…actually do stuff too. So when I say “be more than just a healer,” I mean that you want to be able to be proactive as well as reactive. You want to have the option to point at the battlefield and say, “I summoned a friggin’ elemental, and I got your barbarian back on her feat. It was a good day at the office. Dibs on the staff of awesome.”

So what do you think? Have you ever been satisfied as a “pure band-aid?” What’s the best healer you’ve ever seen in action? Let’s hear your tales of magical medics down in the comments!


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