As an older person, I’m often surprised at how far from favor the practice of formal logic has fallen. I grew up in a farm community where the average expectation was no higher than middle class and yet my high school required you to take a class in argumentation, public speaking and formal logic. The internet might be the great melting pot of ideas, but its anonymous (and therefore informal) nature has led to a lack of intellectual accountability. No matter how foolish a thing you say, someone will listen.
That’s why I’m more than a little irritated with Mike Mearls’ Legends and Lore column for this week. I have a fair bit of respect for Mearls, but this seems like less of an actual discussion on what percentage of the table population enjoys healing and why they enjoy it and more of a prelude to an announcement that they’re changing something major. I hope that isn’t true.
The perception (and frankly, the reality), however, is that someone has to play the healer. If your group happens to have someone who likes a support role, then you have a cleric. Otherwise, you’re stuck either bending the game to account for the lack of healing or forcing a player into a role they don’t want.
I think there’s an excessive conflation between healing and support. More to the point, while all healing is support, not all support is healing. Take my Monday game, for example. I have a Fighter who took several healing powers and multiclassed into Warlord, then Cleric for access to more healing (and because the roleplaying opportunities were there for deciding to actually worship a God). This healing comes at a very low opportunity cost, however, as most of it is either part of something that the character would be doing anyhow or it can be used as a minor action (which would otherwise rot). That the player can feel this need and address it without sacrificing his ability to fill his main role is one of the great strengths of 4e.
There are two leaders in that campaign: a Warlord and a Rune Priest. They have exactly one “bomb” heal apiece. The vast majority of the heal load is taken up by encounter heals. While having access to those heals requires you to play a leader class, none of the leader classes are just the healing. Both of those players are playing those classes because they enjoy the support aspect as distinct from the healing. If you were to somehow increase the encounter level healing available to the party (perhaps by making Second Wind a minor action baseline), they would still be playing those characters. They might change some power choices, but that’s about it.
Oddly enough, one way to make healing optional might lie in figuring out how other classes account for it. For instance, you could imagine a world where a party without healing might kill monsters faster and thus take less damage.
The problem with this as a concept is that it obligates the GM to tune monster defenses more tightly. If the characters must race the monsters, then they must hit. This will only lead to a deflation of monster defenses, which I think will make the game less interesting.
The opposite could also be true, where a party that replaces a healer with a fighter might be more durable, have better defenses, and thus could survive for a longer period of time.
This is a terrible idea, as it is the very definition of tedious (which seems to be the word of the day). Are you really telling me that the solution to healing being “unfun” is to globally reduce the amount of damage the characters are taking? 4e already has the reputation of coddling the players (the phrase “padded sumo” is frequently used) .
I do agree with Mearls that an adjustment to the availability of healing would go a long way towards eliminating the need for healers. Second Wind is currently the worst heal in the game unless you are a Dwarf or have access to a magic item that changes its opportunity cost. This artificially inflates the perceived value of these items, particularly for defenders. I quite literally had to argue with the guy that plays the Fighter in my game to get him to change his armor, he was that attached to his Dwarven Vigor enchantment. Some players would still want to play leaders, there just wouldn’t be the crushing pressure that currently exists.
However, solving this issue would go a long way toward creating a game where players are free to create the characters they want.
This is the essence of the tautology. If the players didn’t have to do anything they didn’t want to do, then they could do what they want to do. Congratulations, you have achieved the reasoning capacity of a four year-old. There are several groups in my area that have experimented with wildly nontraditional group compositions and my players have spent many an hour theorycrafting unusual and degenerate comps. One of the two defenders in the Monday game is a Paladin/Warlock hybrid that often feels more like a striker than a defender. My point is that players are already using the tools the system gives them to create characters that both do what they want and meet the external requirements of the game. You can argue that it isn’t easy enough, but you can’t say it isn’t happening.
And if that is the point of all of Mearls’ musing, then there are some genuine solutions. I happen to think that making Second Wind a minor action would be a huge step in that direction. I also think that you can increase access to healing in the same way you increased access to heavy armor. 4e is the first edition of D&D to not tell the Wizard no when he decides he wants plate mail and a shield. It tells him, “you can have those things, but they’re going to cost you.”