4th Ed D&D – Healing Surges

According to the new 4th Edition rules, all heroes have what are called “healing surges”. These healing surges have what seem to be two functions:

1. You can spend a healing surge as a standard action to heal yourself up to 1/4 of your hit-points through an action called a “second wind”. So, essentially, any character can sacrifice one standard action in an encounter to self-heal. You can also use healing surges when resting between encounters (one can’t help but think of pausing to ‘mana up’ in WoW between pulls)

2. Healing abilities, such as those of the Cleric or the Paladin, also cause you to expend your healing surges.

There are a few problems with these healing surges. The first problem is that to use them you have to sacrifice a standard action. When initiative comes around to you and its your turn to act, this is sort of an anticlimactic way to use your action. Damage seems to be set to a higher standard in 4th Ed, meaning you might end up taking more damage during that round of getting a second wind than you can reasonably heal, especially at lower levels.

The second problem is that there are way too many of them. In the Quick Start rules that WotC has put out to promote 4th Ed, I think the Fighter has 12 healing surges. This amount is so high that it doesn’t serve as a meaningful limit anymore. Also, if the fight has, say, 32 hit-points, that means that he can heal 8 hit-points 12 times a day – meaning he can heal 96 hit points, or three times his maximum hit points. In other words, without any outside help, he can theoretically absorb 128 hit-points of damage. And this Quick Start sample Fighter is, I believe, level 1 or 2. He can’t exceed his maximum at any one time, but that gives this Fighter an absurd capacity to absorb abuse – such that it would be a lot harder to come up with meaningful challenges. Certainly, nothing that would reasonably tax resources like that.

The third problem is that healing is already limited in other ways. Healing powers seem to have a limited number of uses per day, maybe one, or maybe linked to an attribute bonus. The point is that you have two limitations on healing functioning at the same time, overlapping each other, and rendering each other redundant.

There are a lot of things I like about 4th Edition, but healing surges aren’t one of them. When I run this game at my table, I’m pretty sure my first house rule will be that healing surges go out the window.

11 thoughts on “4th Ed D&D – Healing Surges

  1. The editions before 3rd were built around resource management (as far as they were built around anything). 4th is focused on encounters. This particularly means that taxing resources is not something that should be particularly done.

    (3rd ed was somewhere between, which caused problems like mages being too powerful due to everybody resting after a single combat.)

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  2. The other thing about 'Second Wind' is that it can only be used once per encounter.

    Other healing abilities are similarly limited. The limitations are as follows:

    Healing Word (Cleric): 2x per encounter, 3x per encounter at level 16.

    Lay on Hands (Paladin): A number of times per day equal to your wisdom modifier (minimum one).

    Inspiring Word (Warlord): 2x per encounter, 3x per encounter at level 16.

    Beyond that, Paladins, Clerics, and Warlords have to rely on encounter and daily powers to provide any degree of additional healing.

    That said, Doug, are you thinking of getting rid of the 'Second Wind once per encounter' ability, or just the 'you have (x) number of healing surges per day?'

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  3. I agree with everything Doug said and I want to add a little…

    There is also a verisimilitude issue. YES, D&D is a fantasy game. NO I don't think we should apply too rigid standards of realism on a game that is obviously absurd in a bunch of other ways (spells, dragons, teleporting fairy-angels etc…)

    However, one is still asking the player to suspend disbelief here and if a rational mind can come up with a ton of reasons why a given rule would have logical consequences that the setting doesn't account for then the rule is problematic. IF any person with a level in a character class can provide such substantial healing to themselves on a daily basis – why would their be medics or clerics or any kind of industry of healing at all? Why would their be any fear of disease or mundane dangers in the world? Effectively anyone who wants could be a superhero with regenerative powers. No one would die from infections or complications from injuries. No one would die unless they were killed outright by sudden violence or of pure old age.

    Yes, I am taking the example to an extreme so that it sounds silly. We could also account for Hit Points differently by not treating them as wounds, but as “fatigue” which would nullify my analogy above, but even if HP is treated as “fatigue” then is it reasonable for a 1st level fighter to be capable of engaging in pitched combat many times in a single day with no signs of fatigue because they recovered between fights with Healing Surges? Have you ever seen MMA athletes after a single fight? They're not up for more action after that, I promise.

    Furthermore, if characters are capable of facing so many encounters in a single day how fast (in game time) do you think they'll gain the experience to level? Can you imagine a bunch of 15th level 17 year olds running around, more powerful than dragons, but they've only been adventuring for a couple weeks? Who would want to play in such a game?

    Resource management – ie: characters NOT being able to handle a certain amount of danger per day, is a key factor in making the whole imaginary experience believable and enjoyable.

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  4. Paul:

    I'm actually saying I'd want to drop healing surges and everything related to them, including the second wind. I might be moved there to something like a second wind once per *day* for those desperate situations where you need to withdraw and regroup for a moment, but I'd want to drop the surges entirely, leaving no vestige.

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  5. Doug:

    *nods*
    Works for me.

    For the record, the PHB does define hit points as follows:

    “Hit points (hp) measure your ability to stand up to punishment, turn deadly strikes into glancing blows, and stay on your feet throughout a battle. Hit points represent more than physical endurance. They represent your character's skill, luck, and resolve – all the factors that combine to help you stay alive in a combat situation.”

    You aren't actually considered to be wounded until you reach your 'bloodied' value. Which seems to me a bit like a halfassed attempt to replicate the vitality system.

    Why not just have vitality and wounds?

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  6. Seriously! I like that interpretation of hit points better, but Vit/Wounds was great because criticals could cut straight to Wounds, whereas with HP you have to pound on the person/critter for a long time before you really threaten them.

    I guess it would be possible to just use Vit/Wounds with 4E when we play it. Should probably just play it relatively 'straight' for now, though.

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  7. I definitely prefer vit/wounds as you both know. However, even with this interpretation of HP it doesn't change my point that it isn't realistic for a fighter to recuperate and fight again at full strength so many times in a day.

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  8. Although I agree that it's a lame mechanic, the case against it is being exaggerated. A fighter *can't* fight at full strength many times per day.

    Take the example of a first level fighter. Let's give him a CON of 16. He therefore starts with 31 HP and 12 healing surges per day, each of which will heal 7 HP.

    Assuming he uses 'second wind' every battle and takes at least 30 hp of damage per battle (which is not uncommon for a tank – it seemed pretty typical, actually, in the games that I've played – have played 3 game sessions now). This means he's finishing each battle with about 7 HP.

    At this rate, he's going to need to use 3 healing surges after every battle to get back to full strength using just his own healing surges. Plus the one he uses for second wind, that's 4 per battle.

    Meaning the fighter will be able to handle a grand total of 3 fights before he just doesn't have the resources to continue. In practice, healing surges serve more as a limitation on the number of fights you can do in a row. Especially since healing magic uses them, too.

    In either case, my problem with healing surges is not that it's silly, nor is that an argument I find compelling. My problem with healing surges is that they're cumbersome and unnecessary given the limitations that are already placed on healing. They don't add anything meaningful, and they just clutter it up. Also, the idea of resting for health and mana (regenerating health and getting back encounter powers) is just a bit too WoWish for my taste.

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  9. I find myself in agreement with almost every one of you on the problems with healing surges. In fact, I have been reading this blog in search of a solution to what I already saw as a problem (and WotC doesn't seem to have anything to say on it).

    Based on all the suggestions and ideas you all threw out there, I think I have come up with a nice solution.

    Keep the “healing” surges and second wind. However, only healers/leaders can actually access the healing surges to actually heal anyone, using their available powers. Everyone else can only use their second wind and surges to enact some class or race related benefit at a critical moment.

    Each PC may use a single healing surge between encounters to reflect some rest and recovery (with bonuses available from anyone with the Heal skill). Additional healing between encounters could be received from rituals/prayers cast by the leader types.

    The maximum number of surges per day that an individual has would still apply. They could use those surges themselves in combat/encounters, or wait until their priestly type activates it for them in a “healing spell”. The only real change needed to the whole system is removing the encounter limit on the priest's ability to heal.

    The more I think about this idea, the more I like it. One of my players chose to be a cleric specifically for the healing role, and she has been feeling pretty useless and redundant lately. I think this would bring back the feel of value to having a cleric in the party as well as put pressure on the rest of the players to avoid getting hit so often.

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