Guidance – GMing 101: Promoting the Healer

Welcome to Guidance, Private Sanctuary’s source for tips and techniques for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, written by Everyman Gamer Alexander Augunas. Today, we’re going to be talking about strategies to improve the value of healers in your campaign.

We talked a bit last week about healing, what makes it a useful playstyle and what makes it counter-intuitive to the action economy. I want to iterate that both of the observations made by both sides of the argument are correct; healing IS useful when you use it to keep someone alive mid-fight, thereby maintaining the party’s action economy. But at the same time, it IS detracting from the party’s action economy in the sense that instead of knocking down the enemy, you’re only trying to maintain the status quo.

But we’re not going to talk about that today. Instead, we’re going to talk about what GMs can do to promote the healer role in their campaigns if they’re so inclined.

Why Promote Healing?

So with all of the negative aspects of healing that we’ve talked about, a very logical question that arises is, “Why should I promote healing in my games?” From a GMing perspective, the action economy reason is valid. If you promote healing to the point where you need to have a dedicated PC doing the job, then that means the PCs are going to have fewer actions to direct at your monsters, which means combats will be more drawn-out. This is a matter of personal taste; I know some GMs who are fine with combats lasting for half a minute before they move on, but I also know other GMs who want some fights to be more epic; to last longer. Putting enough pressure on a PC party so they need to rely on healing is an excellent way to do that.

The other reason to promote healing in your campaigns is simple: some players WANT to be the healer. They want to be the person who stands between their fellows and a gruesome death. The fantasy of the healer is a powerful one, one that is constantly enforced by video games and other media. Just as you have an obligation to make sure all of the damage-dealing players at your table are having fun, you also have an obligation to make sure that any healer players at your table are having a good time too.

How to Promote Healing as a GM

There are a couple of different tactics that you can use to promote healing as a GM. Let’s go over a few of them:

  • High CR Challenges: The higher CR a monster has in relation to the PCs, the more likely it is to land its blows on that PC. More attacks equals more damage, and more damage equals more pressure on the healer.
  • High Damage Challenges: You can accomplish this in two different ways: the One Big Strike monster and the Flurry of Doom monster. One Big Strike monsters get one attack, but deal massive amounts of damage with that attack; a good example is the tyrannosaurus. Flurry of Doom monsters, on the other hand, have a large number of low-damage attacks that add up quickly; velociraptors are a good example of this type of challenge. In both cases, the monster wrecks its target quickly, forcing the healer to react quickly, thus making her expertise with healing invaluable to the PCs.
  • Out Number the PCs: This goes along with the High CR Challenges; when you’re outnumbered against foes that can survive multiple hits against your attacks, healing becomes more valuable because you need to survive long enough to knock off some of those enemy actions.
  • Damage Multiple PCs at Once: Area damage is SCARY against players, especially consistent area damage. The characters who don’t engage in melee are often the easiest to kill, so when they’re taking damage things get tense around the table. No one wants the party wizard to drop; in some cases that level of arcane control is all that’s keeping the enemy at bay or weak enough to confidently engage.
  • Reduce Downtime: The common strategy for the no-healer party is to use an excessive amount of downtime to lick its wounds, often using consumables like potions or wands. While they often want this downtime just as much as any other PC, healers can heal their allies a LOT more efficiently than a wand of cure light wounds in terms of time spent healing, so an easy way to promote healers in the game is to minimize downtime by giving the PCs hard timers to work with; you need to do X before Y happens in a few hours and whatnot.

Uses these strategies will enable you to make healers more valuable in your games, whether you want someone to be a healer or someone already wants to be a healer. The general theme of the article is certainly, “crank up the lethality” of your game in order to make healers a necessity. Because if players are actually and consistently in danger of dropping without a healer propping them up, then the actions spent keeping others alive are worth it.

After last week’s discussion, I got the impression that most people were pretty divided on the topic of, “How effective are healers in the Pathfinder RPG?” Let’s change the topic slightly today and instead talk about healers that you’ve played or have had played in your games. If you were the player, what encounters made you feel valuable and how did your party react to your presence? If you were the GM, what did you do to challenge the player of the healer and would you have considered that healer a valuable member of the PC’s party? Leave your answers below, and I’ll see you next Monday for another installment of Guidance!

Alexander “Alex” Augunas has been playing roleplaying games since 2007, which isn’t nearly as long as 90% of his colleagues. Alexander is an active freelancer for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and is best known as the author of the Pact Magic Unbound series by Radiance House. Alex is the owner of Everyman Gaming, LLC and is often stylized as the Everyman Gamer in honor of Guidance’s original home. Alex also cohosts the Private Sanctuary Podcast, along with fellow blogger Anthony Li, and you can follow their exploits on Facebook in the 3.5 Private Sanctuary Group, or on Alex’s Twitter, @AlJAug.

Alex Augunas

Alexander Augunas lives outside of Philadelphia, USA where he tries to make a living as an educator. When he's not shaping the future leaders of tomorrow, Alex is a freelance writer for esteemed Pathfinder Roleplaying Game publishers such as Paizo, Inc, Radiance House, Raging Swan Press, and more, and also acts as a co-host and blogger on the Know Direction Network, where he has earned the nickname, "The Everyman Gamer." Recently, Alex has forayed into the realm of self-publishing through his company, Everyman Gaming, LLC.

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3 Comments

  1. Not quite a dedicated healer, but in PFS I have a Pharasma worshiping Witch who started out with a raven familiar and the Healing hex. A common tactic was for the bird to sit in reserve, and then fly over to fallen party members and wait for my Witch to use it to deliver a hex at range.

    There are two characters in PFS that are still alive thanks to this trick. Got that hex off when they were one round from bleeding out their last. Heck, one of them was too low level to spring for a Raise Dead.

    Those sessions (and some clutch saves from allied divine casters on my other arcane caster characters) helped shape my positive view of in combat healing. It isn’t always the best thing to do, but when you need it, my god do you NEED it. I think I might roll up a support cleric with my next slot, a sort of Kyra Plus.

  2. Darrell Vin Zant Reply to Darrell

    This… probably isn’t the best advice. Saying that the best way to promote a healer is to deal more damage is, kind of, true, in that people will be glad the healer is around but… it’s also got a good chance of making the damage dealers or tanks feel like they failed. This could lead to an arms race against the GM. Maybe the Barbarian feels like he’s too much of a glass canon, so spends some time upping his defenses, or the Fighter feels like he isn’t doing enough damage fast enough, so starts taking more powerful feats and items.

    Suddenly, you’re back to where you were before, the martials dealing enough damage, or avoiding enough damage to not need a healer. So you up the deadliness again and the circle continues.

    There are other problems too. The more a healer has to heal, the quicker the adventuring day ends because he spends more resources healing. Short of a time sensitive mission, it’s very unlikely for most parties to continue onward without healing, especially if they know all of their combats are fairly deadly. Meaning you’ll have more cases of 5-minute work days, which could result in spellcasters using nova tactics, rendering the healing obsolete, and yet, rest is still required to replenish the nova tactic.

    Adding more dangerous encounters can be a great way of promoting healing, but only if done in small doses. The more dangerous things get, the more players tend to focus on optimizing in order to survive, which triggers an arms race.

    • Alex Augunas Reply to Alex

      This article actually isn’t me waxing poetic. I understand your concerns, but they’re mostly on-paper concerns. In my experience, very different results are yielded in play.

      Now, I want to begin by saying that I don’t throw NOTHING but soul-crushing encounters at my players. I’m not sure where you got that impression (especially considering all of the articles I’ve written about CR). Once or twice an adventure is typically my budget. But when I throw monsters with huge blasts of damage at players, this is usually what happens:

      — DPR: Thank god we have our healer! I could have died there. And thank god for our tank, too. The fact that he can take a few extra hits like than than me means that the healer has time to toss me a heal every now and then too.
      — Tank: Thank god for that healer. I’m built to take a few blows like this, but even I’d be toast in a round or two if the monster keeps hitting like that. And jeez, I’d be super screwed if the DPR guys weren’t keeping this fight short with some hard-and-fast hits. nice!
      — Healer: Wow, everyone’s dropping fast. They need me to keep them alive! Its great feeling needed in this party because every time I keep someone going, we get a little bit closer to victory.

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