Sunday, March 23, 2014

Slogging Through Spells - Let's Talk Healing

So, I'm moving through the spells sections, attempting to put together a solid working draft of the core rules to release as a play test version. It's coming together quite quickly, so I expect to have a draft to release in the next bit here (maybe next weekend?).

As I work through spells, I'm starting from the description in B/X as of 1981, checking the same spell against 1983, and then also checking it against how it was presented in 3.0... I can see how some decisions are shaped by the expected experience of players. Let's just look at healing...

In 3.0, the cleric has access to a healing spell at every spell level (1-4), increasing by +1d6 each spell level, and taking a bonus based on cleric level (capped depending on the level of the spell). This inflates to match character hp (which are quite a bit higher in 3.0 vs. B/X), so the totals are not that out of line... the difference is in availability of healing.

In B/X, you get cure light wounds as a level 1 spell (1d6+1 hp restored), and this is available as of level 2... your next pure healing spell is a level 4 spell (2d6+2 hp restored) that you don't get access to until you hit level 6 (1981, which has a VERY wonky spell progression for clerics) or until level 8 (1983). The ONLY benefit of cure serious wounds over cure light wounds is the fact that you can recover twice as many hp in the same action, assuming a fast-paced combat where every second counts. The problem here is that this spell is up against comparatively high utility spells (Animate Dead, Dispel Magic, Neutralize Poison, Prot. from Evil 10' radius) that simply give a LOT more bang for the buck. The options are to either move the spell down or increase its effectiveness. Right now, it is worth exactly two level 1 spells - and there's just no way that this is worth the trade off.

In the end, at least for play testing, I'm going to leave it at level 4 (which becomes available when you hit level 7 as a cleric), but give it an extra 1d6+1, moving it to a total of 3d6+3 hp restored. Now, it goes from restoring an average of 4.5 points to an average of 13.5... it's still not going to be a huge game changer, but it's more useful than it was.

I'm tempted to stagger even more, putting a healing spell at spell levels 1, 3 and 5... I mean, you can use a level 5 spell to bring a dead character back to life, yet with a level 5 spell you are struggling to restore 10 hp? Seems out of sync, for sure.

The other issue to consider is a default assumption of the game - that is, in B/X you will have fewer and fewer of your starting hp as you progress through the adventure. There is almost no expectation that you are meeting later threats at anywhere near full strength. 3.0 healing allows you to meet later encounters at near full hp, allowing you to delve deeper into the dungeon before you start to feel the burn. In B/X, a tough opening encounter can leave you with very little healing left and down some hps as you move on to area 2- and that's true even for characters in the level 4-6 range, if not later.


  1. One thing to consider is to balance the Cleric's hit points with a Fighters. If you assume that a Cleric spends every spell possible on healing and only heals himself, calculate how many effective hit points a Cleric has compared to those of a fighter. It's pretty clear that a Cleric, even in these old games, is significantly better at fighting than a fighter. The cleric needs less healing, not more.

    1. Hmmm. I suppose if you're talking pure hp only, then yes... the cleric is superior. However, don't the fighter's higher attack bonus, better weapons, and likelihood of having a better STR (and therefore a better attack and damage bonus there) mitigate this? The other thing is that the cleric has to use a round to actually heal himself... so he's recovering 1d6+1 hp while the fighter is hitting him for another 1d10+3... I don't see that as unbalancing the cleric as a superior fighter. I suppose that a cleric with STR 12 (+3 bonus in this game as of today), WIS 8+ (getting a bonus spell at spell sphere 1) could manage to hold his own with the fighter, but I still don't see him clearly outclassing the fighter head-to-head.

  2. IMHO, the problem with healing in a B/X style game isn't with how much magical healing is available but rather the low rate of natural healing. I've house ruled that characters may take a turn after a combat to bandage wounds for 1d3 points and that characters regain 2 x level points in healing after a full night's rest. The cleric then becomes less of a heal-bot and can then memorize a greater variety of spells.

    1. These are some great house rules! I may have to borrow some of this... thanks for sharing.