If you're not familiar with the nursery rhyme "Humpty Dumpty", you might not understand the title of this article. If so, suffice to say somebody got broke and couldn't be healed.
Which brings us to today's article. Healing. In games like Pathfinder and Dungeons & Dragons, healing is a major aspect of most combats. Characters like bards, clerics, druids, paladins, rangers, and oracles are all ready to administer some magical healing right out of the box; and with the right equipment or options, others can get into the healing mix as well (the Use Magic Device skill can be very useful when paired with a wand of cure light wounds for example).
The problem with healing is that it's generally an out-of-combat affair. As time has gone by, and rules have changed, in-combat healing has fallen by the wayside at many a gaming table. Spells such as cure critical wounds, which were once major options for healers are generally regarded as spell list filler. I won't say that every gaming table finds little use for these spells, but they're definitely at the bottom of the barrel when experienced gamers are picking their spells. Why, we must ask, is this so?
1) The first problem is that healing spells, like damaging spells (which I've touched on before), healing spells have receded in usefulness over the years. The biggest problem is that healing cannot keep up with the amount of damage that creatures in the current games deal. This makes healing a waste of effort and resources. It also makes it more prudent to try and kill enemies as fast as possible, because mathematically, killing power equates to healing power in the current game. Before I go any further, let me explain that statement a bit, because it can be confusing.
Basically, killing your enemy prevents them from inflicting damage, and ultimately is more efficient than trying to out-heal incoming damage. A very simple demonstration is with the basic cure light wounds spell and a basic orc warrior wielding a greataxe. The orc's damage would be 1d12+4 (average 10.5 per hit), while cure light wounds cast by a 1st level cleric would heal 1d8+1 (5.5 average per cast). The average healing from the cure spell just does match the minimum damage of the orc, while even the maximum healing doesn't match the average damage (and god forbid he get a critical hit)!
So what's the healer to do? Well stop the orc from attacking. The most common way would be to kill the orc. The orc only has 6 HP, and a 2-handed shield bash from a 14 strength cleric would deal 1d6+3 damage, which means your average damage would kill the orc if you hit. A morning star (1d8+2) would also do it. It also doesn't require you to have a free hand to cast, nor can it be easily interrupted, nor does it provoke an attack of opportunity.
2) The second reason is closely related to #1. The fact is that because healing cannot keep up with damage, you are losing out in the "action economy" when you try to heal in combat. If an orc hits your fighter for 10 damage, and you heal the fighter for 5 damage, you've spent your turn (and your spell), and you didn't even cancel out the orc's hit. Then if the orc hits the fighter again next turn, and deals another 10 damage, then your fighter is still taking damage and you've effectively done nothing, whereas killing the orc would have prevented the next 10 damage it would have dealt. Then after the fight, you use your healing spells to heal everyone up (also, a single wand of cure light wounds provides an average of 250 points of healing, which means the cleric would do well to invest in a wand to full-heal people between fights).
Getting the idea?
So how would we fix this from a design standpoint? Well, the first answer would to be make healing spells more powerful. If our hypothetical cleric could have healed all of the damage the orc did, he would have at least sacrificed his turn to negate the orc's turn, which would have been a start. The problem with this method is that it still isn't enough to make it a valid combat tactic, as you're also expending your spells, while the orc is merely swinging his axe; so you're still coming out behind.
So from a design perspective, we need to decide how to make healing spells stand out as valid options.
We'll explore this in my next upcoming article: A Look At Healing part 2.