Combat plays a significant role in most RPGs, and where there’s combat there’re characters getting hurt. Something I’ve observed is that rules for healing time are a major factor in setting the tempo of your campaign.
How so? Let’s consider a few dramatically different approaches:
D&D — Push the Healing Button!
D&D in all its forms has always made healing spells, items and potions pretty readily available. How many parties go adventuring without a cleric or a healthy supply of healing potions? Very few.
Accordingly, unless you a) die in battle (resurrection being a separate issue) or b) roll from one encounter straight into another without getting time to rest and heal up, healing time doesn’t impact the pace of your campaign at all. Characters are back in action more or less immediately.
4th Edition takes this a step further, giving every PC a Second Wind and spreading healing powers out across the classes — but in terms of 4e’s approach to healing time, the effect on the tempo of your game is about the same as 3.xe and prior editions.
Star Trek (Decipher) — No Potions, But It’s Quick
Left to their own devices Trek PCs heal over the course of a few days — but this is the 24th Century: They also have options. Sufficiently advanced medical care can let them recover from serious damage in a few hours, rather than days.
Trek characters don’t have as many on-the-spot options as D&D characters do, but they’re still back in action pretty quickly. And unlike the grittier games further down the spectrum, getting into a fight isn’t something you have to weigh against the chance that a couple of bad hits will lay you up for weeks.
Given how different the average D&D campaign is from the average Star Trek campaign, that’s a great tempo — the spin it puts on the game is entirely appropriate.
Hunter: The Reckoning: I Hurt for a Long Time
PCs in Hunter are relatively ordinary folks (at least for the World of Darkness), and they heal like normal people in the modern world. So advanced medical care is available, but there’s not much in the way of healing magic/powers and so forth.
If the PCs get into a huge scrap and characters get fucked up, it’s going to take some time for them to heal — potentially quite a bit of time, maybe even weeks or months. So if you’re running a campaign where not much in-game time passes between sessions, one big fight can throw a huge wrench in your campaign.
That’s something I’d definitely consider before starting a Hunter game. I’d probably want to pace the campaign to allow for that kind of downtime, and I’d likely tell my players to expect that kind of tempo.
Pendragon — OK, Let’s Skip the Next Year…
At the opposite end of the spectrum from D&D is Pendragon, where combat is deadly and wounds take a looooong time to heal — just like they would in the more-or-less-realistic medieval Europe the game is trying to model.
Get shot once by a bandit while you’re not wearing any armor? While your D&D counterpart laughs at the teeny fraction of her hit points that the arrow did, your Pendragon knight is a) pretty hurt and b) looking at a shitload of healing time.
Pendragon is a different kind of game, designed as it is to be played over generations (your knights’ children actually matter, because you’re likely to be playing them someday) — it’s built to handle the tempo that’s partly dictated by its healing mechanics. Skipping an entire in-game season isn’t a big deal, but it definitely makes for a different kind of campaign.
Each of these four games falls in a different part of the healing spectrum, and while I’m not arguing that healing time is the only factor in setting the tempo of a campaign using any of this systems — it’s not, by a long shot — it is an important element.
How fast characters heal, and how readily they can speed up that process, has a major impact on the flow of your game. It’s definitely worth taking into consideration when planning or running a campaign.
So how about it: What does healing time mean for the tempo of your campaigns?