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Healing Time Sets the Tempo

Posted By Martin Ralya On September 19, 2008 @ 4:27 am In GMing Advice | 9 Comments

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?

About  Martin Ralya

A father, husband, writer, small-press publisher, former RPG industry freelancer, and lifelong geek, Martin has been gaming since 1987 and GMing since 1989. He lives in Utah with his amazing wife Alysia and their awesome daughter Lark in a house full of books and games.




9 Comments (Open | Close)

9 Comments To "Healing Time Sets the Tempo"

#1 Comment By Swordgleam On September 19, 2008 @ 10:09 am

When I read the title, I thought you were going to talk about shorter-term tempo. In first edition D&D, your cleric only had a couple of cure lights, and once those were up, you all needed to rest for a few hours to get those back. In 4e, you’re all healed up to full within minutes of a combat ending. That means you can maul monsters all day so long as you take coffee breaks in between, as opposed to the one or two encounters a day pace in 1st.

This is a really timely post, as I want to incorporate disease and infection and that sort of thing into my new 4e campaign to add to the gritty feel, but without causing the characters to be laid up for weeks on end in between adventures. I think I’m going to say that healing powers don’t necessarily cure infection and the like, but beyond that, I’m not sure where to go. Any suggestions?

#2 Comment By nblade On September 19, 2008 @ 10:22 am

Your right, healing does set the tempo of the game. It also dictates the type of game you are playing. The faster the healing the more combat that is going to happen, while if you had less healing, the less combat you are likely going to have.

@Swordgleam
Your comment has me wondering once again about the varies cure disease spells. I think in a magic rich environment, two things are going to happen.
#1 Magical Diseases. These would not likely be cured with with cure diseases nor might they be cured with a simple dispel magic. Maybe it would require both?
#2 Magic Resistant Diseases. It would stand to reason that some diseases while not magical, might be magic resistant and the various cure spells might have some chance to fail against them.

#3 Comment By Cole On September 19, 2008 @ 10:31 am

In my campaigns, I let the party buy as many potions as they want. They place all them in a fund and everyone can just use it and mark it off.

The trade off is that they can’t have any extra armor and only one weapon of their choice plus a light weapon. I do allow any extra large items to be hauled either.

It results in more encounters for the party and it speeds up the game since they don’t have to rest all the time.

#4 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On September 19, 2008 @ 11:11 am

@Swordgleam – Avast! I ne’er implemented it, but I fiddled a wee bit wit’ them Cure Disease spells. Any ship’s doc’d have to make hisself a check not unlike Dispel Magic. (And a Greater Cure Disease fer the really bad scurvy.)

I’m sure a strapping man-jack like yerself could do tha’ same in 4E, p’raps as a Ritual.

Why is meself talkin; like this? Ye scurvy dogs!! Did ye not ‘member that it’s Talk Like A Pirate Day?

#5 Comment By LesInk On September 19, 2008 @ 1:35 pm

Arr. I’s says taking th’ time to heal is fine and all, but tis a rather boring event. I’s recommend a player take a swig of his finest liquors and move his land lubbing feet along. Ifs a player wanted a taste of the real life, he’d go visiten the local churgeon.

#6 Comment By Swordgleam On September 19, 2008 @ 4:02 pm

@Kurt “Telas” Schneider – Argh, so ’tis! I did no remember ’til later this morn, after me comment already be posted.

And no man-jack is I. I be a lass! (Everyone be gettin’ it wrong on these here intrawebs, yarr.)

#7 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On September 19, 2008 @ 7:10 pm

A lass?! Methink yer a scurvy wench, as ye dinna write like a runt.

#8 Comment By Scott Martin On September 22, 2008 @ 11:02 am

It seems suspicious that Martin writes this on Friday, the day that I’m plunged into coughing and unconsciousness. I’m not exactly pointing fingers, but I really didn’t like Friday…

I like your examples for the four systems; they illustrate the choices you have. I agree that the pacing of a game has a lot to do with healing; whether you say “OK, it’s two months later and George is finally healthy”, or whether everyone can do two months of stuff in between because they heal up a day after the last adventure.

Healing and other longer mechanisms (crafting, enchanting, researching, etc.) can help naturally space out adventures.

#9 Comment By DocRyder On September 30, 2008 @ 9:34 pm

I had a bad experience with this a number of years ago. A CoC game a friend ran resulted in me going through the “Hunter” healing pacing, but the DM had me sitting out sessions while my character healed. Needless to say, the game collapsed soon afterword.

D&D 3.x can use a different pacer, depending on the DM, magic item creation. It is so-o-o-o time consuming that you can end up needing lots of down time if characters get to building anything moderately priced if the DM is stingy.


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