D&D 5E 5e, Heal Thyself! Is Healing Too Weak in D&D?

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
In another thread, someone posted the idea that healing was weak (or "anemic") in 5e. Which, I have to admit, is not only something I had never thought of before, but seemed like the type of thing that might be dreamed up during the fevered dreams brought up during the consumption of the rare Brazilian psychotropic, Ibogaine (I'm so sorry, Muskie).

After further refinement (and, perhaps, after the waves of Ibogaine withdrew such that I could leave Bat Country), I understood the actual objection to be more about the lack of combat healing in 5e. And this still befuddled my brain. Of the various things I think aren't quite right, healing in general, or even healing in combat, has never been one that I could imagine complaining about! That said, I am always open to the possibility that I am wrong (or, more importantly, that other people are wronger) so I thought I would put this conversation into another thread. Now, given that I have gone to the hassle of making this an entire thread, I am going to do what I always do- (1) put in unnecessary history (sorry, context), (2) talk too much, and (3) set up the thread for a conversation.


A. The Origins of Healing in D&D; A Brief Reminder of OD&D and AD&D Healing.
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In OD&D, the rule was simple if somewhat buried.
As noted previously, energy levels can only be regained by fresh experience, but common wounds can be healed with the passage of time (or the use of magics already explained). On the first day of complete rest no hit points will be regained, but every other day thereafter one hit point will be regained until the character is completely healed. This can take a long time.
LBB Book 3, p. 35.

This means that natural healing ... sucked. Again, six days of complete rest would restore three hit points. (Day 1 = 0, Day 2 = 1, Day 3 = 1, Day 4 = 2, Day 5 = 2, Day 6 = 3 etc.).

AD&D (1e) improved it ... somewhat. But not that much.
For each day of rest a character will regain 1 hit point, up to and including 7 days. However a character with a penalty for poor constitution must deduct weekly the penalty score from his or her days of healing, i.e., a -2 for a person means that 5 hit points healing per week is maximum, and the first two days of rest will restore no hit points. After the first week of continuous rest, characters with a bonus for high constitution add the bonus score to the number of hit points they recover due to resting, i.e., the second week of rest will restore 11 (7 + 4) hit points to a fighter character with an 18 constitution. Regardless of the number of hit points a character has, 4 weeks of continuous rest will restore any character to full strength.
DMG, p. 82.

So ... healing still sucked. However, ignoring possible constitution modifiers, you at least got a full hit point per day, and the promise of full restoration of hit points (for higher level character) at the end of .... FOUR WEEKS.

These origins, which ensured that natural healing was nearly useless, privileged magical healing from the very beginning of the game. It ensured that almost every party would require some source of healing in order to be effective- usually a cleric. It privileged magical healing.

Now, without going through the full rigmarole, we see that this original position was gradually shifted over time. 2e no longer required complete rest for healing, and if you did get complete rest you recovered 3hp/day. 3e bumped it up to scale with level, so the higher your level, the more hit points you recover (1hp/level per day). 3.5e marked one of the first notable shift in healing- no longer are you required to "rest" in general, but simply get sleep for eight hours in order to recover your hit points naturally.

Still, while there was an evolution in healing 1e through 3.5e, it remained the case that healing tended to require external and magical means in order to be effective. Whether it was the "healbot" cleric of AD&D or the "CLW" Wands of 3e, there was always way of getting that sweet, sweet healing.

4e, of course, was the seismic shift in the healing rules. 4e introduced the idea of healing surges - that individual characters could heal themselves. You no longer needed to depend on external magic (or the dedicated healbot); you were the master of your own healing. I mean ... you could get additional healing! But it wasn't required. Innate healing was now part of the game. Which brings us to 5e ....


B. 5e's Healing is More than Sufficient.
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Let's start with a few basics within the rules so that we know that we are all on the same page when it comes to the healing within 5e, because many of us take it for granted; that said, it is ubiquitous and builds on the 4e system.

Fundamentally, natural healing is never a problem in 5e. Under the basic 5e rules, every time your character completes a long rest, you get all your hit points back. All of them.

Next, we have the remnants of of healing surges in 5e with hit dice. Every short rest, a character can "self heal" an amount equal to their hit dice (with constitution bonus). Once you expend those hit dice, you can't use them again, but you recover half of them on a long rest.

This means that every single character, every single day, has the possibility of recovering twice their hit points. Put another way- every single character, every single day, effectively has three times their hit points when it comes to combat. Now, I'm not trying to mislead you- if you use all your hit dice on one day, you only get half of them the next. If you roll poorly for the hit dice healing, then you don't get the full amount. But we can see the dramatic difference with prior systems (except 4e) here- healing is not something that is external to the character, and is necessarily required to be supplemented by magic; instead, every single character, prior to any use of spells or class abilities or magic items has a massive reservoir of innate healing.

....that said, all of this is out-of-combat healing. What about in-combat healing? Does 5e have a problem with in-combat healing?


C. 5e's In-Combat Healing is More than Sufficient.
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An example that came up to show that in-combat healing was weak and/or broken is that cure wounds cures d8+ability, while inflict wounds does 3d10 damage. So let's put aside the fact that inflict wounds requires an attack roll; for now, I think it is perfectly fine to assume that healing and inflicting damage in combat are asymmetrical. Why?

Because they have to be.

Let me make sure that this isn't misunderstood- I don't think healing during combat should be, or should ever be, symmetrical with doing damage, and this isn't a bug of 5e, this is a feature. In fact, I would take the upper limit of "combat healing" to be mass cure wounds- it's a fifth level spell, it takes your action, and it heals everyone in the party (up to six targets) 3d8+your spellcasting modifier (assumedly, at this point, +4 or +5). Or, if this is too abstract, heal (at 6th level) does 60hp to one target.

Of course there are spells that do more damage! That should go without saying. The reason is ... because combat healing and damage must be asymmetric or the game gets badly out of balance.

In order to understand why, we have to look at a few aspects of 5e, and the "meta" of the game. Here are the issues-

1. The generous death save rules and ability to re-enter combat.
Often referred to as the "whac-a-mole" problem, there isn't a strong need for full healing in combat. In prior editions, if you were downed, you were usually down for the count; you needed healing long before you hit zero hit points. That's no longer a major strategic concern in 5e.

2. Characters have a ton of hit points to begin with, and easily recharge between combats. Because the healing rules outside of combat are so generous, healing during combat is disfavored. Why waste a good spell to heal during combat when you know you can short rest or long rest right after the fight is done and get all those hit points back?

3. The healing outside of combat is so generous, it doesn't matter if you're fully healed in combat. This is a corollary to 2, but it almost always means that you just need "good enough" healing in combat since you have such innate powers of healing (and/or goodberries and other means of healing).

4. It generally makes a lot more sense to do damage than to heal, people will almost always prioritize doing damage than healing ... even if it's equal. This is the math thing- monsters are big bags of hit points. In fact, this is partly why damage is asymmetrical! But absent rare circumstances, you will always be better off killing the enemy quickly than healing. This is partly why healing that doesn't take an action (healing word) can be valuable.

These are some of the factors that tie into the most important issue- it becomes a real balance issue when there is too much in-combat healing. We want to think of 5e as a game of heroic combats and awesome narratives, but ... a lot of it is just resource management. It is exceedingly difficult to have parties regularly grind through "4-6 encounters" per long rest. The base game is predicated on the following when it comes to combats:

Monsters are giant bags of hit points. The party will wear down the hit points and triumph. They will take damage. After the combat, the party will heal up. Disturbing that balance by providing too much in-combat healing (and there already is A LOT OF OPTIONS FOR THAT!) begins to unbalance the encounters. As it is, most healing in combat requires choices in the action economy- between doing more damage to the giant bags of hit points, or doing less healing to a party member.

And increasing options and amounts of in-combat healing will become noticeable- as I think people begin to notice with some subclasses that provide additional temporary hit points or large amounts of in-combat healing as their class features.

Note- if you don't think that there is enough in combat healing, then the optional healing surge rules (DMG 266-67) should be used.

FOR DISCUSSION- I think healing in 5e is just fine, along with in-combat healing. Please feel free to tell me why you think I am wrong, or, conversely, tell me why I'm right along with a note explaining how you got to be so awesome.
 

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I agree, just because I was always awesome. ;)

Outside of combat 5e healing is about too too too good.
Short rests are very good, but a long rest -> full hitpoints - wow!

Combat healing is about right.
But that's mostly because the monsters damage output is mostly not very high. As you said, monsters are "giant bags of hit points", so their damage output must be rather low (so fighting some monsters can become kinda boring...), and 5e combat healing can definitly keep up with that.
 

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
In another thread, someone posted the idea that healing was weak (or "anemic") in 5e. Which, I have to admit, is not only something I had never thought of before, but seemed like the type of thing that might be dreamed up during the fevered dreams brought up during the consumption of the rare Brazilian psychotropic, Ibogaine (I'm so sorry, Muskie).

After further refinement (and, perhaps, after the waves of Ibogaine withdrew such that I could leave Bat Country), I understood the actual objection to be more about the lack of combat healing in 5e. And this still befuddled my brain. Of the various things I think aren't quite right, healing in general, or even healing in combat, has never been one that I could imagine complaining about! That said, I am always open to the possibility that I am wrong (or, more importantly, that other people are wronger) so I thought I would put this conversation into another thread. Now, given that I have gone to the hassle of making this an entire thread, I am going to do what I always do- (1) put in unnecessary history (sorry, context), (2) talk too much, and (3) set up the thread for a conversation.

FOR DISCUSSION- I think healing in 5e is just fine, along with in-combat healing. Please feel free to tell me why you think I am wrong, or, conversely, tell me why I'm right along with a note explaining how you got to be so awesome.

No, I don't think you're wrong. I think the rules as-written for healing in D&D 5E are perfectly fine. Or if I'm wanting to pick nits, I'd say that it's too easy, but not necessarily too strong.

I mean, Fighters can use their action to just decide to be not injured anymore ("You know, I'm so done with this stab wound. Second wind, baby.") A cleric, druid, and/or bard can just use a bonus action to wink at you and say "boo-yah" (or whatever Healing Word you like), and you get 1d4+ability hit points back. Magical healing potions are for sale at the local hardware store, right next to the 10' poles and the sacks of ball bearings. Hit points literally grow on trees per the Goodberry spell. I could go on.
 
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Lyxen

Great Old One
FOR DISCUSSION- I think healing in 5e is just fine, along with in-combat healing. Please feel free to tell me why you think I am wrong, or, conversely, tell me why I'm right along with a note explaining how you got to be so awesome.

I completely agree. Yes, some people prefer a different balance, it's just that all of this being extremely artificial, "realism" does not matter, only fun matters. 5e is about everyone around the table having as much fun as possible and fights being blinding quick so that no one gets bored:
  • If out of combat healing was less efficient (it's hard to think some people would like it even more efficient), some people would be scared to enter combat.
  • If in combat healing was more efficient, fights would become longer and some people would get bored. The oh-so-decried whack-a-mole healing is perfect because it allows people who go down to keep having fun, but it won't prolong the fights that much because when more than one person gets really low, there is no way to bring the party back up.
 

FitzTheRuke

Legend
I think people who don't like how 5e currently does it (in either direction, you yourself point out that 5e PCs are very durable) are just looking for a slightly tweaked balance between how useful healing magic "feels" (as an option for their caster), out-of-combat healing, HP totals, and damage.

I think I might agree with them (though I also agree with you - bear with me, my thoughts aren't fully formed).

If we think of these things as dials, we have:

Monster Damage Output (seems a bit low, generally, though it's getting better with newer design)
PC Hit Points (seems a bit high to a lot of people)
PC Out-of-combat healing (I think most would agree that it's pretty high)
PC In-combat healing (some think it's low).

If we crank on those dials a bit, I think it's true that we can find a "better" balance than we currently have for fun in the game. It's IN balance right now, which is why you don't agree that there's a problem, but is it the best balance? I'm not sure.

I do know that if you play a party healer, you often feel like you wasted your action if you bother (for example) casting Cure Wounds and heal someone for 5 HP, only to have them take 10 from the next attack.

Maybe Healing Spells could do more, if OoC healing did less. Maybe monsters could do a little more damage. Maybe that would be more exciting?
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
When I played a Cleric, I decided that I wanted to support my party by being a healer, as opposed to casting other spells. But quickly I realized that not only did I have issues making sure I could reach my party with Cure spells, which put you in the direct line of fire, even fully upcast, I couldn't reliably do more than heal half the damage someone took each turn. It's always been this way, of course, but it feels especially egregious in an edition where damage spells are allowed to be better than they have been in awhile.

If I'm using a limited resource, I would think at a bare minimum, my action should be better than an enemy's action, but it's not even equal to it. I know people will say "you don't understand the metagame, this isn't how the game is balanced", but honestly, one of the big issues is that a lot of Cleric players already don't like to heal with their actions, and by making those actions less efficient, it just reinforces that behavior.

Yes, out of combat healing is insanely good, and there are spells and class features that support it. Bards get song of rest, Clerics can cast Prayer of Healing, etc..

But I don't see why the game has to be this way. A new player sits down with a Cleric and is told "you can heal"! And you know, some players might think this is a cool thing, and try to be combat medics. And they will be bad at their class as a result, because apparently what they should be doing is wading into melee with Spirit Guardians up to do the most damage to kill monsters faster, throwing out an occasional Healing Word to prevent death.

I don't think there should be a "best way" to do things. I think either way should be decent, but I've noticed a trend. Every time someone comes up with a better way to heal, there's suddenly a lot of pushback.

I know DM's who think Life Clerics with Goodberry is a cheap trick that shouldn't work. I saw the thread after thread about how "silly" Healing Spirit was. The Twilight Cleric comes around with it's THP granting Channel and all the rage is talking about "how broken" preventing your party from taking damage is!

The overall feeling I get is "hey healing is bad, and that's the way it is".

If you'll indulge me, I have a story about this. Some years ago, an "old school DM" joined our group, and expressed an interest in running and adventure. Nobody wanted to play a healer at all, so I volunteered and made a Life Cleric.

Most fights I didn't do much, as I had a hard time getting in range to actually cast a good healing spell*, and when I did, I was playing "catch-up" a lot.

Then we finally reached a level where I could prepare Heal. The monsters in a particularly tough battle decided to beat on our Barbarian, and I, finally, had an ace up my sleeve. I walked up and healed the Barbarian with Heal, and the DM lost his mind! The game stopped as he insisted I must have read the spell wrong!

When given proof of it's existence, he ranted that "this is the problem with new gamers, they get all this stuff handed to them so the game is easy mode, this spell is ridiculous, it needs to be nerfed".

Now the older players here will immediately go "uh, hold up a minute...", because I surely did. I popped open my 1e PHB on pdf and bade him read the Heal spell.

"If anything", said I, "it's much weaker in 5e". But despite everyone being on my side (and pointing out it wasn't like I can do this in every fight), the campaign basically ended there, with the guy ranting that he spent an entire combat trying to "take out" the Barbarian, only to have me make his efforts useless.

As if that's not the point of healing spells in the first place?

So yeah, I don't really get the arguments as to why in-combat healing can't be efficient. Why is it perfectly fine for a 5th level Wizard to deal 8d6 in an area, but a Cleric of the same level is stuck with healing one target for 3d8+Wis?

Shouldn't my contribution be equivalent to other characters? I know I'll probably be told no, and I guess that's fine. It just means I'll focus on doing something else, and the next time someone asks me to heal, I'll tell them "sorry, it turns out that's just an unoptimal use of my action, and healing you is the incorrect way to play the game."**

*I know there are some who don't understand how this could be a thing, but let me tell you, when initiative is rolled, the melee decides to scatter to the four winds and when my turn comes up, I have to decide who to try and get closer to and support. Then the next turn, anyone I didn't move closer to, is crying to me for healing, and not making an effort to reach me at all, because after all, that would be a less efficient use of their actions. : (

**I won't actually say such a thing, and instead I'll sigh when my 3d8+whatever healing can't even restore 20 hit points. Like I always do.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
When I played a Cleric, I decided that I wanted to support my party by being a healer, as opposed to casting other spells. But quickly I realized that not only did I have issues making sure I could reach my party with Cure spells, which put you in the direct line of fire, even fully upcast, I couldn't reliably do more than heal half the damage someone took each turn. It's always been this way, of course, but it feels especially egregious in an edition where damage spells are allowed to be better than they have been in awhile.

Interesting post! Sorry about that DM- sounds like a jerk.

Since you're familiar with the old school, I think the fundamental issue that you're missing (and that you do touch upon) is that there is such a vast difference in out-of-combat healing available to all characters, and (for that matter) there is also a difference in the actual combats (monsters as big bags of hit points that don't do as much damage as a ration to the player's hit points, in addition to the whac-a-mole).

All of this means that in prior editions, in-combat healing was often more required. Whereas in-combat healing, especially beyond the levels already in the base rules, will tend to make the game more crazy, because every single character already has a reservoir of an additional 2x hit points, per day, that they can heal without any extraneous help. Which is a bit different than when you were playing older editions.

Which goes to what @FitzTheRuke was saying- if we want to change healing, we would need to adjust the other knobs in the game because otherwise the whole resource issue gets messed up.

For me, if you want to really privilege in-combat healing more, I think the first step is to dramatically lower the ability of characters to have innate and massive out-of-combat healing.
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
But I don't see why the game has to be this way.

Because the game is designed for quick fights, and that powerful combat healing just makes the fights go on for longer.

Shouldn't my contribution be equivalent to other characters?

Not necessarily. First, equal contribution is not necessarily the basis for equal fun. Second, by that reasoning, you could be playing any character combination that goes against the grain of the game and expect an equal technical contribution.

It just means I'll focus on doing something else, and the next time someone asks me to heal, I'll tell them "sorry, it turns out that's just an unoptimal use of my action, and healing you is the incorrect way to play the game."**

And then, why does it have to be black and white like this ? Why can't you be satisfied with healing now and then, when it's better for the situation ? Why create a one-trick pony that can only heal ? Why does everything always have to be optimised ? How is that more fun than a balanced character with more options ?
 

Horwath

Hero
Some(many) people see healing as "boring" or a chore to do in combat.

So we can make it simpler for them.

ALL healing and "restoring" spells should be Bonus action.
This leaves Action open for performing something "useful".
Yes, healing is very useful, but some people do not see it that way.

And with limit of bonus action spells, they can still only cast cantrips in that round, so we do not enter into two spells per round scenario.

Also, give option that target of healing spells(and potions) can spend a number of HDs equal to spell(potion) level.

this would ease the strain on the healer in combat, HDs are still limited daily resource, and it gives healing spells proportional healing with targets health pool.
 

Oofta

Legend
I think it's fine the way it is. On the other hand, in my home game all healing potions are maxed and you can drink one as a bonus action. When it comes to running a cleric, I still miss my 4E cleric that could combine attacks with healing, typically at range. For out of combat healing I use the alternative reast rule, but that's more about pacing than anything.

So I tweak things a bit, miss my OP build from a previous edition but I'm okay with the current rules because nothing will ever be perfect.
 

ad_hoc

(he/they)
I agree that healing is fine.

I disagree about the part where healing higher than 1hp isn't a significant strategic concern. If there are weaker monsters helping out that will finish off downed PCs it becomes a major concern.

Healing Word is good but it also takes away the ability to use a levelled spell that round so there is a cost to it. Depending on the timing the character might miss a turn too.

This can all lead to a death spiral if the party is too flippant about hanging out at 1hp.
 

Mort

Legend
Supporter
I think Healing is just fine in 5e.

Out of combat healing is actually a bit easy, as very little damage in 5e is "permanent." This is why I like the exhaustion mechanic, it's A LOT harder to get around it!

In combat healing is fine. Healing word is nice because the cleric can do it and something else (a tad bit like 4e) plus the range makes it very potent. Other healing options are less so, but as said up thread, it's to ensure the fights are not too prolonged. Plus if the PCs CAN get to the end of the fight, they're probably going to make it.

While my favorite healing mechanics were 4e (healing surges etc.), 5e is a not too distant second.
 



CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
I have a house-rule that healing potions all heal the maximum possible, but cost 50% more (so a baseline potion of healing heals 10 points of damage, but costs 75gp.) I started using that rule because my players were complaining about the amount of healing being too small and too varied for the cost of their whole entire action. I didn't really want to overthink it.
 

1. The generous death save rules and ability to re-enter combat. Often referred to as the "whac-a-mole" problem, there isn't a strong need for full healing in combat. In prior editions, if you were downed, you were usually down for the count; you needed healing long before you hit zero hit points. That's no longer a major strategic concern in 5e.
I feel that this is one of the big issues. getting back up from 0 is so easy it is counter-production to be full healing in combat... right up until that isn't the case. Disintegrates, Specters, being surrounded by multiple monsters (either auto-attacker or intelligent ones who are aware you have popup healing and thus will finish off people while they are down). There are plenty of relatively situational reasons why you don't want to hover near 0 hp, and a system which treats that as the appropriate tactic can create a real fail-state of those situations.
This highlights a general trend I have noticed in TTRPGs well above just in the case of combat-healing: -- even though it is very hard to say no to power-boosts, every time you add X to both sides of the scale, it increases the tendency for the fail state to be catastrophic failure (instead of a character screwing up, it is a character dying; in stead of a character dying, it is a TPK, etc.).
In other versions of the game (for example, BX, where 0hp=dead), when your front line level 8 fighter gets reduced to 7 hp, they drop back into the second or third ranks and switch to spear or bow, and let the cleric, hirelings, henchmen, and monsters you've bribed to be on your side man the front lines (or the party ran, or whatnot). It isn't exactly heroic, but the game is balanced around the premise. As such, you had a strategy that worked in most cases (until a dragon came by and breathed on the first, second, and third ranks, that is). With 5e there is a lot more instances where the primary strategy around which the game (or at least in-combat healing) is balanced fails. At least unless you have a Life Cleric, Paladin, Glamour Bard or other character who can do a significant amount of burst healing or pull-you-out-of-the-fight effects.
All of this means that in prior editions, in-combat healing was often more required. Whereas in-combat healing, especially beyond the levels already in the base rules, will tend to make the game more crazy, because every single character already has a reservoir of an additional 2x hit points, per day, that they can heal without any extraneous help. Which is a bit different than when you were playing older editions.
I just want to point out that this is a mixed argument. In-combat healing isn't more or less required because of the additional 2x HP that is only accessible out of combat, or at least there needs to be additional points made to square that circle. How would in-combat healing make the game (with 2-3x hp) more crazy? Through what mechanisms?
Monsters are giant bags of hit points. The party will wear down the hit points and triumph. They will take damage. After the combat, the party will heal up. Disturbing that balance by providing too much in-combat healing (and there already is A LOT OF OPTIONS FOR THAT!) begins to unbalance the encounters. As it is, most healing in combat requires choices in the action economy- between doing more damage to the giant bags of hit points, or doing less healing to a party member.
Again, I think there is an argument missing in the middle here. How will providing 'too much' (which perhaps we can swap out with 'additional' when appropriate) begin to unbalance the encounters? By what mechanism would making ICH be roughly on par with acting to end the encounter sooner unbalance things*?
*it certainly would draw combat out, which I think is a predominant motivation for the current arrangement, although the designers will never tell
 
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payn

Legend
Hard for me to grasp the complaint. Most combats in 5E for me were fast and furious and didnt require much in the way of in combat healing. Which just happens to be the way I like it. Though, some folks like a long drawn out tactical experience so I suppose I could see the complaint. Maybe 5.5E will give some heft to this part of the game?
 

payn

Legend
I have a house-rule that healing potions all heal the maximum possible, but cost 50% more (so a baseline potion of healing heals 10 points of damage, but costs 75gp.) I started using that rule because my players were complaining about the amount of healing being too small and too varied for the cost of their whole entire action. I didn't really want to overthink it.
These types of solutions are the best types of solutions.
 

Uh ho, Snarf is starting off with Opening Statements again!

But yea, you're right. What is any argument that healing is not more than sufficient in 5E?
I pretty sure the fundamental premise (and, as OP mentions, it is exclusively about in-combat healing, not healing in total) hinges around the notion that spending a regular action or a spell of level X to heal an ally is almost never optimal compared to using said action or spell to directly end the fight instead (or in the case of the spell slot, wait until your ally has fallen and spend the same slot on a bonus action ranged heal to get them back up and in the fight).
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
It's not a question of 'full' healing in combat, it's healing more than the next hit will take from you.
If you go down, then get healed less than the next hit you WILL take (because your AC is terrible by design), then nothing has been accomplished.

Of course, something has been accomplished, it will have given you one more round to get the killing blow in, or to run away, or even to occupy the boss one more round so that your friends can get away. And that's, for me, more than good enough for a bonus action.
 

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