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D&D 5E Does “Whack-A-Mole” Healing really happen in games?

Does “whack-a-mole” healing really happen?


  • Total voters
    104

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Rockyroad

Explorer
Yes I do see this. Couple of things that contribute to this is that healing word is too easy to bring someone back up because it's ranged healing but it doesn't heal for much hp so you're vulnerable to be put down again on the next hit, and also because it's not efficient to heal in combat unless you're down. You are just as effective at 1 hp as you are at 100 hp so people try to play very close to the line instead of wasting an action on healing.
 

TheDelphian

Explorer
Happens in my games all the time. I only changed the narrative of how this looks. I don't always make it unconsciousness but a mechanical state the same but the character is just knocked down and staggered so to speak like in many action movies when the hero or villain is unable to do anything just shaking their head and trying to get it together.

They need a boost from another person to get them going (Healing). It helps the whack a mole feeling syndrome and makes it more dramatic. The Staggered character is treated mechanically as unconscious so they are too discombobulated to hear, see what is going on act or even defend themselves so no actual rules change just a narrative one.
 

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
I think whack a mole is only an issue if it's quantity. If there is one mole and it's whacked once... that's ok! If it's 2-3 times a battle? Ugh.

I had such an episode (of the former) recently where my monk healed the fighter with a potion while fending off blows, the fighter got up (6 hp), then second wind (9 more hp), moved and took an AOP (-9 HP) and action surged on the sorcerer who had just lighting-bolted us.

I've never personally witnessed actual wackamole in play.
 

Mistwell

Legend
I’ve experienced a lot of 5e D&D over the years with players of varied play-styles, and at every level. I have never once seen players purposefully wait to heal someone until they drop to 0 hp, nor has dropping to 0 hp ever felt like a trivial matter.

It makes me wonder if the whole phenomenon is just a white-room scenario that doesn’t actually/usually come up in play.

Or not. My anecdotal experience is probably skewed; for the vast majority of it, I have been the DM and I don’t shy away from attacking PCs while they’re down if it makes sense in the moment (and for the creature doing the attacking). I’m pretty confident in assuming that’s not a universal approach.

My hypothesis, therefore, is that it does happen in some groups (possibly regularly) and (almost) never happens in others. I have no guess on what the ratio is.

Discuss.
My wizard has a single level of Knowledge Cleric, and he took Healing Word as one of his first level Cleric spells. As it's his only healing other than Polymorph and Tiny Hut (which both are not direct healing but pseudo-healing), yes he waits until someone goes down to zero before using it. Because it's so little in the way of hit points it's essentially just a "help X not die right now" emergency spell.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
For those that do not understand why you'd do it: Because it is often the most efficient option.
I tend to not invite players who’re concerned with optimization and maximizing efficiency to my table. I know it takes all kinds, but that’s exactly what worrying about mechanics over the fantasy gets you. The characters don’t know how many hit points they have nor do they know how much damage the hill giant does. Any decision that’s not based purely in character is meta gaming and outlawed at my table.
 

Eric V

Hero
I tend to not invite players who’re concerned with optimization and maximizing efficiency to my table. I know it takes all kinds, but that’s exactly what worrying about mechanics over the fantasy gets you. The characters don’t know how many hit points they have nor do they know how much damage the hill giant does. Any decision that’s not based purely in character is meta gaming and outlawed at my table.
Wow, your players don't know how many hp their own characters have??
 


Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
I’ve experienced a lot of 5e D&D over the years with players of varied play-styles, and at every level. I have never once seen players purposefully wait to heal someone until they drop to 0 hp, nor has dropping to 0 hp ever felt like a trivial matter.
So, I voted yes, but it kinda depends what you mean by whack-a-mole healing. Do my players wait until someone drops to 0 before healing them? Not unless they’re playing a death cleric. Do my players heal characters when they do go to 0, causing them to get back up? Routinely. Being down a party member is a huge action economy hit, so healing unconscious characters back onto their feet is a top priority for my players.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
Has a person been healed from 0 hp and got up and started fighting, yes.

Does this happen repeatedly, no.

Healing word is the problem. Don’t have this in the party then it’s not a problem.
I think this is the wrong way to go about fixing the problem, if you find it to be a problem (which I do, personally). Healing Word is important because it lets the healer heal without having to give up doing anything else on their turn, which makes playing the healer no longer something you have to begrudgingly accept. The problem isn’t healing word, it’s the fact that any amount of healing immediately and automatically takes a character from unconscious to conscious.
 

6ENow!

The Game Is Over
Healing word is the problem. Don’t have this in the party then it’s not a problem.
FWIW, we have a bigger issue with Goodberry. Cast it the night before, and give everyone 2 or so berries. If someone goes down in battle, feed them a berry and BOOM! 1 HP, no more failed death saves, and they get right back into the fight...

Healing Word has not been nearly an issue IME because you don't get 10 uses potentially with a single casting. 🤷‍♂️
 

FWIW, we have a bigger issue with Goodberry. Cast it the night before, and give everyone 2 or so berries. If someone goes down in battle, feed them a berry and BOOM! 1 HP, no more failed death saves, and they get right back into the fight...

Healing Word has not been nearly an issue IME because you don't get 10 uses potentially with a single casting. 🤷‍♂️
I'm going to second this. Back when you went beyond zero & needed to heal the difference the +1hp was more curiosity than something especially useful for healing, but in 5e when everything beyond zero up to a hit that dealth maxhp damage goes away with tha 1hp goodberry it's a huge amount of healing that only gets larger as levels increase
 

Depends on the party composition and campaign. A party with multiple healers using Healing Word can do this frequently without too many problems. A campaign with lots of ability to rest won't see this nearly as often, as people will spend HD on short rests and obviously get full HP back on long rest.

My campaign I run has both a cleric and druid, but the druid spends as much time as possible in wild-shape. Because of this only the cleric will combat heal, and while she'll bring characters back up, there's a greater desire to avoid going down in the first place. They spend their HD wisely, and short rest often to avoid being low on HP.

The game I'm playing in has this problem periodically, however. My cleric is a front line aggro draw due to repeated use of Spiritual Guardians, but I have a ton of HP (I'm behind only the Barbarian, topping the paladin and bladelock). This keeps a lot of fire off the others, but when things go bad, the bard and I keep bringing people back up (often the bard bringing me back up). Given time, I like to use out of combat healing, but in Avernous this isn't always an option.
 

TheSword

Legend
FWIW, we have a bigger issue with Goodberry. Cast it the night before, and give everyone 2 or so berries. If someone goes down in battle, feed them a berry and BOOM! 1 HP, no more failed death saves, and they get right back into the fight...

Healing Word has not been nearly an issue IME because you don't get 10 uses potentially with a single casting. 🤷‍♂️
Like I said. I just don’t see people popping up and down in combat. Action economy to feed a good berry is good enough for me. Plus not every party has a good berry caster.

For what it’s worth a DM is well within their rights to say a PC can’t eat while unconscious.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
This is why I came up with my death and dying house rule. When you’re at 0 HP you remain stable but have disadvantage on attack rolls and have to concentrate to remain conscious. If you lose concentration, you fall unconscious and become unstable. Regaining HP stabilizes you, but does not return you to consciousness. You regain consciousness in 1d4 hours.

This preserves all the utility of healing word and goodberry to keep a character who is close to death in the fight for another round, or to spare a character who’s sitting on two failed death saves, but without the “whack-a-mole” effect of popping in and out of consciousness several times in one fight. It also has the side-benefit of making it a much more serious ordeal for a character to fall unconscious, as it means the rest of the party will have to find a way to get them to safety or at least protect them for a few hours until they get back up.
 

TheSword

Legend
I think this is the wrong way to go about fixing the problem, if you find it to be a problem (which I do, personally). Healing Word is important because it lets the healer heal without having to give up doing anything else on their turn, which makes playing the healer no longer something you have to begrudgingly accept. The problem isn’t healing word, it’s the fact that any amount of healing immediately and automatically takes a character from unconscious to conscious.
Healing without real cost in combat is an issue for me. As I say, we don’t have a problem with Whack a mole. However if we did, the first thing I would do is restrict healing word.

1d4 + wis isn’t about healing damage after level 3. It’s for raising from 0 hp at no cost in actions.
 

Rune

Once A Fool
Healing without real cost in combat is an issue for me. As I say, we don’t have a problem with Whack a mole. However if we did, the first thing I would do is restrict healing word.

1d4 + wis isn’t about healing damage after level 3. It’s for raising from 0 hp at no cost in actions.
Just spitballin’ here, but you could houserule the spell to give the recipient a level of exhaustion that lasts for a minute or so, if that’s a concern. Gotta be careful not to heal them to death!
 

TheSword

Legend
Just spitballin’ here, but you could houserule the spell to give the recipient a level of exhaustion that lasts for a minute or so, if that’s a concern. Gotta be careful not to heal them to death!
That’s a good suggestion. Another is the optional lingering injuries rules for when a character drops to 0 hp.
 

6ENow!

The Game Is Over
It's hard to find a good-balance middle ground IMO. Most house-rules either nerf things into non-use or make the game super-lethal. Like many, I find the 0 HP to 1 HP and suddenly up and fighting a bit too bizarre, but DM's who play hard will tap-tap downed PCs to death. 🤷‍♂️

Could we have a "recovery" mechanic for PCs who reach 0 HP and are down/disabled, that allows them to slowly get back into the fray, hopefully maybe encouraging further healing? Something like:

Round 1 (after being restored from 0 HP): disadvantage on attacks, ability checks, and saves. half speed. (this way you can ONLY stand with your movement)
Round 2: half speed still, disadvantage on ability checks (you're still shaken)
Round 3: disadvantage on ability checks
Round 4: you're good to go!

Penalties would last until the start of the next turn. Each spell level of healing or level of strength of a potion of healing speeds up the process by 1 round maybe? A successful Wisdom (Medicine) check (DC 15 or 20?) could also remove 1 round of penalties?

Example. Suppose you have 0 HP and another PC casts Healing Word from 20 feet away. You gain 7 HP. But you have all the penalties listed above (disadvantage on attacks, ability checks, and saves. half speed) so the PC moves 20 feet to you and also uses their action to help you drink a potion of greater healing ("level 2" in strength), giving you 16 HP more. The potion also reduces your penalties as if you had already recovered two rounds (so you only have disadvantage on ability checks) on the next turn when you act.
 

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