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

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


Argyle King

Legend
In the first case, if the PCs are high-level enough, dimension door or plane shift are probably more likely. But before that, keeping the tank alive through powerful healing tends to be a high priority in my experience. Intentional whack-a-mole healing would be impractically dangerous.

As for your closing questions, the answers are dependent on both the creature and the circumstance. But I don’t think it requires any great intelligence to finish off a foe, even if you can’t tell if they’re already dead or not.

To test that, I think about what a typical party of PCs would do if the roles were reversed. I think that, after the first battle in which a cleric keeps bringing their enemies back, they never take that chance again. But maybe my murderhobos are more murdery than others’?

I agree on the last thing you said. In a game where that were the tone set for how combat plays out, I would likely approach combat (overall) differently. I think that leads to a question of what I've seen others describe as "combat as war" versus "combat as sport."

Anecdotally, to touch upon the beginning of your statement:
IME, it's a surprise when an enemy can hit (and deal damage at all) to a high level tank. Against an enemy which is regularly doing so and dropping the tank, being in melee with said enemy is likely a bad idea.
 
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DND_Reborn

The High Aldwin
It's worth noting "a few seconds," depending on whether you're using the typical meaning of the term (more than 1 but less than ~10) is generally less than a combat round (6 seconds), and certainly no more than two. Taking 4 rounds before you're fully recovered would be 24 seconds, well over what most people would think of as "a few seconds."
LOL it's a figure of speech... :rolleyes:

The point is there are all sorts of ways to simulate this mechanically:
1. Use penalties that gradually are removed (the first system I presented)
2. Use an action-limit concept, where actions are restored (the second system)
3. Use a concentration mechanic (your head is finally clear) before you can act fully
4. Limit actions the first round to only Dash, Disengage, and Dodge to represent your focus on defense as you regain your feet
5. Impose a -4 penalty to all d20 rolls, reducing the penalty by 1 each round until it is gone (idea by @toucanbuzz)

Or any other number of options.

The point is "whack-a-mole" is because someone pops up from 0 HP to full action ability (ok, so you don't have full HP yet, but you can attack, make ability checks, defend yourself as if your HP were maxed out). Having PCs delayed in their choices for 1-4 rounds represents how it takes some time ("a few seconds") to get back into the game. You may still be a "mole" coming out of the ground, but you aren't "popping up" ready to go anymore.

FWIW, to me "a few seconds" is basically less than half a minute. If I am going to be more than half a minute, I usually say "in a minute (or two)" or something similar. YMMV of course.
 

Zio_the_dark

The dark one :)
I answered "yes" but I think it really depends on the player's experience with the rules. When playing with beginners, they always feel in danger when their hp drop low and often heal before reaching 0 hp.

In my own games I use this house rule:

Wounds and Lingering injuries:
The character sheet has 5 checkboxes for wounds just like exhaustion
A character that suffers a critical hit or drops to 0 hp increases his wound level by 1. Any damage taken while being at 0 hp increases the wound level by 1.

Recovery:
Recovering hp does not reduce the wound level of a character, wounds only heal with time or powerful healing magic.
*Natural healing from 1 wound level takes a number of days equal to the current wound level while succeeding on a DC 12 Constitution saving throw or being tended by a character who succeeds on a DC 10 Wisdom (Medicine) check for each day of recovery. These checks are made during a long rest and with disadvantage if the conditions are not optimal (ie resting in wilderness or dungeon).
*Magical healing can restore wounds for healing spells of 5th level or higher at the rate of (spell level - 4) wound level per casting. If used in this way the spell has no other effects (for example a cure wounds spell cast with a 5th level slot will remove 1 wound level but won't heal hp).

Wounds effects:
*A character suffers a penalty to all rolls and checks equal to its current wound level (excepted death saving throws, maximum of -5).
*A character with a wound level greater than 3 can only regain up to half his maximum hit points during a long rest or with magical healing and must succeed on a DC 10 Constitution check to cast a spell without failing. He also suffers a -2 penalty to his speed.
*A character with a wound level greater than 5 drops to 0 hp and starts dying. He can't regain hp and may also suffer a lingering injury (DM choice). He stays unconscious if he's stabilized or succeeds his 3 death saving throws until he's able to recover from his wounds (ie having a wound level of 5 or less).

I know math and numbered penalty are avoided in 5th edition but this one is rather simple it's 1 for each box checked on the sheet.
Of course this rule is not for everyone as always, it increases downtime a bit if a character is severly wounded but for now my players don't dislike it (they like fantasy but they don't like things that look too unreal).
 


Zio_the_dark

The dark one :)
I've always liked rules such as these. My only suggestion would be instead of just 5 boxes, have it be 5 + CON mod. Otherwise, some things are a bit fiddly, but those are minor.
Isn't 5 + CON mod a bit too much? A barbarian or fighter with 20 CON could stand being dropped 10 times to 0 hp before
I didn't thought of that but the CON modifier is already used for natural healing rate and concentration checks if seriously wounded.

For now my adventures have not gone for very long adventuring journeys so they rarely went more than 1 or 2 wound levels before being able to rest safely but in a long adventuring day without being able to rest properly it can be really dangerous for them.
 

DND_Reborn

The High Aldwin
Isn't 5 + CON mod a bit too much? A barbarian or fighter with 20 CON could stand being dropped 10 times to 0 hp before
I didn't thought of that but the CON modifier is already used for natural healing rate and concentration checks if seriously wounded.
It might be. You've been using the system so it only you would know. :)

I just suggested it because instead of "wound levels" we use the exhaustion mechanic, but you get "free" levels of exhaustion equal to your CON mod. So, with 5 levels (6th being dead) it made sense given your 5 boxes of wounds (as you said, similar to exhaustion).

A PC with CON 20 could would need to take 6 levels of exhaustion before feeling the penalty of disadvantage on ability checks because the first 5 "free" levels would have no impact mechanically.

Anyway, it just made sense to me that someone would a better CON could withstand more injury or wounds.

We have had PCs get as far as 7 levels of exhaustion (2 free) so on the brink of death, but typically 1-2 levels is more common, rarely 3, before rest becomes available.

FWIW, we also do the "you need X number of long rests where X equals your effective exhaustion level. free levels require 1 day each."

In the case of the PC at 7 levels (5 + 2 free) he would need 5 + 4 + 3 + 2 + 1 + 1 + 1 or 17 days to recover them all.
 

Al2O3

Explorer
I can't find a way to vote on the phone app, but what we saw in my group:

We had a part of a campaign where the DM would only use deadly encounters. Quite quickly we ended up having whack-a-cleric, because with a Forge cleric, a Grave cleric, a rogue and a wizard we could not keep up with blows to the clerics/tanks in any other way than Healing Word at 0 hp. The DM got annoyed and wanted to introduce penalties for getting to zero hit points to make us heal earlier. However, we realised that there was nothing we could change on the PC side of encounters to reduce the whack-a-mole theme. Instead we changed the mix of encounters to 6-8 normal encounters with 2 short rests per adventuring day for a while, which was much more enjoyable.

Since it's ToA and we mostly changed random encounters this has not prevented 2 TPKs and more individual character deaths than I can remember. (To some extent the individual PCs have died because the player wanted to try something new.)
 

Zio_the_dark

The dark one :)
I just suggested it because instead of "wound levels" we use the exhaustion mechanic, but you get "free" levels of exhaustion equal to your CON mod. So, with 5 levels (6th being dead) it made sense given your 5 boxes of wounds (as you said, similar to exhaustion).
It's right but higher CON also means higher HP so you aready have a greater margin before suffering a wound. You will also be more likely to heal faster naturally ;)
 

DND_Reborn

The High Aldwin
It's right but higher CON also means higher HP so you aready have a greater margin before suffering a wound. You will also be more likely to heal faster naturally ;)
Yeah, with our idea we stopped adding CON to HP to reduce HP bloat. Given the abstract nature of HP, it really no longer makes sense to include just CON mod to HP IMO.

I'd have to find the old set of houserules to remember exactly how it all worked.

Since you're still including CON in other facets, that's cool. The Wound Levels concept reminds me some of Vampire or Shadowrun's Condition Monitor. Either way, your ability to soak damage affected what sort of wound you might take--in D&D, that is the same sort of as adding CON to HP still. 🤷‍♂️

Anyway, as I said you would know better, and at a glance it was the only big suggestion for you. :)
 

Zio_the_dark

The dark one :)
Yeah, with our idea we stopped adding CON to HP to reduce HP bloat. Given the abstract nature of HP, it really no longer makes sense to include just CON mod to HP IMO.

I'd have to find the old set of houserules to remember exactly how it all worked.

Since you're still including CON in other facets, that's cool. The Wound Levels concept reminds me some of Vampire or Shadowrun's Condition Monitor. Either way, your ability to soak damage affected what sort of wound you might take--in D&D, that is the same sort of as adding CON to HP still. 🤷‍♂️

Anyway, as I said you would know better, and at a glance it was the only big suggestion for you. :)
No problem I always like suggestions ^^ .
It's true I forget to add we use this kind of variant too... You start with more hp at 1st level (HD value + CON score) but you don't add the modifier after each new level. It reduce hp bloat at higher levels (barbarian with 20 con at level 20 is 235 hp RAW, with this variant is only 155) and increase the journey length at lower levels as the adventurer are more willingly pushing forward having a bit more hp.
 

jasper

Rotten DM
Yes but not often. Solution for those who are troubled.
1. Monster roll int check. If roll not > int, monster attacks falled foe.
As other have stated some special abilities/feats/etc will be lost. As to trench warfare will depend on the player.
 

DND_Reborn

The High Aldwin
No problem I always like suggestions ^^ .
It's true I forget to add we use this kind of variant too... You start with more hp at 1st level (HD value + CON score) but you don't add the modifier after each new level. It reduce hp bloat at higher levels (barbarian with 20 con at level 20 is 235 hp RAW, with this variant is only 155) and increase the journey length at lower levels as the adventurer are more willingly pushing forward having a bit more hp.
Yeah, if you want fewer HP later on, I agree CON score + HD max at level 1 is a good way to go. We've also done MAX HD + CON mod only at level 1 for a bit less HP.

I agree, PCs with tons of HP are not good for the game.

Another option I've toyed with is your CON mod can only increase you HP roll to the max of your HD type. So, if you roll a d8 with CON +3, your possible rolls would be 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 8, 8, 8 since you are capped at 8 per HD.
 


DND_Reborn

The High Aldwin
I quite like this one ;)
Thanks. I always have as well as it makes CON still important but keeps the max HP cap lower without 20 * CON mod added on. :)

If you did something like CON score + HD (CON added, but capped at HD), you could still have Barbarians with over 200 hp though... shrug
 

Zio_the_dark

The dark one :)
Thanks. I always have as well as it makes CON still important but keeps the max HP cap lower without 20 * CON mod added on. :)

If you did something like CON score + HD (CON added, but capped at HD), you could still have Barbarians with over 200 hp though... shrug

Indeed it would put the mean result at a bit under 180 hp at level 20 (because you don't start with 20 CON for the first few levels)
 

DND_Reborn

The High Aldwin
Indeed it would put the mean result at a bit under 180 hp at level 20 (because you don't start with 20 CON for the first few levels)
Somewhere around there, yeah.

I just like it better than no CON mod after level 1 because it really helps low HD classes and they need the extra HP more of course.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
LOL.
I was away from D&D for a few years for various reasons and then got in a group that was part of playtesting 5E. At the time Spare the Dying actually brought a character back to 1 hp. I was in a situation where my low-level cleric with only cantrips left and a Dwarf fighter were in an unwinnable battle separated from the rest of the group and the Dwarf got knocked out. I managed to avoid getting hit and used StD to bring him to 1hp and he got up and knocked out one of our opponents and then got knocked down again, so I Spared him again, rinse, lather, repeat.
He got knocked down and came back swinging 5 times before they managed to stop us. It was ridiculous. We almost won.
So, to me, the only part of this that isn’t just a great story is the dwarf literally falling down and getting back up. I’d be tempted to houserule that at 0hp you are dying, but not unconscious unless you took damage equal to at least a quarter of your total HP, and you have a level of exhaustion while at 0hp, and each turn can make a death save and do one of move, action, or bonus action.

Hell, I might even allow automatic death save fail in order to take a normal turn.
 


You're approaching it from a weird angle. A better idea would be to buff healing, so it gives something more than "ok, you now can withstand whole one more attack, good luck"
One houserule I've used for this: for every die of magical healing, you may also spend one Hit Die (if you have any left.)

In practice, this means a top-level cure wounds, when combined with HD, can bring a character most of the way up to full (ie a 9th-level barbarian getting 5d8+wis+5d12+(5xCon)) - making such a spell actually worth casting. This cause actual healers to be a thing without making them overly powerful.

But ultimately we dropped it, because frankly whack-a-mole, while it does happen from time to time, doesn't get ridiculous enough to be worth the extra brain-load of the houserule.
 

You know a simple way to address this would be to say that healing word provokes an opportunity attack.

That's the crux of the strategy right? Fighter goes down - cleric reliably casts healing word on thier turn - fighter gets up and never has to make a death save. It's all dependent on that healing being reliable every turn - because as soon as it isn't, the Fighter is just a natural 1 away from death - and that will get them sooner or later.
 

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