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Helper Classes

At Wizards one year, I gave a short lecture to the RPG R&D crew about why clerics are impossible to balance. Since most of their power (healing) helps other characters, it’s power that doesn’t feel cool. To help the cleric feel cool, it needs a double-helping of power, and that’s what we gave it. In theory, one way to balance the cleric is to re-write every class so that a good deal of its power comes from helping other characters in the party. Druids and bards have “helper” abilities, and we discussed giving such abilities to all classes. For example, some folks talked about taking away the 5-foot step as a general rule and re-writing the fighter so that one of the class’s abilities was to allow party members to take 5-foot steps. That was too big change for the system and for fighters, and what actually came out of these conversations was a number of new “helper classes.” The D&D Miniatures Handbook included the healer and the marshal, the 13th Age system included the occultist, and 13th Age Glorantha included the trickster.

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The healer in the Miniatures Handbook was sort of like a cleric but even more focused on healing. Over previous decades, I had seen players occasionally create pacifist characters, and a healer class of one sort of another has appeared here and there. It’s a natural enough concept. Unfortunately, it’s a hard concept to get right. The healers from the fantasy world Glorantha, for example, are duty bound to try to protect even enemies from being killed. If a self-righteous paladin in a party can be at odds with the other characters, try a pacifist who tries to keep party members from killing their foes. When Rob Heinsoo and I later wrote 13th Age Glorantha, we balked at writing up a playable healer because the canonical healers in the setting don’t “play nice” with others—ironically because they play too nice with the enemy. As for the healer class in the Miniatures Handbook, it never got a lot of play and didn’t prove popular enough to recur in later iterations of the game.

The marshal was a non-supernatural class that had bard-like abilities to improve other characters’ performances in combat. Mostly, they provided specific buffs to party members, which represented the practical guidance they provided in the heat of battle. There was a lose fit between what the marshal was doing in the game world (barking out orders) and the magic-like bonuses in the game system. In design terms, it represented sort of a Magic: The Gathering approach, in which simple, useful mechanics evoke what’s happening in the game world rather than strictly simulating it. Years later, 4E would double down on the evocative and game-oriented approach instead of 3E’s simulations esthetic. Unlike the healer, the marshal was popular, and similar classes would appear later in the development of D&D classes.

For 13th Age, Rob Heinsoo did most of the classes, but I wrote up the occultist, one of the game’s first all-new classes. The occultist was my attempt to create the equivalent of a cleric, and in particular one that would feel more powerful in play without actually being more powerful. In combat, the occultist mostly observes the attacks made by the other characters and the attacks made against them. The occultist’s spells are instant actions that let another character reroll a missed attack, prevent damage from incoming attacks, or increase damage that their allies deal. In effect, preventing damage is “healing in advance,” but it feels gratifying to interrupt a monster’s attack to reduce damage to a friend. It’s proactive and even aggressive, while healing is more reactive. Likewise, helping a friend land a mighty blow is also a feel-good moment. The other player gets to feel more effective because it’s their character that’s dealing out more damage. The player running the occultist, meanwhile, also feels effective because the effect on play is more dramatic than after-the-fact healing. The occultist is ideal for the sort of player who loves to keep an eye on combat, to watch every turn, and to judge when to apply the right effort for the best effect. For the occultist, friends’ turns and enemies’ turns sort of feel like part of their own turn because the player is monitoring events and deciding when to intervene. Other players’ turns and monsters’ turns are more interesting when you have the option to instantly step in and alter the outcome. For an added touch of cool factor, the class description specifies that there is only one occultist. There are no occultist guilds or even higher-level occultists to make the occultist character feel unexceptional.

For 13th Age Glorantha, I wrote up another helper class: the trickster. As with the Gloranthan healer, the Gloranthan trickster has an iffy pedigree. The wild and unpredictable trickster character from the setting was an uneasy fit with the no-nonsense and gritty RuneQuest system that powered Gloranthan roleplaying. Andrew Finch tells a story of how the clever use of a trickster’s powers managed to defeat an entire temple of Chaotic cultists by tricking them into destroying themselves. The players at the table were geared up for a massive, running battle with the toughest enemies they’d ever fought, and on the enemies’ home territory. The trickster made all that planning and anticipation moot. No one else got to so much as make an attack roll. Thankfully, the trickster makes a better ally than the pacifist healer, and Rob and I were able to make a memorable, playable character that feels like no other class.

If the occultist is ideal for a player who likes to pay close attention, the trickster is good for a player who likes to mix things up and maybe get the snot beat out of them in the bargain. (Can you guess? I enjoy playing both classes.) As with a typical class, the trickster’s abilities work on the character’s turn, but as with the occultist these powers typically help the other characters. With powers such as the Dance of Blood and Slapstick, the trickster helps allies make extra attacks on enemies while provoking attacks from those same enemies on themselves. No one knows what’s going to happen when the trickster takes their turn. For me, the less I know about how my turn is going to end up, the more interesting the dice rolls are. Sometimes the trickster ends up just taking damage for nothing—hey, that’s a trickster for you! To balance the possibility of costly failure, these powers have big upsides when everything works out right.

The trickster’s standard, at-will melee attack deals no damage at all. In the game world, the trickster might be using a chicken carcass as a weapon, and how much damage would you expect that to deal? Instead of dealing damage, “feckless strike” curses the target with bad mojo, so the next time an ally strikes that foe, the ally deals a lot more damage than normal. In a sense, the trickster’s damage is delayed, waiting for an ally to hit that foe and apply the “damage” done earlier by the trickster. Again, the player with the trickster feels effective, and the other player is happy to deal more than normal damage.
 

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Jonathan Tweet

Jonathan Tweet

D&D 3E, Over the Edge, Everway, Ars Magica, Omega World, Grandmother Fish

NotAYakk

Legend
That maps very nicely onto EverQuest, in fact, where having a controller (almost always a mind-controlling enchanter) was seen as an essential element.

If anything, WoW has actually loosened things up a bit by only having three pillars and giving most classes the crowd-controlling abilities of the enchanter.
Ah yes, the enchanter.

In a game about exploring a 3d world while reducing enemy HP to 0 and avoiding your own HP from reaching zero, it was good at everything except changing HP and movement.

Man was it fun.
 

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CapnZapp

Legend
"tank, DPS, healer which D&D has never attempted"

4th edition would like to have a word with you. True it did add a 4th pillar (controller) and did hybrid roles but it has a very clear distinction between the 4 combat roles and what each could hope to achieve.
Sorry but no.

4E had roles, but nothing even remotely resembling how tanks in WoW can soak insane attacks, how DPS classes do insane damage, and how insane healing is a third of the class dichotomy (trichotomy?)
 


Hurin88

Adventurer
the question then becomes does this kill the Cleric's niche?

Good question, but I don't think it does.

What was the Cleric's niche? The problem in earlier editions was that they could do almost everything -- Codzilla. Codzilla got full casting abilities; could wear heavy armor and a shield and got better BAB progression than other casters; could heal and resurrect; could be built relatively easily for damage; and got additional spell flexibility through Domains. All of this meant that pretty much everything was their niche.

I think if healing were moved primarily to non-combat, you could still have the Cleric as the best healer (just with healing now primarily out of combat). That's at least part of their niche IMHO. Then they could also be decent in combat (good survivability with medium-to-heavy armor).
 

Good question, but I don't think it does.

What was the Cleric's niche? The problem in earlier editions was that they could do almost everything -- Codzilla. Codzilla got full casting abilities; could wear heavy armor and a shield and got better BAB progression than other casters; could heal and resurrect; could be built relatively easily for damage; and got additional spell flexibility through Domains. All of this meant that pretty much everything was their niche.

I think if healing were moved primarily to non-combat, you could still have the Cleric as the best healer (just with healing now primarily out of combat). That's at least part of their niche IMHO. Then they could also be decent in combat (good survivability with medium-to-heavy armor).
i like this head space. cleric could move to fit the niche that the pally takes up. pally could be reasonably split up into different sub classes for each other class.
 

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
Why is it a negative, though?

For a Fighter, fighting is a requirement. For a healer, healing is a requirement. In either case, it's what they do; and if that's not what you want your PC to be doing you're playing the wrong class/role.
I wasn't talking about requirement for the class but a requirement for the party.

History states the problem isn't giving people who love healing a healer class, it's it's getting someone who doesn't like healing to play the healer class.
 

Warpiglet-7

Adventurer
I wasn't talking about requirement for the class but a requirement for the party.

History states the problem isn't giving people who love healing a healer class, it's it's getting someone who doesn't like healing to play the healer class.
this is true. But I wonder:

Is a healer necessary in 5e?

I am starting to think not. And in fact, if someone wants a tougher go of a dungeon or quest, not having some spam cures fits the bill.

withdraw when you get banged up and low on hit die recovered. It’s more strategic and a little more old school since all the new toys seem to replace the healing of old.

tons of healing beyond rests and class feature seems like overkill in some games now. Certainly the case if you kills things efficiently with all the burst and nova damage options
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Good question, but I don't think it does.

What was the Cleric's niche? The problem in earlier editions was that they could do almost everything -- Codzilla. Codzilla got full casting abilities; could wear heavy armor and a shield and got better BAB progression than other casters; could heal and resurrect; could be built relatively easily for damage; and got additional spell flexibility through Domains. All of this meant that pretty much everything was their niche.
That sounds like 3e talking, and 3e is hardly an example I'd point to of the best in Cleric design. :)
I think if healing were moved primarily to non-combat, you could still have the Cleric as the best healer (just with healing now primarily out of combat). That's at least part of their niche IMHO. Then they could also be decent in combat (good survivability with medium-to-heavy armor).
Exactly - more like they were in 1e.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I wasn't talking about requirement for the class but a requirement for the party.

History states the problem isn't giving people who love healing a healer class, it's it's getting someone who doesn't like healing to play the healer class.
Heh - both as DM and player I generally have far more trouble finding someone to play the thieving/sneaking class (I rarely play these as PCs because when I DM I end up having to play so many as party NPCs); yet one could argue that's every bit as much a party requirement as the healer.
 

Voadam

Legend
True; the question then becomes does this kill the Cleric's niche?
In my 3e games I house ruled it so that every class got all the healing spells at the lowest level they came for anybody so any and every caster could play the healer role and the role could be spread around more. I also adopted various reserve point type rules for nonmagical downtime healing.

The cleric has plenty of niche as the god champion casters focused on buffs, heals, and divinations. They still have flexibility to focus on being casters, or more magical paladins, or their specific divine specialty theme for things like trickster gods or fire gods or whatever.
 

MoonSong

Rules-lawyering drama queen but not a munchkin
Clerics don't have to choose between doing something cool in combat or saving the Rogue's life when he's gotten in over his head.
The problem is when I want to make saving the rogue's life my cool thing in combat. Things get lackluster very quickly. By making in combat healing too easy it stopped being rewarding.
True; the question then becomes does this kill the Cleric's niche?
I don't know, all I know is that healing is extremely unsatisfactory in 4e, and in 5e it is boring at best. Part of it is that out of combat healing has also gotten meaningless. In other editions keeping the party at full or close to it was the challenge for the healer in the party, play your cards wrong and the group would underperform the following day or the party would have to retreat period. Play it right, and you have extended the adventuring day. Now, it is pointless. Just a night of good sleep, and the party is at full. The niche of being a healer has eroded too much. (Yes wands of cure light wounds, but they are a non-factor if you don't buy/craft them).
As many stated, lot's of people see healing as boring for them and cool for others as it gives more chance to do cool things before they drop.

Maybe most of cleric(support caster) buff and healing spells could be Bonus actions or have some rider effect that benefits the clerics offensive abilities. Like 4E did in some situations.

I.E.
Cure wounds:

option 1: when you cast Cure wounds, you can make one weapon attack with the same action. Add +1d4 radiant damage per spell level to that attack.


option 2: morph Cure and Healing word into same spell and raise it's potency depending on casting action and range:

Reaction: 1d4/spell level at 100ft range, 1d6/spell level touch

Bonus action: 1d6/SL at 100ft, 1d8/SL at touch

Action: 1d8/SL at 100ft, 1d10/SL at touch

1 Minute: 10 HP/SL at touch

after casting it, your next weapon attack within 1 minute will do extra 1d4 radiant damage per spell level used.
At some point you are no longer a healer, but rather a murderer who happens to heal people as a side effect. When healing is no longer thought of as your one contribution for the round but an additional thing, it stops being and feeling special, and easily becomes something expected and demanded. Helping a downed ally used to be a minigame on its own, secure a path to them, keep them safe from further damage and then pray you could get them up without losing the spell. This was dramatic, engaging and rewarding. Nowadays, it is more like : downed ally-> sneeze them back onto the fight, then use your action on an "ACTUAL" (tm) contribution to the combat. (Yes, I avoid taking the spell, but sometimes the others in the party expect you to have it, and some grow frustrated by it. Some are nice about it, but still think it. Essentially playing a healer used to be a bonus to the party, now it has become a hindrance)
 

Scribe

Explorer
Interesting read. Making Healers fun, is certainly not the same as making them needed, but I do not believe its a lost cause to have helper classes.

Looking at how Hybrids (in this definition a Class which can fill more than 1 role at a lesser level than a 'Pure' class) have been treated in other games I would look at it as just a requirement.

You need 2 Units of Healing per encounter.

Healers can fill 2 Units.

OR

Hybrid A can fill 1 Unit, and Hybrid B can fill 1 Unit.

So if someone wants to play a pure healer class, then your party is set for the adventure, and they should expect to be able to handle the healing required for the adventure.

If nobody wishes to be that pure supporting class or 'helper' then you need the other classes to be able to pick up the slack across the rest of the party.

I've always played Cleric as something that can soak damage, and heal damage or buff as a means to support. They are not still a pure healer, but they are not a source of damage. (2 Units)

Paladin of course then tilts it the other way, with minor heal/buff, and more Tank/Damage. (1 Unit)
 

Heh - both as DM and player I generally have far more trouble finding someone to play the thieving/sneaking class (I rarely play these as PCs because when I DM I end up having to play so many as party NPCs); yet one could argue that's every bit as much a party requirement as the healer.
Wow, this really varies by group. I am running games with a total of more than a dozen players. I have four rogues and zero clerics. (And a lot of running away, guzzling of healing potions and short rests.)
 

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
Heh - both as DM and player I generally have far more trouble finding someone to play the thieving/sneaking class (I rarely play these as PCs because when I DM I end up having to play so many as party NPCs); yet one could argue that's every bit as much a party requirement as the healer.

Required role is required.

That's likely why 4e and 5e made thieving skills more easily obtainable and gave each class some sort of healing.
 

Hurin88

Adventurer
I find myself agreeing with a lot of what people are saying on this thread (which is not always the case lol).

One of my two groups too sometimes struggles to find someone who wants to play the healer, because they know that they will often have to choose between healing and something more fun. My other group doesn't have that problem, because one player likes the healing role and sees the healing as just as fun. So I recognize that different groups will have quite different experiences. In my experience, though, it sometimes is hard to get someone to play the healer.

I do feel that having a healer makes things a lot easier in 5e. The difference between having someone with Revivify and not having someone with it is literally the difference between life and death. And because there are no negative hit points anymore, it often is more efficient just to let people drop and then heal them for 1 point than trying to keep them up. Combats devolve into games of whack a mole. Most of those issues go away if you move healing to primarily non-combat, and return to the concept of negative hit points (as for example Rolemaster does).

This was why I liked what 4e did -- making healing a minor action -- so you can still do something else besides healing. That's one solution, but it also tends to make healer so powerful they become all but necessary. So non-combat healing seems to me the way to go.
 

MoonSong

Rules-lawyering drama queen but not a munchkin
Interesting read. Making Healers fun, is certainly not the same as making them needed
On the other hand, the answer to "How do we make healers fun?" isn't "by making them heal less/less often", nor by removing depth from healing. Perhaps your proposal makes sense.
I find myself agreeing with a lot of what people are saying on this thread (which is not always the case lol).

One of my two groups too sometimes struggles to find someone who wants to play the healer, because they know that they will often have to choose between healing and something more fun. My other group doesn't have that problem, because one player likes the healing role and sees the healing as just as fun. So I recognize that different groups will have quite different experiences. In my experience, though, it sometimes is hard to get someone to play the healer.

I do feel that having a healer makes things a lot easier in 5e. The difference between having someone with Revivify and not having someone with it is literally the difference between life and death. And because there are no negative hit points anymore, it often is more efficient just to let people drop and then heal them for 1 point than trying to keep them up. Combats devolve into games of whack a mole. Most of those issues go away if you move healing to primarily non-combat, and return to the concept of negative hit points (as for example Rolemaster does).

This was why I liked what 4e did -- making healing a minor action -- so you can still do something else besides healing. That's one solution, but it also tends to make healer so powerful they become all but necessary. So non-combat healing seems to me the way to go.
But minor/bonus action healing isn't as fun, it existing shifts your focus into non-healing, so being a healer becomes an afterthought. As I've said before in the thread, out of combat healing is already not an option. There's not much left of it for it to be meaningful, the party already heals to full overnight. At that point you are better off banning healing altogether and houseruling the party heals to full between fights.

The issues with wack-a-mole would go away if you houserule that healing word stops death saves from happening, but the target won't stand up back into the fight unless healed back to full. If you want them to stand up again, you need to get next to them and dedicate a round to use cure wounds.
 

Hurin88

Adventurer
As I've said before in the thread, out of combat healing is already not an option. There's not much left of it for it to be meaningful, the party already heals to full overnight.

It doesn't heal to full in Rolemaster, so that's more what I'm talking about -- other systems, or ideas for how DnD can be modded/changed in the future. If healing to full overnight is the problem, then making it so that characters don't heal to full overnight is surely the solution?

In Rolemaster for example, you regain some hits overnight, but not automatically all of them, and different races have different healing speeds (Dwarves heal faster than Humans, for example). Also, you have injuries that last a while. A healer can speed that healing, but only very high level healers can heal instantly. You also have bleeds that need to be stopped, poisons that need to be slowed or purged, different types of injuries (burns vs. tendon damage vs. nerve damage) that need to be addressed differently, etc. That makes for fun and flavorful healing that takes place out of combat, as the party healer races to find the source of the bleed and to try to stop it before the patient dies.

I recognize this is not the solution for everyone, but I think some of the choices made by 5e -- healing to full on long rests, no negative hit points (did 4e do that too? It has been so long since I've played it), easy revival of downed characters -- could be reconsidered.
 

Warpiglet-7

Adventurer
As someone who thinks 5e can feel less perilous than some editions, I don’t think the omission of healer is a huge deal; or more often a healer is there but is doing more fun things (tempest cleric, war cleric).

spend your slots as you wish, have fun. Maybe let people know that they will need to use caution. Healing is not assured.

and maybe not needed? With occasional lay on hands, a bard with a spare cure here or there and a few potions coupled with rest mechanics should be enough for most games I suspect
 

MoonSong

Rules-lawyering drama queen but not a munchkin
As someone who thinks 5e can feel less perilous than some editions, I don’t think the omission of healer is a huge deal; or more often a healer is there but is doing more fun things (tempest cleric, war cleric).
Well, as someone who loves healing, I find the proposition that other things are inherently more fun demeaning and condescending. I know some people feel obligated to heal when a healer "is needed". But the attitude that it is inherently bad and undesirable is divisive and makes people feel unwelcome. I know it isn't for everybody, but it doesn't mean healing is less fun. It is ok if it isn't for you, but you don't need to dismiss it, (because in turn you are dismissing the people who like it)

Healing is fun, however healing in 5e is dull and unrewarding. This is because of the choices made in 5e, and these same choices that make 5e feel less dangerous are precisely the choices that make healing dull. If dying is likely and combat is dangerous, healing is more rewarding and involved. IMO, if healing is a side gig to calling storms and smiting infidels, then you aren't really a healer.
 

Warpiglet-7

Adventurer
Well, as someone who loves healing, I find the proposition that other things are inherently more fun demeaning and condescending. I know some people feel obligated to heal when a healer "is needed". But the attitude that it is inherently bad and undesirable is divisive and makes people feel unwelcome. I know it isn't for everybody, but it doesn't mean healing is less fun. It is ok if it isn't for you, but you don't need to dismiss it, (because in turn you are dismissing the people who like it)

Healing is fun, however healing in 5e is dull and unrewarding. This is because of the choices made in 5e, and these same choices that make 5e feel less dangerous are precisely the choices that make healing dull. If dying is likely and combat is dangerous, healing is more rewarding and involved. IMO, if healing is a side gig to calling storms and smiting infidels, then you aren't really a healer.
Follow your bliss. Condescending? Have no idea how you read it that way.

my point is the game is robust and in 5e you don’t have to heal unless like you, it is fun for you.
 

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