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D&D 5E Proposed Fix for Whack-a-Mole Healing

Redbadge

Explorer
5e has great rules, but one legitimate concern I see often is the "Whack-a-Mole" issue. You've probably seen it as well: during a fight, rather than try to heal damage as it occurs to prevent a party member from dropping, they will wait to use healing word or a potion until after a PC has fallen. I can't fault it, because it makes strategic sense (assuming instant death from too much damage isn't likely); by waiting until after a PC goes down, the party effectively gains extra healing economy by ignoring all the extra damage past 0. Often the only risk that needs to be weighed is whether the dying PC would miss an action due to being down on their turn.

Unfortunately, this creates the aforementioned "whack-a-mole" phenomenon. Fighter goes down. Receives healing word for a few HP and pops back up. Because of the low remaining hp, the fighter immediately goes back down. Repeat until the party wins or runs out of healing. I don't mind a party member fighting on the edge of disaster the entire time while the healer tries to keep them up. It's specifically the fall down, dying, stand back up cycle that I'm having cognitive dissonance with and which the rules as written actually encourage.

Here are my proposed house rules, presented for comment:

1. Unconscious (or dying, if you prefer) creatures have Resistance to Healing (that is they receive half of any healing they would have received, rounded down); and

2. Whenever an unconscious (or dying, if you prefer) creature receives healing, they must make a DC 20 Constitution save in order to regain consciousness; otherwise they remain unconscious but stable. They gain a bonus to the saving throw attempt equal to the amount of healing actually received.

The bonus to the saving throw is encouraged in order for the healer to consider using more powerful healing on their unconscious ally, otherwise only the smallest heal possible would be incentivized due to the other half of the healing that is lost. Powerful enough healing would automatically awaken the target (i.e. heal).

If you use the rules for dying creatures only, then obviously the rules revert to the default RAW if the first saving throw is failed (i.e. subsequent healing will be at full power and automatically awaken the creature unless damage had reduced it to 0 again in the interim). I think I would prefer applying the house rules to both dying creatures and stabilized creatures.

To what extent do you think the proposed rules address the whack-a-mole issue?
 

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Satyrn

First Post
Well, that Resistance to healing bit won't help - it'll just make it doubly hard to heal up the fighter so he can withstand a single hit after getting back up on his feet.


As an alternative to your mechanical fixes, It might help you to think of the situation differently. If you model the situation as something different than the character being knocked unconscious, and woken up by the healing, it might just look fine for you.

So, for example: What if you model the character dropped to 0 as knocked to the ground, hurt and struggling to recover (grasping his side, moaning in pain, clutching at the wall trying to regain his feet - absolutely anything remotely like that) instead. Each subsequent failed death save is him slipping closer to unconsciousness and death. At this point, the healing becomes more like a helping hand up, an extea force of will to press on, the character infused with the strength of the cleric's god to continue the fight will standing at Death's Door.

Or something like that.
 

jimmytheccomic

First Post
I've found a fairly simple solution- everytime a PC drops to 0, they gain a level of exhaustion when they wake back up. Under this houserule, all levels of exhaustion are removed on a long rest, for the sake of keeping my game pacing up, but mileage may vary there.
 

Redbadge

Explorer
Well, that Resistance to healing bit won't help - it'll just make it doubly hard to heal up the fighter so he can withstand a single hit after getting back up on his feet.

Well, that part was to remove the healing economy incentive for sitting on the healing spell, since your healing would be much more effective if you used it before the fighter goes down. The effectiveness of this depends on whether healing before the final blow or after will leave the fighter at a higher hp total in the end, and the thought experiments I've conducted, especially at low levels, is that healing prior to going down will have better results strategically. It may take a while for a group to realize this, however, which will serve to exacerbate the situation as you mentioned, if they don't catch on.


As an alternative to your mechanical fixes, It might help you to think of the situation differently. If you model the situation as something different than the character being knocked unconscious, and woken up by the healing, it might just look fine for you.

So, for example: What if you model the character dropped to 0 as knocked to the ground, hurt and struggling to recover (grasping his side, moaning in pain, clutching at the wall trying to regain his feet - absolutely anything remotely like that) instead. Each subsequent failed death save is him slipping closer to unconsciousness and death. At this point, the healing becomes more like a helping hand up, an extea force of will to press on, the character infused with the strength of the cleric's god to continue the fight will standing at Death's Door.

Or something like that.

Well, it's not just my internal narrative, which can be resolved just as you described. It's also the cognitive dissonance as expressed by my players. I think the following example might illustrate the point:

Fighter: Cleric, my friend, this demon has done a number on me. Can you provide any healing?
Cleric: Not yet my friend, I must wait until he puts you closer to death's door, first. We must think strategically!
Fighter:??? <Confused as the demon beatings continue with no healing apparently forthcoming just yet.>

As you can see, even if I don't consider the fighter as unconscious in my internal narrative, the RAW are still incentivizing strategy that is counter-intuitive to what you might expect. Sorry if I've seemed to move the goalposts here. I do appreciate your solution to the whack-a-mole imagery specifically.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Rather than mess with the rules, you can just reward the behaviors you want to see. Such as:

Not On My Watch!
Each character receives an experience point bonus equal to the average party level x 100 if no character was dying during the session.
 

jimmytheccomic

First Post
Another thing to consider is, I've had two character deaths happen due to my creatures attacking while they are down- once my players realized that particular move wasn't a taboo, they tend to scramble to keep people up, or get them up quickly.
 


iserith

Magic Wordsmith
I never thought that for a second.
[MENTION=97077]iserith[/MENTION]'s on the better track for your issue, I think. Inspiration could sub for XP. Or some other mechanical boon, too.

In my last campaign, The Delve, you got bonus XP if you were dying but lived to tell the tale. That was always a fun one during the end of session breakdown.
 

ccs

41st lv DM
Well, it's not just my internal narrative, which can be resolved just as you described. It's also the cognitive dissonance as expressed by my players. I think the following example might illustrate the point:

Fighter: Cleric, my friend, this demon has done a number on me. Can you provide any healing?
Cleric: Not yet my friend, I must wait until he puts you closer to death's door, first. We must think strategically!
Fighter:??? <Confused as the demon beatings continue with no healing apparently forthcoming just yet.>

Hey, I've played with that cleric! His name is Brian, though that's not what the other players called him....

Brian's response to the healing request? "No, you'll just lose it again anyways." and he goes on with whatever spell he had been planning. Wich it turns out is NOT more effective than keeping the multi-attacking fighter up & swinging for another round.
So the fighter goes down. Two other foes are now freed up to step over his body & they proceed to drop another character.... and so on. A TPK occurred - with the DM intentionally saving the stupid cleric for last.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Another thing to consider is, I've had two character deaths happen due to my creatures attacking while they are down- once my players realized that particular move wasn't a taboo, they tend to scramble to keep people up, or get them up quickly.

This has been my experience as well.

Of course, not all monsters are going to hit someone when they're down. Animals will drag the unconscious person off to be eaten in private.

Intelligent creatures sometimes have manacles (depending on their goals).

But if the goal of the bad guys is to kill the party? Double tap. Remember that hitting an unconscious person is automatically a crit, and crits count as two failed death saves.
 

posineg

Explorer
Another thing to consider is, I've had two character deaths happen due to my creatures attacking while they are down- once my players realized that particular move wasn't a taboo, they tend to scramble to keep people up, or get them up quickly.

Ditto. There is no rule that you cant continue to pound the character when they are down.
 

There are easier ways to do it. You could just say that anyone who hits zero stays unconsciously, regardless of healing, for at least a minute. That would solve the efficiency issue (so nobody feels like they're wasting anything due to healing resistance), and it would also make it less tempting to hit someone who is down (since they won't be coming back to the fight regardless).
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
Many good suggestions thus far. Here's a couple more of the various things you can do to prevent whack-a-mole:

- Each time you reach 0 HP you automatically get a failed death save, and failed death saves do not reset until after a short rest.

- A character who is at 0 HP and receives healing gains the applicable hit points, but also the Stunned condition for one round.

- A healing spell to a PC with 0 HP gives them a single hit point. They wake up, but that's it. Only a PC with 1 or more hit points can regain HP at normal rates through magic, hit dice, or rest.
 


Redbadge

Explorer
The return of the "cognitive dissonance" debate.

Warning long thread incoming!

Hey, I'm not looking for a medieval life simulator like some, just a fantasy action simulator, so the bar's not high. However, I don't need to use the phrase "cognitive dissonance," it just seemed more specific than saying "does anybody else find this weird or in need of a fix."

Lot's of good suggestions here, but most go further than I actually need. I don't necessarily want to punish a character for falling unconscious (or reward them for not falling unconscious); I like the idea of a timely heal bringing a downed fighter back from the brink so he can make the difference in one final push. I guess I'm just experiencing the side effect of missing negative hit points, although I definitely wouldn't want to bring them back. It seems like nothing else has really stepped in to fill that void where the excess damage past 0 matters for the monsters (other than the instant death rule).

I think exhaustion each time is a little punishing (since we only remove 1 level each day), but the death saving throws not resetting until a short rest does seem promising, and coupled with the threat of attacking a downed character might provide enough incentive to help mitigate the cogni..., I mean this one thing I find weird and want to fix. :)
 

Saeviomagy

Adventurer
I'd second the answer "no mechanical change is necessary, just hit them when they're down". 3 failed saves from death is a pretty thin line. Just a singe extra melee attack can take that down to 1 failed save. Make it clear that being unconscious isn't a safe zone, and your players will stop treating it that way, even if you only do it once or twice (and not necessarily taking it to the fatal conclusion).
 

Hey, I'm not looking for a medieval life simulator like some, just a fantasy action simulator, so the bar's not high. However, I don't need to use the phrase "cognitive dissonance," it just seemed more specific than saying "does anybody else find this weird or in need of a fix."

Lot's of good suggestions here, but most go further than I actually need. I don't necessarily want to punish a character for falling unconscious (or reward them for not falling unconscious); I like the idea of a timely heal bringing a downed fighter back from the brink so he can make the difference in one final push. I guess I'm just experiencing the side effect of missing negative hit points, although I definitely wouldn't want to bring them back. It seems like nothing else has really stepped in to fill that void where the excess damage past 0 matters for the monsters (other than the instant death rule).

I think exhaustion each time is a little punishing (since we only remove 1 level each day), but the death saving throws not resetting until a short rest does seem promising, and coupled with the threat of attacking a downed character might provide enough incentive to help mitigate the cogni..., I mean this one thing I find weird and want to fix. :)

Simply remove the healing word spell.
It is a spell issue from 4 ed, not In line with realistic old school setting
Cure wound ask to be adjacent and have a free hand. A classic feeling of healing.
 


cbwjm

Hero
My group never does this, we try out best to keep players up and running rather than letting PCs hit 0 hit points and then popping them back up with a spell.

As others have mentioned, having the players get finished off if they are down (melee attack on a downed character is a crit which is an automatic 2 failures on those death saves) will lead to players doing their best to keep alive.
 


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