Running a D&D 5e Game for a Party Without Healing
Tabletop games are unique in that they lack the limitations of video games. There is no required party structure in order to play a game of D&D. This can create some interesting party compositions such as the one we’ll be talking about today, a party without healing.
I’ve spoken about party composition before and how a well-balanced party that fills in each possible role in D&D is extremely beneficial to the party. That being said, you could play a game without some of the major niches covered. Some roles, however, are more beneficial than others.
One such role is that of the healer. Healers can keep the party members alive and healthy in a difficult battle and can bring allies back from the brink of death. Most healing characters have the ability to bring others back from the dead. As you can imagine these are valuable assets to have for adventurers.
The party in my current campaign lacks healing. They had characters that could heal at first, but after deaths and players having to leave the game we eventually got to the point where there weren’t any characters that could heal.
I’ve had to make some adjustments, but overall it wasn’t any more difficult to create encounters or plan sessions out. You just have to have a different perspective on things! After all, what the party lacks in healing they make up for in other things such as survivability, damage, and crowd control.
How Does the Game Change Because of This?
Close Encounters Become Extremely Dangerous
A close encounter where the party just barely scrapes by are some of my favorite encounters. This means that it was well-balanced and the party had to probably use some quick thinking and good tactics to come out on top.
However, there was still the ever-present danger of the party losing the encounter. A misstep could cost one or all of them their lives.
Think of healing as a reset button in this scenario. A PC goes down, but it’s ok because your bard can cast Healing Word on them and they’re back up again. While this does use some of the bard’s resources and a bit of their action economy to pull the downed PC from the brink of death, it’s a net gain for the party.
The PC gets another shot at fulfilling their role in the fight. If they’re down and out the party misses out on a few actions per turn from that point forward. Spending an action or a bonus action to correct this problem is a worthy investment.
A party without healing doesn’t get this reset button, or at least, they don’t get a limitless amount of it. While spell slots keep clerics and other classes in check, their spell slots are generally much more plentiful than potions of healing and other consumable magic items.
The Party Will Need to Rely More on NPCs
If the party is without powerful healing magic or resurrection options they’re going to need to utilize their relationships with NPCs who can perform these actions.
Basically, instead of being able to use a spell slot and pay a hefty sum for reagents, the party will most likely owe powerful clerics favors or a considerable amount of gold as repayment. It’s at the DM’s discretion as to what the party will have to do to revive their fallen friends.
That’s not all either. Curing ailments, removing curses, and dispelling powerful magic can also be tied to classes with healing abilities. These are also things that the party would have to rely on NPCs to cover for them if they don’t have magical items of their own that can help.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing either. In fact, a lot of parties with access to these magic will still lean on their relationships with NPCs to do these types of things. Saving a spell slot or an expensive material component could be tactically necessary still. It’s a good way to allow the party’s face to flex their respective muscles.
The difference for a party without healing, revival, or restoration magic is that they have no option. If they are in a tight-spot deep in a dungeon they may not have the opportunity to use an NPC’s powers.
Modifying the Game to Work
Have a Keen Eye for Balancing Combat Encounters
Combat encounters are the flesh and blood of some games. Over time your DM gets better at balancing the encounters and tailoring them to give the party a challenge.
That being said balancing encounters for a group with limited amounts of or no healing can be a bit of a challenge. Part of this is because if you design a combat encounter that’s too difficult they won’t have any sort of way to reset any shortcomings or unlucky dice rolls with healing magic.
The other part is that a party without healing will have an abundance of something else. This could be damage, it could be survivability in the form of high AC, or it could be crowd control abilities. This factor needs to be kept in mind just as much as the party’s lack of healing ability.
As with any group you’ll have to figure out how the players play and what their characters are capable of before you start to get a hang of accurately balancing encounters for them. These types of groups just take a bit of extra care at first.
Make Healing Potions and Other Items more Plentiful
This is a pretty easy way to fix the problem. If the party doesn’t have healing spells or restoration abilities themselves just give them some or at least give them access to them!
Shops sell potions, spell scrolls, salves, etc. but they’re not going to be cheap. What a druid can do for free a few times per long rest will run you a few hundred gold even just using sourcebook prices!
I’ve talked before about creating treasure hoards and mentioned the table in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything that dishes out how many magical items a party should find in their adventures. This is a useful table, and treasure is an important part of the game.
However, a party without a reliable source of healing is probably going to want (or need) more of these items rather than a cool new sword. You could allocate a higher-than-average amount of their magical item stipend towards magical items that provide healing, restoration, or resurrection.
Make Healing Potions a Bonus Action to Use
I find this to be sort of necessary alongside dolling out additional opportunities to gain healing potions. The party is probably going to need their actions to fulfill the duties to be successful in combat. Taking away their bonus action instead of an action still affects the PC’s action economy, but it’s not nearly as detrimental.
While it’s true not every PC is going to have to miss using their bonus action, some classes like the rogue or monk are going to have to decide whether disengaging or downing a potion is the better move.
I like this rule regardless of your party composition, to be honest. I understand why it takes a full action to get a potion, uncork it, and down it, but it just isn’t very fun. Actions tend to be more interesting than that.
I’ve given my own group without healing potions the personal use of one potion with a Free Action. It’s been necessary at times for them, but I think if I had to do it over again I’d have just used the Bonus Action rule instead.
Give More Opportunities for Short Rests
Another option you have at your disposal is giving the party more opportunities to short rest. Or at least allow the party to use some creativity to earn themselves more short rests.
Though like with any healing there is a finite amount of resources for using this. Once a party is out of hit dice they can’t really benefit from a short rest from a healing perspective. A long rest also only gives back half of a PC’s hit dice so if they’re depleted it will take 2 long rests to get them topped off in terms of hit dice.
Besides chewing through mechanical resources, short rests take about an hour to complete. There are always going to be story or plot repercussions for taking a short rest in the middle of a dangerous dungeon or a time-sensitive situation.
While the party has more opportunities to take these rests they’ll have to weigh their options in many cases, but that’s true for any game really. You’ll just have a higher frequency of situations where this decision has to be made.
Give the Party Henchmen
I’m always somewhat reluctant to add henchmen to my games, but I don’t see it as a bad idea to allow the party to hire a priest or cleric that acts as their healer.
My issue with henchmen stems from my issue with pet classes and characters that summon other creatures. It has the potential to bloat the game and slow down combat especially.
Large parties are the bane of my existence, but I feel that if everyone is on top of things a henchman will be fine, just like with any other companion. Give them a limited number of things they can do and limit their turn to say 1 action and a reaction.
I feel like this is a better option for small groups of maybe 1-3 players. It allows them to not play a healing class if they don’t want to and is at the point where combat wouldn’t be bloated by an additional creature. Just stray from making this NPC a full-on PC for the DM, let the players give them orders!
If we’re being realistic this is a situation that will very, very rarely come up in most games. It’s really an anomaly that a party wouldn’t have a bard, cleric, druid, paladin, ranger, divine soul sorcerer, or a celestial warlock. However, this advice is still valuable for parties with only a tiny amount of healing.
Your cleric isn’t forced to prepare healing spells every day. They’re well within their rights to choose not to. That being said, I can’t imagine that one wouldn’t take at least one spell, like Healing Word.
As the DM you’re not obligated to change the game to lessen a weakness like this. However, you should try your best to do so. Give out extra magical healing consumables, but they come at the price of the party getting these instead of other magical items.
Every party has a weakness and it’s up to them to overcome it in one way or another. They may use their face to haggle the price of potions down so they can afford more, or they could have their rogue stealth in and steal some outright.