D&D5e — Recovery and Healing

Casualty. by Heather Nicholson
In general, I like the way that hit points in 5e are much more explicitly linked with luck and fatigue rather than with actual cuts, scrapes and bruises, and also the way that recovery of these points is so much quicker and easier. There's less need for parties to be constantly scurrying back to safety after ten minutes of dungeoneering to get themselves healed, and it also means that a party without a cleric (or a guaranteed cheap supply of healing potions) can actually be a viable adventuring party.

That's all very well and good, but what about situations where your character is actually folded, spindled, and/or mutilated? I guess the easiest thing to do would be to reflect that condition with Ability Damage. That has two advantages:
  1. It doesn't require the addition of a new damage mechanic to the rules, and
  2. Ability damage is scary and hard and expensive to fix, and it can give combat meaningful consequences (and thus a good reason to find ways to avoid it if possible).
A potential down-side is that it could easily lead to the 'death-spiral' effect, which may make sadistic GMs rub their hands together and go "Muahahahahaaaa!", but isn't actually all that much fun to experience in play. It would need to be applied with a bit of thought rather than willy-nilly — I'd probably use it only as a consequence of a critical hit, or of long, bone-breaking falls and the like.

Anyway, the actual focus of this rambling is that I think it is wise to distinguish from the outset between RECOVERY and HEALING.
  • Recovery is what your character does when resting, or when a fighter gets their second wind or what-not. If all you're doing is getting back hit-points, you're recovering, not healing.
  • Healing is what you have to do to cure Ability Damage (in which I include such conditions as deafness or blindness, or loss of mobility due to injury or disease or whatever).
Magical means of recovery are pretty straightforward to identify: low-level "cure" spells are about it, along with Cure Wounds potions and so forth.

Magical healing, in the sense I've been using it here, is less easily categorized, though it doesn't take a lot of thought on a case-by-case basis. Heal, Restoration and Regenerate are three spells that spring immediately to mind; I haven't looked thoroughly enough through the current spells lists to be definitive. Generally, I'd say that if the wording of a healing spell indicates other effects over and above simple hit-point recovery, it's probably appropriate.

Natural healing can be handled by the GM pretty much as a matter of common sense. Broken bones will take a month or two to heal, while blindness caused by having one's eyes gouged out probably isn't going to get better on its own. Personally, I wouldn't worry too much about gross stuff like secondary infections and gangrene and so forth; it's just not very heroic or mythic to succumb to septicaemia after weeks of lying in your own pus. However, your mileage may, as they say, vary.

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