Thursday, April 12, 2012

H is for Healing

Busy weekend, and yesterday involved a site visit two hours drive away, followed by some socialising later so no blogging time, unfortunately.  Which means I'll do a double post at some stage to catch up, if need be.

So, in RPGs, healing is essential, due to the number of ways that you can get hurt, sliced, crushed, poisoned, slashed, punctured and bitten.  Especially if you're going around getting into fights.

In real life, we use natural healing, pharmaceuticals, and surgery as the main ways of fixing injuries, with a bit of medical practise thrown in.

In most fantasy worlds, as the risk of getting hurt is much, much greater, and medical science hasn't got to the stage of slicing people open then sewing them back up again (the last part is the missing bit), they have to do things differently.  Magic is an obvious tool, but needs to be managed so that you don't have a) a world full of people missing bits of fingers and limbs or b) a world where no-one has scars or injuries and magic can fix everything.

A word here on my RPG system of choice - Dragon Warriors, although not too dissimilar to D&D, has a lot less hit points going around.  Rather than increasing your total by a dice roll every level, you get an extra one health point to your total with every rank gained, if you're a fighter type, and if you're a spell caster, one point every second level.  So people are more fragile and die easier, even at high levels.  There's really no chance to be a 'tank' in these games, and armour is VERY important

The first and most obvious method is recovery after battle.  I've seen this used a few times in other ways, but after each encounter where damage is suffered, if time is spent bandaging, washing, binding and cooling down, then half the damage can be healed.  Round down. You know when you fall down the stairs or go over your mountainbike's handlebars, and although it hurts for a bit, after a few minutes rest or a nice cup of tea, it's a lot less painful and you can get on with your day.

So, for example, Kodak the Barbarian is 5th level and has 18 HP.  He's hit by a crossbow bolt for 7 damage but survives and slays the lone goblin.  Assuming he can rest, extract the bolt from his torso, and wash and bind the wound, he'd get 3 HP back.  In a running battle where he can't take the time for this, such as fleeing the Sultan's Palace with the Princess over one shoulder, it doesn't work.

There's natural rest and recovery, which is 1 HP per day of rest.  Rest can include training and exercising, but no real dangers or overexertion. Must have clean water and food for this to occur, though.

There are healing potions, or bars, or salves.  They all work by restoring the integrity of the body and lessening the effects of concussion and trauma - i.e. health points.  As stated in B is for Bees, honey is an essential ingredient, as well as a variety of rare and difficult to procure other ingredients.  I'm thinking of unicorn bits, rare alpine flowers, ink sacs of tiny poisonousness  octopi and fungi from the deepest dungeons.  Something to justify the cost that seems to be about twice the annual income of an average peasant.

But there's a bit of variation in quality;
  •  Quality potions - deep translucent blue in colour, made painstakingly by really good alchemists that specialise, high level mages, and monks in temples that have a tradition and a secret recipe handed down through the years.  Tastes like a fine liquor, and costs 300 Gold Pieces or more.  Heals 7 HP if all is drunk, 3 if only half the bottle is consumed. Rather addictive if consumed too often...
  • Average potions - lighter blue, almost turquoise, and cloudy, produced by standard alchemists (small batches made but many other potions also brewed at same time) and witches, with their strange ways - don't ask about the ingredients.  Also the type found in ancient ruins, goblin loot and offered as rewards by cloaked men in taverns.  Would fetch 100 - 150 gold in the right type of transactions - night markets, desperate adventurers (their normal state of existence), Elven nobles slumming it... A bit of variation in quality, so heals 1 - 6 HP per bottle, no half sips. Tastes like a half decent red wine, with a peppery aftertaste. Can only drink once a day; any additional produce cramps and no healing.
  •  Hedge potions - a very light blue, with little insoluble 'bits' floating in it.  Frequently with a soapy foam on the surface.  This is the type your average villager would be most common with, and is brewed using reasonably common herbs and fungi, probably including penicillin.  Probably made by wise women/men that live alone in a hut in the woods, hermits, village herbalists, goblin shaman... The type found in goblin ruins and treasures. Can taste mind numbingly hot, intensely sour, nastily sweet or think and soapy.  Not pleasant.  Heals 1 - 4 HP, but can only be used once a week, otherwise something resembling a severe allergic reaction occurs.  Also not pleasant.  Still, it usually stops those suffering agricultural accidents from dying.
Healing magics provide more dangerous but also more dramatic results.  Sorcerers know simple healing spells that give back health points, but stronger magics that heal broken bones, regrow lost fingers or even limbs, and cure heart disease and organs that have stopped working are the domain of the gods, specifically the God of Death, and to a lesser extent, the Huntress and the All-Mother. Death can heal anything, provided the priests, using arcane methods, determine that your time has not come quite yet.  The Huntress is simple magic, usually along the lines of letting you ignore the gaping wound or missing arm so you can still fight, and the All-Mother is usually only concerned with pregnancy and childbirth.

These healings can be tough on the body. Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen series (if I remember properly) has magic healing quite nasty bodily wounds, but not healing the mind or spirit's response to the damage, which can't comprehend the sudden change.  Rest helps, sometimes unconsciousness does too.  The gods can lessen this impact, but sometimes don't, either due to benign negligence or, in some cases, because the injured needs to learn a lesson.

Either way, adventurers use the term "Health Struck" to describe the punch drunk, slightly disassociated from reality, unfocussed behaviour of those that have not reacted well to magical restoration.  If this condition is seen in someone in dangerous environments, most parties would hole up until it passed, or even decamp back to base.  Others would look forward to the amusement to be had. 


  1. While I don't play RPGs it was always hilarious playing Gauntlet when someone would shoot the healing potion right before you could get to it.
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    1. I think playing Gauntlet as a kid in the arcades in the 80s got me into RPGs - I'm trying to recapture that feeling of marginally controlled chaos...

  2. Whatever happened to the gaffer tape of healing?

    1. That holds everything where it's supposed to be, but doesn't really 'heal' anything :)

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