Over at Nerdarchy the YouTube Channel Nerdarchists Dave and Ted discussed the idea of a healbot character for fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons. The term healbot comes from the world of Massively Multiplayer Online video games and refers to a character whose primary goal is monitoring the health of the party and keeping their hit points up. In 5E D&D or other tabletop roleplaying games this role doesn’t exist in quite the same way but essentially a support character who heals and buffs the party could be considered a healbot. Certainly characters and adventures in 5E D&D are much more immersed into the campaign setting and there’s more to adventuring that clicking buttons on cooldown. At the same time being the party healbot or support character can be immensely satisfying and rewarding in several ways. So let’s get into it.
Playing a healbot in 5E D&D
Whether you’re playing a dedicated healbot character in 5E D&D like the one described in the video above, you’re “not that kind of cleric” or you’re simply unsure what action to take when your turn comes around, I’m here to encourage you to take a play from the healbot playbook. Play a support character and bolster your allies with healing and buffs! Sure, it feels terrific when your attack takes down the big boss or a well-placed blade barrier keeps minions at bay. But there’s always a chance you’ll miss the crucial attack, or the placement of your spell doesn’t turn out to be as effective as you thought. And that’s the No. 1 reason healing and buffing allies as a support character makes a fantastic choice.
They never fail!
Spell slots never go to waste and class features never fizzle due to enemy saving throws when instead your focus is on friends. It might seem like a departure from the stripped down bare bones of combat — reduce enemy hit points to zero as quickly and efficiently as possible — but hear me out. You’re waiting for your turn to come around, and allies are directly engaged with a dangerous foe. Everyone feels circumspect about their situation, including the enemy. The Dungeon Master tells you they’re looking pretty rough (DM code for they’re almost dead). If you attack, you might beat the monster right then and there. But if not, their turn is next and your barbarian buddy probably can’t take another hit before going down. They’re a Totem Warrior embracing the spirit of the bear too, so it’s pretty serious. Your options are bane, bless, cure wounds, inflict wounds, attack or Help.
Two of those choices could potentially end the conflict immediately. One of them might allow an ally to withstand another blow from the enemy. One may lower the danger for everyone, and the remaining two increase the danger the party presents. Two of the options make your character the big damn hero who took down the terrible monster. Awesome! This could become a fondly remembered moment in your gaming history. But if not, the monster drops a friend and the death spiral begins. One turns out to be a clutch move preventing the foe from landing an attack or making a saving throw against trampling charge of the elk spirit embodying barbarian…if it sticks. Half of your choices have zero chance of failure. No spell slot goes to waste and no action unfulfilled when your attention is turned to allies.
This is all very simplified, and math nerds out there can of course illustrate probabilities of your war cleric’s chance to hit compared to the barbarian’s, the merits of the Help action and yadda yadda yadda. But there’s no denying the 100% success rate a support character boasts. Should you slow the foe or haste the Hexblade? Enlarge the goliath or reduce the ogre? When your rogue reaches 3rd level will you try the Mastermind instead of something flashier like Arcane Trickster or Assassin?
No matter what class features and spells your 5E D&D character has access to it’s worth keeping options to heal and buff allies in mind. Even if you don’t set out to play a support character or a dedicated healbot, it’s worth making sure to include some of those abilities when you have a chance. You’ll always be able to benefit the party without any chance of failure or a wasted turn.
Support character benefits in 5E D&D
Mechanics, math and probabilities aside there’s another terrific reason to play a healbot or support character in 5E D&D. Interacting with other characters in these positive ways opens a door to roleplaying and character development. If everyone in the group focuses only on their own characters capabilities, they might all become highly effective specialists no doubt about it. But I’ve played in many games like this and there’s often a detached quality to the game play. Players tell the DM what they’re doing and so on down the line, and it starts to feel like everyone is simultaneously playing a one on one game with the DM.
One of the reasons I’ve come to really enjoy playing a support character is the opportunities to engage with other players and characters. This is especially true in situations like one shots, new groups, organized play like Adventurers League or basically anytime you’re playing with people for the first time. I can’t tell you how many times casting enhance ability on a fellow adventurer facilitated great interaction between the characters in the game and the players around the table. It’s fun to do your cool thing and show off how awesome your character is but equally rewarding? Being the person who helped another character be the hero and do their cool thing even better.
Who doesn’t like the person making everyone’s lives easier and boosting their special cool thing?
Even better than any mechanical benefit you bestow is the roleplaying potential. Whenever you make connections with another character you’re developing character and party dynamics, and enriching the story of these characters. A support character like a healbot is built on such interactions. At campaign’s end when everyone looks back to reminisce, think of all the times characters would surely have died without the healbot keeping everyone on their feet. Imagine how many spell slots would have fizzled from all those successful saving throws against debuffs when instead you buffed the heck out of allies. Or when you zigged rather than zagged to Help a companion attack when you could have tried to Dodge.
I played a bard for a long time during a D&D 3.5 campaign and they were a terrible warrior. After about two sessions I ditched their rapier completely and I don’t believe they ever made an attack roll the remainder of the campaign. Instead, they became my first real dedicated support character. Back then bards could Inspire Courage with their performances, granting a bonus to saving throws and damage for all allies who could hear the bardic music. All that extra damage added up to quite a lot over a campaign! When I wasn’t doing this I had plenty of magic to heal and buff companions. If I recall correct the campaign ended in a fight against a lich or some other powerful undead. Since my bard was a Dirgesinger they had some special sauce against undead and the whole rest of the party went down. The bard saved the day through their music though. It was a real Devil Went Down to Georgia sort of moment.
At the end of the day, 5E D&D makes playing just about any sort of character viable and fun. Playing a mainline warrior or crowd controlling spellcaster isn’t less effective than a support character. (Although pound for pound, still more wasted spell slots from the former. Just saying.) A lot of the fun of any RPG is when your character gets to do their thing successfully, and I hope to illustrate how playing a support character imparts the same satisfaction. It’s also a great way to build pathways for more character and player interaction. I’d go so far as to say a healbot can be a wonderful way for a new player to experience 5E D&D. Completing an amazing adventure together, with the party’s survival ensured through your never-failing actions sounds pretty fun to me.