Natural healing is good for me when it comes to fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons and over at Nerdarchy the YouTube channel Nerdarchists Dave and Ted rest up for the next adventure by taking a look at natural healing throughout all the editions of D&D. Aside from the obvious mechanical differences discussed in the video it’s worth noting how methods of natural healing in D&D affect the style of gameplay and storytelling. The core premise of D&D — solving puzzles, talking with other characters, battling fantastic monsters and discovering fabulous magic items and other treasure — remains the same but how stories and adventures progress and more importantly how long these things take in game time changes dramatically. You’ll find no edition wars here, or disparaging words about any editions of D&D. I’ve loved ’em all and I enjoy each more than the previous (yes that means 4E D&D is my second favorite). So let’s get into it.
Natural healing, storytelling and 5E D&D
In 5E D&D adventures and stories move forward at a brisk pace with the same kind of energy as an action film or television show. This makes perfect sense since our entertainment media reflects not just our outlook but attention span. The Player’s Handbook, chapter 9 describes hit points as a representation of a combination of physical and mental durability, the will to live and luck. So in this regard natural healing reflects slowing down and taking a break between pulse pounding scenarios. It’s the part of the show after the big brawl when the heroes find a safe place from their enemies for a few hours.
Natural healing in 5E D&D provides rest for characters between scenarios of exploration, social interaction and combat so they can sleep and eat, tend wounds and refresh minds and spirits to brace themselves for further adventure. I enjoy this approach because it suggests less focus on combat and encompasses all the other aspects of the game too.
Natural healing, storytelling and 4E D&D
The previous edition of the game presents a very fast paced play style. Recovering takes place in the shortest amount of time across any edition. Adventurers can drop many of their best abilities in any kind of encounter, take a breather afterwards for a few minutes and keep going. This edition of the game takes inspiration from video games by design so keeping players playing feels like a major system goal. An adventuring day allows characters to do lots of flashy things consistently. This edition’s Player’s Handbook describes hit points as a measure of ability to withstand punishment, turn deadly strikes into glancing blows and stay on your feet longer but also skill, luck and resolve.
Natural healing in 4E D&D includes several ways any character can recover hit points in the middle of action as well as through 5 minute and 6 hour short and long rests. These characters and stories focus on fast paced adventuring and making sure any character can do cool class related stuff very often and combat occurs much more frequently because of this.
Natural healing, storytelling and 3E D&D
Not surprisingly this edition’s rules for natural healing are complex with lots of modifiers. This is the last edition without any short rest options and characters can only recover hit points through natural healing on a daily basis. Resource management makes a tremendous impact in this game and with so, so, so many character creation and development options can work extremely well or terribly poorly for a character. Interestingly, hit points are not an abstract concept in this edition and the Player’s Handbook describes them as how much punishment you can take before dropping, full stop. It’s not mental exhaustion, fatigue or luck. When you take hit point damage it’s because the character suffers actual harm.
Natural healing in 5E D&D tied into resource management and compared to future editions slowed things down considerably. Clerics and others with healing magic often held spellcasting in reserve to dump it all on injured character before a rest. Recovery rate gets a bump here from earlier editions but still relatively slow. Protracted adventures ruled the day and a party might take weeks to complete a dungeon delve. From a storytelling perspective by today’s standards this stretches the narrative a bit but also puts pressure on players and characters to approach things more cautiously.
Natural healing, storytelling and 2E AD&D
Nonweapon proficiencies (basically skills) become part of D&D in this edition and Healing (plus Herbalism) provides supplemental features to natural recovery. This edition’s Player’s Handbook explicitly lets you know natural healing is slow. Rules for recovering hit points through rest include dedicated bed rest, so hanging out in a dungeon for days at a time probably isn’t a frequent situation. Instead this is sort of a baked in way to assume adventures don’t take place in rapid succession, giving characters days and perhaps weeks to fully recover. Like the edition that follows, hit points here represent how much damage a character can suffer before being killed. And they’re not kidding either — “when a character reaches 0 hit points, that character is slain.”
Natural healing in 2E AD&D occupies a strange space. There’s crunchy mechanics for handling hit point recovery in a variety of scenarios but I get the sense this took place off camera to some extent. But then, why include it at all? I suspect given the era when the rules were developed and the player base people liked having codified ways for everything but as we see, moving forward D&D leans heavily into the storytelling and becomes less concerned with rules answers to everything.
Natural healing, storytelling and 1E AD&D
Character death was commonplace, roleplaying your shopping trips wasn’t a thing and adventure pacing was the slowest of any edition. There’s a reason characters like Robilar, a fighter, would hide in the darkness of a dungeon for hours at a time observing monster patrols and so on. Characters recovered 1 hit point for a full day of rest and every battle could be your last very easily. Here’s an fascinating thing: this edition’s Player’s Handbook describes hit points in great detail, more than other editions and could be considered forward thinking. Hit points represent not only actual damage but potential damage as well as skill, luck and possibly magical factors. In the next two editions they’re simply physical health before returning to this more abstract earlier notion.
Natural healing in 1E AD&D is simple because the game was simpler. This simplicity certainly was not in the language of the rulebooks or extremely noodly mechanics for anything from initiative to figuring out modifiers when you’re wielding a bec de corbin against an opponent with a broad sword. The approach to the game and storytelling assumed characters delving into dangerous dungeons to extract treasure. Personal stories, backstories and game play not within these dungeon settings took place in conversations around the table but wasn’t necessarily an assumed part of playing the game. (Fun fact: Dungeon Masters were called so because they were considered masters of the dungeons they created.)
Looking back at natural healing throughout D&D history was fun. At any given point in the game’s edition history, folks played and enjoyed them without much comparison because these were the games we had to play. Certainly with 1E AD&D this is the case — there were no other editions to compare with but as players and games themselves grew more sophisticated so too did the approach to rules and rulings.
In terms of the relationship between natural healing and storytelling I thoroughly enjoy where D&D is at right now. Hit points include abstractions and spending hours focused only on rest means adventures are more fast paced because players can progress forward more quickly. Removing all the situational modifiers is a big win. The tremendous growth of the game and breadth of player base accounts for something and these days we can enjoy a fantastic intersection of perilous adventure with deep storytelling opportunities and I’m loving it. How about you?