Thursday, October 6, 2011

Healing Times

Today is going to be a short post, but I wanted to quickly talk about healing times and what they can mean for your game. As I said, it may be a short post, so be warned.

Healing Times
When making a game that is focused on combat, or any sort of system where a replenishable resource is used to keep track of success/failure, healing times are going to be a factor. How long it takes to heal, in many ways, will also determine how gritty your world is and how serious you want fights to be. A long healing time means that you want combats to be costly affairs that should be considered before diving in. A short healing time means that you expect players to be hurt, probably often, and want to get them back into the action. How does this work? Let's take a look.

Long Healing Times
With a long healing time it, quite simply, takes longer for a character to heal. That means that it could be a month - or more - of IC time before your character is back at full health after a rough fight. A lot can happen in that month as well. Think about it, think about your game, how much IC time actually passes per session. A day? A segment of a day? How often do you go past a week. More to the point, once combat starts becoming a regular occurance, how long IC is it before the next fight begins? Generally, not long.

This means that if it takes a long time to heal, that the player is going to be at less than ideal conditions for the next fight. Maybe this will negatively impact in more ways than just how many times she can be hit - a la wound penalties - or maybe not. That doesn't matter though, because just the fact that they can take less damage before going down is a huge deal.

Short Healing Times
Short healing times on the contrast are the exact opposite. It takes less time to heal, and so a fight means less because the PC will just bounce back. Because of this, the PC can just dive in and have all sorts of fun with what they're doing in a fight. After all, what does it matter if you're near dead at the end of the fight? You'll be fine in two days. You can rest up for two days right? It sure beats that week or month that you'd wait in other games.

The Problem
The problem that can crop up here is that the wrong healing time on a game can rob it of the feeling that it is supposed to have. If you have short healing times on a game that is supposed to be gritty and realistic, then the game can start to feel weird. After all, people are bouncing back from deaths door with naught but a nap and some bandages. On the other hand, a game where wounds are supposed to come - and expected to be gone - quickly will suffer from a long healing time. Now, instead of the care free attitude for combat that is supposed to be there, every fight has to be measured out.

The Want
Right now, I find myself wanting to run, or play in, a game with long healing times. A game where the players will have to determine when it is best to run away and when it is best to stay and fight. At the same time, I'd need a system that made running away a viable option. In so many games running away means breaking cover for no benefit - in other words, exposing yourself unnecessarily - and that can get you killed. But a game where it was viable to disengage and run could be a lot of fun. Especially when the group had to decide if it was really worth having a shoot out with this gang right here, right now.


  1. When I was designing The Artifact, the fact that it's near future sci-fi meant to me that there would be no miraculous healing going on. That made me want to go for grit and include that if the character looses half their hit points, unless they get surgery they will die in 1d10 days. It has a real effect on the player's attitude toward combat.

    We did recently introduce an alien healing tech, but it's very limited and so far the players found one crate of it. They know basically where it might be found but getting to it is dangerous. I've been waiting for them to decide to go after more.

  2. When designing my game, my co-creator and I were discussing healing. I wanted to make it take a week of bedrest to heal around 33% of your hit points, but he said that that's too long. We eventually decided on healing 33% hit points after a week without worrying about bedrest or things like that. That way, the PCs can still go out and do things, they'd just have to consider their condition. We also allowed for support for healing more hit points and healing them more quickly; however, quicker healing (such as during combat) would only last until the end of the combat. So, I think we managed to keep a good balance of keeping it gritty and keeping the PCs moving along.

  3. Both sound like interesting takes on it. My own game has decently fast healing times - provided you weren't too beat up anyhow. But it also allows players to get into the action quicker by reducing wound penalties after a period of rest. Course, the second you get hurt again those penalties come back to bite you in the ass. So it is still risky. it's worked out well in the play tests that have happened.