Healing surges are great. I found playing 3.5 how absolutely crippled our group was without a cleric-type. Running my 4ED game, my players don’t have a cleric in the party (more on that later). At times it can make things a little hairy, but if they can get through that fight, a few minutes rest they can jump right back into the action. It is an awesome mechanic. I also love how clerics supplement the healing capacity a player all ready has, they don’t completely replace it. Finally a cleric can spend some time fighting rather than just playing band aid to the party spamming healing spells.
Some thoughts I have about healing surges in general…
Hit points are not just a record for physical damage – I tell my players that about 1/3 of their HP total actually represents what physical punishment their body can take. The rest of the HP represents resolve, will, and endurance. The longer you swing that sword, the more energy reserves you use in the fight, the more likely you’ll leave yourself open to a well-timed attack that REALLY does some physical damage. In that context healing surges work.
Likewise, I started leaving the bloody descriptors for damage to once…well…the character is bloodied. Till then, 5 points damage with a sword is a bash to the jaw with a its pommel. A 6 point hit with an arrow becomes a nasty bruise after the leather armor absorbs the strike. 10 damage from a fall results in a sprained ankle. Sure the player can keep pushing on, but all those bruises, nicks, strains, and pains means the player will have to take some serious rest in the near future.
Healing surges are not just simply magical healing – A second wind is literally another rush of adrenaline to keep pressing on. And that 5 minute rest truly means you are slowly gasping for breath, wiping the sweat from your brow, and working up the courage to keep going. Once your players drop the old DnD concept that HP = physical damage, you can start to play around with awarding (and removing) healing surges since they explain that extra desire the character has to keep on his feet. As for recovering from being bloodied, picture a little self-first aid during the break along with spending all those healing surges (think quick needlework from Rambo on his arm in First Blood as a more graphic example).
Losing healing surges is a great way to hamper the player – After an extended trek through a desert, or an arduous mountain climb, you don’t need to hit the player with damage. Wipe off a few healing surges instead. Want to sap the player’s vitality with an evil artifact, but keep him on his feet for a few encounters? An excellent way to represent necrotic energy is by removing healing surges. Had a hex placed on a player from an evil shaman? Take off a few healing surges (with the ability not to recover them fully after an extended rest). The effect is a little more subtle than straight HP damage, but it forces the player to recognize he can’t keep pushing at 100% efficiency and something is hampering him.
Gaining healing surges works too – Want to add a little more benefit from resting in a sacred chapel? Give the player an extra healing surge after an extended rest. Allowing the players to regain a few surges through some special artifact mid-dungeon is a great way to boost the characters, especially if a particular encounter was a little too tough (flubbed daily attacks anyone?). Throwing the players an extra surge once in a while can really help in reinforcing the idea that a particular environment, effect, or power improves their resolve and fills them with confidence to step further down those dank, dark corridors.
So how do other folks envision healing surges and have you found other nifty uses for them?