A World Without Healers

Posted: December 31, 2007 by Kendricke in General Game Concepts

“There was some parrying of blows, of course, but the main thing was distance and movement. The best way to avoid being hurt is to not be there, so a lot of swordplay actually involves moving out of range of your opponent.”

– Andreas Wenzel, Fencing and Historical Arms Expert, cited by BBC News, August 1, 2007

In most MMO’s these days, we seem stuck on the idea of a healer class. While damage comes flying in from bigger and badder monsters, these healers play whack-a-mole with your health bars.

So why don’t we just ditch the idea altogether? Is it really that blasphemous a thought?

Realize first and foremost that my preferred class is almost always a priestly healer type. In Archmage I first played a White Mage, and later when classes were changed, an Ascendant Mage. In Diablo and World of Warcraft, I prefer a paladin. In Everquest, I was a cleric. In Everquest II, I’m a Templar. Even in Team Fortress 2, I tend to play the Medic more than any other class.

With all this history, I’d gladly support an MMO that dared to buck the trend and came forward without a healer class. No healing during combat. None. You entered combat with a monster with the gear on your back, your friends at your side, and the skills you could muster…and if you couldn’t get by without healing, you died ingloriously at its feet.

We’ve been trained to believe we need healing and healing classes. With dinner table staples such as Dungeons and Dragons, we came to realize that some fights were just too hard unless we had someone magically mending our broken bones during the chaos of a grand melee. Everquest players pushed the concept to even further heights with the encouraged “holy trinity” concept of fighter, cleric, enchanter.

EA Mythic thinks they’ve got the answer in Warhammer: Age of Reckoning (WAR) by turning healers into fighters. The problem is that they’ve still got healers in the mix, and if there’s anything we’re learning about MMO players, it is this: Where there be healers, there be a path of lessened resistance.

In WAR, I can assure you that healers will quickly take a role right at the forefront for group composition. If there aren’t any healers in your guild online and ready to play, I can assure you that players will start to look elsewhere for their healing “fix”.

Players like myself are more than happy to oblige, typically. Yet, as much as I love playing a healer, I’d be just as happy in an environment where healers didn’t even exist.

What would such a world look like, you might wonder? How could you even create such a game? Wouldn’t we be dying all the time?

First off, we wouldn’t necessarily be dying all the time. This idea that every fight needs to be incredibly intense with huge damage numbers flying all over the place is part of the problem. Change the world view on that and you’ve got the world where healing during combat isn’t as necessary. Create a game world where damage is deadly, but actually getting hit is hard.

What? You dont’ think that’s “realistic” enough? Think of your favorite fight scenes in most of your favorite films. Whether it’s Princess Bride or Crouching Tiger or the Matrix or what have you, you’ll note that most of the time, people don’t actually keep moving all that much after taking a big gashing wound. Oh sure, most of these archetypical protaganists are larger than life and able to take a pounding, but most of that pounding involves the punch to the gut or slammed to the floor type of non-lethal (but still probably pretty damned painful) type of hurt.

In these stories, our Timex heroes are able to take a licking, and yet keep on ticking, but a bullet to the heart tends to slow even these superlative laced ubermen down just a tad. No, the real danger in these tales is the thought of imminent death and the multitude of near misses.

Even in old Dungeon and Dragons player’s guides, the idea of Hit Points was specifically differentiated from “health”. HP’s represented the amount of luck, skill, and daring-do that a hero had before death became a reality. A fighter losing 10 HP may not have represented an actual sword to the chest, but merely the fact that throughout the fight, he’s taking a bit of a bruising that’s knocked him down enough to limit his effectiveness – like a boxer working through a round or two. I’d argue that’s a pretty good analogy, too, since the word “round” made its way to those early dinner table RPG’s as a way to describe a set amount of time during combat.

Not so in MMO’s, where 8,000 points of health allows you to take “slashing damage” or “piercing damage” or any number of other types of “damage”. Throw in some healing abilities, and I can practically imagine my character fending off a hungry bear simply by letting him gnaw on my arm long enough while I continue to regenerate flesh through ample use of healing spells and potions. Chomp all you want – we’ll make more! (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dHciwqnBfzs)

In a world without healers, characters are able to defend themselves without lacerating their livers or breaking their ribs. Healing isn’t required, because damage itself during combat is the exception, not the norm. Honestly, how in the world did Arther and his knights manage to get through a single fight without having healers standing in the back row constantly regenerating broken bones and torn limbs, eh? Could it be that the armor and skill these knights had was sufficient to keep them standing where others did not?

As much as I love playing the healer, I like the idea of a world without healers – where any group of players can form a group. Oh sure, some groups might be more efficient than others, but that doesn’t mean 5 players are sitting around waiting for 40 minutes till they can find a “healer” or a “tank” of the appropriate level.

  1. Agreed. All that healers really do in modern MMOGs is allow the length of fights to be extended– it’s one more numbers management game to play. Unfortunately, it’s a necessary and unpopular one, making things tough for people without a healer.

    As much fun as the holy trinity can be (DPS-Tank-Healer), it would be nice to see a game where magically regenerating all your wounds isn’t a planned part and parcel of the fights.

  2. Illuminator says:

    Health can still be seen as like in old D&D: the tide of battle, an abstraction of multiple factors that would burden the player if managed separately. Consider “mental damage” caused by enchanters. It isn’t physical damage, it’s the corruption of the mind, yet it is withdrawn from the same “health” pool as melee, etc and can bring a person to death.

    Idle power/health regen and fully-effective “healing” are two of the newer RPG trends I’ve grown to become an adoring fan of, because what they do is keep the action moving without tedious timeouts or consumables exhaustion. I hated resting in D&D computer games and using potions in others. Those didn’t contribute to the story for me, and sometimes left me in situations I felt like I couldn’t get out of.

  3. heartless_ says:

    I used to play a tank-type fighter in D&D (2nd Ed), but after getting repeatedly destroyed for being in close-range, I switched over to an archery-based fighter (not a ranger). I followed the archer motif through Ultima Online and a little bit into Dark Age of Camelot. I also started Anarchy Online focusing on their bow skills. Then I moved onto a Runemaster in DAoC, before melee-trains became truly popular. I then got heavily into playing a Healer for a dedicated group. After a few hardcore months of that I quit DAoC.

    The Healer role (heals and crowd control) was so contrived and limiting that I felt trapped. Sure, it took some awesome skill to do it well, and my group won it’s fair share of fights because of a good stun or set of heals, but in the end it wasn’t my name in lights on the kill spam. More often than not, I was just an enabler for faster death. It was once a night where it actually mattered, where as DPS always mattered. Without DPS nothing died. DPS always had a job to do. Some will argue that DPS could not do the job without me, but I could provide a million situations where I simply stood still in a fight doing nothing other than waiting to react.

    Anyways… range has always appealed to me. Damage has always appealed to me. Being the little-engine-that-enables held me for a few months, and killed the mood.

  4. Kendricke says:

    One of the original ideas of Everquest II that set it apart from other MMO’s was the idea of shifting regeneration values between combat and non-combat situations. When you engaged a target, you shifted your regeneration and movement values to a slower, combat oriented mode.

    What if we take that idea and just apply the natural progression to a non-healer model. Greatly increase regeneration outside of combat to the point where downtime between fights is effectively negated (or just provide healing abilities that can only be used outside of combat).

    Of course, once we accept the idea that a “health bar” isn’t really representing “health” but rather a more abstract concept that includes nicks, bruises, stamina, character skill, tactical acuity, and just plain dumb luck, then the idea that downtime isn’t really needed becomes much more believable. After all, why do I need to take a lot of time to rest up after a fight if I’m not really hurt – if that health bar didn’t actually represent broken bones and gaping wounds in the first place.

    There’s no real reason to include healers, really, except that this is the way we’re used to. I’ve played, ran, or created several games and scenarios in which players did not have access to combat healing.

  5. Hirebrand says:

    City of Villains has no healer class. Its fun, try it!

  6. Breck says:

    I’m noticing a trend where someone complains about X convention that they hate about MMOs and my answer is “Try CoH/CoV.”

    Hate the reliance on healers? Try CoH/CoV.
    Hate loot? Try CoH/CoV.
    Hate raiding? Try CoH/CoV.
    Hate traveling? Try CoH/CoV.
    Hate outleveling your friends? Try CoH/CoV.
    Hate grouping? Try CoH/CoV.
    Hate not feeling special or unique? Try CoH/CoV.

    I could go on…

  7. Jeromai says:

    What some MMO might need to do is move away from the ‘health’ as a green bar model. (Health as a certain numerical value or 0-100 percentage, in other words…)

    There’s only so much you can do with it. Subtract from it, and you get wounded. Add to it and we have the ubiquitious healing – be it from a spell or a boatload of potions/food, cast from self or ally.

    If you give it a steady increase or decrease over time, we have regeneration or its opposite, degen. This mechanic is less explored, though games like Guild Wars (both ways), CoX (mostly in the regen form) have included it in their repetoire of things to do with the green bar.

    Resistance as mitigation is generally more welcomed by players, because it’s more predictable and easier to mitigate. Instead of subtracting a huge number, you subtract a smaller number because you have ‘armor’ or some kind of invulnerability to that type of damage. It’s easier to for a healer to react and bring you back to normal.

    Defence, in the way CoX does it, is less enjoyable. It’s a percentage chance of getting hit or not. A arbitrary lottery that’s not controllable by players, and in a game which also has damage values scaled to deal with resistance mitigation, the hits HURT and tend to kill too fast for any kind of player response.

    If we must stick with the green bar, one possible innovation is to stick with resistance as mitigation, but tie that with a less explored game mechanic – such as range. Distance from the enemy might be able to mitigate a spear thrust to the abdomen (ouchy) to just a scratch with the tip of the blade (just a flesh wound…no, really!)

    That might end up encouraging all players to hop around like jumping beans, but well… maybe then it’ll be time to look at the movement mechanic and institute some kind of ‘stamina’ limit as well. Facing might also play an important role, allowing for backstabs or flank attacks.

    What are some possibilities if we move away from one ubiquitious green bar representing your whole character? Location hits, perhaps. Easier to wound the extremities, but a head or chest injury would be incapacitating. Or using appropriate counter moves to deflect attacks, that would turn combat into some kind of rhythm/memory/reflex minigame. Who knows, maybe there’s something else more innovative out there waiting to be thought up…

  8. […] of healing, and design their games more like real life? This is the question at the heart of a recent blog post by Kendricke over at Clockwork Gamer. If you follow Kendricke’s line of reasoning – the heroes in most […]

  9. Davide says:

    RE: healers play whack-a-mole with your health bars.

    Everything in this genre is pretty much whack-a-mole. I would argue that Healers are Unwack at least.

    Eliminate healing and you will get massive zerg rushes, I am not sure that is any better.

    A compromise might be better, reduce healing effects and increase general melee combat for the healer, it would certainly make it more versatile and dare I say fun.

  10. Kendricke says:

    Why do you assume you get massive zerg rushes without healing?

  11. Bill says:

    All MMORPGs are based off of two classes: Priest and Warrior. They are the Adam and the Eve. Take away the healer, the Priest, and you have a pure damage-dealing game with no balance. Essentially, you don’t have a true MMORPG, but something more like Hellgate or Counter-Strike.

    This argument is interesting and academic, but like with most academics … pointless.

  12. Kendricke says:

    What’s “a true MMORPG” then? You’ve set up your points in such a way as to be reliant upon a premise I have to accept…apparently just because.

    In all honesty, would you consider EVE to be “a true MMORPG”? If so, where are the healers during combat there? It’s not an academic question – but a practical one using one of the most popular MMO’s on the market to push the point. According to the logic you present here, such a question would be pointless to begin with, and yet the question itself disproves your basic premise.

    …and since your arguments are based on that premise, it stands to reason that the arguments themselves are disproven in the process.

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