I’ve been on a bit of a realism kick lately. Not an “elves couldn’t exist” type of realism, but a realism based on the logic of the story that is being told. One thing my musings and discussions with other gaming friends has brought up is how essential the idea of healing is to a game.
Have you ever seen an action movie where the hero gets hit, but of course it is in the shoulder and they just kind of continue on. Or wrestling. Oh god, wrestling. As entertaining as wrestling is, any person who took that much punishment in one night would be hospital bound for weeks before walking again, let alone wrestling the next week. Watching these sorts of miraculous feats of endurance and thinking about how Hit Point systems, wound penalties, and damage tracks function in games, I’ve come to realize how necessary it is to have healing of some phenomenal sort in our game worlds. Games, both video and tabletop, have healing in the forms of magic, nanobots, meds, stims, herbs, food, etc. that help us believe that not all injuries are the realistic, bone crunching, put Harry Dresden in the hospital for a few weeks types of game elements that they would actually be.
Healing Allows Us To Buck Reality
Having access to some sort of phenomenal healing ability in games lets us thematically ignore the fact that an adventurers life would leave them crippled with arthritis, torn muscles, and bad backs, if not with actual limb breakage. If we assume that our healing element fixes most minor things easily, then those torn muscles or sprained ankles we would acquire from marching through a dungeon with even a 1 HP injury suddenly have a reason to never come up in our stories. Sure the healing potion didn’t heal us up to full, but its mere presence lets us assume that we probably don’t suffer the minor annoyances that would hinder us in the real world. This extends to major injuries as well. Sure, that would have taken your arm off, but getting those healing nanobots in turns a hospital stay injury into a minor annoyance.
Healing Does Away With A Lot Of Needless Down Time
Following along the bucking reality arc, down time is required to heal from most wounds. Even when we get sick, we need to rest our bodies or the malady just continues on and on. If our games didn’t have an element of healing to them, we would have to rest our characters whenever they got injured in any believably major way.
Healing Removes Annoying, Fun Breaking Consequences
Sure, your leg was nearly cleaved in twain, sure it should probably be in a splint and not moved, but heck, that healing spell mended it right up. You can keep walking on it, you can still make disguise checks because that brace isn’t in the way, you can still sneak about. Maybe you’ll take some penalties to the rolls, but you can hand-wave away some of the truly annoying factors, unless of course they are relevant to the game. Having the hand-wave of healing lets us pick and choose when the consequences are fun to play out and when they are a bore.
Healing Means That Lasting Injuries are Story Elements
When you live in a world where healing is accessible to the player characters in some better than reality way, it means that lasting injuries are actually important. If a player needs to be out of a game, their leg is broken and the healing doesn’t work right now. They’ve been written out, but there is a reason for it. That creaky shoulder that is tied to the epic battle in your back-story, it actually has importance in the game and is significantly different from a creaky shoulder someone got from overextending while taking out a 1st level goblin.
Healing Props Up The Sanitized Fantasy World
In most of our fantasy settings, the world setting has all sorts of fantastic elements, but it is rarely depicted as the peasant filled, work and grime, everyone is dirty except the king realities that were the norm in many periods of time that we gain inspiration from. In some societies and cultures, bathing and cleanliness were valued, but in many being clean and preventing disease wasn’t an easily available option or not a concern. Still, many of the settings we create rarely reflect those ideas and times. Some do, but we default to a moderately clean backdrop because that is what most of the world is like today. Healing in a sanitized fantasy world may not be readily available to all, but it helps prop up the possibility of a cleaner civilization in that time period. Disease may not spread as much if a cleric heals a sick girl or alchemists can brew up some super healing herbs for the commoners and nobleman alike.
Healing, aside from any mechanical effects on the game, is an important background story element that enables a lot of invisible story structures that we take for granted about our play. It’s important to respect and look at those kinds of elements, to understand what functions they serve and how they can craft our play experience.
What is your best story about healing letting a character keep chugging on? What other elements provide story reasons for some of the game elements we take for granted? Do you prefer the gritty realism and the extra struggles it brings or do you enjoy these type of game/story enhancing elements?