No Healer? No problem!
Updated: Jan 1, 2019
Running a Game without Channeling Healers. A Gaming Tip.
So how do you run a game as a GM or play in a Pathfinder game (or D&D 3.5) when there’s no character dedicated to healing using mass Area of Effect (AoE) heals, such as a cleric or Life oracle with the Channel Energy ability?
This subject has come up with my own gaming groups a few times. Eventually, we found ourselves in this exact scenario when we started a new campaign. No one had created a dedicated AoE healer such as a cleric, and the only character with the ability to do an AoE heal by channeling positive energy was our paladin.
So, what to do? Make one player abandon the class they really want to play and roll up a dedicated channeling healer, instead? No need for that!
The game is certainly still playable and fun in this scenario, but the players need to adapt their play style and tactics, and GMs must also adapt by modifying encounters to ensure they are fair and avoid frequent total party wipe outs, and to provide characters with healing tools and magic items to mitigate the lack of AoE heals since there’s no cleric. GMs might also consider implementing some house rules that pump up the Healing skill, or taking other measures.
As a GM, advise the party they may need to adjust their tactics, and not just charge in every time, relying on channeling heals every round to keep them alive. Also reassure them you will be adjusting encounters to account for the fact that they have little healing. It’s important that they know you’re willing to make these adjustments, or they may not be willing to field a party without a dedicated healer.
Your group may find that playing without a dedicated healer is actually a lot of fun and challenging, as well!
Changing Player Strategies and Tactics
Use some tried and tested old school gaming tactics where clerics didn’t have AoE heals to begin with:
Medic! Have characters with the ability to cast cure light/moderate/serious wounds or paladin lay on hands stick close to the melee characters so they deliver timely touch heals when necessary.
Craft or buy healing wands, potions and scrolls (cure light/moderate/serious wounds, restoration, neutralize poison, etc.)
Use those buff spells and abilities! Buff AC (protection from evil, barkskin, blur, displacement, cat’s grace, shield other), hit points (false life, bear’s endurance), saves, speed (haste, longstrider), combat ability (bard inspiration, bull’s strength, haste, bless, heroism, prayer), etc. Throw invisibility on the rogue to facilitate sneak attacks.
Debuff the enemy! Hinder them with spells and abilities such as slow, entangle, blindness/deafness, silence, soften earth and stone, spike stones, stinking cloud, fog cloud, sleet storm and witch hexes. Silence can also be placed on a willing party fighter or rogue who then attacks enemy casters in melee, giving them a very bad day indeed.
Use battlefield control. A well placed wall of fire/ice/stone, stinking cloud, or entangle between the party and the enemy can save the day. There are plenty of others that work well, too, depending on the situation. Create pit in a dungeon corridor between the party and the enemy can completely stop melee attackers from reaching your front lines, while still allowing your archer or spellcasters to fire ranged attacks.
Vampiric touch! Combine this with spectral hand and your arcane caster now has a ranged attack that not only hurts enemies but also grants the caster temporary hit points.He's like his own healer who damages opponents at the same time.
Hold person, sleep + coup de grace. Held and sleeping targets are considered helpless, which means that characters have a chance to kill them in one round using a Coup de Grace attack action. Use it well.
Hit the enemy from range before closing for melee. If you’ve got a character specialized in archery or some other ranged offensive attacks such as an alchemist or blasting sorcerer, make sure they get plenty of opportunities to do their thing before melee starts.
Reach weapons. Your front line fighter/tank and even secondary melee types with reach weapons can give you an edge, allowing you to attack from a safe distance and also increasing the number of potential attacks of opportunities you’ll get to make each round. Just remember to pack a standard weapon for when fighting in close quarters where your reach weapon can’t be used.
Gang up on enemies, one at a time. Burn them down, then move on.
Flank! Don’t forget to flank with other characters. This is especially important for rogues who rely on Sneak Attack to do significant damage. A summoned monster or animal companion that’s not being ridden can also help other characters by flanking with them.
Use tag team melee. If your primary melee characters gets badly wounded and no significant healing is immediately available to them, then have them use the Withdraw action and retreat to a nearby safe square until they can get healed. Another character, animal companion, or summoned monster can take over for them until they are ready to rejoin the fight.
Use mounts. They let you move faster and can make their own attacks. A good warhorse has a bite attack plus two hoof attacks.
Fight defensively. Not a favorite tactic of anyone, but sometimes necessary, especially if you need to withdraw or retreat.
Retreating: Know when and how to run away and live another day. Use the Withdraw maneuver when necessary.
Know when to rest and recover.
Max out your Heal skill and use it to maximum effect. Provide first aid to stabilize the dying, treat deadly wound to restore a few lost hit points in an hour, and provide long term care to help party members recover extra hit points with each full night’s rest. Buy a healer’s kit
So what other classes can heal?
If you don’t have a cleric or Life oracle in the party, there are certainly other classes with healing ability that can help. Druids, standard oracles, paladins, rangers, bards, inquisitors, bards, warpriests, shaman, witch, and alchemist all have access to some healing spells or abilities. Even if the players of these classes doesn’t want to be a full-time dedicated healer, they should still prepare or know the occasional cure light/moderate wounds spell.
Advise players whose characters can cast healing or curative spells to take the Scribe Scroll or Brew Potion feats, so they can make magic healing items for use during or after combat. Make sure you give them enough gold and downtime to make some of these items in between encounters or adventures, if they need it. Also encourage these characters to make scrolls and potions of buff spells that can further help the party during combat, such as bull’s strength, bear’s endurance, enlarge person, resist energy, haste, heroism, etc. The more buff the party is, the faster they will defeat their enemies and the less overall damage they should suffer.
There's a lot you can (and probably should) do as a GM if your players don't have a dedicated healer in their group.
Give monsters average vs. max hit points.
They’ll fall faster and the characters won’t suffer as much damage as a result, and won’t have to use as much healing resources to get through each fight. This is also helpful if the adventure calls for numerous encounters per day that could easily be done with a channeling AoE healer, but might require a party without such a healer to rest a full day in between encounters.
Reduce the number of monsters per encounter.
Downgrade powerful monsters and villains.
Many powerful monsters are designed to be tackled by parties with channeling AoE healers in the group. Big boss monsters who can deal massive damage per round need to be downgraded a bit or else they may quickly wipe out a party with no major healing ability. Again, consider giving them average hit points instead of max hit points, and/or consider giving them a -2 penalty on all attack rolls, damage rolls, saves, etc. Another way to do this is to take away a few levels of whatever class the powerful villain might have. So if the villain is a level 8 wizard, then make him/her a level 6 wizard. Admittedly, this requires more work to redo all the villain’s stats and abilities, and in this case will affect the spells the wizard knows. However, in a pinch a good GM can do this by the seat of their pants by just reducing the number of spells known or cast per day by one or two per caster level.
Another interesting way of downgrading villains is to replace some of their class levels with other classes that don’t stack in a powerful way but make the villain memorable and versatile. So if the level 8 wizard villain is too hard for your no healer party, perhaps make the villain a multi-class level 5 wizard/level 3 cleric or even wizard/fighter, wizard/rogue, whatever fires your imagination. Doing this seriously downgrades the villain’s magical firepower, making them less lethal to the characters, but also gives them some additional abilities that the party might not expect and could also result in a more interesting encounter that the players will likely remember.
Run lower-level adventures
If the characters are all level 6, then possibly consider running them through existing modules and adventures designed for level 4-5 characters. You should thoroughly read the adventure, though to ensure that that plots are not seriously compromised by the character's abilities. For example, a part of a dungeon that is meant to be hard to get into by lower level characters might not be a challenge if they can just dimension door or teleport in. If your characters are trashing the adventure's monsters too easily, then just increase the number of monsters in each encounter, or throw in some additional tougher than average leaders or spellcasters in each group of monsters. You can even toss in extra types of monsters -- perhaps that band of orcs is suddenly accompanied by a manticore, or the leader rides a manticore?
Tweak enemy spell casters so that they don't always have every single best offensive spell available to them.
Perhaps they only know the less commonly used offensive spells, possibly because they simply never managed to learn the more offensive spells or perhaps they are not as talented as your typical caster. For example, instead of having every villainous caster always knowing fireball or stinking cloud or web, perhaps some instead use acid arrow or burning hands or ray of enfeeblement. If the party is up against a monster whose magic powers allow it to cast fireball, then replace that ability with a lesser spell such as flaming sphere, scorching ray or burning hands or even something completely different like create pit, scare, glitterdust, or command. Not only is this taking it a bit easier on the party by pulling punches but it also might make combat more interesting since the villains will not always using the same standard spells and tactics that the players expect. It might even give incentive for enemy spell casters to track down and attack the party if they’ve heard that one of the characters has the fireball spell in their spellbook, which the villain wizard wants badly. If you find that doing this makes it too easy for the party then gradually improve the enemy spellcasting ability until you find a balance that makes it challenging and fun for the party while still avoiding total party kills or endless downtime as the party rests days in order to get back their hit points and ability damage.
Have the monsters run away.
Not all monsters always fight to the death. Play them like any sensible creature that values its life. When it becomes clear that the characters are winning the fight, most monsters should try to escape. This not only makes sense from a role-playing perspective, but it also means the characters will suffer less damage than if the fight had gone on until every bad guy is dead. Some weaker, less brave or selfish monsters might even run away in fear early in the combat if they witness the characters do something really impressive, like cast a powerful spell or deal a resounding blow. You can role play this so the players see the monsters reacting in fear to their actions and then watch in satisfaction as some of them turn tail and flee. This makes perfect sense for weaker monsters such as typical orcs, goblins and bandits, though no mighty, self-respecting dragon would just run away when a character fireballs them, unless the dragon is near death.
Hand out healing magic items
Give the party some wands, potions, or scrolls of cure light/moderate/serious wounds, or give them enough gold every now and then so they can craft or buy some. This is an easy fix. If the characters have enough healing magic of their own, then they won’t need a full channeling AoE healer so much. Remember that any character can use a potion, and any character can use a wand as long as they can cast spells and the wand’s spell is on their class list. For instance, even rangers can use a wand of cure light wounds.
Handing out Metamagic Rod of Reach Spell will allow a character who can cast cure spells to do so from close range instead of touch, and without the spell level increase cost.
Pump up the characters.
This is another solution if you’re not inclined to go to the effort of downgrading all your monster and villain encounters or handing out lots of healing magic items. Just don’t go overboard to the point where your characters get grossly overpowered. Hand out magic items that boost characters’ strength, dexterity, constitution to improve their combat ability and survivability. Magic armor and shields, fortification items, cloaks of resistance, rings of protection, and bracers of defense are always good. The harder the characters hit, the faster the enemies go down and the less damage the characters suffer. The harder it is for the monsters to hit and hurt the characters, the less often the characters will get taken out.
Another minor way of pumping up the characters is to give them good standard warhorses, so they have a mounted advantage vs. unmounted foes in certain encounters. War trained horses improve the mounted characters speed on the battlefield, give them a bonus to hit vs. smaller unmounted foes, and the horse itself can contribute offensively by attacking with its bite and hooves. These advantages will help them defeat their enemies faster, enemies might sometimes target the horses instead of the characters, and if a horse goes down in a fight it’s not as big a loss as losing a class animal companion. Possibly even give horses unusual qualities such as bonus hit points or higher constitution or bonus tricks. Advise characters to put some ranks into the Ride skill or else give them all a few free bonus ranks in the skill if they don't want to spend points on it.
House Rule Healing
Establish house rules for pumping up the Heal skill and hit point recovery from resting. Perhaps reduce the Treat Deadly Wounds time from 1 hour to 10 minutes. Perhaps reduce the Provide Long Term Care time from 8 hours to 4 hours. Perhaps double the amount of hit points that characters get from a standard full night’s rest, even without someone providing long term care. Or perhaps allow characters to add their Constitution score modifier to the number of hit points gained from a full night’s rest. The Heal skill rules in Pathfinder Unchained provide similar boosts, so consider allowing them, as well. Allow characters to purchase or find healer’s kits to give them a bonus on their Heal skill rolls. One of my GM friends allowed my druid character to spontaneously cast cure spells in addition to summon nature's ally, which provided a nice small boost for the party when they needed it. I once ran a game where cure light wounds was also available as an arcane spell, so that the party wizard could cast it if he chose to learn it and prepare it. Again, this was just a small boost that came in handy without damaging game balance.
Giving the party enough down time to rest
This is going to be important if the party doesn't have a lot of healing ability. Try shortening some dungeons by removing some extra encounters, or provide some safe zones where the party can rest without constantly encountering wandering monsters. If the party tries to do more each day than you think they can handle, then drop some ominous hints about how dangerous the dungeon or wilderness appears, and/or how tired the characters are. If they want to continue anyway, that's up to them. At the same time, don't give them all the time in the world to rest, or else there's never a sense of urgency or danger in the game, and that's no fun. ;)
Add local healers to convenient locations in the game
What to do when the primary fighter gets cursed or suffers -6 points of Strength damage and there’s no healer in the party that can fix it? If there happens to be a friendly non-player character healer nearby, then the problem is solved. So, perhaps there’s a famous hermit with healing skills who lives in or near the haunted forest/castle/dungeon/etc. the characters are exploring, and she can help the characters if they can find her. The healer might be a full channeling AoE cleric, or perhaps they can prepare numerous cure moderate wounds, etc. They might also have the ability to cast restoration, remove curse, etc. This healer might even provide an interesting side trek encounter, especially if they have a dubious reputation or require a favor or quest from the characters in exchange for their services.They might even have a reputation for being dangerous, like a hag that demands a year of a character's life in exchange for removing their curse.