Not having a healer in 5e can seem like a problem, but it doesn’t have to be. Fights will most likely be more difficult, but there are ways to make not having a dedicated healer work.
Not having a healer in 5e is still okay if the DM knows and the players are smart. It can create unique opportunities to make the game more interesting.
There will be a few ways to make not having a healer in 5e work. They require the party to be on task, and for the DM to be a little merciful. Otherwise, the party just has to be amazing players.
How to make not having a healer in 5e work
There are a few ways to make not having a healer in 5e work.
- The players know it will be hard game in session 0.
- The players will make up for it with skill.
- DMs are merciful and give out healing items.
- DMs are nice and make the game easier.
- You get an NPC healer, although that is unnecessary.
You can use just 1 of these methods, or more if you want to make sure that your game will work. If you do nothing and expect the same result as you would get in a normal game, then you will not be likely to succeed. And there will be a lot of TPKs.
We will go over each of these methods in detail. Each method will vary in effectiveness. It varies based on how you want to play the game.
Not having a healer in 5e is extremely doable. It is doable in previous editions as well, but in 5e it is much easier. In previous editions you healed maybe 10 hp a day after a long rest, or just 1 hp per day. It was necessary in the previous editions, but it now with long rests recovering full health and short resting you are able to manage much easier.
At its core, D&D is a combat simulation system. There will be combat in D&D, and you will need to deal with that. Luckily a combat session is not crippling to players who don’t have a healer. It will just be more difficult.
Not having a healer will require your players to be given more leeway. If you expect them to deal with normal CR or how they would usually be able to face monsters, how many encounters a day they should be able to take etc, then it won’t go over well. Just keep this in mind.
The hard, gritty, survival game.
If the players are aware that there will be no healer in session 0 they might decide to have a different type of game. A game where there is no healing, and where it will be a gritty grimdark game. Combat is brutal, and you might even have them retain some damage after resting.
That is the most extreme response to this type of game, but everyone will be ready for it to be a hard campaign. They might even be more ready and willing to have characters die. Which would take some burden off of the DM, but this is not what most people probably want.
Instead of going full grim dark, your players probably want to play a normal game of D&D. It will be hard, but they need to understand that you will not make the game easier for them. This makes your players take accountability for not having healers, and they will need to be intelligent about it.
The responsibility is mostly put on the players, but as a DM you will need to adjust to not having a healer in 5e as well. Make sure that they will have a chance to get out, possibly make dungeons more non combat heavy. For example, you can use traps, puzzles, or other non-combat encounters. More roleplay can be incorporated, but you don’t have to make it too difficult.
DMs do not have to punish players for not having a dedicated healer. Sometimes no player wants to be a dedicated healer, and they shouldn’t be punished for it.
The game will still be hard. Much harder than a normal game would be because there is no healer, and the players should be aware of it.
Just make sure they understand this in session 0, and plan on how to address it as a DM, and as a player.
The players want this
Instead of just having a very hard gritty survival game put forth by the DM, the players state that they want this. They want the hard difficult route and aren’t just coming to the realization that no one is a healer. Instead, they have come together and decided to not have a game with a healer.
This is a completely different outlook than if the DM just tells the players that the game will be hard!
If the DM wanted the players to understand that not having a healer in 5e will be difficult, they might just be stating this to make the players cautious. The game will be a little harder, but it won’t be a harsh world that is almost a death sentence to most characters.
If the players have come together and want this, they will need to have a harsher experience even if the DM isn’t prepared for it.
This will not be hard, but it might be unnerving for some DMs. If your players really want a harsh game, then you should try to give it to them and just clarify that death is possible if they are not creative or are irresponsible. Play the game like normal and give the players an opportunity to shine.
This is only for the competent players who want a challenge, and I would not recommend this approach for most DMs out there. It is only for the players who really want to play a hard game of D&D.
We did talk about healing items though, so if your players just realized they didn’t have a healer you can give them healing items to lessen the burden.
Not having a healer in 5e is doable. You are in the best position out of any edition to do this, but it will still be difficult. That is why you have the option to give healing items, and create healing items.
Potions might be plentiful in this world or just extremely cheap. Make an in-game reason why there are so many healing items and let your players roll with it. You might even give them some minor healing tools that don’t run out like wands of cure light wounds.
Beyond this though, healing items will most likely loose their potency. If your players continue along in the campaign and get higher level, they should feel the effects of not having a healer more than at lower levels!
This may seem like a strange stance to take, but consider this.
In the beginning players are just learning how to play their characters and work together. They should have some cushion. Later on, healing might be nice but it can have some adverse effects.
When players have healing items that keep increasing in potency they completely replace a healer. Now instead of making it a hard encounter for 4 players, it is an easy encounter for 4 players that effectively have 1 more person due to incredibly powerful magic items. Imagine a wizard with a staff of healing. It basically lets them be a mini cleric and a wizard. That is too much!
It is extremely difficult to make healing items beyond what the DMG provides without making them too powerful. At higher levels healing items should tapper off. It is just a warning that is very important to have since I have made this same mistake. Repeatedly over the years, and it is much better to not have higher level healing items.
Don’t make it come off as a shock! Slowly tapper off the healing items and still provide potions, but make it clear that they are becoming less and less effective.
There are some DMs who see the issue of not having healers in 5e and decide to be extremely nice to their players. They say that not having a healer will not be a problem and just brush it off.
These DMs either have to give the rule that no one dies in the campaign, or they will rob the players of an important experience.
Our goal is not to punish players for picking what they want. We do however need to make sure that players understand what they are going to be in for. The game of D&D is a combat simulators at it’s core. D&D will have combat, and if you do not have every class to balance the party out it will make combat more difficult. It is important to be upfront and honest with your players about this.
If you are just extremely nice and make the game easier, it is hard to make the game easier, and not patronizing. You either make it too hard or too easy unless you are extremely experienced. You will most likely not walk that fine line and screw it up. This isn’t anything personal. It will happen to almost anyone.
This is why you can’t just be a nice DM and not address this issue. It is something that will impact the game. How it impacts the game is up to you and your players, but if you are too nice the challenge will be taken away. There is no point, and your players will get bored.
Be upfront and honest instead of trying to bend over backwards to make something work. You deserve to not be stressed later down the line for this player made decision to not have a healer. And not having a healer is okay, but what if you just can’t deal with it?
NPC healers can be a great way to deal with not having a healer in 5e, but it circumvents the whole idea of not having a healer. There are many different ways to address this issue as stated above, but if you cannot deal with not having a healer in 5e, then you can have an NPC healer.
The best way to do this is to have a DMNPC. These are NPCs that go with the party, adventure with them, and level at the same pace as the players. This is hard to do correctly and most first attempts at DMNPCs fail horribly.
Many DMs put too much focus on their NPCs, instead of the players. This is not a good thing and will destroy campaigns if done incorrectly. Fortunately for you, I have screwed this up enough to finally get it correct and can tell you how.
We talked about it a lot in the linked article DMNPCs, but the basics boil down to this. Make a healbot that doesn’t have a special focus, or give the players any in-game advantage other than healing. I did this exact same thing in a previous edition and they loved the DMNPC. He was quiet, went with the group, was not a leader, and was beaten to hell and back most of the time.
The DMNPC never once took the spotlight away from the players, and that is the most important thing to keep in mind.
If this is done correctly, it can help your party play a normal game of D&D. Generally, I would only recommend this for a small party and even then there are other ways to deal with not having a healer in 5e.
There are many different ways to deal with not having a healer in 5e, but it is up to you to decide. Each group is different and your response to not having a healer in 5e might be different than others, but it can be done. In fact, it is far easier than ever before to not have a healer.
That doesn’t mean that having a healer will be easy. The game will be more difficult due to the design of the system, but you can still do it! Just be upfront with your players about how the game will probably progress asap.
I hope that this has helped you understand that it is possible to play 5e without a healer, and given you some ideas on how to do so.
This has been Wizo and until next time keep rolling!