On Unlimited Healing

March 29th, 2006

The magic system introduced in WFRPv2 is undoubtedly one of the strengths of the game, especially as developed in Realms of Sorcery. It is atmospheric, evocative, and addresses the main failing of the first edition, which is the lack of a coherent magic system consistent with the larger Warhammer world. But one of the quirks of being able to cast spells limited only by a desire to avoid Chaos manifestations is having access to essentially unlimited healing; this is especially true with inexperienced characters, when such manifestations are more likely to be minor annoyances than truly dangerous.

The potential of quick, limitless healing clashes with one of my favorites aspects of WFRP — the seriousness and lethality of combat. Combat in WFRP should be dangerous, fraught with peril, and seen as a serious undertaking for any PC. One of the differences between WFRP and other fantasy RPGs is that in WFRP, combat is rarely a first resort. PCs are much more likely to seek alternative solutions to a particular dilemma than rely first and foremost on strength of arm. Wound healing should also be a slow process; a quick route to restoring lost wounds mitigates the seriousness of combat and so should only be made available to PCs when it is offset by some sort of cost. Magical healing is quick, and therefore should never be free or easy.

So, with my biases revealed, onto one possible solution …

My preference is to allow one successful heal spell to be cast, without penalty, for each point of Magic the character possesses. After this, simply add one Chaos die to the casting roll. Should the character succeed in that heal attempt, another Chaos die is added to the next Heal casting roll. This way, a character is not penalized for failed heal attempts (which do not add a Chaos die to the next casting roll), but after each successful Heal spell is cast, the next one becomes more dangerous. This continues until the wizard experiences a period of no less than six hours of uninterrupted sleep, at which time the process resets itself.

Now, this doesn’t increase the chance that the spell will be cast successfully, but it does increase the risk of a Chaos manifestation, and makes each new Heal attempt more dangerous than the last successful Heal spell cast. Also, with each successful Heal, additional Chaos dice open the possibility of rolling on the Major or Catastrophic tables, which contain dangers and risks that the wizard would otherwise not experience until he increased his Magic characteristic. Therefore, casting a Heal spell under this system becomes a true tradeoff between serious (and possibly lethal) adverse effects and the desire to magically heal a member of the party.

So, what’s the in-game justification for this? What do you tell your players when they ask why you singled out the Heal spell for this sort of treatment? The simplest justification is that magical healing is a complex intermingling of the life energy of the wizard with the winds of magic — the caster is using the winds of magic to extract, amplify, and finally transfer his own life energy to another, thus hastening the natural healing process of the recipient. This is an extremely taxing process, nearly akin to manipulating more than one color of magic at the same time. Any slip in concentration or focus on the part of the spellcaster may allow these energies to wrestle away from his fine control — and after each successive, successful casting, the next Heal becomes that much more difficult as fatigue accumulates, increasingly interfering with the substantial efforts required to maintain that control.

With this system, the decision to engage in multiple healings should be approached in much the same way as the decision to engage in combat, limited only by the player’s assessment of the very real and accumulative risks involved. No artificial limits forcibly prevent the caster from casting; that decision should always arise within the player himself. This is, of course, the case with the casting of any spell, but with this version of the Heal spell these risks magnify rapidly as Chaos dice accumulate. At the same time, it is very effective in limiting the amount of “quick, no-cost” heal spells cast per day, thus restoring the seriousness of combat and consequently the perilous nature of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay.

13 comments to “On Unlimited Healing”

  1. Great to see you start this Blog Chuck!

    I agree that multiple heals could end up being not only too powerful a tool, but tedious.

    I like the “life force transfer” justification a lot. Perhaps an eventual take on healing might involve some possible and temporary S, T or W loss on behalf of the caster as a more apt cost?

  2. Thanks for the kind words, Dave. Temporary penalties to Strength, Toughness, and/or Wounds is a great idea and may be even better at limiting the casting of multiple Heals than the looming threat of Chaos manifestations. I might have to revisit this article at a later date.

  3. It’s great you brought this up. I’ll discuss this more over at
    http://www.strike-to-stun.com/board/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=1727 if you don’t mind 🙂

  4. Thanks for your comments, Zapp. It’s becoming clear to me that this article needs an expanded discussion concerning priests and priestly healing. I’ll post a second version when I hammer out all the details.

  5. Thanks for this, it will be most useful.

  6. Let me know how it works in your game, Ron.

  7. I am looking into this rule for my. I like the Strength and Toughness penalty. I like the idea that magic is draining, IE how tired Gandalf looks after casting spells in LOTR. When I get some time I will write up some other ideas I have with the magic system and put them up in the GM section of BI forums. Cheers, great site keep up the good work.


  8. I’m looking forward to seeing your stuff!

  9. Consider this stolen for my game!

  10. Just so you don’t miss an important point, check out the StS forum discussion (link above) for reasons why any penalties (such as to S or T) work best if applied to the healed character – not the healer.

  11. Just wanted to make sure noone misses the fact there is an official optional rule written by Andrew Law addressing this very issue on page 231 of the Tome of Salvation supplement.

  12. Nice idea, you got my support 😀

  13. good site phluds

Leave a Comment