Weekly Dump, Vol 3: 5e Healing Is Borked…


If you’ve been following along with our Project Arcana work so far, you know that I’m not super happy with the way the powers-that-be have decided to sort the spells. That’s okay, we’re fixing that. However, while some of the organizational decisions are somewhat baffling, none are more so than the way healing has been handled in this edition. Seriously, what the hell was the thought process on any of that?

I’m going to start by re-linking a picture I took for the PA: Necromancy piece.

Mmmmm, smell that old-book goodness…

In the first edition of AD&D, healing was always considered a Necromantic spell. The reason was simple: Necromancy dealt with life and death, healing was a life force kind of thing, so voila. This makes sense to me, too, so that’s why we lumped them all into Necromancy (renamed ‘Vitae’) for Project Arcana.

However, in a personal interest kind of way, why was healing where it was? Healing wasn’t in Necromancy prior to our Project Arcana, so where exactly was it?

Author’s note – Originally, when I wrote the Necromancy piece, I was baffled by the fact that several of the “mass” healing spells were listed under Conjuration. I was ruffled and inflated, ready to deliver a very snide inquiry as to why. However, upon further review, it turns out that was an earlier version of the edition, perhaps even the D&D Next playtest. They have since lumped all of the mass healing spells into Evocation, and this is how it’s listed in my own PHB. This is what I get for using an outdated spell list from the internet.

Tuns out, they’re mostly in Evocation, with Regenerate being tossed into Transmutation. If you read Dad’s takedown of Evocation, you can see that we weren’t keen on this idea. First, in our redefinition, Evocation uses magical energy to influence mundane energy (i.e.: electricity, heat, etc.). That neatly covers the mechanics of the vast majority of Evocation spells. But let’s look at the original description to try to make sense out of Evocation owning a lot of healing:

Evocation spells manipulate magical energy to produce a desired effect. Some call up blasts of fire or lightning. Others channel positive energy to heal wounds.

Okay, so Evocation is channeling positive energy to heal things. Great. However, if anything, this further proves that no one really thought about the consequences of placing healing under Evocation. “Positive energy” isn’t a thing! Well, apparently, it kind of is:

Man, that kind of stings a little.

Okay, so according to Thad up there, and the PHB, there is an elemental plane of positivity. Eh, I’m not happy about that even a little bit, but okay. Let’s go with that noodley bullshit for the purposes of this discussion.

So, according to this theory, healing comes from the plane of elemental positive-ity-ness (or something). And, there is also an elemental plane of negativity, producing energy which kills things via necrotic damage, so why isn’t this also in Evocation? Why are we divorcing these effects when the mechanics are identical in form and function? As that photo of the old book delightfully points out, there is no mechanical difference between cure light wounds and cause light wounds. They are two sides of the same coin, two effects of the same spell.

Things get even more confusing when we consider that Resurrection is surely a channeling of positive energy, right? You’re refilling a corpse with life energy so that its soul can come back to it in a useful way. Yet, this is Necromancy? And, of course, Reincarnate is Transmutation, because why the fuck not at this point?

And while we’re on the topic of dead things, I feel obligated to point out that “undeath” is not the opposite of life. Suggesting that dark energy from the negative plane is responsible for animated undead makes absolutely zero sense in any context. What’s the difference between a man and a zombie? The man has a soul? The zombie doesn’t heal right? The former has no bearing on the positive/negative plane issue (where do souls go/come from when things are dead?). The latter is nonsensical. If the negative plane is suffuse with dark necrotic energy, then why doesn’t the zombie just evaporate into nothingness as his cells insta-decay? Maybe, because they’re not alive anymore, the dark energy can now animate them? Well, if that’s the case, why can’t I Animate Dead a wooden chair? Can I use Animate Object on a corpse? Can I Animate Dead my liverwurst sandwich? Where do these underlying mechanics intersect?

Ultimately, it seems like the good folks at WotC were more concerned with the intended use of, and motives behind, the spells. Healing can’t be Necromancy because Necromancy is evil and terrible, while healing is good and wonderful. We can’t just say “I know, healing and necrotic damage are the same exact thing, but healing feels too good to be in Necromancy” and have that make sense. It doesn’t make sense. But it is an interesting generational commentary. Gygax & Co. felt that the players and the GM could work out the moral aspects of spell employment among themselves, forty years later, that doesn’t seem to be the case, and WotC has specifically put the harmful versions of beneficial spells into evil disciplines. Is WotC forcing Millenials to be good (or bad), or is WotC just codifying how our generation innately feels?

It’s fun to shoot some people. – James Mattis

However, there are some aspects of the game (though, admittedly, limited) that rely upon the schools of magic, so there needs to be some internal consistencies to them. I know it’s generally accepted that Wizards and Sorcerers can’t cast healing spells (until Unearthed Arcana comes out, that is), but they felt the need to place all of the traditionally divine spells into the same categories as the arcane ones. Further, the Bard is an arcane caster, and he has access to the healing spells.

As for Regenerate, I get the idea, but I disagree with the conclusion. If Transmutation can simply tell the body to heal faster, why aren’t all healing spells operating on this principle? And there is literally nothing else in Transmutation that works using the mechanic, otherwise Polymorph would read like a Kafka novel. And why are the arcane casters forbidden from using this one, too? To be honest, I would be 100% on board with Regenerate if Wizards were allowed to cast it. That would make sense to me; Wizards being somehow unable to access the positive energy plane (but not access the negative one?), so they found the Transmutation work around. But no, that would make a lick of mechanical sense, and we can’t have that.

Perhaps it’s just fatigue from having puzzled through these Project Arcana spell lists, but it seems like this isn’t work that should have needed done. WotC has some of the best paid professionals in the business working for them, yet they stumbled so hard when it came to these schools. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that playability was forefront in their mind with regard to all aspects of this edition (as well it should always be), but ensuring that the schools had central underlying mechanisms would have improved playability, not diminished it. It would have guaranteed that there would be answers to questions which may arise. Can a mindless creature such as an animated object be affected by an Illusion spell? No, because those spells need a mind on which to act. Can I use heal to repair a clay golem? No, because Necromancy acts on life processes which are absent in the animated clay. Easy peasy.

I feel good about what we’ve done so far with Project Arcana, and I’m excited to release the .pdf of Phase I as soon as we finalize the spell lists and get it all ready. This is going to be good stuff, and I can’t wait to show it to you.


Matthew Stanford

About Matthew Stanford

Matthew is the current web admin and content manager for Legendary Pants. That gives him both of the total hats currently available within the group...