Magic can be a challenging aspect to navigate in the world of Dungeons and Dragons. The purpose of this guide is to assist you in selecting a spell loadout that is versatile and valuable in any situation. This guide will specifically focus on the spell: Healing Word in the 5th edition.
- 1st level evocation
- Casting Time: 1 bonus action
- Range: 60 feet
- Components: Verbal
- Duration: Instantaneous
Choose a creature within range that you can see, and it regains hit points equal to 1d4 plus your spellcasting ability modifier. This spell has no effect on undead or constructs.
At Higher Levels: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 2nd level or higher, the amount of healing increases by an additional 1d4 for each slot level above 1st.
Healing Word is a 1st level evocation spell that can be found in the Player’s Handbook 5E on page 250.
Who can use Healing word and what level?
Technically, any character can learn the spell by taking the feat of Magic Initiate. With this feat, a player chooses a class, such as Bard, Cleric, or Druid, and gains two cantrips and one 1st-level spell from that class’s spell list. Through this feat, the character can cast Healing Word once per long rest.
Additionally, a human variant can choose this feat at 1st level. By doing so, they forgo the racial feature of +1 in all abilities and instead gain +1 in two abilities, one skill proficiency, and one feat.
Therefore, a human barbarian with the Magic Initiate feat can have access to Healing Word at 1st level. Other classes can also take a feat instead of an ability score improvement, with the earliest opportunity being at 4th level.
What class feature work well with it?
Disciple of Life
Starting at 1st level, this cleric’s healing spells are more effective. Whenever a Life Domain cleric casts a spell of 1st level or higher to restore hit points to a creature, the creature regains additional hit points equal to 2 plus the spell’s level. In this case, it would be +3 hit points.
This is incredibly powerful as it brings the minimum heal of Healing Word to 4 plus the caster’s spellcasting modifier. Each hit point is critical because it can mean the difference between a character staying conscious and unconscious.
At level 6, the cleric’s healing spells used to heal others also heal the healer. When a cleric casts a healing spell of 1st level or higher that restores hit points to a creature other than themselves, they regain hit points equal to 2 plus the spell’s level. In this case, it would be +3 hit points. This synergy is good because it keeps the healer’s hit points up, ensuring they can withstand the inevitable hits that may come in the future.
At level 17, when a character would normally roll one or more dice to restore hit points with a spell, the character instead uses the highest number possible for each die. In this case, the cleric would heal another character by 4 plus their spellcasting modifier, plus 3 for Disciple of Life. Additionally, the cleric would gain the +3 hit points for Blessed Healer.
Druid: Beast Spells
At level 18, many druid spells can be cast while in Wild Shape. Verbal and somatic components are provided, while material components are not. Fortunately, Healing Word only requires verbal components.
When a druid is in Wild Shape, they assume the form of an animal within their challenge rating, inheriting the physical stats and abilities of that form, including movement speed. This can be advantageous for casting Healing Word from an aerial position, staying out of range of enemies while reviving unconscious party members. It can also be useful in underwater fights, where air is scarce, as the druid can transform into an aquatic animal and cast Healing Word.
Alternatively, Wild Shape can be used to change the druid’s senses, and thus the senses of the caster. If a druid cannot see the downed party member, they could transform into an animal with echolocation or tremor sense to locate the downed ally.
It’s important to note that the wording of Healing Word specifies being able to “see” the target, and tremor sense is typically associated with creatures that track prey through vibrations while buried in the ground. It is recommended to consult with your DM regarding the ruling on using Wild Shape with tremor sense to cast Healing Word.
The acceptability of a druid using tremor sense to cast Healing Word may vary depending on the DM’s interpretation. A mole is an example of a creature with tremor sense, while animals with blindsight or echolocation may have less debate since the word “sight” is explicitly mentioned. A bat, for instance, is a low challenge rating animal with flight and blindsight.
As for when to use Healing Word, it is generally advisable to use it when a character is unconscious and in need of immediate healing. Healing Word is a bonus action, allowing the caster to still take their action during their turn to attack, interact with objects, or cast other spells.
It can be used to quickly revive a downed party member while keeping the rest of the party engaged in combat. Additionally, Healing Word can be used to maintain the health of a rogue or ranger who is navigating traps or to provide a quick burst of healing to bring someone closer to their maximum hit points.
When do I use Healing Word?
Use it when people are seriously hurt or about to die.
Death Saving Throws
Let’s start with death and healing mechanics. When a character reaches 0 HP, they can either die outright or fall into a state of unconsciousness. Instant death occurs when the damage received by the character reduces their HP to 0, and the remaining damage meets or exceeds their maximum number of hit points.
For example: A cleric with 14 max HP triggers a pitfall trap, falls onto a bed of spikes, and suffers 30 points of piercing damage. They are brought down to 0 HP and fall unconscious. However, the 16 points of excess damage, which exceeds their maximum of 14 HP, instantly kills the cleric. Other effects could instantly kill a character without utilizing the maximum limit, but that can be discussed in another article.
When a character falls unconscious, they begin making death saving throws. An unconscious character makes one death saving throw at the beginning of their turn; a roll of 10 or higher is considered a success, while a roll of 9 or lower is a failure. Rolling a natural 1 on a death saving throw results in two failures. The survival or death of the character is determined by the accumulation of failed and successful rolls, with the first to reach three determining the outcome.
With three failures, the character dies and needs to be revived through magical means. With three successes, the character stabilizes and resets the death save results to zero but remains unconscious. The results of death saves are also reset to zero when the character regains any hit points. A natural 20 on a death save grants the character 1 HP, resetting the death saves and bringing them to consciousness (Player’s Handbook, Page 197).
From that explanation, the key takeaway is that death saves are reset to zero when the character regains any hit points. Having just 1 HP can make the difference between a dying character rolling death saves and a character who can move, act, and survive on their own.
Healing and Hit Points
The primary purpose of healing is to prevent death and keep the character from dying. This is achieved by preventing the character from reaching 0 HP or by reviving them from an unconscious state.
In terms of raw numbers, Healing Word is actually the weakest among the level one healing spells. Without spellcasting modifiers, Cure Wounds can heal a maximum of 8 HP, Goodberry can heal a maximum of 10 HP, and Healing Word can heal a maximum of 4 HP.
Aside from the fact that a character with 10 hit points will require more hits to be brought to 0 HP and unconsciousness, there is no fundamental difference between a character with 10 hit points and a character with 1 hit point.
Turn Order and Actions
This brings us to action economy and turn order. Turn order determines the order in which party members and enemies take their actions in combat. In a combat scenario, each character has four actions available to them on their turn: movement, action, bonus action, and reaction.
This applies to both the enemy party and the hero party. The turn order is determined by each character’s initiative roll. Generally, the entire enemy party is given one turn to act together. However, special circumstances may apply to give enemies their own turn for actions, such as the boss monster turn and the minion monster turn.
Let’s consider a scenario where a team of four (a fighter, a bard, a druid, and a cleric) has been ambushed by a group of five bandits. The turn order is as follows: fighter, bard, bandits, druid, and cleric. Right from the start, the action economy is already unbalanced in favor of the enemies, with the heroes having four actions and the enemies having five actions.
This means that in each round of combat, the enemy team has one more action than the heroes. Assuming that the actions of each side are equal in damage, the hero party is in danger of eventually losing in a long, drawn-out fight.
Putting it all together
The key to utilizing the Healing Word spell will be understanding and implementing the turn order, action economy, and the state of death saves during combat. In general, you should heal whoever is down and dying.
The choices become more difficult if there are multiple allies down. In the case of multiple people being down, I prioritize the character that can heal or stabilize the most people: the main healer (Cleric), the secondary healer (Bard, Druid, or Paladin), and then everyone else. Urgency can change this priority.
If the barbarian has 2 failed death saves and the cleric has just fallen down, then I would save the barbarian first but only if I had another way to stabilize the cleric. Otherwise, I would help the cleric up and hope that the barbarian could endure one more turn.
To help prioritize my healing, I ask myself the following questions:
- Who is closest to dying? This is a choice between saving the party member who has 2 failed death saving throws and 1 or no death saving throws.
- How many failed death saving throws does they have? Having a party member die is never fun, so in general, I try to keep everyone in the game.
- Who can heal others and/or who can keep others from dying? Reviving the other healers who can heal other people generally keeps the party going in combat.
- Which of these people is going next in the turn order? If the cleric went down on the turn before me, then healing her means that any downed party member would lose their turn (the action and movement) for a death saving throw.
- Who can complete the objective of the combat? This question may trump the others. For example, if our party of four is fighting off a demon invasion and they have been trying to destroy the crystal that is keeping the gates to the Hells open, even if the cleric is close to dying, I might revive the barbarian who is one more attack away from destroying the crystal and stopping the combat altogether.
Healing Word can be helpful for healing a dying person from a distance. If an allied fighter falls into a pitfall trap and becomes unconscious, a quick Healing Word can keep them from dying while keeping the rest of the party out of the pit.
The long-range heal is also helpful for keeping the rogue or ranger in full health while they navigate traps for the party. In higher-level play, Healing Word may be helpful in getting someone to their maximum hit points.
If there are spell slots to spare, using Healing Word to bring the wizard to 30 hit points instead of 27 hit points might make the difference of one hit and one round of unconsciousness. It is far better to use the heal outside of battle with ample time than to lose a turn in the midst of battle to heal someone.
The role-play aspect is fun because the healer will essentially have the power of life and death in their hands. In general, I try to keep the healing spells in battle where it is obviously most helpful. But a well placed healing word is great for supporting the morale of the group and gaining the trust of others.
If the party has stumbled upon the aftermath of a battle, healing word can be used to find a survivor and keep them alive long enough to get information on what happened. If the healer is particularly devote, then healing words for the needy could be the thing to spread faith in one’s chosen deity.
What spells work well with it? Spell Synergy
Beacon of Hope is a level 3 spell that gives the caster a 30-foot aura, providing all chosen creatures with advantage on Wisdom saving throws and death saving throws. More importantly, the spell gives the chosen creatures the ability to gain the maximum amount of hit points from ANY healing.
That means healing spells from the caster, healing spells from other casters, and health potions are all maximized. This spell would make Healing Word always heal for 4 + spellcasting modifier.
Since Healing Word counts as a bonus action, the caster will have access to their action during their turn to attack, interact with objects, and cast other spells. The spells available would be limited to cantrips.
An interesting side note is the use of magical items. The rules state that when a bonus action spell is cast, the caster may not cast another spell unless it is a cantrip (Player’s Handbook Page 202). However, some magical items, such as potions, are used or consumed and can be used.
So, for magical items, the rule is limited based on the description of the magical item and if the item specifies that a spell is cast. For example, a Wand of Magic Missile cannot be used after Healing Word has been cast because the wand casts the spell Magic Missile. The user can still make a melee attack with the weapon if needed. Healing Word would work with a Necklace of Fireballs because the user would throw a bead which has the effect of Fireball at the point of detonation.
Spare the Dying is a cantrip that can stabilize a dying creature. Use this cantrip in cases where two party members are down, and you only have access to one healing spell. Heal one party member and keep the other one from dying. This is also helpful if you can only reach one of the downed allies; move to the ally that you can get to and use Spare the Dying, then use Healing Word on the ally that is further away.
Sacred Flame is helpful to supplement damage while healing the party. Sacred Flame forces the target to make a Dexterity saving throw or take 1d8 radiant damage. Toll the Dead is the more powerful of the cleric cantrips. This cantrip forces the target to make a Wisdom saving throw or take 1d8 necrotic damage, 1d12 necrotic damage if the target is already damaged. Toll the Dead has a higher damage potential and an easier saving throw to fail.
Vicious Mockery is an iconic bardic cantrip. It forces the target to make a Wisdom saving throw or take 1d4 psychic damage and have disadvantage on its next attack roll. This can be helpful if the downed ally is low on the turn order and is about to be hit by the target.
Thorn Whip is a druidic cantrip that can slow an enemy’s advance. The caster makes an attack roll, does 1d6 piercing on a hit, and pulls the target 10 feet toward them. If your ally is down 60 feet away and the enemy is 30 feet between you and your ally, Thorn Whip can keep the enemy from getting to your ally.
What are some comparable spells to healing word?
Cure Wounds is the other main healing spell in the game. It grants the target 1d8 HP + the spellcasting modifier, but it has a range of touch. So, it has a greater potential to heal in maximum hit points, but it lacks the utility of distance, meaning the effective range of the spell is dependent on the mobility of the caster.
Goodberry is a healing spell accessible to druids. This spell is interesting due to the longevity of the spell. The spell creates 10 berries that heal 1 HP each and have a lifespan of 24 hours. Technically, the spell has the ability to revive 10 people with 1 spell. Consult your DM if the consumption of the goodberry is akin to consuming a health potion for revivals.
One tactic could be to cast Goodberry before a long rest and divide it among the party, making sure the location of the berries is known to the party members. With the long rest, the caster has regained the used spell slot, and the berries will still have 16 hours of potency. When a party member is down, their allies can simply find the Goodberries and administer them. This tactic would require the party members to be within touch range, same as Cure Wounds.
Mass Healing Word is an upgraded version of Healing Word. It is a level 3 spell and will cast Healing Word for up to 6 creatures that the caster can see. It is important to note that the same creature cannot benefit from the spell multiple times, meaning one creature cannot have all 6 instances of Healing Word.