When Should a Healer Let Someone Die?

This was, of course, my suggested topic over at Blog Azeroth.  While I wrote a post in May which inspired it…I realized when I was starting to read the responses that I hadn’t actually talked about my feelings in answer to the direct question.  Because this is a topic of interest to me and in appreciation of everyone who took the time to respond, I thought I’d throw out some love in the form of links and write up my own answer.

Death as the Inevitable Result of Limited Resources

On my beloved Priestess, its extremely rare for me to not be able to heal someone in a heroic instance.  She’s laughably overgeared for the content, has infinite mana, a wide toolkit, a finely tuned UI, and my key bindings are burned into my muscle memory.  On a new to 80 healer farming badges?  Yup, there are choices to be made.  So who do I heal first?

  • Myself.  In a five man, there’s likely to be no one else to back me up – and my HPS while licking the floor is 0.
  • My meat shield.  Notice I did not say “the tank”.  My second priority is whomever is keeping the local bestiary from eating my face.  Hopefully this is the official tank.  But if the tank can’t hold threat against a wet noodle and stray mobs are making my acquaintance with the points of their swords, and its that thoughtful Hunter who consistently sends their pet over to distract them from my tasty flesh…  Guess who just jumped their way up the healing priority list?
  • DPS who I know and love.  Yes, I’m biased.  Sue me.  It’s rare that I have to make a choice to let anyone die to give my friends a bit of extra love.  Of course this is practical as well; we’re usually talking about an alt of an experienced and aggressive player (read: my boyfriend) who is doing more damage than the rest of the group combined.
  • Other DPS, with partiality towards players who are rocking the dps charts and keeping things moving along quickly.  If I must let someone die. it’s going to be the person contributing the least.

This may in fact be a good blog post in itself as almost every healer posted their “obvious list of priorities” and they were all subtly different.

Death as a Reminder to Stay Near your Healer

If you aren’t in range and in my line of sight, I can’t heal you.  My priority is to do my best to follow the tank around and keep him alive – if I can’t reach you at the same time that’s really too bad.  Of course sometimes this happens with an over-zealous tank charging ahead into the sunset and around a corner just as a heal was about to land.  If you’re dying and you’re nowhere near me or the tank, it’s completely on you.

Death as an Accident

I hate accidents.  Whether it’s a heal that falls a second too late, or the wrong heal for the situation, or I got distracted, or my cat walked all over my keyboard looking for attention – I feel guilty if I make a mistake and someone dies.  And I apologize.

Death as a Form of Self-Preservation

Sometimes, even when I could heal someone and keep everyone alive I choose not to in order to protect myself.  Now I’m not talking about a situation where I am already in jeopardy of dying…I mean a circumstance where healing someone who has pulled aggro would put me at risk.  Imagine that  the Hunter in your party starts firing off…ummm…big mean Hunter arrows just as the tank is going in for the pull.  (Hmmm…maybe at some point I should figure out what Hunters actually do.)  Half the mobs run right towards him…and oh wait he’s standing right next to you, blissfully firing away.

The first thing I’m going to do is move out of cleave range of those mobs – not throw a heal at the Hunter.  I think very carefully about healing someone with loose mobs eating their face unless I’m very sure the tank is on top of picking them back up.  The last thing I want is for them to flock to my squishy self – because then I’m no longer focused on keeping the tank (or anyone else) up, I’m in emergency self-preservation mode.  Also, if the tank throws out a taunt just as I pull healing aggro, I could be stuck with them for 8 more seconds till it’s back off cooldown.  I generally give it a few seconds to let the player use an aggro drop and the tank to pick the mobs back up before healing.  If a player starts a pull or lays in to a group before the tank has them locked down, he shouldn’t expect to get rescued.  I give people some latitude for accidents, but if this is a consistent pattern and they refuse to stop, I’m not going to feel bad if it gets them killed.  If they were deliberately pulling mobs to change the pace, I’m just more likely to let them tank what they pulled on their own.

Death as a Learning Experience

When I first dinged 80 and ventured into the brave new world of heroics, I was lucky enough to do so at the same time our guild’s best priest hit 80 on his resto Shaman.  Not only did this give me a willing healer and enthusiastic guild to drag me through heroics to gear me up – it gave me a wonderful learning opportunity.  I have no idea how that man kept my naive squishy mage ass alive except to say that he was one of the best healers I’ve played with.  He did though – despite my predilection for dwelling in fire, standing in whirlwinds, unleashing Frosty Doom from above before the tank had settled in, and forgetting where my keybind for Ice Block was.  But every single time I made an attempt at suicide he made sure I knew exactly what I did wrong.  I wouldn’t have gained much from dying repeatedly, except for a whole lot of frustration with the game…but his advice made me a much better player.

I try to think of that every time I see someone standing in vile goop.  I try.  Often a quick whisper will fix this kind of thing…but sometimes it doesn’t.  If a player knowingly persists in ignoring the dungeon mechanics and taking unnecessary damage, I’ll generally limit them to one heal per fight.  A single shield or HoT is enough to compensate for unavoidable damage, a bit of lag…or even just a little distraction in getting out of the fire.  If they want to lounge about in the Puddle of Doom after that?  That’s their choice.

Death to All Warlocks

I’m joking.  Okay, I’m mostly joking.  I really do hate Warlocks who abuse Life Tap as a source of mana.  Yes, I understand that the glyph can give you a nice spell power bonus.  However, you do not need to drain your health down to nothing right before a pull to get it.  Guess what?  You can invest in a stack of fine beverages and sit down and drink with the rest of us mere mortals.  Do you see me sitting there right next to you drinking up?  That means you should too.  Dearest Warlocks, you have to understand that I have to heal myself first, and then keep the tank stable, and then and only then can I spend some precious GCDs on you.  I can’t throw you a heal as the tank is charging in for fear that it will disrupt the pull…and once things get going it might take me a bit to get down the list to you.  I should not need to spend more than one heal to buffer your Life Tap.  (A good rule of thumb is one or two LTs is fine; more than half of your health bar is unacceptable.)  As a healer it drives me crazy to have you sitting there precariously low on life, and it forces me to make more stressful triage decisions.  The most efficient way I have found to handle this is to pointedly and quietly avoid healing a Warlock who does this, even after the pull is over.  As soon as he realizes that maybe he better drink a bit after all, I go back to my kind generous self, and make sure to keep him all HoTed up with heals any time I can so that he can Life Tap as needed without danger.  (I get the impression that this is a personal pet peeve and that I feel more strongly about this than most healers do.)  To my great surprise, 90% of the time the warlock promptly and quietly moderates his Life Taping to a reasonable level with no conversation and no fuss at all.

Death as  a Joke

Within a guild or friends this can be a fun way of lessening the boredom of a random Heroic.  A couple bloggers give examples of this, but my favorite was personal.  A particularly high dps/aggro happy Fury Warrior came with us on a random run, and the tank and Hunter and I realized he wasn’t with us in Vent.  When I exclaimed that I was bored since no one was taking damage, the Hunter started Misdirecting to the Warrior.  I found this totally amusing, and it gave me something to do.  I didn’t even let him die, but I did scare him a few times.  :)  I don’t think he ever realized we’d been “conspiring against him”.

Death as a Form of Vengeance

I admit it – I let people die who piss me off.  I don’t mean guys who mildly annoy me, or who are a bit abrasive or curt.  I mean someone who really crosses the line – anyone who chooses to swear at me, yell at me, and/or insult me personally for no reason is asking to die.  Their health bar will not budge even one hit point after that by my doing.  I’ll even go to the trouble of avoiding any AOE or multi-target heals that might incidentally help them.  They’ll die, and I won’t lift a finger to rez them unless I get an apology.  I know some people will think it’s un-healer-like, but I just can’t help myself.  If you’re going to be mean and disrespectful towards me, I don’t give a shit who you are or what your dps is; I won’t heal you (as long as I feel relatively confidant that I can keep the rest of the group alive after your impending demise.)

Death as a Tool to Manage a Group

Yes, there are times I refuse to continue healing a group or a particular person until they change their behavior or the issue is resolved.  I’ll fully admit that I’m using my position in a group to exert control, however, I only do this when I feel like it is in the best interests of the group as a whole.  By that I mean when things are going wrong to the extent that I’m not confidant that I can successfully keep the group alive.  I point out the problem first in a non-confrontational way, try to suggest solutions, identify as best I can why things are failing…but sometimes that just doesn’t get it done.  Sure, I’d rather just vote kick the offending party member, but that’s not always an option.  A couple examples of this are:

  • aggro seems to always be on everyone except the tank
  • the tank is inappropriately speced and geared for the instance and is too squishy for me to keep up
  • the tank repeatedly refuses to acknowledge the above issues and/or the state of my mana bar and won’t stop to listen unless he is dead
  • a DPS is putting the group in jeopardy by deliberately pulling packs

In some sense, I feel like I’m rationalizing here.  Ultimately this comes down to whether I’m the person who should decide…and I often I’m the best suited for it.  Am I particularly proud of that?  Not really.  Nothing about these circumstances is not stressful and frustrating for me.  So maybe there is a better way to handle failing groups?  It’s certainly something I find myself thinking about.  I would really love anyone’s feedback on that one.

Death in Raids

In a raid, just throw everything I said above out the window. Everything changes:

  • Triage rules are different.  I heal my assignment (the tanks), then shield anyone precariously low on health, then heal myself, and the other healers, and finally I top up the raid as I can.   Why am I not first on the list?  Because someone else has my back.  More importantly, a tank death is easily a guaranteed wipe without a quick battle rez in a 25 man, while a healer death is often just a setback.
  • I could not care less whether or not I like someone – I heal whoever needs healing.  I don’t blink before healing the jerk who bitches every time I win a loot roll or the misogynistic ass who can’t manage to go ten minutes without referencing his genitalia.  (Thankfully my current guild has nothing of the sort.)
  • I’m more likely to give some extra love to someone who is struggling with an encounter.  I’m also more likely to know the strengths and weaknesses of my teammates.  We all have trouble somewhere, and anything that helps get us all through the fight alive is helping the group out.

I find it interesting that a lot of the motivation for these shifts relate to a commitment to working on goals as a team an*—-/nmd trusting my colleagues to work together.

Voices from the Community

There were a wide variety of opinions out there, and I’m really glad I got a chance to read them.

The majority of healers seemed to have at least a few circumstances they felt like they should let a player die… Typhoon Andrew has a three strikes rule.  Altaholic Anonymous is a proponent of letting you die in the spirit of “mercifully sparing everyone from having to endure yet another episode of your egotistical exhibitionist e-masturbation” among other mistakes and obnoxious behaviors.  Azeroth Apple tries to be patient with people who offend her, but puts her foot down when players aren’t making any effort to contribute.  Love and War in Azeroth discusses using the threat of not healing to fix issues in a group.  Six-Inch Heals gives an example of a ret Paladin refusing to turn Righteous Fury off: “Here, let me help you with that Righteous Fury. I believe it comes off when you are dead.”.  Priestage puts in his two cents.  Harpy’s Nest has a mostly never let them die perspective. And All of Them talks about all the reasons you might die…and has a cute handwritten flowchart.  (I need more cute things on this blog.)  RestoDude had a very rational perspective.   Angelya and Revive and Rejuvenate was kind enough to respond with her thoughts.

…but there were a few healers who feel pretty strongly about always doing one’s best to keep everyone alive. While Calsong  at Mindspike had arguably the most differing perspective than mine, I have to say she explains her reasoning well and I completely respect that.  Type “H” For Heals has some triage. Too Many Annas wants every green bar healthy and happy.  Through the Eyes of a Tree heals them too.

There were DPS who felt strongly that healers should always heal… Elkagorasa gives healers a few good reasons to help our squishy friends out, stating that he feels that “Having a healer, who likely had a 1-3 minute queue, NOT heal me(?) is only adding insult to injury. Literal salt in my wounds. Go respec DPS and enjoy the wait.”

…and there were DPS who were more brutal than many of the healers… Herc the Merc doesn’t think healers should have to babysit stupid.  Relevart makes an interesting point about lazy DPS getting a rude awakening in Cataclysm if they continue using bad habits from over-gearing content.  The Dwarven Pinball has an excellent and entertaining post explaining the fine details of tanking the floor – “a malignant entity that is plotting to kill us every second of its wretched existence.”  PVE Rogue has some great advice for DPS.  Oddcraft makes great flowcharts.  Life in the Soul Well talks about feelings on healing and dpsing.

Flinthammer creatively responded to the topic with a bit of a story.


I was a bit surprised at how many healers found a dark side of their soul to let someone die…or suffer at the bottom of the list.  I was shocked to find out how many dps were all Uber and thought that personal responsibility was key.  And I was thrilled that so many voices took the time to respond.

Finally, I want to take a moment for another shout out to Blog Azeroth.  It’s been a great resource to me as a new blogger, and has provided lots of inspiration and opportunities for networking.  I think this topic was my first post there, and I really appreciate having such a friendly and thoughtful community available.  Again, thank you to everyone who took the time to share their opinion!

P.S.  I linked a heck of a lot here…if your link isn’t working let me know.  If I misrepresented your opinion (or gender) or missed you well…I was trying…and I’m happy to fix that.  Love to everyone who responded.  *kiss*


~ by ecclesiasticaldiscipline on July 13, 2010.

2 Responses to “When Should a Healer Let Someone Die?”

  1. I absolutely love the way you summed up the various philosophies and responses for this topic!

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