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Usually I find the rules for DnD 4th edition to be fairly unambiguous, but now I've encountered quite a conundrum. Clerics have a class feature, Healer's Lore that grants some extra healing whenever they use a power that "lets a creature spend a healing surge to regain hitpoints". The feature used to grant the extra healing regardless of whether any surges were spent, but was later changed to limit its use on surgeless healing such as the At-will power Astral Seal.

However, Cleric class also some powers/feats that grant healing to an ally "as if it had spent a healing surge", for example Cure Light Wounds.

Specific trumps general, but in this case, I don't know which one is the specific one and which is the general case! I see two equally sensible interpretations here:

  • "As if" is exactly that, and there's no difference between that and actually spending a surge to heal apart from the consumption of the surge. Even though no surge is lost, the power's description commands healing as if one was used, allowing the Healer's lore bonus for powers such as Cure Light Wounds.
  • Spending a healing surge is strictly needed to gain the bonus, and surgeless sources of healing are invalid regardless of what the power's text says.

I personally lean slightly towards the first interpretation, because the stated purpose of the change was to limit the potency of unlimited surgeless healing, but the powers that grant healing "as if it had spent a healing surge" are all daily powers that are very limited already. However, I'm very uncertain about whether this interpretation is correct. Could you advice me on which rule trumps which?

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up vote 10 down vote accepted

The errata'd version of healer's lore only works if the target character has spent a surge.

It does not work for powers that act as if they'd spent a surge.

So your second bullet is the correct interpretation. This was the purpose of the errata. Let's dig into this.

The new feature reads:

lets a creature spend a healing surge to regain hitpoints

So what does "spend a healing surge" actually mean?

RC 258 has some details here:

Most healing requires a character to spend a healing surge. When a character spends a healing surge, he or she regains lost hit points and adds them to his or her current hit point total.

Once per encounter, a character can use the second wind action to spend a healing surge and regain hit points.

A character can spend a limited number of healing surges per day. When the character takes an extended rest, his or her number of healing surges is replenished.

After a short rest, the character can spend as many healing surges as desired outside combat.

Some powers allow a character to regain hit points as if he or she had spent a healing surge. When a character receives such healing, he or she doesn’t actually spend a healing surge. (emphasis mine)

So spending a surge is only when a surge is spent for healing.

The language of Healer's lore is explicit. It only triggers when a surge is spent, not when powers that function "as if a surge was spent".

Just to clarify that this is the intent, Greg from the Wizards team says it explicitly:

You don't gain the bonus to healing in powers that say "as if you had spent a healing surge."

One last note, since this is obviously not nearly as strong as it was pre-errata you might consider (if Dragon content is allowed in your game), the Battle Cleric's Lore option from Dragon 400, I haven't built a cleric with Healer's Lore in ages, as Battle Cleric's Lore addresses a gaping AC hole for Clerics. Or if you're building a solely PHB Cleric, you might argue for your DM to allow you to use the pre-Errata Healer's Lore as the PHB didn't have powers like Astral Seal that abuse it to great effect.

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If some power gives a creature the same benefits of spending a healing surge, but no surge is spent, the Healer's Lore condition never triggers.

There's no "specific trumps general" here, because none of the rules you mentioned introduces an exception to the other.
From a comment on another answer, I see the confusion on trumping is born from the fact that Healer's Lore lets the surge heal more, so when you gain some HP from the surge "as if you had spent a surge" you would expect to gain the extra ones from Healer's Lore, which I said doesn't even trigger.

That's because the Healer's Lore extra healing is added to the hit points healed, not to the surge value.

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Maybe not "specific trumps general", but the two rules still contradict each other. I accept your interpretation though, since you and wax eagle did a good job justifying it. +1 to you two – kviiri May 1 '14 at 13:35
Even though I agree with you, I must make my point clear: when a power heals a target "as if it had spent a healing surge" I expect it to be exactly that - "as if"! And if the target had spent a healing surge, they would've triggered Healer's Lore - so my point is that CLW with its wording should trigger Lore too. – kviiri May 1 '14 at 13:42
That would be "As if the cleric had let them spend a healing surge". It's toatlly possible to spend surges without getting Healing's Lore benefits. – Zachiel May 1 '14 at 13:44

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