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My friend and I were having a discussion about Leaders in D&D 4e.

At any rate, it was suggested that it would be better if our party had fewer leaders rather than more: their main purpose (healing) polarized encounters between too easy and thus causing constant pre-encounters to bleed off healing abilities or too hard once their healing powers couldn’t restore enough to actually matter.

We both want a more tough, thoughtful game – I posited that we should minimize non-IC table talk as much as possible so that people really had to pay attention to what people were doing and saying to plan… rather than hear ahead of time that someone was going to do X power in order to get Y result and then get to have a side conversation about owls before absently being nudged back into game to say what they were going to do. So party working together is one of my goals… but, I also want the game to be challenging for everyone, too.

Our party is made up as:

Elven Druid based around being really fast, Halfling Bard who doesn't really heal, Tiefling Ardent? (This is me!), Human Monk? (Or Avenger), Dragonborn Fighter

To clarify my question into its main parts:

  1. Do Leaders polarize encounters and will multiple leaders polarize encounters?

    a. Is this due to Leaders main role as being healers?

    b. Will having multiple leaders make the game without a challenge unless there are bleed encounters?

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I think this is more of a perception issue than anything else.

Almost all encounters in D&D are "bleed" encounters. It is very unusual for an encounter to actually threaten the party with a full wipe, or even single-instance unconsciousness/death. Their purpose is to drain resources and fill time prior to a high-challenge fight.

The issue with multiple healers is that they hide the bleed. Under normal circumstances, players see their hitpoints diminishing, and start to worry. They see their hitpoints go down to a "dangerous" level, which calls attention to the fact that they're burning healing surges.

When running a large number of healers, much of the resource loss becomes hidden from the players. Losing a healing surge to the healer is less of a big deal (and more likely to go unnoticed), and the healer's pool of available spells isn't visible to most of the players. This leads to surprise when an encounter begins to overpower the party, because many of the warning signs were hidden.

In my experience, primary healers tend to have the following effects:

  • Encounters last longer.

  • Encounter difficulty is more consistent (easy fights are unlikely to escalate due to bad luck).

  • Healers are a force multiplier: They make you more powerful up to a certain point, and then begin to make the party weaker as more are added.

So, to answer your questions:

Do Leaders polarize encounters and will multiple leaders polarize encounters?

Sort of. Healing takes a lot of chance out of the game, removing some risk from easy encounters and hiding risk in moderate to high challenge fights.

Is this due to Leaders main role as being healers?

Yes.

Will having multiple leaders make the game without a challenge unless there are bleed encounters?

Strictly speaking, no. You still have a finite amount of surges available per day, and a finite amount of healing per encounter. The precise layout of your party may make having additional healers make your party stronger or weaker at various points (two leaders may be more powerful than either three or one leader, for example).

Remember that by having additional leaders you are giving up damage-dealing strikers or controllers. This makes the fight last longer... Adding an additional healer means the party takes more damage.

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Great analysis. –  Ravn Sep 18 '12 at 8:28
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Healers have always been like that, in previous incarnations of D&D, and that's been pretty consistent in almost any CRPG or MUD - if you don't have a healer then you need healing potions (or mana potions to restore healing spells).

The thing with leaders in 4th Ed is they can be geared to support in damage dealing, so if you build them right, with a balance of healing and damage assisting powers, they'd end up shortening combat instead of lengthening it (most of the time), and since they'd be varying things up, combat would seem at least a bit more interesting.

That said, 4e combat is meant to be meticulously balanced, and that balance assumes a healer, so it's not like the healer is really breaking things, and not having one at all would probably be really bad.

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