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I'm starting a new level 1 character and I need to fill the healing and support role, but I'd like to explore what options I have that aren't just Cleric as I like to mix things up a little. I will need to do some healing, deal with cures/dispels, potentially do buffs and do some turning (not as important as turning in Arcannis is hard anyway). Currently our party looks like it will be:

  • Fighter

  • Rogue

  • Bard

  • Wizard

  • Another front rank class (barbarian or similar)

  • Me

We'll all be starting from level 1, we can use pretty much any class that's in any 3.5 rulebook barring psionics, and evil-aligned classes are out. We're in the Arcannis world, if that makes any difference, but the classes don't have to be from there.

I've already looked at the Cleric variants in Arcannis, but that's about all I know. I'm still fairly new to D&D, so my knowledge isn't great, but please don't shy away from suggesting more complex classes or class mixes.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is probably on hold because it's unclear what you mean by Cleric-type, and not actually for anything to do with being too subjective. Do you mean 'person who can do anything and everything better than the rest of the party without trying and without much player skill' or 'dude who heals other dudes' or something else? \$\endgroup\$ – the dark wanderer Jun 27 '17 at 23:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ It may also help to take a look at our meta on character building questions. This question looks pretty squarely like a "type 2" question, which is both difficult to execute well and really valuable/helpful when executed well, as good answers tend to reveal a lot of how they're making judgments/evaluating options. \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Jun 28 '17 at 0:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ @nitsua60 - is my edit enough to make my question valid again? Sorry for being a pain and having to make you guys put it on hold in the first place, it's my first time posting here. :) \$\endgroup\$ – Jarob22 Jun 28 '17 at 11:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ Oh, you aren't the one who put it on hold nitsua, sorry :) @doppelgreener could you please unlock the question now it's been edited? \$\endgroup\$ – Jarob22 Jun 28 '17 at 14:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'd argue that the party has already filled the healing and support role with the bard. Is the GM mandating you fill this role, too, or is challenging that perceived need an acceptable answer? \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Jun 28 '17 at 14:36
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D&D 3.5 really doesn’t do “roles”

Roles aren’t really a part of the game. There’s almost nothing in the game that requires a particular sort of character. There are alternative ways to deal with everything—even things that seem to explicitly require a certain character. The rules emphasize, for example, that only rogues (and others with trapfinding) can find magical traps. But there are other ways around them—for example, sending disposable summoned minions in to just trigger traps is a common approach.

So you really shouldn’t ever be terribly concerned about “role” in 3.5.

Healing in D&D 3.5 is very limited, and not a good thing to focus on

Even to the extent that you elect to think of yourself as filling a “role,” healing is a poor one to focus on. The healing spells available are very, very limited (until or unless you get the heal spell at high levels).

As a result, it is vastly superior to prevent damage than to heal it. Preventing damage can be done by buffing your allies, debuffing enemies, or just ending fights fast. Thus, almost any character type can contribute to limiting the danger to their allies. Clerics, for example, are very very powerful because they excel at buffing allies and killing enemies. Wizards excel at hampering, controlling, and eventually killing enemies. Druids can do a bit of all of those things. But even, say, a barbarian can get in enemies’ faces, demand their attention, and then kill them dead before they can threaten the more vulnerable characters in the party.

Thus, instead of having a “healer,” it is better to rely on items:

  • A wand of cure light wounds or lesser vigor (lesser vigor is in Spell Compendium). These spells offer the most bang-for-your-buck (gp) in terms of healing, and are easily affordable for a party who pools resources even before they hit 2nd level. Spending a few minutes after fights to top off with these wands is very efficient, and limits the likelihood of an emergency during the next combat. The 50 charges you get are quite a lot—by the time a party needs to get a second wand, the 750 gp it costs should be quite minimal.

    Note that anyone whose class can ever cast one of these spells can use the wand without any Use Magic Device. That includes classes like low-level paladins and rangers who have no spellcasting ability until 4th.

  • Equipping characters who need self-healing with healing belts from Magic Item Compendium is a good choice, as these are fairly efficient and do not require any special class features to activate.

  • Later on, a wand of restoration or a rod of bodily restoration (also Magic Item Compendium) can handle a lot of status conditions that are otherwise difficult to deal with. These are much more expensive, but you’ll also probably go through them much less quickly.

  • For really serious ailments, don’t neglect the utility of being able to hire somebody to heal you. You can always find a temple or similar where your donation can get you the service of a cleric if you need it.

The important thing here is that none of these require much effort on the party’s part. They revolve around magic items and spellcasting services—things you can just buy. Even without anyone who can use those wands natively, they’re a relatively-easy DC 20 Use Magic Device check to use. So a party can literally have no one with even theoretical access to these spells, and still do just fine with healing.

So again, you really should not feel required to play a healer.

But if you just want to be a healer...

If you have your heart set on healing being your thing, you do, of course, have several options for it. I just wanted to make sure you understood that you did not have to.

  • Cleric. The cleric is phenomenally powerful—but not because of healing. Healing is just another thing they can do. Clerics are excellent at buffing themselves and others. They are some of the best physical combatants in the game, thanks to this buffing.

  • Archivist (Heroes of Horror). Uses the cleric list, and so is good at the sorts of things the cleric is. The lack of spontaneous cure is a minor drawback, and the lack of turn undead is a bit more significant (since a lot of feats and prestige classes use it), but the archivist’s ability to use all sorts of divine magic—including non-cleric divine magic—more than makes up for that.

  • Druid. Similar to cleric, but probably easier because wild shape is such an automatic buff. Less healing but more than enough.

  • Crusader (Tome of Battle). The best HP-healer in the game, bar none, but with zero ability to handle non-HP ailments. The crusader has the unique ability to heal allies while attacking enemies, which is excellent. The crusader is also my favorite choice of class for new players.

    • Crusader, when combined with cleric or paladin, also qualifies for the excellent ruby knight vindicator prestige class in the same book. This is an excellent approach for getting all the healing you could ever want, while still having lots and lots of other tricks. Cleric is by far the better entry, but we do have an answer devoted to how to heal as a paladin/crusader/ruby knight vindicator.
  • Favored Soul (Complete Divine). This is basically the sorcerer to the cleric, but unfortunately for a variety of reasons it’s really quite bad.

  • Bard. Bards have a little bit of healing (enough to use a wand of cure light wounds anyway), and also some phenomenal support and buffing. See this question for more on playing bards.

    • The war weaver prestige class from Heroes of Battle has a ton to recommend it as a buffer; it allows you to apply a whole suite of buffs to your whole party in one turn. It’s for arcane classes only, which probably means bard, sorcerer, or wizard (bard would have non-spellcasting buffing from the music, but sorcerer or wizard would have much better spells).

    • The sublime chord prestige class from Complete Arcane turns a bard into a full-caster. Better, it can partially “undo” missed spellcasting levels, for example from war weaver. A bard/war weaver/sublime chord is a simple, straightforward, excellent support build.

    • Multiclassing into crusader is also an excellent option for bards: this allows them to take the Song of the White Raven feat for the ability to inspire courage as a swift action and stacking crusader levels with bard for daily bardic music uses.

Final Recommendations

If you really do want to be a healer, your best bets in my opinion are cleric/crusader/ruby knight vindicator or bard/war weaver/sublime chord. These combinations provide potent support for your allies, access to substantial healing abilities, and should prove very fun to play.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This is a great answer, but I'm not sure how even a party of six can get together 750gp for a wand of clw from roughly 100-200gp each (and still have gp for their items) as starting gold (usually starting gold is 3-5d4x10)? I don't have my 'heart set on' being a healer as you've implied but the party and DM seem to think it's a standard thing to do. I and they would be happy to look at alternatives if you think it isn't necessary with our party mix?... \$\endgroup\$ – Jarob22 Jun 28 '17 at 17:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Jarob22 I said “before 2nd” not “at 1st.” At 1st level, yes, you cannot afford such a wand without extra special effort (and that effort is probably not worth spending on a wand). But 2nd level expects players to have 900 gp each, which means they could easily have 750 gp total well before they actually accrue the XP necessary to reach 2nd. Basically, I am assuming that the PCs are gradually gaining gp and XP between levels, rather than, say, getting no money until the end of the dungeon where they level up and find an appropriate pile of loot. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jun 28 '17 at 17:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ How does a level one party survive to get said loot and gold without any healer in the party? I'm not trying to be annoying or facetious, I'm very new to dnd and this will be my first level one experience. I don't want to leave my group feeling as if I "didn't want" to play a healer when I've said I'll fulfill this role without some good explanation and plan. \$\endgroup\$ – Jarob22 Jun 28 '17 at 17:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Jarob22 Actually, at level 1, healing is truly unnecessary—because most hits are lethal. Seriously, 1st level represents an entirely different game from the rest of the system in a lot of ways, and a big one is the lack of HP. You never get a chance to heal if one hit takes someone from full HP to dead, and that happens all too often at 1st level. I suggest finding non-combat ways of gaining XP prior to 2nd, or just starting campaigns later than 1st level. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jun 28 '17 at 17:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ I see, ok. Starting at 1 is not a movable constraint. In that case, I'd very much not like to spend the majority of fights doing nothing but firing piddly bolt wands, I'd love to be a very support oriented class who buffs, debuffs, cures debuffs and the like. If that's still cleric then I'll just do that, but if you have some suggestions for this now that I've explained myself better, I'd love to hear them. I'm planning to play crusader in a higher level party so that's out :) \$\endgroup\$ – Jarob22 Jun 28 '17 at 17:58
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As this fine answer mentions, there's absolutely nothing wrong with the cleric… it really is one of the game's most powerful and versatile classes, the designers perhaps overcompensating for the stigma of cleric-as-healbot in and, to a lesser degree, in . The power comes from being a full caster with eventual access to 9th-level spells, and the versatility comes from being able to draw from any of the game's second largest list of spells and picking new spells to prepare each day. These plus the cleric's domains, the ability to turn undead (the utility of which expands vastly outside the core rules), variant class options, and prestige class options make the cleric tier 1. A cleric is easily the wizard's divine counterpart, the wizard's combat equal and—arguably—support superior. And if getting power from the gods is a concern, skip that jazz and be empowered by the strength of your convictions, worshiping no god at all.

Anyone can heal…

In a traditional campaign, a potion of cure light wounds [conj] (PH 215-6) (1st-level spell at caster level 1) (DMG 230) (50 gp; 0.1 lbs.) is typically within a starting PC's budget and more such potions are available in any town with a population greater than 80.

With 750 gp in your pocket, a wand of cure light wounds [conj] (PH 215-6) (1st-level spell at caster level 1) (DMG 246) (15 gp/charge; 0 lbs.) becomes available, and that's sufficient for healing the entire party after each encounter for at least one level, sometimes two. A level 1 bard, paladin, and ranger can use such a wand as effectively as a cleric can, and anyone with a Use Magic Device skill modifier of at least +2 can probably use such a wand a couple of times before having to set it aside for the next day. That same amount of cash also buys a healing belt (Magic Item Compendium 110) (750 gp; 1 lb.) that's pretty close to 6 cure light wounds spells per day forever and that anyone can use… even the fighter. Both, by the way, are available in a town with a population of at least 901. (Yes, the Dungeon Master's Guide really is that specific!)

In other words, you don't need a healer. A cure light wounds spell, while sometimes useful in a pinch, is usually a waste of actions in combat. That is, it's usually better to just kill the dude who's trying to kill you than fix your friend who'll die by the dude's sword next round anyway—the amount of damage healing fixes is usually markedly less than the enemy can deal. Keep on hand a blessed bandage (Magic Item Compendium 152-3) (10 gp; 0 lbs.) or two in case allies needs to be stabilized.

Should someone be able to heal the party when combat ends? Sure. But at level 1, that's not happening anyway; that's called resting. And by level 2 by pooling your cash, a bard can do that end-of-combat healing instead… or one of the bruisers can, who'll likely look at that second or third level of fighter or barbarian and say, "Hey, a level of ranger or paladin would be pretty awesome right about now."

…And support? There's already a bard!

Further, with a group of six—the game's designed for groups of four—that bard's become a serious force multiplier. (That is, unless, of course, he hasn't… a bard can take alternative class features that make him more—let's say—selfish, but such bards are rare.) The bard's inspire courage overlaps with the 1st-level Clr spell bless [ench] (PH 205) anyway, and a cleric doesn't get better than that spell for mass support until the 3rd-level Clr spell prayer [ench] (PH 264), and I've honestly never seen a PC cast that spell. Further, while a level 1 cleric can buff other folks individually, he's often better off buffing himself then beating the crap out of things with his morningstar. And, of course, the best character to support the cleric in administering that beating is the bard.

Play what you want!

KRyan makes some fine alternative suggestions for a healer in this answer. I'm hesitant to suggest serious out-of-the-box alternatives that are completely not healers like incarnate and totemist (both of which I've played and had a great deal of fun with) from Magic of Incarnum or binder (one of my players has consistently—almost accidentally—ended up playing a binder in the past few campaigns) from Tome of Magic because such classes rely on otherwise unique subsystems that the DM may be unfamiliar with; however, all three are weird, and you can rest assured that you're not duplicating—precisely, anyway—the abilities possessed by the rest of the party. (I'd like to note that it's weird to ban psionics from an Arcanis campaign—Paradigm Concepts released Psionics Unbound specifically for the Arcanis setting!)

So instead of making hard suggestions, I suggest talking to the DM and learning what the campaign will be about—see if there are themes or ideas that will be explored, organizations that the PCs will interact with, regions you'll be traveling in, and so on that can guide your decision as to what class (or race or religion) to play. You might end up as a cleric/crusader/ruby knight vindicator or bard/war weaver/sublime chord anyway, but fitting in is important, too, and with five PCs already on the board, differentiating yourself that way may be a better route than trying to do so through your class choices, especially as a new entrant to the system.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks! I've marked KRyan's answer as accepted as it really set me down the path to thinking more about it, it came up first and we've been discussing, but your answer is also top-notch and I just wanted to thank you for it. Psionics are banned because the DM and another player who's also a DM thinks they're far too OP in a group where most will be using standard classes and standard rules. \$\endgroup\$ – Jarob22 Jun 28 '17 at 19:56
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Have you checked out Favoured Soul from Complete Divine? It's a more combat focused version of the cleric that doesn't prepare spells, kind of like a sorcerer. It doesn't have Turn Undead, but you seem kind of disinterested in that feature.

You could try Druid, which offers a small amount of healing, which would probably be enough considering your bard also gives a small amount of healing. Again, no undead turning.

Paladin is another choice, though their healing is pretty lame and their spells take a long time to manifest, so I'm not sure they really suit your needs.

The only other starting class I can think of is Cloistered Cleric from Unearthed Arcana. They're less combat focused (lower HD, worse BAB, worse proficiencies) and get Knowledge as a bonus domain as well as a smattering of bonus spells, plus an ability that functions like bardic knowledge. They also get some more class skills and more skill points per level. This is the only one with turn undead.

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I know you asked for something other than a Cleric, but I would urge you to take a look at the Cleric.

The 3.5 Cleric was arguably the most powerful class. It certainly was the most flexible.

You can easily fill the support role and the buff role, and still get on the front lines with the fighters. Better yet, you get to pick your domain, meaning you can customize your character to be better at support, artillery, front line, buffing, whatever you like.

I personally preferred the Luck domain, but that can be a little cheesy. Other fun Cleric domains are:

  • War: For your front line Cleric.
  • Life: To bring the healing (but boring to play)
  • Arcana: To add a bit of artillery power.
  • Light / Sun: For blasting and nuking Undead.

But read the list and make your own choices based on what you think you would like.

And if you are really against a Cleric, other options for you could be:

  • Sorcerer: This will be almost entirely an artillery role. Sorcerers CAN be buffers, but they don't get too many spells, and if you fill up on buffs, you will be twiddling your thumbs in combat.
  • Warblade: From the Book of Nine Swords, is a buffing fighter that is fun to play. The book is hard to get a hold of though.
  • Paladin (or Crusader from Book of Nine Swords): Another Buffing fighter - better against undead.

That is what I would recommend that does not step on other character roles as much. If that doesn't bother you as much, then Wizard is boss.

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The best low-level healer build that I've come across is the Healer class, and it is, bar-none, amazing, if you actually optimize it.

The build is:

Healer 1/Bard 1/Healer +X Feat: Extra Music ACF: Healing Hymn(Complete Champion) - Grants your perform -rank- to heal spells. Additional Concern: Getting Perform as a class skill while a healer*

Pump Charisma and Perform, and enjoy using a CLW that heals 1d8+5+9+Cha at level 6. CSW is 3d8+6+9+Cha.

Optionals:

Paladin 2 gives you +Cha to saves, and is thematic, other than being martial. If your DM allows Prestige Paladin, I strongly suggest taking it.

Snowflake Wardance gives you +Cha as a bonus on attack rolls, improving your combat contribution when not healing. You'll need a Vest of Legends or another source of Bardic Music charges to maintain your songs/day.

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