Inspired by my "Do monsters get a second wind" question.

A second wind, as generally used, provides characters (and only characters) with an opportunity to spend a standard action to get a healing surge (without normal leader buffs) and a +2 to defenses.

Monster damage scales by level, and a hit generally does a healing surge of damage. Given that, in normal combat, when should characters use their second wind? Why?

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I suspect this is going to be highly varied based on class/party-role, tying into things like "I have an ability I can only use when bloodied", etc. \$\endgroup\$
    – Cthos
    Oct 21, 2011 at 22:09
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Cthos, I'm less interested in minor action or warden uses, because they offer obvious tactical advantage without significant downside. It's more of "When is me not contributing damage for a turn acceptable?" \$\endgroup\$ Oct 21, 2011 at 22:44

5 Answers 5


Here's how I play it and suggest to my fellow party members. (I don't suggest this to players when I'm a DM - that's over the line for me.)

Second Wind rules of thumb:

  1. Use your second wind only after you are at 75% max HP total (including Temp HP)
  2. Use your second wind any time after being at 50% max HP total (including Temp HP)
  3. Unless you are at less than 25% total HP (excluding Temp HP), use your second wind when you can most afford the action (Those with feats/features that turn SW into a Minor Action have more flexibility with this.)
  4. If you reach less than 25% HP, your next action should be to heal thyself (Second Wind/Potion/Ability), especially before movement or other action that may trigger an enemy reaction.

In short, when convenient, or to prevent forcing a healing action from an ally.

I'm always surprised when players leave their Second Wind unused, leaving their character vulnerable to trigger-based attacks by enemies. This usually puts the burden of healing on another player's action.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Why is it preferable for you to use the action to heal yourself, rather than having an ally use the action to heal you? Two reasons against: If you attack now and drop or weaken an opponent that would have attacked before your ally's turn, then you have avoided some probable damage. At least one of your allies usually has an effect that improves the healing power of the surge. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tommi
    Mar 20, 2016 at 6:08

Most of the people that I have partied with stick with the 25-35% health rule. Three exceptions come to mind, however, all of which were on tanks:

  • A Warden with Bear's Endurance played by one of my more quiet friends. He would soak damage and miss most of his attacks due to bad rolls: 3s, 4s, and 5s, even on all of the bonus attacks I would throw at him via my Warlord. He would get dropped, get back up, and keep going without ever saying a word. Then the Artificer and myself would drop two surges plus 2 to 3 die 6 and twenty-some static health into him and ask why he did not say anything. He would shrug and keep swinging, saying it is his job to lock the monsters down, and it is ours to heal him. It took us a little while to get him to be more vocal about needing healing and to use his own. Eventually we got him to go with the above stated rule.
  • The Swordmage in a different game has about three things go off when he bloodies, so he will wade into battle with the Dragonborn Paladin, get bloodied, and immediately second-wind, trusting his Shielding Aegis and Paladin ally with a Fullblade will handle things for the round.
  • My Dwarf Battlemind. In a minor action, I can go from 0 to full-plus-ten. I have enough DR going for me that I notice I'm bloody, recharge Battle Resilience, take at most two more hits and the fight is over. If the DM drops me 75% in a round, I fix it the next chance I get, and let the healer keep the three strikers going.

After the encounter1

As you said, the usual monster does as much damage as your healing surge value, so spending your action on Second Wind (SW) just postpones your defeat with one round, but does not actually help winning. The 10% increase in defenses rarely makes a tangible difference.
So in first approximation, you should not use it at all.


Second Wind is not a standard action for you

You are a Dwarf, or has other means to spend a minor or free action instead of a standard, like the Hunter's Resurgence feat2, or the Invigorating Stride power3.

Someone else spends the action

With the Swift Recovery power4, or something similar.

You still significantly contribute to winning

Rogues can use Sneak Attack only once per turn, so after you hit with Low Slash (minor action attack), you do not lose too much by not using your standard to attack.
Wildblood Wardens give sizeable penalties to marked enemies when they use SW.
With the Striking Resurgence feat Fighters can make an MBA while using SW.

However, each of these could do better:

  • Low Slash could be used when you miss with your standard, so Sneak Attack is not lost for the turn
  • The Wildblood Warden should be a Dwarf, and use the standard for something that actually helps winning
  • The Fighter should use the feat for something better, and unless he is a Knight, standard actions should do more than MBAs

You cannot contribute anyway

You are unlikely to hit5, or completely unable to attack6. Unfortunately, these cannot be planned or relied upon.


If your best option is to spend a standard on SW, something went very wrong.
Only use it when you have nothing better to do, this usually means after all the enemies are dead.

  1. if you can afford to rest 10 minutes instead of 5, and you have an actual leader in the group, you are better off getting Inspiring Word or similar for the extra Xd6
  2. (Ranger, paragon) If you kill your quarry, you can spend your SW as a free action
  3. (Ranger, utility 2, move action) Shift your Wis, and spend SW
  4. (Heal utility 6, minor action) adjacent ally can spend SW
  5. blinded, or suffering from severe attack penalty
  6. immobilized, slowed, proned, or dazed and too far from targets

Some tactical situations where I can see that using a healing surge is better than you doing damage is the following:

  1. You are next to a monster and are close to dying. (You know that the monster next to you COULD kill you next round). And the monster next to you is not likely to be killed by your and any combination of your allies' hits this round. The reason for this is that by staying alive you allow for flanking and combat advantage, and with the +2 defense you have a better chance of even not dying before the mob is killed by your allies.

  2. You are mostly a ranged character and mobs are starting to surround you and kill you. If you can heal, and then run to prevent yourself from being a target next round, as well as getting in a better location to do some great distance coverage. For example, you are a Hunter or other ranged character and the mobs are otherwise starting to surround you.

  3. You were brought down to a low health by a monster that has just been killed. You were busy fighting a monster and it brought you really low, but now it has been killed by your teammates so you can heal up to survive the fight better. Perhaps even you are a Leader and your skills won't necessarily be doing damage to other mobs to begin with.


Secondwind offers one additional heal for the group, but it is only able to target yourself. Baring some attack and utility powers, leaders get two free heals to distribute at some point during the combat so if nothing else by using it you are essentially getting HP back that does not use some other limited resource (eg: leader heals, potions) at the cost of a standard action on yourself. This frees up those other resources for use elsewhere and if you do have a leader, they will likely thank you for it.

Also frequently, there will be turns where there are no very good combat actions to take, and more than a healing surge of damage has been done to you. Using a second wind in these situations is a great idea as you'll have more health for the fight, and if it turns out it wasn't critical, that is one less healing surge you must spend in the short rest afterward. No long term loss.

Even if the heal you use on yourself is immediately countered by an enemy attack, that's one more attack that you will survive, giving everyone in your party additional time to act.

Note: This is all of course ignoring the additional benefit of the +2 to defenses, since the question was mostly about the healing aspect and the +2 is an added benefit to what I listed above.


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