When should a healer let someone die?
I’m going to go out on a limb here and hope that my history bears me out. That means “please don’t dig through my blog looking for an instance of when I let someone die deliberately,” but in general, my answer is “I won’t.” Wait, it’s coming back to me, that’s not entirely true. There have been certain special circumstances where I did so, but in general my answer stands.
I see the role of a healer as a facilitator. It’s part of what makes it so much fun, at least for me. You are a support for the group. When life gets the group down, you are the one to be there cheering them on, and bandaging their wounds. I take that role seriously, and it’s not lightly that I abandon it.
The damage dealers: “Whoops, I did it again.”
That means that when an over-eager DPS pulls aggro, I view it as a personal challenge to keep them alive. I know some healers would challenge me on this, and even some tanks. (You yank it, you tank it!) There are exceptions to this. When I was leveling Vid, my mana was pretty precious. I didn’t have forty-thousand mana to throw around, nor did I have the ability to simultaneously heal more than one person. I have a responsibility to the tank to heal them, and a further responsibility to keep myself alive so that I can fulfill the first. The other three group members take a back-seat to that. So when a DPS needs heavy healing because they pulled, I might do it – but only if it doesn’t put the tank or myself in jeopardy. This comes into play more in heroics at eighty. My restoration druid has so much mana, she hasn’t drunk a thing in weeks. Needing to heal a DPS probably means I’ll stop casting wrath to direct heal someone.
Again, it’s very situational. In a raiding situation, if someone pulls aggro they are likely to be dead. I’ve told you about the fury warrior-turned-warlock in our guild. His nickname is Dirtface, and it’s Dirtface for a reason. In his words, “I play because the ground in ICC is tasty and delicious.” His death is routine. I still try to keep him alive when I’m a healer. During one heavy pull in our last alt raid, our off-tank had to take a phone call. I’m not sure if he was actually AFK or just distracted, but we had a Fury warrior off-tank for awhile. And heck yeah I put Beacon on him. I wasn’t aware that the tank was AFK, I just knew he didn’t have aggro, wasn’t taking damage, and didn’t need it. Dirtface lived.
The flip side of this (because I am DPSing at least as often as I am a healer) is a very resounding “mea culpa.” As a healer I try to keep the DPS alive. As a DPS – I don’t expect to be kept alive if I pull aggro. Whether the tank is “bad” or not isn’t relevant, it’s my job to manage my aggro. Sometimes I impose on my healers to heal me when I have gone overboard DPSing, and I’m very grateful for their benevolence, but I don’t expect it. Generally if I die, I have no one to blame but myself!
The wall of bricks: “We can handle all of this, right?”
If a tank dies, I get an immediate wash of intense guilt and regret. It always feels like a personal failure, and in many cases it is. The only exception to this is if a tank really was trying to do too much. I don’t mind a tank pulling aggressively, but I’m not apt to “punish” him for it either. I will do my damnedest to keep a tank up through hell and heavy pulling, but if I fail in that case I wouldn’t take all the responsibility on myself. It comes back to the tank and healer relationship. I was fortunate to have considerate tanks when I first started getting my hooves wet healing as a paladin at eighty, and I usually made a point of saying, “Hey, I’m still pretty new,” just as a heads-up. It’s part of the tank’s responsibility to know their healer’s limits.
I know I’ve pugged in with a great tank when they make their first few pulls a bit cautiously, or even ask me what I’m comfortable with. I know what they are doing; they’re feeling out to see how far they can reach with me backing them up. Only after they get a feel for my healing do they start to pull more aggressively, and I love that. In a short amount of time you’ve established a rapport and trust, even just for the 20 minutes you’re in the instance together, and those are always smooth runs. I like being able to trust the tanks I’m with, which is probably why I tend to prefer tanks I know.
A tank won’t die if I can possibly prevent it, unless he is an incredible jerk. I ran into such a tank wayyy back in my Deadmines days, and I checked: even then I didn’t kill him. Because if he dies, it means that other people are likely to die, and that’s not my decision to make.
It’s my off-spec that is Retribution
Occasionally I do run into a situation when someone will expressly ask or expect me to not heal someone. I know I’ve said I won’t let someone die, but there are a few exceptions, and here they are.
- Avoidable environmental damage, a.k.a. “Why is the ground burning me?” For this I follow a general rule of “Once, shame on you, twice shame on me.” If someone is standing in something that’s killing them and I can heal them through it, I probably will – the first time. This will be followed by a general reminder, “Please watch out for such-and-such” on the ground. A repeat offense might be healed, but definitely not a third. This is a lesson situation. If there’s no consequence for standing in fire, people won’t ever learn not to stand in it.
- The tank is having a hard time with someone continually pulling aggro and they ask me to “Please not heal so-and-so” or “Just let them die.” I still have a really hard time with this. It’s happened when a DPS thought they could pull groups instead of the tank, which is not the same as pulling aggro. This is a situation in which I feel the healer has to back up the tank, but it’s always a judgment call. Does it really justify withholding heals? In some cases it does. But I don’t like doing it. The biggest reason is because death of any kind in most instances punishes the whole group and not just the recipient. If I let them die, we have to then resurrect them, have them get their mana back, and probably rebuff them which costs me and other party members a reagent in any case.
In short, I don’t like punitive healing. If I’m there healing, I’m going to keep everyone alive to the best of my abilities. Sometimes DPS pulls aggro, mistakes happen, things get messy. I revert to my priorities: self, tank, DPS dead last. Sometimes that means they do wind up dead, and if they don’t I feel I’ve done a good job.
Most importantly, when I’m on the damage dealing side and I pull a bonehead maneuver and the healer has to heal me through something smacking me in the face… I make sure and thank them! Usually in the form of, “Thank you for saving me from my own stupidity, I know it was above and beyond the call of duty.” Because it is; the healer isn’t obligated to heal you through extraordinary damage if you bring it upon yourself. Treasure them and be grateful when they do, and remember it if you’re ever on the flip-side! If more people showed a little love for their healers, there’d never be a healer shortage. It can be an incredibly rewarding role when you’re grouped with great people.