In the fantastical world of Dungeons & Dragons, divine magic manifests in miraculous ways. With a wave of the hand and an invocation, clerics can seal wounds, restore vitality, and even resurrect the dead. But one healing spell has caused more controversy than all the rest: healing spirit.
When Xanathar's Guide to Everything introduced this druid and ranger exclusive in 2017, its potential was quickly realized. Parties across the realms embraced the “healing spirit conga line,” passing through repeatedly to exploit its unlimited healing potential. This “cure-all in a can” threatened to undermine class balance, invalidating non-combat healing spells entirely.
After much debate, the spell was amended in 2020 to rein in the spirit's boundless healing energy. But even after its nerf, creative players continue finding value in this versatile summon.
The Origins of Healing Spirit
Xanathar’s Guide to Everything introduced healing spirit in 2017, granting druids and rangers access to this conjuration. The spell manifests a helpful spirit that occupies a 5-foot cube, mending wounds of any creature that passes through its space. Unlike most healing spells, it lasts up to 1 minute with concentration, moving the spirit up to 30 feet as a bonus action.
In Xanathar’s original printing, the spirit lacked any limitations on how often it could heal. This allowed parties to conga line repeatedly through the cube, gaining ridiculous amounts of healing from a single 2nd level spell slot. A full minute of conga line healing could fully restore a party at little cost.
As rumors of this “cure-all in a can” spread, many Dungeon Masters banned the spell as simply too potent. The outcry against “Healing Spirit Spam” even reached the lead rules designer Jeremy Crawford. After all, a 2nd level spell out-healing a 9th level Mass Heal? Preposterous!
Crawford shared an unofficial nerf on Twitter in 2017, proposing to limit the spirit to “twice the caster’s spellcasting ability modifier” heals. This homebrew patch would rein in the spell’s potential for abuse. But an official rules change would have to come later.
The Great Healing Spirit Nerf of 2020
By April 2020, Wizards of the Coast could no longer ignore healing spirit's exploitative potential. When the April 2020 Sage Advice Compendium arrived, it contained an official errata nerf for healing spirit.
This errata amended the spell’s description, limiting the spirit to a number of heals equal to “1 + your spellcasting ability modifier (minimum of twice).” For most casters, this means around 3-5 heals maximum.
While many welcomed the change, others complained it rendered the spell useless. Why learn a limited healing spirit when a Cleric can cast Healing Word infinitely? Rangers with their limited spell options especially felt targeted.
But the designers felt restricting the spirit's unlimited healing potential was necessary. Lead rules designer Jeremy Crawford explained on Twitter:
“Unlimited healing, especially out of combat, can undermine the attrition element of the game. The original version of healing spirit exemplified that issue.”
Crawford also clarified the spell was not designed as a combat heal, but for after combat recovery. The “cure-all in a can” clearly violated this intent.
How Healing Spirit Works Now in 5E
Today, healing spirit functions much differently than its original incarnation. The spell still occupies a 5-foot cube within 60 feet of the caster, lasting 1 minute with concentration. But the spirit now has a hard cap on healing.
The number of heals equals 1 + the caster's spellcasting ability modifier. With a +3 modifier, it heals only 4 times maximum. After reaching this limit, the spirit vanishes.
The caster can move the spirit up to 30 feet as a bonus action. Any creature starting its turn in the spirit's space, or entering it for the first time that round, can be healed if the caster desires. But no longer can parties conga line endlessly through it.
Casters must also maintain concentration on healing spirit. Taking damage may disrupt the spell early. Overall, its healing output is now limited to a few heals over its duration.
Despite the restrictions, creative casters can find ways to maximize its impact. Proper positioning allows it to revive allies at the start of their turns. The bonus action movement keeps it near those most wounded. And because it lasts up to 1 minute, it still aids recovery after combat.
Healing Spirit Compared to Other 5E Healing Spells
To understand healing spirit's current power level, let's compare it to some other healing options in 5th edition D&D:
- Cure Wounds (2nd Level) heals 2d8+mod (avg 12) HP to one target
- Healing Spirit (2nd) heals 1d6 per target, so 4d6 (avg 14) split among four allies
- Mass Healing Word (3rd Level) heals 1d4+mod (avg. 8) HP to six targets
- Healing Spirit upcast to 3rd Level would heal 2d6 per target (avg 14)
While restricted, healing spirit remains one of the most mana-efficient means to heal an entire party. It outperforms comparative spells, especially when upcast. Concentration requirement and limited uses keep it in check.
Of course, raw healing output doesn't tell the whole story. In combat, healing spirit fills a unique role by reviving allies at the start of their turns. This “combat medic” niche makes it useful despite split healing and action costs.
Ultimately, healing spirit retains value after its nerf by healing multiple targets over time. Creative casters use positioning and action economy to maximize its impact mid-fight and between encounters.
Why Druids Love Healing Spirit
While rangers have limited spell slots for healing spirit, druids can gain substantial mileage from this summon. Their higher level spell slots allow upcasting to increase the spirit's healing potency.
A 3rd level healing spirit heals 2d6 per creature. Coupled with a druid's likely +4 or +5 casting mod, this generates significant healing for a single 3rd level slot. If positioned correctly, a druid could heal the entire party for 4d6+20 health as an action – not bad!
Druids also gain access to healing spirit at level 3, earlier than the ranger's level 5. This offers low-level druids a powerful emergency healing option. And with other excellent concentration spells, they have options to replace it later if needed.
Finally, druids enjoy greater synergy with the spirit's positioning requirements. Wild shaping allows faster repositioning, and summons can occupy the space. For druids, healing spirit offers efficient, renewable AoE healing.
Creative Uses for Healing Spirit
While the designers aimed to limit infinite healing exploits, creative players still find unique applications for healing spirit:
- Use it to quickly revive downed allies at the start of their turns
- Reposition it with a bonus action to follow the party
- Combine it with a druid's Balm of the Summer Court for bonus action group healing
- Use it after combat to efficiently restore the party before a short rest
- Upcast it to increase overall healing, especially useful for druids
- Consider it inferior if your party already has a dedicated Cleric
The key is using positioning and action economy to extract value from the spirit's limited heal capacity. It now fills a supplemental role, but remains one of the best emergency healing options.
Downsides and Remaining Controversies
While an improvement overall, some detractors feel the 2020 errata went too far. The limited number of heals, especially for rangers, renders it near useless some argue. If you only get 3 heals, is it worth spending a precious spell known?
Others debate whether automatically limited healing spells were necessary. Could limitations like concentration have prevented exploitation instead of hard caps? Or are healing limits now needed to balance classes lacking quick healing, like the paladin?
Finally, out-of-combat applications took the biggest hit. Some players argue the conga line was an acceptable post-fight recovery tactic. Does nerfing it remove a unique in-game healing strategy? Or is it simply an exploit gone too far?
These controversies reveal deeper issues with D&D's flexible design. Rules loopholes will always exist, but should be weighed carefully before patching. And extensive playtesting by the community helps identify overpowered combinations.
Healing Spirit and the Evolution of D&D
Few spells illustrate the evolving nature of D&D rules better than healing spirit. In just three years, it went from one of the strongest spells to nearly useless. This reveals the importance of playtesting before printing major new spells.
It also shows the collaborative relationship between Wizards of the Coast and the D&D community. The designers listen to feedback and make changes for game balance. While healing spirit was not the first errata, its controversy pushed it to the forefront.
This episode also teaches us that loopholes will always exist in D&D's flexible framework. Spells interact in complex ways, and players relentlessly seek synergies. Errata is a tool, but not the only solution.
Ultimately, healing spirit shows the importance of thorough playtesting before major new content. Had Xanathar’s original printing included limitations, years of headaches could have been avoided. Instead, the “cure-all in a can” slipped through.
Going forward, we hope designers will leverage the vast D&D community for large-scale playtesting. D&D Beyond and organized play provide huge data sets to audit impacts of new spells on game balance. Such oversight should reduce future controversies.
The Ongoing Legacy of Healing Spirit
While healing spirit’s power has diminished, its legacy continues shaping 5th edition D&D. The controversy revealed the temptation for players to over-optimize, and the need for limitations balanced across classes.
It also set precedents for using errata to restrict spells. However, the community wants errata as a scalpel, not an axe. Nerfs should aim to balance, not destroy. With healing spirit thoroughly gutted, future errata may show more care and precision.
For players, it remains a lesson in creative problem solving within the game’s flexible rules. The conga line, while prohibited, exemplified out-of-the-box thinking. Such innovation will always be part of D&D’s open-ended design.
As for Druids, they retain privileged access to a now balanced but still potent healing engine. Like a fickle fey spirit, healing spirit’s gifts must be used sparingly. But clever casters can still coax this spirit to weave healing magic for their allies.
While its unbounded healing permanently resides in legend, a wiser spirit emerges moving forward. Healing spirit remains a versatile tool when used responsibly. DMs should not ban it outright, but instead watch carefully if it subtly becomes a crutch.
Ultimately, even legends evolve. The healing spirit's journey reveals the collaborative dynamism between D&D developers and players. Few spells will impact the game so profoundly, and its lasting heritage will not be forgotten. Healing spirit leaves behind controversy, but also wisdom and progress for this venerable RPG.