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Letting People Die

Posted by Malevica on July - 12 - 2010

This post is inspired by this week’s Blog Azeroth Shared Topic, suggested by Ecclesiastical Discipline, asking “When should a healer let someone die?”.
ED was asking about where the limit is, beyond which healers would just stop healing someone, but since I’ve not touched on the subject of triage in any depth I’ve added a bit of that as well.


The essence of triage is deciding who needs healing now, who can wait, and who you simply can’t save. The goal is to maximise the group’s performance in a given situation, which might not be the same as keeping the maximum number of people alive; that decision is one of the trickiest to make, but is sometimes necessary.

With this goal in mind, healers tend to operate with a priority list, which I’d characterise as follows:

  1. Yourself – If you die, you can’t save anyone else
  2. The tank – If they die, you might struggle to save other people from the damage that will follow
  3. Important DPS – By this I mean people with specific jobs, such as CC, decursing, or anything else
  4. People you like – This is where it gets subjective. “People you like” means people who you can trust not to die stupidly, or who you know are star DPSers on tight Berserk timer fights
  5. The raid in general – Both healers and DPS are in this category. You might want to make the other healers a priority, or they might take care of themselves, so you can make this judgement individually
  6. People prone to standing in fire – If you can’t trust someone to look after themselves, your precious heals might be better spent on someone else instead
  7. Pets – This can depend strongly on the fight and if they are playing an active role, but generally pet classes have ways to take care of their pets themselves. It generally costs DPS, so heal them when we can, but pets really aren’t a priority. I know a lot of healers don’t show pets on their raidframes at all, which might be a step too far

As a completely random example, which definitely did not happen to me this weekend, let’s imagine we’re in Utgarde Pinnacle and, having vanquished Grauf using the conveniently-positioned harpoon launchers, Skadi the Ruthless has just landed in our midst and begun whirlwinding on the tank and two melee DPS.
Let’s further suppose that the not-terribly-well-geared Resto Druid who is healing the group only has time to heal two people before someone will die. In this case, our Druid friend falls back on the rules. The first heal goes on the tank, because he’s holding onto Skadi and a couple of adds, which we don’t want to be getting hit by. The second goes onto one of the DPS. You might have a preference (the rogue might died to just about every ability going earlier in the run, in which case you might suspect he’ll just stand in the next whirlwind), you might pick the person who’s the furthest out (allowing him to survive to get out of range), or you might simply pick whoever’s closest to the tank on VuhDo for speed.

This typically works for 5-man dungeons and perhaps 10-man raids, although when you add in the complicating factor of multiple healers or other factors, your priorities might shift a bit.

Multiple healers

As you can imagine, when you are the only healer, triage is relatively straightforward. When there’s another healer in the group as well, you will need to alter your strategy a little. For example, if you have assignments, your first priority is always to make sure your assignment is fine before helping others. There’s no point healing the raid if the tank falls over seconds later, nor is there much merit in all the healers landing a heal each on the tank and letting the raid die.

More subtly, it helps to learn to anticipate who and how other healers will heal. If your Shaman colleagues tend to go straight to the melee pack with Chain Heals, prioritise the ranged DPS and healers. In TBC, when mana was more restricted, HoT healers were advised to HoT the higher health players, since direct heals like Flash Heal, and Smart heals like Circle of Healing, would be aimed at the lower-health players first.

So when is it OK to lose someone?

The short answer is: when you genuinely have no choice. Sometimes there’s just more damage coming in than you can heal up in the time allowed, and you have to choose. Sometimes a DPS player will find themselves tanking something they really shouldn’t be tanking, and you can’t react in time to save them.

The other main time it’s acceptable to lose someone is when the advantage of letting them die outweighs the cost of keeping them alive. This used to be viable on Saurfang: before he was hotfixed to invalidate this strategy, the first player to gain Mark of the Fallen Champion would often be allowed to die, to prevent Saurfang gaining Blood Power at double the rate.

There are also some quite obscure cases as well, like using Soulstones for a quick threat drop or mana boost, or Holy Priests deliberately dying towards the end of fights to use Spirit of Redemption, but these are rare these days.

In all of these cases, remember the golden rule: triage is used to maximise the group’s performance. In these examples, that’s achieved by limiting Blood Power, or by keeping a tank alive as opposed to a DPS (one DPS lost might or might not matter to the outcome, whereas a dead tank often means a wipe), or by using a resurrection as a free mana potion.

When is it not OK to lose someone?

It’s absolutely not OK to lose someone because you were unprepared or inattentive. Sometimes the damage is just too high, but if that’s because you didn’t get your Bubbles up in time for an Infest (I’ll admit to drifting off during the Lich King’s dialogue once or twice) or because you didn’t get Rejuvs all round before Phase 3 of the Black Knight fight began, then that’s a healer failure.

It’s also, in my opinion, not acceptable to let someone die because you don’t like them, or because you’re “educating” them. If someone rips off the tank, or pulls for the tank, or persists in standing in slime, fire, void zones or odd rumbling ground, by all means drop them down the priority list compared to someone who is taking incidental damage but generally avoids getting hurt, but that person should still get heals if you have them available. Refusing to heal them at all, and worse, refusing to resurrect them, is just petty and wastes everyone’s time. Most of the time a person’s death causes problems for the rest of the group, making them work harder or making fights take longer, and it’s not fair to punish the group.

Go back to the golden rule: maximise the group’s performance. Even a DPS in fire is better than a dead DPS if you can spare the time to keep them alive.

My recommendation would be to whisper the person to explain what went wrong and how to avoid it, and to point out that you have a lot of people to heal and they’re occupying an unreasonable amount of your time. I’d suggest that most people are not (contrary to popular belief) self-centred, Recount-obsessed, mouth-breathing morons who couldn’t avoid a void zone if their life depended on it, but may just not be aware that there’s a problem. Especially in 5-mans, less so in raids.

The Poison Nova on the Ick and Krick fight is a good example of this: many people don’t run away from this automatically, but when you ask them to run away next time (usually after they’ve died, but not always) most people are happy to take the suggestion on board. The culture in heroics in this half of WotLK tends to train DPS to ignore most boss abilities since they aren’t especially life-threatening, so it’s almost to be expected.

If someone’s either particularly recalcitrant, or so obnoxious you don’t want to play with them, you’re better off either attempting to vote kick them (you’re probably not the only person who feels that way), or just politely leaving the group and counting yourself lucky you escaped.

The take-away message would be that unless you’re going to try and explain to people why you’re letting them die, chances are they’ll just write you off as either a bad healer or someone spiteful who let them die for fun, and how will that teach them anything?

Having said all that I’ll admit that sometimes I do give in to the urge and underheal people. I’m only human after all, but I always feel bad about it afterwards!

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Categories: Opinion

6 Responses so far.

  1. Everblue says:

    The multiple healers thing is the holy grail of raid leading – to have a healing team that trust each other, know their own role and stick to it in general, and yet are aware of what’s going on enough to cover when one of their number is cc’d or forced to move.

    Having more than one healer creates redundancy – even if both healers do identical HPS the total amount of healing done to the raid does not double, because both healers will often try to heal the same person. The goal is to reduce the redundancy as much as possible and that can only come from having understanding between your healers. How to create that understanding? Well, that’s the trick, isn’t it?

    I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on that.

    • Malevica says:

      You’re right that it’s quite easy to say how great it’d be without really thinking about how to make it happen, so I’ll do some thinking and reflection.

      Watch this space, I’ll see what I can come up with.

  2. […] Malevica’s post shines for one particularly nail-on-head, and otherwise overlooked by others, point she makes. It’s the benefit of learning to anticipate different types of healers and styles. This can be a plus both in raids where an integrated healing teams are things of beauty and also in ye olde 5 mans, if you’re playing another role and have some idea of class capabilities. Found at Type “H” For Heals […]

  3. I respect your posts a great deal. Thanks for responding.

  4. […] her reasoning well and I completely respect that.  Type “H” For Heals has some triage. Too Many Annas wants every green bar healthy and happy.  Through the Eyes of a Tree heals them […]

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