Perfect Ten: Ten lessons I learned as an MMO healer


Back in my World of Warcraft and RIFT days, I spent an awful lot of time in dungeon runs as a healer. I even still function as a flashpoint medic in Star Wars: The Old Republic when our healer isn’t pulling his or her weight. It wasn’t that I sought out healing roles to begin with, but that my class selection (Shaman, Druid, Cleric, Operative) just so happened to include heals, and I guess that curiosity and peer pressure gradually convinced me to give it a try.

I won’t say that I was the all-time best healer you’ve ever seen, but I generally kept my group alive and pulled us through some incredibly tricky fights. I even enjoyed it, once I got past my initial jitters and embraced the lifestyle. These days I don’t heal as much, although I actually do miss it.

So anyway, here are 10 lessons I learned as an MMO healer (semi-retired)!

1. The first pull of any dungeon is the scariest for a healer.

Man, I hate that first pull. This is where you learn a lot about your group and yourself, and you can usually figure out whether the team is going to make it. What worries me the most is that my stats won’t be good enough to compensate for whatever damage the tank and/or team will be taking. What worries me second-most is that I’ll find out that our group has a terrible (or undergeared) tank who will need a full triage unit to keep alive.

2. Healing is a great way to get into dungeon runs quickly.

We all know that queuing as DPS puts you with a vast majority of players in the system, so you’re always in for a long wait there. While tanking may be the quickest to pop (generally speaking), as a healer I never had to sit around for very long after signing up. That’s a nice perk indeed!

3. It’s OK to make mistakes as long as you own them.

Every healer has a learning period, especially when you’re new to a spec, a dungeon, or playing doctor at all. There are going to be slip-ups. There are going to be whoopsies. And there are going to be deaths, perhaps a lot of them spread out over time. My general attitude is to never take crap for events that are outside of my control, but when I do mess up, to quickly apologize to the group and assure them that I’ll do better next time. Almost without fail, such apologies are met with gracious responses that help to bond a team.

4. I can’t be held responsible for your stupidity.

Healing isn’t the toughest job in the world, but there are limitations. We aren’t omniscient beings, floating everywhere with an unlimited supply of heal juice to dole out. But some players act as though we are, which is the only explanation I can think of for why a team will suddenly start running in five different directions, pulling when the tank is going “too slow,” stubbornly standing in the fire, or playing hide-and-go-seek with me.

No, my heals do not have homing signals attached. If you break line-of-sight, you’re going to pay the price.

5. It’s important to know one’s full medical bag of tricks.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a so-called healer attempt to go through an instance relying on a single skill. Usually if you try to educate this person, the response is either silence or a pout. But c’mon! You have more than one heal! Let’s see you work up a rotation there, buster!

You don’t have to theorycraft healing or anything to be a halfway decent battlefield medic, but you do need to at least know what all of your heal skills do, what they cost, and in which situations they’re applicable. You also need to have them slotted (digging around in your abilities page during a fight is not ideal) along with any cleanses that the game provides.

6. Yes, sometimes I’ll let you die. On purpose.

There are two situations in which I will intentionally let someone who is in trouble on my team die. The first is when the tank needs my undivided attention or I have to triage between teammates who are all on the verge of death. I’ll prioritize the tank, then the heaviest hitters next.

The second is when a player has shown him or herself to be a doofus that continues to put the team in unnecessary peril, usually by running ahead and pulling instead of the tank. It may be petty, but sure, I’ll hang back and let that person eat pavement in the hopes that the player will taste a little humility and common sense while down there.

7. It’s 80% boring, 20% terror.

Most of the time, yes, healing is watching green bars instead of the high-polygon action that’s happening. I prefer to be proactive with shields and HoTs instead of reactive, but no matter what, it’s a marathon to keep the green bars on the up-and-up. Most fights after the first or second pulls are incredibly routine, save for the occasional boss fight or botched pull.

That’s when the meter switches from boring to flat-out fear factor. Sometimes everything’s going so much wrong at once that it’s almost paralyzing, but it can also be a lot of fun to switch into high gear and attempt to salvage the situation. Saving a group from a really nasty situation gives me such a buzz that it’ll often make an entire night for me.

8. Everyone has a healing style preference.

There’s only so many different ways to heal players, but MMO devs have shown themselves to be pretty inventive in this area. There are heal-over-times, big chunky heals, shields, chain heals, spells that you slap on to mobs to make them heal attackers, delayed heals, heal totems, and the like. And all the healers I’ve met have a preference as to which type of heal they prefer.

As I said, my style is always HoT. I love, love stacking HoTs on players and watching the bars tick back up almost as quickly as they’re knocked down. It’s less stressful on me in the long run and gives me something to do all the time.

9. Some players get upset when healers roll on DPS gear.

I don’t quite understand why players to this day still have the temerity to become incensed when a healer rolls on anything other than 100% healbot gear. It’s as if other players can’t quite comprehend that a healer does something other than patch up their wounds all of the time, but yeah, we need DPS gear too.

I used to feel embarassed to want to roll on such items, sometimes asking politely for permission to do so. Now? Screw it, life’s too short and I’ve been healing your under-armored butt for the better part of an hour. I’ve earned the right to roll just as much as anyone else, and I’m going to do it without apology.

10. It’s nice to be thanked.

I would never advocate that healers are somehow above the rest of the team, deserving veneration. But I will be honest and say that it’s always lovely to be thanked for doing what we do. The thanks is appreciated because it’s so easy to feel as if healing is never noticed, whereas tanks and DPSers are clearly, visually displaying their efforts.

And I’ll tell you one other thing: Thanking me is a quick way to get yourself bumped to the top of my triage list. Yeah, I guess I am a petty healer — and proud of it!

Everyone likes a good list, and we are no different! Perfect Ten takes an MMO topic and divvies it up into 10 delicious, entertaining, and often informative segments for your snacking pleasure. Got a good idea for a list? Email us at or with the subject line “Perfect Ten.”
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