Now that we’re sure about 5e, the dark mutterings from Mearls and Cook’s Design and Development columns seem more fraught with meaning.
Here are some interesting passages from Mike Mearls’s The Problem of Clerics:
The party needs healing, only the cleric can provide it, therefore someone must play a character they might otherwise prefer to avoid. The simplest, though perhaps most difficult, solution is to make healing no longer mandatory.
… Such a change would require a substantial examination of almost every facet of the game. Something like 4E’s second wind starts to point in a direction you could go, but you’d also have to look at monster damage, character attacks and spells, and the structure of a typical adventure. …The key to this change lies in making healing optional, so that players can embrace whatever role or class they like best.
That’s pretty much the same as what Rodney Thompson said later:
I don’t think ‘requiring someone to be a healer’ is a sacred cow, but having healers in the game is. I wouldn’t want to see D&D do away with healing, but I don’t think there’s anything keeping us from exploring a version of D&D where players can simply play anything they want, ignoring concepts like role and function when putting together their party. To do so, we would need to take a serious look at the way player resources are allocated in D&D, and make some adjustments to the assumptions behind the design of everything from adventures to encounters to monsters.
From this, it seems to me that the D&D guys already have an idea for making healing optional, and “something like 4E’s second wind starts to point in a direction you could go.”
Possible solutions that fit this bill:
a) everyone gets all the second winds they want: if you want to spend your turn healing, you lose a turn (thus, healing has an opportunity cost). Clerics heal other characters, so they don’t provide extra hit points: they manage the opportunity costs.
b) D&D finally separates wound points and barely-avoiding-calamity points into two separate pools. Maybe clerics are required to heal wound points, but everyone can recharge their own luck points.
It’s interesting that both Mike’s and Rodney’s quotes talk about reexamining (and changing) fundamental assumptions about D&D. It sounds like the designers have their hands on a New Idea. That doesn’t sound like the Old Editions Simulator that some of the other 5e PR is promising.
The other possibility is that the designers are just wrong about having a fix for healing, the way the 4e designers were wrong about solving the five-minute workday.