Take Ten: Heal

From Hannah Lipsky

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0478

Take Ten: Heal

Healers have held a place of honor in every human society from ancient tribal witch-doctors to modern day physicians. But then why is Heal, the ubiquitous skill for clerics and the like, so very nearly useless?

Does magical healing render the mundane skills superfluous? Hardly! Here are ten ways the much ignored Heal skill can be used in your game.

Diagnose an Illness

The duke has been suffering from a terrible malady. Sending the party off on a harebrained scheme to find a rare cure only works if the duke’s physician has any idea what’s wrong with him. The warrior PCs are a lot better at fighting than most warriors, so shouldn’t the healer PCs be a lot better at medicine than most physicians?

Whether it’s an epidemic sweeping through the city, a sudden bout of sickness afflicting one of the local royalty, or merely a racking cough that’s keeping the beggar from telling the party which way the thugs went, the Heal skill can tell you what’s wrong and how to fix it.

Make Friends and Win Favors

You might not have enough cure spells to get the party up to full health, but that doesn’t mean you can’t patch up the bandit prisoner before you interrogate him.

A little mundane healing is just the thing for allies who can’t afford a physician on their own, captured enemies you wish to sway with your mercy, and random peasants you hope to impress.

Earn a Little Gold

The bard can play his lyre, the thief can cheat at cards, the wizard can do magic tricks and the fighter can pick up a few coins winning at darts. What can the healer do?

Charge a few coppers here and there to change bandages and ease the pain of infected wounds. Reset that broken bone, take a look at that aching tooth, and put a poultice on that colorful bruise. All these are services much in demand anywhere adventurers travel, and there’s no reason not to make an honest living while doing a bit of community service.

Alleviate Madness

Most fantasy worlds are short on psychiatrists, but full up on the mentally ill. Diplomacy only goes so far when someone is foaming at the mouth or raving about conspiracies. Why not use the Heal skill instead?

A good healer can calm down a madman for long enough to get a few straight answers out of them, and a great healer might even lessen the symptoms permanently. Healing herbs and potions can act as sedatives or perhaps even anti-psychotics.

Detect or Brew Poison

Thieves and assassins know their dangerous brews, but so do healers. Some herbs can act as a cure for one ill while worsening another, and it makes sense for a healer to know them apart.

If a poison has some connection with an illness, or is made from natural herbs of any kind, there’s a good chance that the Heal skill will be able to identify it. And if you can identify something, you can probably make it.

Think the only reason not to irritate the healer is to ensure you always get your HP replenished? Think again.

Create Medicines

Brewing potions might be a magical skill, but making willow bark tea is an even more useful mundane one. Clean bandages can be hard to come by, but if you’ve been trained to boil them first and store them somewhere sterile, yours will be much better than what the locals will have lying around.

Don’t forget all those exotic locales adventurers travel to – surely there’s some rare mountain herbs there that are just the thing for curing fevers. Use the Heal skill to brew up some tasty tea or put together a sweet-smelling poultice.

Improve Public Health

Many PCs are ragtag bands of adventurers, but some rule fiefs or even kingdoms. Do you really want your serfs to be the ones with rotting teeth and scabrous skin?

Use the Heal skill to determine how good you are at keeping your servants healthy. If there’s a disease going around, use the skill to see how much you were able to teach the local physicians about how to treat it.

Preventative Care

Here there be snakes! Use your Heal skill to figure out what antidote you need to bring. Here there be frostbite! No problem – you have some salves that will help make your skin resistant to that.

Long sea voyage coming up? You might not be able to stock the hold with fresh oranges, but making a Heal roll to scrounge up some vitamins should keep the crew from falling prey to scurvy. And what about that plague that’s going around? Well, a diet of these herbs should help keep you from coming down with it.

Push the Limits

You know how your body works, and how to fix it when it’s broken down. Odds are, that means you also know how to get a little extra performance out of it when it’s working just fine.

Whether it’s using your supply of healing herbs to dull your sense of pain before the battle even begins, brewing yourself some wake-up tea to stay alert through an extra-long watch, or using natural supplements to buff yourself up over the long term, there’s plenty of ways the Heal skill can give you an edge.

Make it Hurt

Knowing how to heal means you know what can go wrong with a body. Why not use your healing knowledge to help you out in combat?

Aim for places where you know you can cripple a joint. Strike at parts of the body where nerve clusters lurk just beneath the skin. When you’re out for vengeance, break bones that you know from experience almost never heal cleanly.

It’s worth asking your DM if you can get a bonus to hit or damage certain enemies with a successful Heal check. If a Knowledge check can tell you an enemy’s weaknesses, shouldn’t knowing enough about the creature to patch up its hurts tell you much the same thing?

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Thanks, Hannah, for another entry in the Take 10 series!

Readers, here are the past entries:

Take Ten: Bluff

Take Ten: Balance

Take Ten: Appraise — RPT#287

Take 10: Gather Information — RPT#275

If you feel inspired to write a Take 10 article for the ezine, drop me a note.

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Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters

Have a roleplaying tip you’d like to share? E-mail it to [email protected] – thanks!

Session Planning

From Ria Kennedy

How do you take your adventures from a simple quest or monster mash to a more interactive part of your overall campaign and more of an adventure?

= The Questions =

First, ask some questions about the role of this adventure:

How does this fit into my overall campaign scheme?

Does it introduce one of the overall issues, problems or mysteries (a minor sub-plot)? Does it introduce a character, location or group that may be important or reoccurring?

Look at previous adventures in the campaign, at the overall campaign plan, and at the villain’s plans to see where the adventure fits in.

Note that sub-plots can seem trivial, but they can support the main plot in significant ways.

For example, the PCs find a rusty gauntlet in a dungeon, make an alliance with some no-account tribe on the high plains, and meet a prissy dude who has a constant sniffle and persists in tagging along with them.

So, the crappy gauntlet is actually something that allows the wearer to open a magic door in a mountain. The portal leads the PCs to a lost kingdom.

The tribe is actually a group of earth-bound deities. If they befriend you, you’ll be let in on some of the secret training that can make you nearly invisible, almost fly, leap without sound farther than a deer, or be able to make a non-destructive flame wherever you need light.

The sniffly priss is actually a princess in disguise. Returning her will make her father a great ally who may fight the PCs’ enemy.

Next ask, “How will I make sure the PCs get this information?”

Don’t just throw it out there. Make the PCs earn it, maybe by throwing in various challenges and different information, some related and some not. Perhaps bits and pieces finally add up to the information you want them to get.

What is the opposition?

a) The main villain

b) Thugs of the main villain

c) Monsters

d) Animals

e) Other bad guys

f) A variety of the above? (Specify, and say what their roles are.)

= Plan the Adventure Sequence =

Next, we go into the pure fun of the adventure. I look at the adventure as a kind of odyssey with a sequence of steps.


This is where they’re leaving from. If it’s a repeat area, you need not go into much detail, but make sure it’s kept consistent.

This area can be examined in more detail by the PCs in the future, either later in this adventure, or in future adventures.

While you’re here, have some kind of event happen that involves the PCs. It can be simple and tied into this adventure, or be separate, possibly introducing cast members, mysteries, and other elements that will be looked into later.

En Route

While journeying to the next spot, there may be some challenges or problems. These may tie into the adventure or not.

Landing Pad

This is where the PCs land for the adventure. A dungeon, for example.

Provide at least 5 to 10 challenges here. They can range from simple to complex, and with one or more types of opposition.

Something in this landing pad area – maybe through one of the challenges being unsolvable or something that is discovered here – leads further into the adventure.

The landing pad may create or give:

a) A problem to solve – “remove a curse”

b) A mystery to deduce – how do they relocate the missing book the wizard needs?

c) It may involve them in some ongoing situation or conflict – this gives them a new enemy or informs them of something the villain is planning

d) A new objective, goal, mission – “retrieve a kidnapped colleague”

e) A cause – “assist someone”

Back En Route

New problems and challenges. The (a-e) situations above will now put the PC party back en route to the next area. They might face new problems and challenges, either some left over from The Landing Pad area or new ones.

Once again, these challenges may be tied into the rest of the adventure, are stand alone, or be a combination of both.


Now you move into The Mid-Ground of the adventure. There should be some truly interactive elements here: puzzles, mysteries, discussions, debate, action, chases, surprises.

All of these are based on the issues from The Landing Pad and anything learned or that cropped up on the way to this area.

Mid-Ground elements may even go back to that original adventure at The Dock, and now it’s seen how it contributes to the problems being dealt with.

Minor Problems

In Mid-Ground, the PCs may have returned to the original Dock or gone to a new place. Now, they may move onward to a new location, or stay at The Mid Ground Locale. Whichever, there are some minor problems they have to deal with. In some way, these problems lead into the next part of the adventure.

The Canyon

Minor Problems lead the PCs to an area I call The Canyon. They are going to channel through this area, either being harried by someone or just by being given few choices on where to go or what do to.

This is not to suggest railroading them. Instead, the action of the game is heating up and things are happening so fast that the PCs are forced to react.

There should be at least one violent confrontation, such as a last attempt to get information from someone or breaking in to get something.

Make a list of last ditch things the PCs might try. Have some help them resolve the adventure successfully, some that are red herrings, and some that are dead ends.

It’s OK to cause a bit of frustration, a sense of desperation with time running out, or a step behind. The group should be challenged, but should get a clear result – success or failure – for taking on the challenge and getting it done. This leads to the next area.

Setup the final challenges

The PCs may move to a new area or not. If the PCs are captured, wounded, or depleted there may be additional travel. Or, if they have to track the enemy to its lair, there may be travel.

However, this is mostly drama. It might be dark and spooky, for instance. Think of it more as a cinematic moment and don’t waste a lot of time here. This is the set-up for the final challenges.

Mountain Top

This is the end of this adventure. There may now be a betrayal, an ambush, an additional problem, dangerous weather, an unexpected monster, etc.

Make things uncertain, scary and difficult. Possibly the lair they go into is a labyrinth. Maybe there’s a fork in the road and they have to split up. There could be an inter- party conflict.

There should certainly be some violence while they beat on the villain’s minions.

The PCs might have to rush to prevent the villain from completing some terrible plan. The big bad guy might not be the actual main villain, but it should certainly take a group effort to bring him down.

At the end of #8, there must be a clear outcome: the PCs succeed in the final fight or not. This does not mean everything is cleaned up and perfect. The villain got away to fight another day, or the plans weren’t stopped, or there are new problems.

The PC party may have more questions than answers. A new problem, plot or sub-plot might have just been revealed.

The PCs might have gained insights or retrieved gear that will help them work further along on the main quest or solve some problem left over from a past adventure.

This might hint at the PCs’s next adventure, and give you several options to start the next session’s adventure. Make notes of these.

Ask the players what questions they have, what they would like to explore further. This will help you in planning future adventures.

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Alien or Fantasy Race Inspiration

From Eric FitzMedrud

I frequently have my antennae up for creatures that take “alien” or “fantasy race” just a little farther beyond the known. Most entries in monster bestiaries are a transparent mishmash of existing animals, creatures or myths.

I get a little bored with the constant parade of vertebrate, bipedal, 5-fingered aliens. The most annoying trope to me is using insects to make the new species seem really alien.

So, when I read about ciliates today I got pretty excited. Imagining the culture of a sentient species with these qualities and reproductive methods got me on some ideas that seemed pretty hard for me to imagine in concrete terms, like no stable personal identity, totally fluid interpersonal relationships, no words for “I” or “me”.

Since I had a hard time imagining a culture with those qualities, I think it would be fun to see players encountering the species. Check it out. See if it sparks some of your synapses too.

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Run Silverado as A Campaign

From geo

For your Top RPG Movies for Game Masters list.


I have successfully run the plot of Silverado as a D&D campaign. Works in any game with a frontier.

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HackMaster Critical Hit Utility

From Derek Carmichael

I can’t vouch for the one but this might help.


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Whimsy Cards

From Brock R. Wood

Hi Johnn!

Here is a discussion I recently posted to the Dragon Quest rules discussion group [http://groups.yahoo.com/group/dq-rules/].

— snip —

[This discussion concerns the use of Whimsy cards in my Dragon Quest fantasy RPG campaign. I think Whimsy cards, or something similar, could be used in any RPG setting or system. I have also used Whimsy cards in a GURPS campaign I used to run.]

In my Dragon Quest campaign, I use a deck of “Whimsy” cards to give my players a way to have some input into the story of the adventure.

The Whimsy Cards are a deck of RPG events”that was published many years ago as a play aid to the Ars Magica RPG. Here is a web page that describes the cards and actually lists the text that was printed on each card.

I don’t own a set of the original cards which have long been out-of-print. A friend used these cards in an RPG campaign (I forget the system) many moons ago. I just made my own set by copying the text that was on each card and putting it on slips of paper.

In addition, my Whimsy deck includes two blank cards that players can use to dream up their own event.

At the beginning of each game session, I shuffle the deck and give each player a card.

At any point in the game session, a player can play a card to alter the flow of events in the story. I find that the players enjoy the Whimsy cards because it gives them *real* ownership over the story we are creating together.

I find we use the Whimsy cards for three purposes:

1) As “luck” cards. When a player or the party has had some *really* bad luck (in Dragon Quest, the backfires and grievous injuries can often be bad luck that is disastrous for a player’s character), a card can sometimes be used to soften the bad outcome a bit and keep it from being a complete catastrophe.

Likewise, if the players are stuck and could use a little good luck to get the story moving again, Whimsy cards are useful.

2) As humor cards. Sometimes the game is getting just a bit tedious and boring and someone wants to put a little mirth into the session. I will allow a Whimsy card play in that instance if the player has a good way to inject the fun into the game using the card.

3) As a way to control the plot a bit or add some character story element (or minor skill). For example, the player has a character story idea he wants to introduce and doesn’t want to wait for an opportunity to do so. He can play a card and introduce the story idea or skill that way.

This can also be a way to allow a player to add to his character skills or knowledge that are fairly significant or powerful, and that I wouldn’t allow the player to simply add to his character without some sort of payment to the story.

The primary use for Whimsy cards in our campaign is luck. As we all know, DQ can be a deadly game. We also know generating a character is no minor effort! So players tend use Whimsy cards to keep PCs alive.

They have to be judicious in their use of the cards, however, as they only get one card per session. If they use the card and then get another mortal wound – so be it. My players tend to save their Whimsy cards unless there is no possibility of avoiding the bad outcome without it.

Using Whimsy cards as luck requires reasonableness on the players’ parts, and some management on the GM’s part. No, a player cannot play the “Inopportune Arrival” Whimsy card and have a meteor fall from the sky and kill off a troll that is blocking his path.

If, however, that troll is really kicking the character’s butt, and will probably cleave the PC in two with his next blow, the player could play that card, stating the troll’s wife, irate over some misdeed by the troll, arrives and distracts the troll for one pulse, giving the player the initiative for that pulse. With the lucky break, the player could try to retreat and get to safety or do something else to avoid instant death.

I do not allow Whimsy cards to change the outcome of poor decisions by a player. Only truly bad luck the player did not bring on himself. If the player had no business attacking the troll, and could have easily thought of an alternative to doing so, then that is not bad luck – that is foolishness. Sorry, no Whimsy card luck for you!

The GM must be diligent not to let the Whimsy cards save the day every time players get into a jam. If he does, the fear of death or defeat goes away and the game becomes boring. That is why I only allow one card per player (or even one card per party). After the card is played, no more are given out for the rest of the session.

In addition, I usually try to retain an element of chance in the luck the player receives. The Whimsy luck is not a complete save; it is usually a second chance at a save.

For example, instead of simply having the troll’s swing at the character miss, I will make the troll roll again, and if he misses on either roll, I will call it a miss. Or I will make the troll roll twice on the grievous injury table, and the player can pick the grievous injury that seems less onerous to him or her.

The role-play aspect is important. The player must give me a plausible reason for the luck to occur. If the player plays the “Inopportune Arrival” Whimsy card, he has to explain to me what the inopportune arrival is, who it occurs to, and how it might pull his chestnuts out of the fire. I will modify as I see fit to make the Whimsy play fair to all concerned. If I think the attempt at role-play is half- hearted, I may make the effect ineffectual. Moo ha ha ha!

I would love to hear how other GMs use Whimsy cards, or similar devices, in their campaigns.