Template: Healer

This blog is back from a very long hiatus that I’m not going to say more about. Instead I’ll celebrate (happy to be back!) with another contribution to The Land of the True Game campaign: the template for Healers.

This was a fun template to develop because in the source material the healers who are depicted are always pacifists, but there is a saying that those with “the power of the flesh” can also damage flesh as well as heal. I’ve tried to build that out a bit, so it is possible to have a combatant healer with this template.

The Healer

The Healer’s emblem is the caduceus, and the costume is often adorned with friendly serpents and leaves, typically with a serpentine headband or tiara — bejeweled if the healer is wealthy.

Medical Practice

True Game ESP-based healing is likely the only form of medical care gamesmen will encounter during their lifetime. The general disdain for “pawnish” learning means that First Aid skill is practically unknown and untaught, while there is no such job as a Physician. Related medical skills like Diagnosis and Pharmacy are also unknown.

There are minor exceptions to the above that most people will never experience: at the GM’s option Magicians and Wizards might also perform healing, but the mechanisms they would use to do so would be very different from the healer’s touch, which is psionic in game terms. Pawns also might know some folk herbary that could heal, but this would be quite unusual.

Note that while GURPS Psionic Powers has some interesting rules allowing psi medical diagnoses via auras, these aura talents do not exist in this world. Healers must lay hands on patients. There is no general knowledge of medicine or the body and there are few to no books available about these things, so it would not be clear what diagnosis would mean without a base of medical information.

In other words: Healing is intuitive. A healer wouldn’t bother to diagnose a disease because they would have no vocabulary for it, and perhaps no concept of disease processes. Instead, healing is a subjective art where the healer experiences sensations and images that may correspond to what is happening in the body and has learned to manipulate them by feeling their way by instinct and practice.

Healers are one of the most widely known and recognized gamespieces, yet perhaps for genetic reasons there are never enough of them to meet the demand for healing. Most towns will have no healer: there might be one healer for a large region. The best place to find a healer will be the largest possible city.

The related gamespiece Midwife is a limited healer that can only assist in childbirth. Midwives are quite common but useless for other kinds of healing. Beyond the Midwives, other gamespieces with healing powers are very rare in The Index, although some have the pain-giving power of the flesh, such as the Divulger (another word for torturer).

As a result, medical care is quite poor in this setting.

Healers, as they are rare-ish, tend to act as though they were a guild or a professional class and support each other. Although they do not encounter each other often, when they do so they will be pleased to see each other and likely to trade favors (this could be modeled as a reputation, claim to hospitality, contact group, etc. depending on your preference).

The Limits of Healing

To explain a failed healing roll or a situation where the GM rules a healer did not succeed, consider that it is known that some kinds of illnesses cannot be cured by a healer. It is also sometimes said that if the injury has “set” in the mind of the patient, the healer cannot remove it because the patient has accepted the injury as permanent.

Healing takes longer than harming (represented below by Takes Extra Time).

At the GM’s option, a difficult healing task such as a complicated disease or a longstanding condition may produce a situation where the Healing advantage acquires the Onset (1 day) limitation (p. B113) or further levels of the Takes Extra Time limitation. That is, someone injured may have their HP restored slowly over many hours after a bout of healing, they aren’t instantly A-OK. This is not affected by the number of HP restored or FP used, it is just an indication of the complexity of the task.

Healers cannot heal mental illnesses: this is known as “mind healing” and legend has it that only one mind healer has ever been born. “Mind healer” is not a piece in The Index.

Healers cannot heal animals, although this talent might be possessed by other gamespieces.

Healers cannot heal themselves, although it is often heard that healers are naturally healthy. (This may or may not be true.)

Healing is a mental, intuitive art; healers are known to generally not be dexterous or handy. It would be a shock to find one good with a sword or bow. This may have something to do with the working of the healing power, or it might be a folk saying with no basis.

Healers cannot heal the dead. After death, call a Necromancer.

Knowledge of The Healer’s Mark [1]

The Healer’s Mark is a secret known only among most healers: it is a modification of the flesh inside the patient’s body indicating a warning message to other healers. Although the exact form of the mark is not known, it might be an agreed upon crimped capillary in a particular place.

Every healer with knowledge of the Healer’s Mark will check to see if every patient is marked when first laying hands on them. If you harm or cheat or otherwise irritate a healer, if the healer has the chance to lay hands on you again they are duty-bound to place the healer’s mark inside your body.

Once you are marked, no healer will heal you. The mark cannot be seen from the outside; a healer must lay hands on a patient to know if they have the mark.

It’s unlikely, but if a healer grew up isolated from other healers, they may never have learned the healer’s mark. This makes knowledge of the mark a 1-point Perk in terms of game mechanics, as it is a very minor advantage that might help a healer recognize an unsavory character.

The healer’s mark perk is only appropriate for healers, as without the healing power, the mark cannot be read.

Code of Honor (Healer’s) [-5]

The above rules about the Healer’s Mark constitute the bulk of the professional ethics of the healers, but there are a few more minor precepts.

In addition to the healer’s mark, there may be people who have harmed a healer but who have not been marked because the healer cannot get close enough to them. This is called a “ban.” To ban these people, the healers exchange information about bans whenever they meet.

Older healers will seek out new healers who have just come into their talent and impart these rules.

Code of Honor (Healer’s): Always check a patient for the Healer’s Mark. Never heal a marked patient. Mark anyone who harms a healer. Keep the list of banned patients. Exchange information with other healers about who is banned. -5 points.

(Also see additional codes of honor in this setting. This code is repeated on that page.)

If someone harms a healer during a legitimate session of the true game in a way that is valid according to the true game rules they are not to be marked. However, as the game rules are usually ambiguous this exception leaves a lot of interpretation room open for the healers.

There is no such thing as the Hippocratic Oath in this setting. Healers have no obligation to help people they don’t wish to help. For example, although it is rare, it is perfectly possible to encounter a Healer with the Callous disadvantage. Although a healing vow is given as an example in the template below, that would be an unusual and individual decision of a particular healer.

“Harm a Healer, Bring a Curse”

It is widely known to be bad luck to harm a healer, although it is not technically against the rules of the true game. While non-healers will not know the details of the healer’s mark, they may know that there are some people who, it is said, no healer will treat. No one wants that fate for themselves!

As the powers of a healer are always welcome, the healer can find lodging and food anywhere they go, as pawns and gamesmen alike will be delighted to host them in exchange for healing–or even just to encourage a healer to remain nearby.

By reputation healers as a group are more likely to be forces for good in this world. In addition to their higher likelihood of pacifism, they are more likely to have empathy, truthfulness, honesty, etc.

Due to the above reputation, healers have less call to defend themselves when they are adventuring than other players. A healer might feel safe journeying alone as this reputation means they will be befriended by all who would need healing someday.

An independent wandering healer may make a living by trading for service. A circuit healer may frequent the same villages in a pattern and/or on a schedule.

Healers may also be sworn to a demensne. Demensnes planning great game will strongly desire a healer among their ranks. In battle, a healer is likely to be accompanied by a sorcerer. Without a sorcerer’s store of power (or a ready supply of heat) the healer will be quickly exhausted by treating just a few serious casualties due to the FP cost of healing.

Healer Template

136 points

Attributes: ST 10 [0]; DX 10 [0]; IQ 14 [80]; HT 13 [30].
Secondary Characteristics: Dam 1d-2/1d; BL 20 lbs.; HP 10 [0]; Will 10 [0]; Per 10 [0]; FP 12 [0]; Basic Speed 5.75 [0]; Basic Move 5 [0].
Advantages: Healing (Takes Extra Time x3 -30%; True Game ESP -20%) [15], “Power of the Flesh” Innate Attack 1 (1d tox): (Contact Agent -30%; Symptom: Terrible Pain if damage exceeds 1/3 of target’s base HP +180%; True Game ESP -20%) [10], Social Regard +1 (Respected) [5]; and Status 1 (Gamesman) [5]. ⬤ 15 points chosen from among: Claim to Hospitality (Healers) [5]; Empathy (Sensitive) [5]; Favor, “Once Saved the Life of Someone Important:” Patron (Extremely Powerful Individual (x2 CP); 12 or less; Minimal Intervention) [3]; Fit or Very Fit [5 or 15]; Less Sleep [2/level]; Rapid Healing or Regeneration (Slow) [5 or 10]; Recovery [10]; Reputation +1 (everyone; all the time): “Kind, giving, generous” [5]; Resistant (poisons or sickness) [15]; Single-Minded [5].
Perks: Knowledge of the Healer’s Mark [1].
Disadvantages: Code of Honor (Healer’s) [-5]. ⬤ Select at least one trait from among: Charitable [-15], Dependent Group (Pawnish Hamlet; Average 25% of your CP; Employers or Friends or Loved Ones; 6 or less) [-5, -10, or -20] or Duty (belligerent demensne requires you as a combat healer; 6 or less) [-2]; Pacifism (Reluctant Killer, Cannot Harm Innocents, Cannot Kill, or Self-Defense Only) [-5, -10, -15, or -30]; Vow (“Never turn down a request for healing.”) [-10]. ⬤ Then select additional traits until the total for disadvantages reaches -50 from the list above or among: Absent-Mindedness [-15]; Addiction (Tobacco; Cheap, Highly Addictive, Legal) [-5]; Chummy [-5]; Code of Honor (Gamesman’s) [-10]; Combat Paralysis [-15]; Cowardice [-10]*; Easy to Read [-10]; Extra Sleep [-2/level]; Fearfulness [-2/level]; Greed [-15]*; Guilt Complex [-5]; Klutz or Total Klutz [-5 or -15]; Post-Combat Shakes [-5]; Responsive [-1]; Record-Keeper [-1]; Sense of Duty (Adventuring Companions) [-5]; Selfless [-5]*; Token (Always chews on a long pipe) [-1]; Trademark (Simple; Leaves Marks Inside Bodies) [-5]; Truthfulness [-5].*
Primary Skills: Cure (Psionic Power Skill) IQ+0 [4]-14; Heal Limb (Psionic Power Technique) Skill+0 [7]-14; Cure Affliction (Psionic Power Technique) Skill+0 [7]-14.
Secondary Skills: None.
Background Skills: Module: Educated [7].

Lenses

Wandering/Circuit/City Healer (+1, +16, or +26 points): These healers are not pledged to a demensne. Avoid taking Duty from the base template. For a Wandering Healer, add either Merchant (Healing) IQ+0 [1]-14 or Panhandling IQ+0 [1]-14. For a Circuit Healer, take Merchant as above and in addition take: Contact Group (Somewhat Reliable; former patients in towns along the circuit; gossip and area knowledge, effective skill 12; 15 or less) [15]; For a City Healer add Merchant and Contact Group as above but change the group to “the city’s elites” and in addition add: Wealth (Comfortable) [10].

Master/Legendary Healer (+9 or +45 points): Either remove Takes Extra Time limitation from Healing [9]; or do this and also add: Disease Shield 8 [29]; Disease Shield (Psionic Power Skill) IQ-2 [1]-12; Disease Shield Delayed Effect (Psionic Power Technique) Skill+0 [6]-12. This allows the healer to perform preventative medical care, something only a legendary healer can do.

Flesh-Rending Combatant (very rare; +35 points): Healers who have abandoned or de-emphasized the healing arts in favor of their innate attacks in large battles will run up to opponents and grapple them to make skin-to-skin contact. Healing power is in such high demand during combat that they may have to masquerade as a different gamespiece to get out of a support role. Increase ST +2 [20]; Increase Basic Speed to 6 [5]; Add: Running HT+0 [2]-13; Wrestling DX+2 [8]-12;

The above can be stacked. The modules Survivor (+21 points) and Minor Heretic (+4 points) can also be stacked.

ABOVE: A healer’s serpent headband, seen from the back.

Notes:

  • Many elements of the base template can be adjusted with flavor to fit a more mercantile, profiteering healer (perhaps the Dependent Group represents a contract) or a more bleeding-heart healer (the Dependent Group represents needy family).
  • Similarly, the flavor of the character can make the base template’s Trademark a benign sign of professional craftsmanship if taken by a pacifist, but a murdering healer with this Trademark will seem quite ghoulish.
  • Responsive and Charitable are mutually exclusive.
  • Single-Minded gives a bonus to uninterrupted mental tasks requiring concentration that occur outside of combat (see p. B85 and the GURPS Forum). If you are healing a quick burst of HP in combat you would get no bonus, but at the GM’s option if you are doing a particularly complicated healing job like curing a disease or restoring a limb that takes some time, you would receive a +3 bonus. Since from the setting lore we know that harder healing tasks are the ones that take longer, this has the paradoxical effect that you are better at harder tasks.
  • Hazards delivered via the “Symptoms” (p. B109) enhancement to Innate Attacks do not wear off as afflictions normally do. Symptoms also are not resisted with HT rolls. That means the pain symptom is a very powerful enhancement. The terrible pain (p. B428) inflicted by a healer’s touch produces -6 to DX, IQ, skill, and self-control rolls until the HP lost by the target is healed above the threshold that triggered the symptom.
    • Example: An HP 9 target receives 1d tox damage from the healer’s successful innate attack. The healer rolls a 5. As this is greater than 1/3 of the target’s base HP (9/3 = 3), the target experiences the terrible pain hazard and is at -6 to DX, IQ, skill, and self-control rolls until the target heals 2 HP. There is no roll to resist the symptom. In a TL3 setting where First Aid is not known this symptom may persist for days.
  • For the terrible pain symptom to be triggered, notice the use of the word “exceeds” in the phrase: “Terrible Pain if damage exceeds 1/3 of target’s base HP.” Causing exactly 1/3 of the target’s base HP in damage will not trigger the symptom.
  • Although “Innate Attack” is an advantage with levels, healers cannot take additional levels of this attack to increase damage because of the 1d damage limit on the Symptoms enhancement (p. B109).
  • An asterisk (*) next to a cost means that a self-control number is required. This assumes a number of 12.
  • This is an adventuring-skills-light template, as is true for all of the templates in this campaign. See the discussion of why this template is skills-light.
  • Errata: GURPS Psionic Powers appears to be saying on p. 47 that you can take the Contact Agent -30% limitation on the advantage Healing (p. B59) but I don’t think that’s right. Healing already says “you must be in physical contact.” It looks like the “Cure” power in Psionic Powers has been improperly discounted.

Image Coda: (Top:) A seated woman holding a caduceus. A 16th or 17th C. engraving by Hendrik Goltzius from the Wellcome Collection gallery. Via Wikimedia Commons (CC-BY 4.0).

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