npc class: Doctors

“Now watch me destroy the sun with this stick!”

I’m considering possible NPC classes for campaigns that will include astrologers/fortune tellers, healers/doctors and possibly scholars (although how they would function in the campaign is still something I am thinking about).

Astrologers and scholars could be sources of possible information, but adjudicating how the astrologer ‘predicts the future’ becomes difficult if, as DM, you don’t really know what the players will do next.  Perhaps astrologers could provide answers to certain types of questions, i.e.: if the players ask, “What will happen if we enter Garagur’s cavern?” and the DM knows that Garagur’s Cavern is full of really dangerous monsters that are far beyond the player’s current level of ability, the astrologer, if accurate in his or her prediction, might reply that chances of returning alive are slim.  Questions like, “What will happen to me tomorrow?” however, are unlikely to work simply because the astrologer won’t have anything to work with unless the player character adds a provisional statement like, “… if I do X?”  Nothing of interest might occur if players just hang around their room in the inn… and even charlatans and incompetent fortunetellers could make predictions based on hunches and common knowledge and still be right at least some of the time.

On a side note, in Arneson’s original First Fantasy Campaign, Dave Arneson used random cards for rumors and the pronouncements of fortunetellers and soothsayers.  Some of which described future events (like a surprise invasion of an enemy army he might have had planned), others might have been just mystical sounding gobbledygook… which inevitably leads me to think that if a player character goes to a fortuneteller and the fortune teller says some profound sounding shit like, “A dark shadow hangs over you!” and that character is subsequently eaten by a vampire, the rest of the players are going to say, “By gods, the fortuneteller was right!”

I’m suspecting that I can handle astrologers with a simple chart that cross-references the ability of the astrologer with the difficulty of the question… and the astrologer might have a chance of returning good, bad or no information (although ethically challenged astrologers might make something interesting up even if they failed to determine anything during their “research” simply because, well, who is going to pay an astrologer if he responds, “Hell if I know” to a lot of the player’s questions?) A percentage of astrologers/fortunetellers could be frauds (no useful information is ever returned, although they will gladly relieve player characters of excess gold).

“I can answer that question for 3d10 gold!”

Scholars would probably function a lot like astrologers/fortune tellers, except they would use libraries or conduct research.  Again, there would be a dice roll on a chart that would cross reference the relative skill of the researcher and the facilities available with the difficulty of the question. Scholars might be good ones to consult on questions of history, lore about obscure cults, etc. Like astrologers, some scholars could be frauds or crackpots (again, no useful information is ever returned — or perhaps on rare occasions the crackpot or fraud could be right for the wrong reasons). 

Medieval doctor ready for the plague.

The most difficult NPC for me to envision would be the doctor/healer simply because so much of that role is already performed by the cleric.  Perhaps at lower levels, a doctor could be hired when players are attempting to recoup lost hit points and don’t yet have access to oodles of healing spells. Perhaps while resting under a doctor’s care, a patient would have a chance of healing at a faster rate from his injuries. ‘Cure disease’ spells might be out of the price range of many lower level players; perhaps ‘doctors’ could provide more affordable (but less foolproof) alternative nostrums.  Doctors, apothecaries and alchemists might also be able to analyze and identify magic potions and similar substances — again, a chart cross referencing the difficulty of the cure against the skill of the doctor might get the job done. The biggest problem here is redundancy; who is going to go to a doctor when clerics can cast cure light wounds or resurrection?  Atheists and the poor and desperate, I guess.

My real goal here is to get these different NPC types described on one page, like one of the pages from the Judge’s Guild Ready Ref Sheets, so that I wouldn’t need to describe each doctor, scholar or astrologer in detail before the game.  If the players consult one of these medieval “knowledge workers’ in game, I could just make one roll for the relative skill of the service provider and another for the consultation and then tell the players the result.  If a particular visit rendered bad information or failed to effect a cure, once couldn’t say for absolute certain that the service provider was at fault (although it might be fun to speculate on the competence of NPCs).  This is preferable to me because I’ve often felt like the DM can succumb to the temptation of using NPCs to control the players actions too much… consulting an NPC can often be the part of the game where the DM tells the players what they have to do next. If, on the other hand, the players can gain bits of intelligence of unknown value, they can decide for themselves which leads they wish to follow.

2 Comments on “npc class: Doctors”

  1. Neko--kun says:

    Neat ideas. Some things you could do about the “Why would anyone use a doctor?” problem:

    1. In places where the local clergy aren't healers (war god, fire god, evil dominant religion)

    2. Actual spell-casting clerics are rare, most priests are actually members of your scholar class with a specific focus on lore pertaining to their religion.

    3. Doctors will help no matter your alignment, and assist with things magic isn't so good at or is harder to do until higher levels with. Such as delivering babies, lobotomies, amputating mangled or otherwise useless limbs, and other things a man of the cloth wouldn't sully himself with.

    Also, you could including some version of the Hippocratic oath for doctors whereas clerics are chained to a more selective service agreement, based on deity or religion.

  2. Limpey says:

    Possibly. My other thought is to ditch doctors entirely and just have clerics do their thing.

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