Using Skills – Medicine

Last week we covered Investigation in our Using Skills series. This week we’re back with Medicine. Enjoy!

Using Skills – Medicine


A city watchman brings his torch closer to the body in the alley, trying to figure out how the person died. A cleric prays over an ill peasant while taking note of her symptoms to develop a diagnosis. The barbarian gingerly wraps the wounds of his unconscious companion to stop the flow of blood in an attempt to keep him from death’s door. Medicine is the science of health.

The Player’s Handbook describes it thus: “A Wisdom (Medicine) check lets you try to stabilize a dying companion or diagnose an illness.” (PHB pg. 178)


Normal Usage

This skill, according to the description, is deceptively narrow in scope. The main utility it provides is with the ability to quickly stabilize a creature without magical healing. To do so you need to roll a DC 10 Wisdom (Medicine) check. However, as magical healing is so plentiful in the base game, this won’t be used as much as you might think unless your Dungeon Master likes to squeeze in a lot of combat encounters between long rests.

The secondary utility, however, can actually become quite broad and useful (depending on the campaign). Though it defines the diagnosis of illness, I’m going to cheat on my own format of this series and suggest right here in the Normal Usage section to allow the use of this for the diagnosis for any health related issues: disease, poison, injury, etc. This will make the skill rise from a bottom tier one to a quite useful one, especially in the diagnosis of dead bodies the party might find. Being able to figure out what happened to a dead person you find in a dangerous place could provide early clues to what foes you might face, and so provides the Dungeon Master with a good narrative tool in foreshadowing.


What it is Not

  • Healer’s Kit – Essentially a Healer’s kit allows you to stabilize a creature without needing to use medicine, so one does not need to be proficient in one to use the other.
  • Healing – Using medicine (or a healer’s kit) does not allow you heal hit points. Only magic and resting allow for that.
  • Investigation – The lines get blurry here if you do allow for the diagnosis of illness to become broad enough to diagnose injury as well. Essentially, Investigation allows you to look at a wound and tell what kind of weapon caused it. Medicine, however, would allow you to diagnose how severe the wound is, how old it is, and other more health and anatomy related information. So investigation focuses more on the object and medicine more on the body. However, this is extrapolating on a few sentences, so largely this is up to you as a Dungeon Master.


Optional Uses

The following are optional or edge cases for Medicine, and are entirely dependent on the Dungeon Master.

  • Diagnosis – As mentioned above, it is strongly encouraged to allow medicine to be used to diagnose any health related issues beyond illness. Though this is not RAW, I believe it is RAI and makes the skill worth choosing.
  • Healing – In campaigns in which you would like for natural healing to be a bit more realistic or difficult, you should lock healing from resting behind the medicine skill or proficiency with a healer’s kit, or both. Essentially you cannot gain the benefit of a rest unless someone in the party is proficient with one or the other (or both). Remembering that a healer’s kit has 10 uses. Coupling this with slower healing optional rules from the Dungeon Master’s Guide could make a game quite gritty.
  • Downtime – You could allow someone proficient in Medicine to be able to spend downtime days on creating healer’s kits. Spending 3 days and 1 gold piece will create one.


Dungeon Master Examples

The following is meant to inspire the Dungeon Master to design with medicine in mind. Remember as a DM that you are dealing a lot with injuries and wounds, as battle is almost always a guarantee sometime during your campaign. Rather than glossing over this natural part of fantasy combat, allowing for your PCs to use their medicinal knowledge can add a realistic element to your game.

  • Foreshadowing – As mentioned above, providing corpses in a dangerous area with mysterious injuries could provide foreshadowing for what is to come. The following are examples of wounds and what caused them. It is quite fun to look at the monsters you’ve put in the scenario and come up with what their victims would look like to someone coming across them.
    • Stirges – Bright red swollen splotches cover the corpse, which seems to lack a good amount of blood.
    • Roper – Long bruises cover the arms and torso of the creature, obviously dead from bludgeoned trauma.
    • Gelatinous Cube – The skeleton has trace amounts of musculature that looks gooiefied and dissolved, and the entire thing is slick with a sticky substance.
    • Needle Blight – The corpse is covered in sharp needles that are obviously of plant origin, as if they had rolled through a thorny pine bush.
    • Choker – The corpses neck is purple with bright red circles scattered all over the bruise, obviously dead from strangulation.
  • The Ripper – For a more investigative session, a series of murders in a city the PCs are in have the local city guard stumped. The victims are stabbed to death but they cannot get any information on a suspect. If the PCs get involved and check out the corpses, a DC 15 Wisdom (Medicine) check will make them realize the stab wounds are superficial and happened after the death of the person. Instead, the cause of death is a severe lack of blood – pointing to some sort of vampiric affliction. Cue the captain of the guard being a vampire and attempting to cover the murders or other such nonsense. There’s many different ways you can go with this, and combining it with earlier suggestions from Investigation and Insight could provide for a full blown whodunnit.

Well there you have it, another part of the Using Skills series done. Thank you for reading and for your valuable feedback, especially those on Reddit. Next week we’ll be covering Nature, so keep an eye out for that.

Also, as a warning, November is NaNoWriMo so I will probably be off the air for the entirety of that month. I’ll keep you updated – I might instead pull out an easy to do four part series of something.

Author: Patrick McGill of 9th Key Press

Content creator for 9th Key Press.

3 thoughts on “Using Skills – Medicine”

  1. Just wanted to let you know how much I’ve enjoyed this series that you’re doing. I’m running a low-combat (thieves’ world) game, and having a good handle on skills and skill checks is essential. Thanks so much for helping broaden my understanding, and for giving examples for use for each skill.


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