The Healer is one of the roles in NetHack. Healers can be humans or gnomes, and are always neutral. While the concept of a healer is ubiquitous, parts of the healer’s game, such as the quest, are based on Greek legends. The guidebook says of them:
Healers are wise in medicine and apothecary. They know the herbs and simples that can restore vitality, ease pain, anes- thetize, and neutralize poisons; and with their instruments, they can divine a being's state of health or sickness. Their medical practice earns them quite reasonable amounts of money, with which they enter the dungeon.
- 1001 to 2000 gold pieces
- a +0 scalpel
- an uncursed +1 pair of leather gloves
- 5 to 10 uncursed apples
- a blessed spellbook of healing
- a blessed spellbook of extra healing
- a blessed spellbook of stone to flesh
- 4 × potion of healing
- 4 × potion of extra healing
- wand of sleep (4 to 8 charges)
- an uncursed stethoscope
- 4% chance of uncursed oil lamp
Healers start with Basic skill in Knife and Healing spells.
Because healers start with a large quantity of gold, they can purchase a lot of protection from the Minetown’s priest if they avoid gaining experience beforehand. A skilled (or lucky) player can loot Sokoban and reach Minetown’s temple without landing a single blow. The loot can be increased by credit cloning.
Healers are also best suited for the pacifist conduct.
Applying a stethoscope to a monster will reveal its armor class, which in turn will give some idea of whether it has any enchanted armor. For example, if a dwarf in the Gnomish Mines has AC 4 or less, it probably has either a dwarvish mithril-coat or at least one enchanted piece of armor. This strategy is not exclusive to healers, but they are the only class to start with a stethoscope.
Healers are restricted in the use of most powerful wielded weapons such as dwarvish mattocks and long swords. Your starting scalpel is equivalent to a rustproof, half-weight orcish dagger and is not considered a particularly good weapon. You might consider upgrading to a normal or elven dagger, both of which have better average damage versus small monsters. A quarterstaff might also be a good early choice for wielding since it trains the skill of your quest artifact, The Staff of Aesculapius.
Knives are easily trained with your starting scalpel and can be advanced to Expert. They are the only ranged weapon which allows Healers to multishot 2 at Skilled and 3 at Expert. However, the base damage for a knife is the same as a dart and knives are unlikely to be generated in large quantities in the early game. Soldiers, barrow wights, watchmen, mordor orcs and orc captains all have variable chances of carrying knives but it could take well into the game to put together a reasonable stack.
Darts are also a good option. They are light, can be advanced to Expert and are plentiful in the early game from dart traps and monsters. They can also be poisoned with a potion of sickness, and the Healer's innate resistance protects against monsters throwing them back at you. On the other hand, only two of them can be multishot at Expert, they have the same low base damage as knives and are prone to breaking.
Daggers provide benefits in the early game; they are common in the Gnomish Mines and have better damage than the scalpel, but they can only be advanced to Skilled and cannot be multishot at all. It is probably only worth training dagger skill if you are planning to get Magicbane later in the game.
The aklys tends to be plentiful early in The Mines due to the strength restrictions of the resident gnomes. It exhibits a Mjollnir-like behavior but with markedly less damage. It is however more damaging than your starting scalpel and should train-up quickly to skilled since it can be used as both a ranged and wielded weapon. Although relatively lightweight, it is made of iron and prone to corrosion.
A useful technique for training skills is to find a gas spore with sufficient HP, maneuver it into a corridor, and hit it with your unskilled weapon. Gas spores usually have enough HP not to explode, but to be sure, apply your stethoscope to see when its hitpoints are close to zero. You can then cast your healing spell at the gas spore and resume pummelling it ineffectually until your skill goes up. Just be sure not to let it explode, as the blast will usually wipe out a low-level Healer (4-24 damage).
When a healer reaches about level three, they can reliably cast stone to flesh, which can convert boulders into huge chunks of meat. Without the threat of starvation, players can adopt a very cautious and slow playing style with little penalty. A huge chunk of meat can be safely eaten when not Satiated, and will generally result in being "oversatiated". This state is not displayed (the status line remains at "Satiated") so avoid eating anything until your status is back to normal. Eating anything at all while oversatiated, even food with zero nutrition such as wraith corpses, will make you choke over your food and die unless you are wearing an amulet of life saving or magical breathing.
Stone to flesh can also convert rocks into meatballs, which work like miniature tripe rations for training the apport of pets. Additionally, the spell can remove troublesome boulders from passageways.
Although healers have excellent HP growth, their fighting skills are initially poor. A well trained pet can quickly surpass its owner in battle prowess. Indeed, the ability to repeatedly heal yourself or a pet is a valuable asset throughout the game. Be wary of early metallic armor that can interfere with your casting success. The one possible exception to this rule might be gauntlets of power since they provide such a huge boost to damage and survivability for an early healer. And at higher experience levels, even metal gauntlets won't interfere with casting most emergency spells.
The very early game is quite difficult for most players. However, due to their starting equipment, a Healer should not be afraid of combat. A good strategy if not going for the protection racket or atheist conduct is to fight until somewhat damaged, then if after turn 300, pray. You will then be healed with a boost to your HP from your god.
Another very early game strategy for combat is to wait until damaged, then quaff your potions of extra healing. If the health boost would take you above your maximum HP (quite common with the low starting HP of the Healer), this maximum is then boosted by 2 if the potion is uncursed, or 5 if it is blessed.
The Healer's quest nemesis, the Cyclops, can be tough if you attempt to fight him hand to hand while he is wielding the Staff of Aesculapius. Fortunately, he is vulnerable to wands of sleep or death, and healers always start with a wand of sleep. Also, the Cyclops respects Elbereth or a scroll of scare monster.
The healer quest has a large number of dragons. If one is lucky, a dragon on the first level will leave behind dragon scales which can be enchanted into dragon scale mail. Unfortunately, the large number of dragons makes the quest a dangerous place to visit without reflection, particularly if there are any black dragons around with their Disintegration breath.
You should upgrade to a unicorn horn (with which you can achieve Expert skill), then to your quest artifact, the Staff of Aesculapius, which has the life-draining powers of Stormbringer without its tendency to attack peaceful monsters. With all these changes of weapon, healers may find it useful to conserve skill slots, for example by not advancing their unicorn horn skill to Expert, so as to leave the slots free for the Staff later.
You also might want to pick up a silver weapon before entering Gehennom. If you find a silver dagger, take the time to enhance it to Skilled before entering Gehennom. Silver sabers and silver spears can both be raised to Basic skill as well. And of course you can always burn a wish for Grayswandir.
In general, spellcasting for Healers is somewhat idiosyncratic. Although they have great natural spellcasting ability, they are restricted in all spell schools except healing. Thus, they have difficulty casting spells with level greater than 2. One milestone Healers should strive for is experience level 21, at which point they can reliably cast level 3 spells in restricted schools. Level 4 and higher spells will always be out of reach, unfortunately, as will the bonus effects of being Skilled or higher at a spell school.
Because of their low base spellcasting penalty, Healers can wear metal boots and cast reliably, or a metal helm and cast almost reliably (failure rate ~3%). When casting emergency spells, Healers can wear gauntlets of power and still have 0% failure rates.
One interesting note on Healers is that with 18 wisdom and sufficiently high experience level and healing skill, they can cast their special spell (cure sickness) at 0% failure rate even while wearing metallic body armor and no robe. This is not true of any other role, even Wizards. However, it is rarely useful since by that point most players carry a unicorn horn, which offers the same effect without costing any power.
The status line shows you to be one of the following ranks when you reach the specified experience level:
- XL 1-2: Rhizotomist
- XL 3-5: Empiric
- XL 6-9: Embalmer
- XL 10-13: Dresser
- XL 14-17: Medicus ossium/Medica ossium
- XL 18-21: Herbalist
- XL 22-25: Magister/Magistra
- XL 26-29: Physician
- XL 30: Chirurgeon
I swear by Apollo the physician, and Aesculapius, and Health,
and All-heal, and all the gods and goddesses, that, according
to my ability and judgment, I will keep this Oath and this
stipulation -- to reckon him who taught me this Art equally dear
to me as my parents, to share my substance with him, and relieve
his necessities if required; to look upon his offspring in the
same footing as my own brothers, and to teach them this art, if
they shall wish to learn it, without fee or stipulation; and
that by precept, lecture, and every other mode of instruction,
I will impart a knowledge of the Art to my own sons, and those
of my teachers, and to disciples bound by a stipulation and oath
according to the law of medicine, but to none others. I will
follow that system of regimen which, according to my ability and
judgment, I consider for the benefit of my patients, and abstain
from whatever is deleterious and mischievous. [...]
PHYSICIAN, n. One upon whom we set our hopes when ill and our
dogs when well.
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