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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, the Healer of NetHack is based on stereotypical doctors and physicians, with the Healer quest and pantheon based on the idea of 'Western' medicine as originating in ancient Greece. The guidebook says of them:

     Healers are wise in medicine and apothecary.  They know the herbs and simples that can restore vitality, ease pain, anesthetize, 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.

While Healers are decent spellcasters, especially with healing spells, they are one of the trickier roles in the game, due to starting with a weak weapon, no starting armor and low strength.

Starting equipment


Healers gain the following intrinsics at these experience levels:


Healer skills
Max Skills

Healers start with Basic skill in knife and healing spells.

Special rules

Healers get a +1 alignment record bonus for healing their pets.

Healers take no damage and lose no attribute points when quaffing a potion of sickness, although this will still cure hallucination.

Nurses won't damage Healers with their attacks.

Healers have proficiency with stethoscopes. A Healer can more reliably apply a stethoscope to themselves while engulfed by a whirly monster. A Healer can apply a stethoscope to a statue to determine whether it contains items or is on a statue trap.

Healers only gain a multishot bonus for being at Skilled level with knives; they still get the normal multishot bonus for being Expert. Gnomish Healers do not get a multishot bonus with crossbows.


Main article: Healer quest

The Healer quest sees you fighting the Cyclops for The Staff of Aesculapius.

Rank titles

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


Character creation

A common early-game goal for a Healer is to run the protection racket and reach Minetown while gaining as few experience levels as possible; a gnomish Healer's relatively peaceful Mines and infravision make this goal significantly easier to achieve. Conversely, a human Healer has a much harder Mines, but can reach the maximum strength bonus without wearing gauntlets of power, which impose a significant spellcasting penalty unless they also wear a robe.

Early game


Because healers start with a large quantity of zorkmids, they can buy protection from the Minetown temple priest, with the amount potentially increased by credit cloning beforehand. A skilled (or lucky) gnomish Healer can reach Minetown’s temple without landing a single blow. Healers are also best suited for the pacifist conduct.

Although healers have excellent HP growth, their initially poor fighting skills make the very early game quite difficult for most players. However, due to their starting equipment, a Healer should not be completely afraid of combat; the stethoscope is a good way to read an enemy's HP and gauge whether to fight, flee, or simply fall back a bit. The starting money can also be used to buy solid weapons and armor if you are lucky enough to happen upon an early shop that sells them.

One possible strategy (if not going for the protection racket or atheist conduct) is to fight until somewhat damaged after turn 100, then pray. You will then be healed with a boost to your max HP from your god. Another very early game strategy is to immediately quaff your potions of extra healing, which will boost your maximum by 2 (5 for blessed potions).


Healers are restricted in most weapon skills. Your starting scalpel is equivalent to a rustproof, half-weight orcish dagger and is not a particularly good weapon. As your melee weapon, you could upgrade to a short sword, aklys, dagger, or elven dagger - all of which have better average damage versus small monsters.

For ranged weapons, a Healer has four options: knives, darts, daggers, and the aklys. Knives are easily trained with your starting scalpel and can be advanced to Expert, making them the only ranged weapon that Healers can multishot 3 of. However, the base damage for a knife is low, and knives are unlikely to be generated in large quantities; monsters such as soldiers, barrow wights, Mordor orcs, and orc-captains can all carry knives, but it could take awhile to put together a reasonable stack.

Darts and daggers are far more plentiful: darts can be poisoned, and the skill can be advanced to Expert, but they have the same low base damage as knives and are breakable. Daggers are reusable and deal slightly more damage, but are heavier, cannot be poisoned, and are capped at Skilled level. The aklys tends to be the best option of the set - it is plentiful early in the Gnomish Mines due to the strength restrictions of the resident gnomes. It can be tethered and thrown as a re-usable weapon, and should train up quickly to Skilled since it can double as a melee weapon.

An unusual technique for training your Healer's skills is to find a gas spore with sufficient HP, maneuver it into a corridor, and hit it with your unskilled weapon. Apply your starting stethoscope to see when its hit points are close to zero, then cast your healing spell at the gas spore before you resume attacking. Be very careful when training a skill this way - a gas spore's explosion frequently wipes out a low-level Healer.


At experience level 3, Healers can reliably cast stone to flesh, which can convert boulders into huge chunks of meat. This alleviates the threat of starvation, allowing players to act slower and more cautiously. Eating a huge chunk of meat while not Satiated will generally result in being "oversatiated" - as this specific state is still displayed on the status line as "Satiated", it may be best to avoid eating anything until your nutrition returns to normal, lest you risk a death by choking (unless you are wearing an amulet of life saving or magical breathing). The spell can also be used to remove troublesome boulders from passageways.

A pet is probably the Healer's best aid in developing their spellcasting skills: due to the role's low fighting skills, it may quickly surpass the player in terms of damage output. Regularly monitoring and healing a pet both trains the skill and ensures its survival against particularly troublesome foes. Stone to flesh can convert rocks into meatballs, which can be used to tame carnivorous domestic pets and serve as treats to train their apport.


Applying the starting 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.

While early metallic armor can interfere with your casting success in a pinch, remember that you can always retreat to a relatively safer area to remove the armor and heal yourself or your pet(s). In addition, all but one of the emergency spells are in the healing school, and Healers are the only role to get a +3 bonus towards successful casting of emergency spells. Gauntlets of power may be especially worthwhile, since they provide such a huge boost to damage and survivability for an early Healer.

Mid game


The Healer quest has a large number of dragons - thus makes it a dangerous place to visit without reflection, particularly if there are any black dragons with disintegration breath. The abundance of water also makes crossing difficult if you have not obtained a reliable means to do so. For this reason, it may be best to get the Castle wand prior to attempting the Quest. That said, if you are capable of dispatching dragons, one of them may leave behind dragon scales which can be enchanted into dragon scale mail.

The Healer's quest nemesis, the Cyclops, can be incredibly tough; it is unwise to melee him while he is wielding the Staff of Aesculapius, and the wand of lightning that generates on his starting square is dangerous as well. Fortunately, the Cyclops respects Elbereth and the scroll of scare monster and has low monster magic resistance, making him especially vulnerable to wands of death or wands of sleep (which Healers always start with) if they can hit through his AC.

The following information pertains to an upcoming version (NetHack 3.7.0). If this version is now released, please verify that it is still accurate, then update the page to incorporate this information.

The scroll of scare monster on the ground no longer scares any unique monster.


Healers should consider switching to a unicorn horn, which can be trained to Expert skill, and, after the Quest, the Staff of Aesculapius. The Staff itself does double damage to monsters without drain resistance, and has additional life draining powers similar to Stormbringer (though without being bloodthirsty). Healers may also generally find it useful to conserve skill slots, e.g. by not advancing their unicorn horn skill to Expert and leaving the slot free for the Staff later.


Long-term spellcasting for Healers is somewhat idiosyncratic. Although they have great natural spellcasting ability, they are restricted in all spell schools except healing, resulting in difficulty casting level 3 or higher spells. Level 2 spells such as magic missile can still be of significant use.

Late game


Some players prefer using a silver weapon within Gehennom - for those sticking with their quest artifact, a silver weapon in the hands of a suitable pet can compensate for the lower damage output, as most of Gehennom's residents are drain resistant, and the Staff's hungerless regeneration and other properties are valuable for survival. Other good non-silver weapons include Magicbane or a highly-enchanted crysknife.


Because of their low base spellcasting penalty, Healers can wear metal boots and cast reliably, or wear a metal helm and cast with a failure rate of ~3%. When casting emergency spells, Healers can even wear gauntlets of power and still have 0% failure rates.

Rank Origins

  • A Rhizotomist is an obsolete term for a person who collects herbs and roots to make medicine.
  • An Empiric has two meanings in medicine; a physician who based their theories on experience, or a quack doctor, this is probably why empiric is a low rank for a Healer.
  • An embalmer is someone who embalms a corpse, such as in Ancient Egypt. And also concerns the medical science behind the corpse.
  • A dresser is a surgeon’s assistant whose job it is to dress wounds.
  • Medicus is the Latin and Dutch terms for a doctor.
  • A herbalist is someone who treats diseases with the use of medical herbs.
  • Magister and Magistra are derived from magister degree in education.
  • Physician is, cut and dry, a medical doctor, which the Healer role is clearly based on.
  • Chirurgeon is a very old term for a surgeon, being as surgery is a tricky and dangerous procedure, this is why Chirurgeon is the highest rank in the Healer role.



In SLASH'EM, Healers have a guaranteed first sacrifice gift: Mirrorbright, an artifact shield of reflection that grants hallucination resistance. This makes it more difficult for Healers to obtain an artifact weapon through sacrifice.


In xNetHack, quarterstaves give Healers a bonus to spellcasting success rates like a robe, and a cursed staff doesn't prevent them from casting spells, making it safer to wield their quest artifact. Additionally, their d5/d7 scalpel is a better starting weapon.


In addition to similar staff bonuses as with xNetHack, healers in FIQHack have a health regeneration bonus of 0.33 HP per turn.

Encyclopedia entry

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. [...]

[ Hippocrates' Oath, translated by Francis Adams ]

PHYSICIAN, n. One upon whom we set our hopes when ill and our
dogs when well.

[ The Devil's Dictionary, by Ambrose Bierce ]

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