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Does the Medicine skill have a hidden use I don't know about? All I can see in the rules is that it allows a successful skill roll to stabilize a dying character, which a healer kit does without a roll, and healer kits are really cheap. Does a successful roll plus a healer kit restore hp? Medicine seems like such a waste of a precious skill slot for such a rare corner case...

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    \$\begingroup\$ Are you playing with encumbrance rules? If every PC can carry all they want, that ignores a part of the game that explicitly makes skills more valuable than items-that-replace-skills. \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Jan 1 '16 at 19:56

13 Answers 13

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Does the Medicine skill have hidden uses you don't know about?

Doesn't every skill?

Remember that skills are abstractions of both knowledge, expertise and ability. So in addition to the mechanical benefits (that of stabilizing a character when a healing kit isn't available), it also has other benefits.

Things that would require a medicine check:

  • Diagnosing a wound in certain situations (can you move this guy who just fell of a building, or will that harm him further?)
  • Are these herbs useful for medicine/potion creation? (though this is the domain of the herbalism kit, it's probably a place of strong overlap)
  • Diagnosing Disease, or even what poison has affected a character.

In addition to a number of other things.

This gets to a larger point about skills, yes skill slots are valuable, and no you probably don't need a medicine as a skill, but as a party you probably want someone to have it, or at least someone like a bard who will get half proficiency in it.

Ultimately, skills like this one are going to come up way more in the exploration/interaction phase of the game than the combat ones. But that's ok, that's supposed to be 2/3 of the game, not a small part by any stretch.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I see this rolled most frequently as a forensics check... "What killed this guy?" \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Nov 11 '14 at 22:17
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The answers that are anti-Medicine seem to only be looking at applications during combat. Most of the use in practice seems to be in the exploration/social interaction pillars, not so much in combat (though there are a limited number of those uses listed by other answers, special wounds and bites). This shouldn't be a surprise: what's the last time you used your action to roll a Persuasion or Nature check while in combat?

I recently did a search through a bunch of Adventurer's League modules and came up with a list of Medicine checks in one spot or another. Here are a few highlights giving a spectrum of difficulties (to avoid spoiling adventures the citations are in the form season-module:page):

DC 5

  • stabilize/revive a drowning creature 2-1:29
  • determine relatively obvious cause of death (decapitated and so on) 1-6:17, 1-11:12

DC 10

  • Determine it's not safe to move a patient 4-4:10
  • stabilize the dying (of course) 4-4:10
  • deliver a baby, complicated delivery 3-1:10
  • diagnose dehydration, starvation, or madness 2-6:8, 2-6:10, 3-4:15
  • many checks to determine time and manner of a death that left marks 1-8:18, 1-13:15 +

DC 15

  • checks to determine time and manner of a death not leaving marks 1-11:16
  • save the mother in complicated delivery 3-1:10
  • blood spatter analysis 4-2:16
  • remove an impaling object from a creature 1-8:11
  • determine a container recently held poison 1-7:10

A forensics roll of a fresh crime scene might return a list of information whose length and detail depends on the roll result. Roll on the low side you might only get one of several possible pieces of info. 4-2:16

My own little rant on Medicine might spark some conversations as well, if you think the skill should have more "non-magical healer" application.

"Does a successful roll plus a healer kit restore hp?" No, and with the ability to spend hit dice on a short rest available to anyone I wouldn't expect it to. Also, there's the Healer feat. I would agree that the use of Medicine to diagnose and treat poison and disease is poorly defined. A house rule like this would help a lot to increase the understood utility: "To treat a diseased or poisoned creature as part of a short rest, expend one use of a healer's kit and make a Wisdom (Medicine) check against the save DC of the poison or disease. This roll replaces the next Constitution save the creature would make. On a success, they recover." In that case the attractiveness of a Medicine check made with proficiency or even expertise compared to a Constitution save made without proficiency is crystal clear, and how often it comes up is another matter.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I find it really funny that you can have a one in four chance of not noticing someone is missing their head. \$\endgroup\$ – qazwsx Jan 26 at 20:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ @qazwsx No argument, though if you have any plusses in Wisdom or Medicine, that does drop off dramatically. Reminds me of a lawyer joke I heard once... \$\endgroup\$ – JamesB Jan 27 at 3:41
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Additional things I would allow a Wisdom (Medicine) DC 10 + CR ability check to be used for:

  • Determining amount of hit points remaining on another humanoid.
  • Determining the Constitution, Dexterity or Strength saving throw modifiers of another humanoid.

A higher DC could be optionally used for non-humanoids.

While RAW is not explicit on these uses, they fall in line with the spirit of the game and do not require special mechanics nor are terribly unbalanced.

You can also use the Help action in combat to point out an "anatomical weak spot" in an opponent. This translates into granting advantage to a team mate and is more fun to describe than just saying "I use the help action".

If you believe the option is too imbalanced, you could make it require actually physically examining the creature for a while before the roll.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Oct 22 '19 at 7:41
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It has multiple uses.

The Sword of Wounding, (Basic Rules), the Nycaloth (MM), the Bearded Devil (Basic Rules), and the Horned Devil (Basic Rules) all inflict wounds that cause damage in subsequent rounds, however, a Wisdom (Medicine) check can stop the wound.

An example from the sword (the others are substantially similar):

...the wounded creature, or a creature within 5 feet of it, can use an action to make a DC 15 Wisdom (Medicine) check, ending the effect of such wounds...

As has been noted, in the Basic Rules, it says you can use a Wisdom (Medicine) check to staunch wounds.

The docent, from WGtE, can use a Wisdom (Medicine) check on its Warforged host, and gets significant plusses doing so.

The optional rules for lingering injuries in the DMG cite a Wisdom (Medicine) check as a way to heal a festering wound.

But, wait, it isn't just for first aid!

In Curse of Strahd, Rise of Tiamat, Tales of the Yawning Portal, Tomb of Annihilation, and Waterdeep Dungeon of the Mad Mage, it is used to identify cause of death.

In Rrakkma, it is used to identify brown flecks as blood.

In Princes of the Apocalypse, it is used to identify bone flutes as humanoid.

It can be used to remove a control gem from a slaad.

So, although the Basic Rules just cites using a Wisdom (Medicine) check for stabilizing a dying companion or diagnose an illness, examples show that when there's anything involving anatomy, first aid, surgery, forensics, nursing, or pathology, then a Wisdom (Medicine) check might be just what the doctor ordered.

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Every character can make the medicine check, proficiency just makes you better at it.
You can use it often without spending a proficiency slot on it. I would use it for any "medical" type question. Plus proficiency in it could be a nice 'tween adventure profession and probably earn a comfortable or even wealthy lifestyle (certainly better than those hippy performance types :P ) and serve as a plot hook.

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Medicine Is incredibly useful!

All it takes is a little creativity.

How did the king die? Was he poisoned? Medicine check.

Is this food safe to eat? medicine check.

How long has this man been dead? medicine check.

I as a DM and eery DM I've had has reward players for being creative with your skills. You are not limited to what it says in the books, that's a summary to give you ideas.

I've used medicine to identify a mysterious potion before someone drank it. And it turned out to be poisoned. The more you know.

The PHB under the acrobatics skill reads thusly.

Your Dexterity (Acrobatics) check covers your attempt to stay on your feet in a tricky situation, such as when you're trying to run across a sheet of ice, balance on a tightrope, or stay upright on a rocking ship's deck. The GM might also call for a Dexterity (Acrobatics) check to see if you can perform acrobatic stunts, including dives, rolls, somersaults, and flips.

Does this mean you can only use acrobatics to, avoid slipping on ice, and do somersaults, and all those other things? Absolutely not. As a player if you asked me if you could use acrobatics to climb a tree, and the described how they leaped from branch to branch like a tapes artis. I would most certainly let them do so.

Every ability, class, spell , and skill in d&d has a purpose and value. If that wasn't the case. D&D would not be d&d.

I used to think that shape water was a completely useless monk ability. But our monk combined it with a decanter of endless water and made ice walls as cover all the time. As a DM I reward creativity above all else in my games. So while medicine may be useless elsewhere, not at my table.

This was not meant to scorn or belittle the other answers. Like I said other tables may do things differently. But in my experience if find a creative use for something the dungeon master almost always allows it.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Do your players ask you "I want to make a Medicine check to see how he died"? Or do they say what they want to do and you prescribe a medicine check? I'm interested in what "creativity of skill use" looks like at your table. \$\endgroup\$ – user-024673 Oct 17 '19 at 4:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ Well, I haven't had specific experience as a DM with the medicine skill. And honestly, in the months since then, I looked back on this answer and would have changed some things. But usually, it's "I take a look a the body" or something similar and the DM either says roll medicine investigation or they just tell them what they mean. Creative use of skills is a thing I impose on my Dms. Not actually something I've dealt with. Like I said I would have altered my answer (or not answered at all) given 9 months hindsight. \$\endgroup\$ – Josiah Riggan Oct 31 '19 at 3:04
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Short Answer: You're right

The Medicine ability check proficiency for D&D 5e has written rules for little more than stabilizing a dying creature or diagnosing a illness, and without the use of a healing kit. 5e was designed to allow for creativity around players and DMs, leaving some rules to be expanded on by a more individual basis.

The Medicine proficiency is only referenced in the Wisdom ability check section in the PHB, pg 178:

A Wisdom (Medicine) check lets you try to stabilize a dying companion or diagnose an illness.

The only other mentions of Medicine can be found in the combat rules for Stabilizing a creature (PHB, p. 197).

And you are also right. For the rules on the Healer's Kit, on page 151 in Equipment:

As an action, you can expend one use of the kit to stabilize a creature that has 0 hit points, without needing to make a Wisdom (Medicine) check

The medicine ability check is very narrow, in part because it is crowded by the rules of a world where magic can easily do what the skill is supposed to do. Also, by the time of 5th edition, rules for heroes regaining hit points have expanded to remove much of the use of the skills and ability checks. Between several classes being able to cast healing spells, cure wounds now being able to cast in multiple spell slots, and even characters spending hit dice on rests, long term non-magical healing is all but useless for characters.

In previous editions, non-magical healing over time was more common, and therefore this kind of skill was used to help players regain their hit points. In 3/3.5 edition, the heal skill not only stabilized the character, but had specific rules for long term care, poison and disease treatment, as well as others.

In 2nd edition, there were far more rules around healing. Here is a good chat thread, which references one of the long time editors / developers for the D&D game (through multiple editions) Steve Winter.

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The Medicine skill has multiple purposes

Here are 3 purposes that I know of:

  1. A Wisdom (Medicine) ability check can help a player determine if a type of herb / medicine is able to treat a certain illness

  2. A Wisdom (Medicine) ability check can be used to stabilize a character who is dying (as stated in the question)

  3. A Wisdom (Medicine) ability check allows you to diagnose an illness

In my campaign I have a few house rules for Wisdom (Medicine) ability checks: they can be used to heal a small amount of HP from a injured character using herbs, or to make certain medicines.

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One advantage of the medicine skill vs the healer's kit is that it is always available. Doesn't run out, doesn't get left at home or stolen. Worth the price? that's up to you.

Other than that, think of what medical knowledge can be used for (mostly in the vein of Arcana or Nature, or what we 3.5 grognards would call 'knowledge' skills): determine cause of death or wound, deduce the cause of an ailment, perhaps even deduce a cure (not necessarily apply it, but tell you what kind of herb you need to find for that antidote).

Basically, a medical PhD is good for first aid, but also much much more. Stabilization via Medicine is first aid, but if in real life you would ask your doctor buddy for their opinion on a question, odds are it's a Medicine thing.

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Medicine is an ineffective and rarely used skill. Spells of the type heal, cure or detect make it effectively worthless. It is neither a profession or a vocation and is completely supplanted by the healer feat or healer kit which requires zero Wisdom. It is also irrelevant in terms of providing bonuses to either.

The PHB on Medicine has 16 words on the matter, including the word Medicine. I consider it a role-playing keyword rather than an exploitable mechanic.

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Medicine is one of the most useless skills

If I could gain proficiency in 10 skills for every character I play, Medicine would still not be among them.

Reasons

  • Encounters are short, 3 rounds according to the DMG, 2 in my experience
    • You have to be very unlucky to go down in the first round, then roll a 1 on your death save, then fail your death save again. Otherwise the whole party can just try to roll 10 when the fighting is over *
  • Why waste a whole round on trying to stabilize a character, if Healing Word does it for a bonus action, letting you attack, or cast a cantrip
  • Medicine is unreliable, at low levels even Wisdom based characters have a good chance of failing
    • A Healer's Kit never fails, it is cheap and light
    • Healing Potions become very affordable around the time your Medicine skill reaches reliable levels

In summary, at low levels could be useful, but than it is more of a gamble. Later you have much better options.
Skip it.


*) The DM could attack you while down, adding you another fail. However, he can do it before the turn of the character with the Medicine proficiency anyway. If he wants to kill you, he can regardless of any Medicine skills

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A skill is as useful as DM allows it to be.

In a campaign about rivals racing to discover and describe new species, medicine may be a valuable skill to understand the inner workings of an animal.

A rogue might use medicine to increase the probability of critical damage by using his previous surgical expertise.

A mage or an artificer could combine medical and arcane knowledge to create horribly destructive or healing artefacts.

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I use a house rule where the Medicine skill can be used in combination with a Healer's kit during a short rest to heal slightly more hit points. I have rejigged it recently to make it scale better with levelling.

TEND TO WOUNDS
A character who is proficient in the Medicine skill can expend one use of a Healer's kit during a short rest to tend to the wounds of another creature or themselves. When tending to wounds, the character makes a Wisdom (Medicine) check. If the result of the check is 15 or greater, the creature gains hit points equal to half the character’s proficiency bonus (rounded down) at the end of the short rest. If the result is of the check 25 or greater, the creature gains hit points equal to the character’s proficiency bonus at the end of the short rest. During a single short rest, a character can tend to the wounds of up to a number of creatures equal to their proficiency bonus, but only once per creature. Once a creature has had its wounds tended to, it cannot receive the benefits of this again until it has completed a long rest.

My players like this house rule and it gives them more of a reason to take the Medicine skill without it being made largely redundant by the Healer's kit.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to our stack! Please take the tour to learn more about how we operate and you can also visit the help center for more information. Happy Gaming! \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Dec 2 '20 at 20:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ You may also want to add some notes as to how this house rule has gone. What are some concerns (if any) you've found or noticed and how has this improved table play and happiness? \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Dec 2 '20 at 20:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks NautArch. My players like it and it makes the Medicine skill feel much more useful. I sometimes think they make the DC 10 check too easily and wonder whether I should make it DC 15 = 1hp, DC 25 = 2hp but it hasn't really been a problem. \$\endgroup\$ – renaissanceman0816 Dec 2 '20 at 20:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ Take a look at this meta discussion on citation expectations, it'll help give some guidance on what we're looking for with regard to supporting subjective answers. Adding what you have above as well as some other concerns or notes from experience would really improve your answer. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Dec 2 '20 at 21:02

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