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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
  • \$\begingroup\$ @lightcat See this FAQ for why your comment was removed. Thanks! \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jan 17 at 18:09

12 Answers 12

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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\$ "Are these herbs useful for medicine/potion creation?" I would have thought so too, but unfortunately that's explicitly under the "herbalism kit" tool skill, not medicine. \$\endgroup\$ – ProfessorZ Nov 11 '14 at 21:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ProfessorZ meh, skills/proficiencies are fluid and can have overlap. \$\endgroup\$ – wax eagle Nov 11 '14 at 21:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ I see this rolled most frequently as a forensics check... "What killed this guy?" \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk - Justice for Monica Nov 11 '14 at 22:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ "Can you move this guy who just fell of a building, or will that harm him further?" is an example of the DM having to make something up outside of the rules just so the character with Medicine has something to do . D&D doesn't really do much with details of injuries. Diagnosing a disease or medical condition might be useful however, especially if you let the skill deal at least partially with non-mundane diseases, poisons or necromantic effects. \$\endgroup\$ – Neil Slater Nov 11 '14 at 22:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'd say that part of the RP fun is uncovering such uses... \$\endgroup\$ – Khashir Nov 11 '14 at 23:09
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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\$ Thank you! Appreciate you adding in the citations! Really, a phenomenal answer and thanks for putting in the effort to find them :) \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Oct 18 at 18:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ blood spatter analysis 4-2:16 sounds like a Dexter episode 8^o \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Oct 21 at 12:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ What do the citation numbers mean? I have never seen that annotation before. \$\endgroup\$ – SeriousBri Oct 21 at 16:06
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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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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\$ "Every ability, class, spell , and skill in d&d has a purpose and value" - but not equal value. \$\endgroup\$ – András Jan 12 at 9:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ @András "All skills are equal, but some skills are more equal than others." \$\endgroup\$ – PixelMaster Jan 12 at 13:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ @PixelMaster I agree. Every other is more equal than Medicine (except probably Animal Handling) ;? \$\endgroup\$ – András Jan 12 at 13:54
  • \$\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\$ – jgn Oct 17 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 at 3:04
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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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    \$\begingroup\$ I am unsure as to what a 3.5 grognard is; has there been a plague of people being hit by ghosts and aging ten years? :) \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jan 10 at 19:20
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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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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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    \$\begingroup\$ I've had two players unlucky enough to die from the thing you describe... so there is definitely a risk :) \$\endgroup\$ – Erik Jan 9 at 12:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Erik and a Healer's kit could have saved them for 1gp total cost. \$\endgroup\$ – András Jan 9 at 13:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ You can use medicine to do a lot more than stabilize someone. \$\endgroup\$ – Josiah Riggan Jan 10 at 21:48
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My group lets the score act as. 1/2 rounded down d4 health +2 for health potions. And it can provide the answer to. “How much health does he have left”. If you talk with your DM there’s stuff you can make it useful for.

Overall that takes work so who knows if they’ll agree

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to the site! Please take the tour to get an intro to how we do things around here. Generally, answers are expected to answer the question according to the rules of the game first, and then suggest houserules (backed up by game experience) if applicable. \$\endgroup\$ – A_S00 Feb 1 '18 at 7:03

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