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 NetHack encyclopedia says of them:

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 ]

... and from the guidebook:

              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.


  • Although healers have excellent HP growth, their fighting skills are very poor. A well trained pet can quickly surpass its owner in battle prowess.
  • Healers start with poison resistance. This is a good thing.
  • 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 uncursed, with blessed potions providing an even greater boost of 5 to your maximum HP.
  • Applying a stethoscope to a monster will reveal its armour class, which in turn will give some idea of whether it has any enchanted armour. 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 armour. This strategy is not exclusive to healers, but they are the only class to start with a stethoscope.
  • Because healers start with a large quantity of gold, it is possible to purchase a lot of protection from the Minetown’s priest if they avoid gaining experience. 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.
  • 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.
  • The healer quest has a high number of dragons, meaning reflection is highly desirable before attempting it. However, because of the high number of dragons, it also means that one may be able to get an early dragon scale on the first Quest level.


Their starting scalpel is a very poor weapon. They are restricted in the use of most big powerful warrior weapons such as dwarvish mattocks and long swords. As they can become Skilled in dagger and daggers also make a good missile weapon, it is a good idea for them to replace their scalpel with the first noncursed dagger they find, going from orcish to normal to elven or silver in that order.

Darts are also a good option. They are light, and if you happen upon a few dart traps you can get a large number of them--poisoned ones if you're lucky. More importantly, they can be advanced up to expert, which allows you to shoot up to three of them in one turn. The disadvantage is that they can break as you use them. However if you can collect a big stack of them, enchant them past +2, and get your luck maxed out, they will almost never break.

A good strategy might be to build up daggers to skilled and darts to expert. Keep 20-30 darts on hand, and put the rest in a stash. Use daggers on weak enemies, and darts on stronger ones. Then, when you have more than 100 darts, enchant them to +7 and use those as your main ranged weapon through the endgame.

A useful technique for training skills is to find a gas spore, maneuver it into a corridor, and hit it with your Unskilled dagger. Gas spores usually have enough HP and your damage is sufficiently low that they won't 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.

Later on Healers should upgrade to a unicorn horn (with which they can achieve Expert skill) then still later to their 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, they 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 of Aesculapius later. Another valid choice, particularly in the late game, is Magicbane (at the maximum skill level, Skilled) or a highly-enchanted crysknife, making use of being able to achieve Expert skill in knife and its inherent +3 to-hit.

You also might want to pick up a silver weapon before entering Gehennom. If you find a silver dagger, that should already be to skilled by the time you reach Gehennom. Silver sabers and silver spears can both be raised to basic as well.


When a healer reaches about level three, he 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 put you in to Overstuffed nutrition. This state is not displayed (the status line remains at "Satiated") so beware of eating ANYTHING until your status is back to normal. Eating anything while overstuffed will make you choke over your food and die unless 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.

In general, spellcasting for Healers is somewhat idiosyncratic. Although they have great natural spellcasting ability—they are one of a handful of roles which can reach 100% success rates without a robe—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.

Starting equipment[]


Healers gain the following intrinsics at these experience levels:

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


Healer skills
Max Skills
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