In most games, a party needs a dedicated healer. Cleric, white mage, priest, etc. tend to be the staple healer. Other times, classes like a druid or paladin might take up the role. Regardless of the trappings, healing is a very important and often thankless job.
I like playing support characters. Healbots, however, can get boring. Nothing is worse than being reduced to a bandage-box with legs. So whenever I make a healy character, I lean hard into whatever other thing they do well. One way to make a solid non-heal-bot healer is to take a divine caster, give them something to boost their healing capabilities like a bloodline or domain, and then devote the bare minimum to healing. For example, angelic sorcerers can make heal a signature spell and use their Focus Spell to pump up its power. That alone covers basic hit point replenishing. Clerics have two major things going for them in divine font (if positive) and deity granted abilities. Divine font gives free heal spells, freeing up slots for other more interesting spells. Deities give a tremendous amount of variety in powers and flavor through Domains and non-divine spells. If the deity offers the Healing Domain, just about all of your healing needs are met.
These characters can be fun, but they ironically lose big chunks of their core identity to healing to avoid being a heal-bot. You can certainly build a character concept around such things; maybe an angelic sorcerer whose celestial ancestor is a fallen angel and they have to redeem their family, or life oracle is cheating death somehow and they need to find a way to stop leaking their life-force. However, say you have a character background that doesn’t involve any of that. What if you don’t want to play those classes?
Pathfinder 2e makes healing far more accessible to characters. First Aid alone is by far the best addition for easing the burden on a healer, and battle medicine goes a long way as well. Two-action heal also does way more healing for big numbers. Furthermore, non-clerics can function as full-fledged healers. Which brings us to the inspiration for today’s character…
Darkest Dungeon 2 is out, and it shakes up a lot of how the original works. Most relevant to this discussion is that the primary healer from DD1 – the Vestal – is absent from the game entirely (at least so far). Instead, the game’s initial healer is a different character that did very minor healing but also offered other support effects: the Plague Doctor.
The original PD was a support powerhouse. She had an area stun ability, a stun + forced move, three different DoTs, a buff, and a small heal that also removed DoTs. At camp, she could heal, buff, and even remove diseases.
In DD2, the PD is similar in a lot of ways. She’s still a DoT master, dealing all the different types across her skills. Her heal still removes DoTs as well, but now the HP recovery is much more potent at the cost of only triggering when the target is below half health. The stun ability now blinds the targets and dazes / “combos” (dd2’s Mark system). New is an ability to improve the entire party’s resistances which can also destress when upgraded.
So why would I make a healer alchemist and not choose Chirurgeon as my research field? Two reasons. First, the benefits from it are sort of mediocre. The extra healing items and HP recovered are nice, but the perpetual free items are lame. Using Crafting instead of Medicine is nice for rolls, but it doesn’t allow you to pick high level skill feats, so we still need to improve Medicine if we want to use it anyway.
Second, the idea of this build is to make a healer, not a healbot. A healer can replenish HP and remove negative effects. A healbot focuses primarily on those abilities. A healbot will be stronger at healing, but they become much less useful if the parry is healthy. This character can still make plenty of healing items with a different research field and still get a lot of other cool tools to add to their kit.
Another thing to remember is that gaining hit points is only one type of healing. Granted it’s sort of the main type, but there are other things healers can do for their role by preventing or mitigating damage. In FFXIV (the only mmo I care about really) there are two kinds of healers: ‘pure’ heals, which focus on burst healing and healing over time effects, and shield heals, which restore hit points and provide a buffer similar to temporary hit points. There are also other tools they have, like the Holy spell which stuns all enemies in a small radius; stunned enemies can’t deal damage, so effectively it is ‘healing’ by keeping someone’s HP high rather than replenishing it to get back to that point.
So that’s why I didn’t pick Chirurgeon, but why did I pick Toxicologicist instead of Bomber or even Mutagenist? Partly because I never get to use poisons and I want to, but also because the Plague Doctor is named after Paracelsus, a Swiss doctor that used poisons to create medicines known as the father of toxicology. Poisons are great at both damaging and debuffing if you have the right ones, but the DCs fall off too quickly. Toxicologicist fixes this by making whatever poison you want and using your class DC for all poisons you make each day rather than only the Quick Alchemy ones, allowing for way more uses. Bombs excel at damage weaknesses, whereas poisons excel at weakening foes. And that, in turn, can severely help mitigate damage. The extra bombs aren’t as useful as the DC and expanded poison list, and the mutagen bonuses aren’t a good fit for this character.
Using bombs helps alleviate the problem of fighting things resistant or immune to poison. If you can’t poison it and your party doesn’t need heals, then you chuck a bomb. The many bomb related feats add a series of debuffs to your bombs, meaning you can still mitigate damage a bit while dealing some yourself. Perpetual Breadth means you can have free bombs of a single type, and while a Bomb that deals poison would be super on brand, it’s also not very helpful here. And remember, the Plague Doctor is a master of DoTs, applying multiple types. I chose Alchemist’s Fire to cover the burning abilities she has in DD2. Better yet, because they’re part of Quick Alchemy, they use your class DC, and since they’re lower level you can put Additive effects on them.
Okay, so mitigation and debuffing aside, how does the character heal? As in actually restoring hit points? Elixirs of life are fine, but they take a lot of actions. Draw or Quick Alchemy, moving to be adjacent to the target, and either handing it to them or administering it to them, all of that is a lot for what will likely be less than a heal spell can do (elixirs scale at d6+3 instead of d8+8 like the two-action version of the spell does). How is this effective?
Well, normally, it isn’t. That’s the best thing Chirurgeon has going for it (once it hits level 13). It maximizes the hit points, making a level 13 elixir heal 60hp every time compared to a level 7 heal’s average of… 87. Still not great, huh. It’s better for sure, but not enough. See why I don’t like Chirurgeon?
However, there are two things alchemists can do to assuage this weaker healing. First, take Healing Bomb. With it you can heal with 2 actions at range (with a slight chance of failure) and do it farther away than a spellcaster normally can. This feat is almost required for an alchemist that wants to be much of a healer.
Second, don‘t prep too many elixirs of life. Why? Pretend you’re a cleric for a moment, and you prep a bunch of your spell slots as heal spells. What do you do when all your spell slots remaining are heal and the party isn’t injured? Not a lot. Hopefully you have a good weapon or cantrip lying around. In the same way, an alchemist that runs out of reagents and used up all their bombs is out of luck in combats where no one is hurt.
Clerics can maybe get away with using their divine font for most of their heals, only prepping a few extras in actual slots and the rest for a broad array of things to do. Spontaneous healers with heal as a signature spell can cast whatever they want. Alchemists, however, are in a weird sort of middle ground. Their daily “spells” work like both prepared and spontaneous spellcasters’ slots. You can prep them ahead of time for more of a thing, or you can save them to become any item on your list. Prepared casters usually only do this once or twice a day, and only if they take a high level feat. Unlike a cleric though, if you run out of prepared heals, you can always make more with Quick Alchemy. By having more reagents ready for later, your utility skyrockets. Need environmental protection? Quick winter wolf or salamander elixir. Fighting trolls and no one can turn off their regeneration? Quick acid flask. Need a swim speed? Quick sea touch elixir. My rule of thumb is half of your reagents should remain spontaneous, and about half of the remaining reagents should be elixirs of life.
Beyond that we can cover most healing options with skill feats, which this character doesn’t really need for anything else in particular. Elixirs can do a lot of stuff, and it only increases as more books are released. With enough feats, you can remove most conditions and heal plenty of hit points without using any resources. It takes a lot of skill feats to be able to do everything really well, but it’s better to use skill feats on this than class feats where your powerful and flashy options are.
Gear wise, you can skip a lot of stuff because item bonuses from elixirs wouldn’t stack anyway. Most important is which weapon you pick for your poisons. Crossbows are okay, but Reload actions make alchemy more difficult to fit in. I like throwing returning weapons personally as they don’t leave you defenseless in melee. Bows are fantastic options as they leave a hand open for Quick Alchemy until you shoot, but as martial weapons your best bet is to play an elf and devote ancestry feats to weapon expertise.
After that, the rest of the character is pretty open. Just get some good armor and an intelligence apex item when you get to that level. Gloves of Healing are on brand and help keep reagents open for fun stuff. There are some good picks for what items you make each day, but most of the time you can just devote some reagents to heals, a few to poisons that inflict different penalties, and maybe a couple bombs. Everything thing else is up for grabs.
Even as someone who loves playing support characters, I cannot stand playing healbots. Being a healer can (and I think should) mean being able to heal in addition to multiple other things. Luckily, there are lots of ways around being a competent healer without being a walking first aid kit. Now you can heal your friends without precluding your chances of blowing monsters up!
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