In my world most magic is learned through hard work and dedication, and is mostly useless for healing. However, there are a very rare number of individuals who can wield some of the most powerful magic without studying, for now call them sorcerers since I haven't given them a good title yet (really need to figure that out soon).

Ignoring for now certain genetic/environmental factors required to become a sorcerer one of the most significant aspects of their magic is that sorcerers gain their power based on having a single defining belief or cause that they are so passionate and driven about that it fuels a sort of emotion/dedication powered magic. This means they can wield powerful magics, but only when those magics are used towards furthering those ideals or dedications that motivate the sorcerer and fuel his/her magic. This also means any sorcerer will, practically by definition, be so passionate about their cause that they are willing to make significant sacrifices for it; if they aren't that passionate they wouldn't have become a sorcerer!

I want to have one sorcerer play a minor role in my story. Originally using his appearance early in the story to justify an info dump about what a sorcerer is in preparation for a latter reveal of a different villainous sorcerer (he has some other minor roles in the story, but none too relevant here). I've decided to make the good sorcerer's passion about stopping pain and healing anyone in need, giving him access to healing magic that is otherwise not possible with traditional magic. However, since his drive is so much about not causing pain and healing anyone, including the guilty, he can't join our heroes to deus ex machina a solution to the villain. Actively setting out to fight, and potentially hurt, another person, even a villainous one, goes against his passion and thus he wouldn't be able to use any magic to aid in such a fight.

I had a nice discussion already played out in my head for how our good sorcerer/healer ends up info dumping some details about what a sorcerer is and setting up some later plot points, but this discussion can only play out if he has time to talk and joke with our protagonists. My problem is I've created someone who is the sole healer in a large city-state who is pretty much given to being willing to never take a break from healing when others are in need (he wouldn't be a sorcerer if he wasn't that passionate!). It's hard to believe that in a large city-state there wouldn't always be someone else in need of his help. So how can I justify his wasting time on a decent length conversation and joking with random protagonists who stopped in for quick healing when there should always be someone else in need of his help next?

  • $\begingroup$ Is this really too story-based? The framing device and question title make it seem like a character question but it can be answered through on-topic adjustments to the magic system the character uses. Perhaps an edit would help clarify. $\endgroup$
    – Zxyrra
    Commented Feb 2, 2020 at 16:15
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Zxyrra Agree. While the question could be easily mistaken as a question about character actions (and appears to be framed that way), this seems to be a classic case of the XY problem. While we will not define a magic system for a user, we can and should provide reasonable recommendations to improve a magic system to meet the user's constraints. Voting to reopen. $\endgroup$
    – Frostfyre
    Commented Feb 3, 2020 at 0:35
  • $\begingroup$ I'd suggest you edit out all the bits about what you want to do with your story, as narrative elements are off topic (this is why your question was closed once before, and could easily be closed again). If Frostfyre is right, and you're really asking about your magic system, then please focus on your magic system! Magic systems are on topic here! You're also at risk for this question being closed due to lack of focus on a specific problem of worldbuilding. Basically, delete paragraphs 3 & 4 and keep the last sentence So how can I justify... $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Feb 26, 2020 at 5:39
  • $\begingroup$ If sorcerers have mana or something like that, they would need to recharge to continue healing, aren't they? If sitting in a chair and chatting is rest enough, then there's the solution. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 26, 2020 at 13:01

9 Answers 9


When he first got to the city, he found so much healing needed that he overworked himself to the point of collapsing from exhaustion. The city leadership got together and decided that they would get more healing done, in the long term, if the sorcerer ate, slept, and spent some time relaxing than if he made himself ill from overwork and too little rest.

They came up with a plan. The sorcerer has limited working hours, enforced by the city guard. Only extreme emergencies can lead to him being allowed to heal outside those hours. To help him eat well and relax, the leaders keep running accounts for him at a couple of the best taverns in the city. He is encouraged to get a proper dinner, a mug of ale, and spend the evening in the common room chatting with anyone who interests him. Being one of those taverns is a significant status symbol, so he always gets a good table and the best food and drink.

After a while, the sorcerer and everyone around him realize he gets more done that way. Enforcement is now quite light, maybe one guardsman hanging out in a corner of the common room, in case someone sneezes and the sorcerer has to be reminded it is outside his working hours.

This evening, he feels like hearing some travel stories, so he invites a party of adventurers to join him at his table...

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The city could easily set up a triage system as well, a guy with a mild sunburn does not need to see the healer, the guy who was kicked in the head by a horse needs to see him. the guy with a broken leg may or may not need to see him depending on the work load, and he certainly does not need to see him ASAP. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Commented Jun 12, 2021 at 4:28
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    $\begingroup$ Great answer. I do want to note that sometimes you have to let people die, or bring them to other 'normal' healers. Emergencies happen at night/in the evening very regularly in a big city state, making for very spotty rests. That will drain the sorcerer in the long run as well, if you don't cap it. $\endgroup$
    – Trioxidane
    Commented Jun 13, 2021 at 7:53

His abilities are limited

  • Healing magic takes a long time, so healing everyone isn't a reasonable expectation. He could approach this logically by realizing he should adopt a moderate schedule (what difference will 5 more people make out of 100?), or he could approach this emotionally and decide to heal people 24/7, producing the opposite of the desired effect.
  • Healing magic needs to recharge, so even if he spends all of his mana healing people whenever he's able, he isn't able very often.
  • Healing magic has side effects (what does all that extra magic do to the body?) because all magic must come at a cost. He only reserves his healing for the desperately ill or completely incurable.
  • Healing magic can't heal everything despite his sorcerer status. It's easier for most people to seek natural cures for minor ailments and really terrible stuff is beyond his control, so he can only treat a limited range of injuries, giving him free time.
  • Healing magic damages the sorcerer proportionally to the amount he helps others, limiting what he can accomplish in a given day.

Most pain is treatable in other ways

  • Frame challenge: healing magic is hard to learn but accessible to non-sorcerers. Very specialized professional mages can do healing. They may still be rare, but he won't be the only one.
  • The majority of injuries may be treatable without magic. Perhaps, since his magic is limited for the aforementioned reasons, the sorcerer has developed herbal salves to treat pain, or he knows how to set bones by hand. Such practices can easily be learned by non-mages. Only severe stuff really needs magic.
  • Emotional pain can be treated through counseling. Perhaps the reason the sorcerer is around to talk in the first place is because he is psycoanalyzing your characters in order to fix their emotional issues.

Not everyone deserves (or wants) to be healed

  • Frame challenge: even though the sorcerer wants to heal the guilty, many hurting people also inflict pain. If he heals harmful people, they will create a net gain in pain in society. So he only heals the pure despite his inner drive.
  • Magic is stigmatized by the public, so few people resort to the sorcerer's help.
  • $\begingroup$ Recharge was the first thing that came to mind when I saw this question. Since you included it I'm upvoting you rather than adding it as an answer. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 13, 2021 at 14:46

He's gotta eat.

Even the most passionate among us need fuel for the fire and your sorcerer is no exception. He usually eats only one meal a day and usually at the place around the corner, where they give him his meals on the house. But your protagonists have heard about this sorcerer and for their visit they have brought along take out - warm bread from the bakery across town and grilled fish from the pier, washed down with cider from their own press.

The sorcerer is hungry and the stuff smells good. He talks while he eats.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Yeah, first thing that came to my mind. Sure someone might be constantly busy but they still have times they do other stuff than their job and can talk. Eat, travelling from one place to another, or maybe just drinking a beer in the evening. They might be able to talk just during their job. But none of this is actually world building but story. You could even have a lull of activity - maybe right now there is nobody needing the services of the healer. $\endgroup$
    – VLAZ
    Commented Feb 2, 2020 at 7:47

This is actually a writing question.

He doesn't stop to talk

If you want to talk to Doc Sorcerer, you've got to follow him as he works.

From a narrative perspective, that gives you something interesting to break up your info-dump. Additionally, it would give you a chance to lay out doc sorcerer's character partly indirectly. There can be chanting, brief exchanges with the people he's treating (some of them he may even recognize from before), and threading among the wounded, or the concerned people asking him to come help.

Maybe your major characters realize they CAN'T ask him for help, that he just isn't a fighter. But show him in action.


Magic Summary

Sorcerers turn their drive and passion for something into magic that is directly related to that something and only usable in situations that advance that drive and passion in a sort of feedback loop. This can potentially be self-destructive if left unchecked. Also it can be powerful, doing things that magic is not known to be able to do.

Magic takes dedicated study and learning, but little is known based on the question aside from it is bad at healing. Can magic's fire spells match a sorcerer whose passion is fire?

Personally, I think that there is something missing here -- can learned magic ever match the power and ability of a sorcerer in their field, and why?

But onward to the answer:

There is more to Healing than being a Healer

Your sorcerer is driven and powerful, but not stupid.

First of all, his passion to not cause pain and heal "anyone in need" will actually include themselves if they push themselves hard enough to be in that level of pain. Sure, they sacrifice their free time and social life to the healer's cause, but past a certain point, they are causing real and actual pain to themselves. This will be a pain that their passion for healing would mandate that they do something about since they can. They might be able to ignore it for a while because it's a sacrifice for somebody else, but that can only last for so long.

This plays on the passion/drive angle of your system as it is. Their drive to heal everyone will include themself, even if their own healing and well-being is less important than that of others.

See the Fate series for the kinds of traps that this healer could fall into should they not take care of themselves in the pursuit of being a healer of all. Although if this healer is good enough, people might just not die if they are killed.

Contagious Passion

You have a person that is so passionate about healing that they have distilled it into a raw magical ability. That very passion is part of their powers. It is a drive that is somewhat infectious, with people seeing their selfless drive and joining them in the pursuit of the healing arts.

Now you have a hospital, sparked by one man's passion and held together by those that share the healer's drive to reduce pain and suffering in the world.

Now, obviously this person might be the only one driven enough to actually be a sorcerer of healing, and that's fine. Other people in this hospital can handle other less major things, like cuts, scrapes, and keeping the healer from working themselves to death. This frees up the Healer to magic away the most immediately life-threatening or painful issues, whatever is actually the driving force of their passion.

They might even work on lesser cases when the workload is less and the drive compels them to work on and heal more.

  • $\begingroup$ To answer your first question, it's generally agreed no one can best a sorcerer. The greatest mages can come close to rivaling a sorcerer in a specific area the mage has mastered, but sorcerers are both powerful and flexible. They can apply their powerful magic broadly to numerous different types of magic (some mages just can't do!) instead of specializing in one area, so long as the sorcerer is working towards his cause. This is basically a justification for why my villain is such a threat, so he, and by extension all other sorcerers, are suppose to be a bit overpowered by design! $\endgroup$
    – dsollen
    Commented Feb 3, 2020 at 21:49

The obvious answer? - conventional medical knowledge exists and is widely practiced

Just like the existence of magical swords doesn't stop society from crafting lots of mundane steel weapons the existence of (rare) magical healers doesn't mean conventional medicine and healing skills are not known and practiced. In fact if, as you say magical healing is very rare the practice of mundane medicine would be inevitable.

Depending on the setting it would be entire reasonable for a large city to have a guild or class of medical practitioners and universities or schools/ monasteries etc where medicine is taught and studied. So there are apothecaries, surgeons and midwives etc who ply their trade along side your sorcerer. All of them skilled enough to deal with day to day illnesses and emergencies like setting bones or performing basic surgery etc.

Depending on the setting it would be entirely possible for an advanced medieval society to have a basic knowledge of good public hygiene policy (e.g. things like the need for good sewer and fresh water systems and regular refuse collection) as well as knowledge of some kind of basic disease theory and human anatomy.

Add in knowledge of medicinal plants and 'alchemy' to produce crude antiseptics and anesthetics (along with a lot of placebos of course ) and you have a situation where most day to day illnesses and accidents etc can be dealt with without the Sorcerer having to be involved.


He grasps the big picture

The good sorcerer (GS) knows that taking down the evil sorcerer (ES) will save more lives than he would have normally healed in his own city during the same time period. He also knows that the party will ultimately try to kill the ES and only he (GS) has the power and knowledge to prevent this death.

By coming along with the party, even if under false pretenses of helping to end the life of the ES (up to you to decide what is the best option for your story), the GS can ensure less death than if he doesn't come with them. Maybe GS can heal the ES after the fight and drain ES's desire to be evil. Or any number of interesting paths...


They have psychological issues that prevent them from being properly effective if they dedicate themselves that way.

Beyond simply dealing with the burnout of dealing with patients all the time, it’s entirely possible that they have other psychological issues that might play up if they’re on the end of their rope psychologically.

Take the character of Amy Dallon/Panacea from the superhero web serial Worm and its sequel, Ward. She’s a superhero who has the power to alter the biology of anyone she touches in any way she wants, and she primarily uses that power to heal people. She’s also dangerously psychologically unstable - and an explanation of how involves spoilers.

Unfortunately for her, she has (adoptive) superhero parents who don’t really seem to love her due to their own traumas and mental illnesses, so she wound up fixating on her (adoptive) sister who did show her love and affection, and who wound up developing a superpower that, among other things, lets her project an emotional aura that causes people to either love or fear her by altering their brain chemistry. These two factors together, combined with the fact her sister developed this power while Amy’s sexuality was developing, caused Amy to develop an incestuous, unrequited sexual crush on her sister that she repressed until a super villain psychologically manipulated her into letting go of her self-imposed rules, causing Amy to use her power to alter her sisters’s brain in order to force her to reciprocate her sexual interest. When Amy’s sister responds poorly by being manipulated that way, Panacea runs away from home and starts living in a homeless shelter healing people there.

After her sister is badly injured by one of that aupervillain’s teammates before his death, Panacea heals her before proceeding to rape and mutate her sister into an erotic superstimulus by multiplying all the features she found attractive. When she realised afterwards that she wasn’t sure how to turn her sister back, she was overcome by guilt and demanded to be sent to the super-prison her super villain biological father had been sent to or else she’d use her power to create and unleash a super-plague.

Even a few years later, after she was later released from prison and undid what she had done to her sister, she wasn’t really trusted by other superheroes because she never really took responsibility for her actions; as far as was concerned, good people did good things and bad people did bad things, and she’s a good person, so she couldn’t have really done bad things - she was having a psychotic break, so what happened to her sister wasn’t really her fault, since it wasn’t really her. The fact that she’d started dating a former top-tier supervillainess didn’t help either, nor did the fact that their relationship ended with Amy betraying and murdering said girlfriend after she’d helped her break an army of super villains out of prison with the intention of using them to reconquer said supervillain girlfriend’s home Earth - which Amy promptly did herself, using her power to “rehabilitate” said super villain army.

It’s important to note that throughout all of this (aside from when she “took a break” to rape and mutate her sister) she was genuinely trying to use her power to help as many people as possible - because she views herself as a good person, and that means to her that she needs to demonstrate that by doing good deeds.


Triage and some minor slow acting spells gives him time where someone is still healing, but he's not actively focused on everyone at every time.

Of particular note of the character is this line:

I've decided to make the good sorcerer's passion about stopping pain and healing anyone in need, giving him access to healing magic that is otherwise not possible with traditional magic.

Stopping pain, however, might be something he can do as a lower level spell (Perhaps even a custom cantrip), which doesn't necessarily heal exactly, but numbs the pain of whatever injury someone encountered, is a quicker casting time than actually fully healing someone, and as he may need a higher level healing spell slot for another person, can allow him to simply send slightly sick people back home to sleep off the minor injuries - he might even be able to bottle potions of the effect to allow someone else to hand them out while he deals with the harsher clients.

So he focuses his time on healing people who need immediate recovery due to losing blood, or missing limbs, in a way that saves them, but that person who has a hangover from last night? "Here's a painkiller spell, it won't fix the pain, but it'll stop you from feeling it, so go sleep it off today." Same to someone with a cold or flu, or a disease of some sort - he may presume that smaller issues can be monitored, but don't require an immediate use of Lesser Restoration or a higher level spell.

This can be extended a bit more - that person with a broken bone? Well, here's a lower level spell to reset the bone, but it's not fully healed, so here's a painkiller cantrip, and just rest in this healing bed. If he's out of higher level spells to actually fully heal the bone, or if he's willing to occasionally knock them out with the painkiller spell so that they don't feel pain while their bones heal, that saves him some time on casting the longer length spells.

He might have a receptionist of some sort to register people as they come in, and determine if they just need to drink the painkiller potion and come back if the pain is still there after it wears off, which would free him up to take more time on either creating those potions so they don't run out, or treat a more endangered patient.

This would give him time to give a consultation with the PCs at some timeframe, but not allow him to necessarily leave the healing area he has - this person with a broken bone isn't feeling pain right now, but to properly heal the person, he needs to be able to find time later on to actually set their broken bones, or heal the underlying condition for why someone was bleeding when they came in originally.


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