Imagine a war in a standard fantasy world, roughly medieval, most magic is limited, but magical healing exists. Healing comes in three forms:

  1. Rare Healers, who are born with ability to do rapid magical healing, taking even severely injured to full health in minutes. However, they exhaust their own Healing energies rapidly doing so, and thus can only heal a few wounded this way before exhausting themselves entirely. These are far rarer than trained medics, but not unheard of, and a number will be available to each side in a battle.

    If a Healer exhausts his energy, it can take a few days to fully recover. It is easier for a Healer to heal recent wounds then old ones, though having time to focus on Healing without rushing, and ability to triage who to Heal better, means that they can heal a slightly more effectively if not in the heat of battle even if the wounds are a little older. After a battle, once healers recover their expended energies, they will work to heal those wounded from previous battles, but since the wounds are now much older, they can not heal these older wounded nearly as fast.

  2. Alchemical potions that can be used for healing. These potions are usually not as rapid, but can heal someone back to fighting strength in between a a number of hours to a few days depending on injuries and potions used. Alchemy is more than "x potion heals y damage". It takes trained Medics to know how to use these potions well, combining them correctly for different injuries; and more potions doesn't necessarily mean faster healing. These resources are more far more common then Healers, but still limited in supply and carefully triaged.

  3. General first aid and 'mundane' healing, supported slightly by some simpler magic, mostly to lower odds of infection, but still requiring slow healing process and risking potential death. Limits of the other resources mean many have to settle for mundane healing still.

I want to know how this affects battle conventions in general, but for this question I'm focusing on how enemy wounded and medics are treated. In our world you DO NOT attack those who are too wounded to fight, and doctors/hospitals are very strictly off limits. Of course, in our world wounded are rarely going to end up fighting against you in the near future. It takes too long to heal. In fact leaving wounded cost your enemy far more in resources to tend to the wounded then if you killed the wounded.

In this world though leaving wounded may mean fighting them again next week. Most will still relay on mundane healing, all the rapid healing options are still limited in resources, but a non-trivial number can be rapidly brought back to the fight. Lets say after a week roughly 10% of wounded will be back up to mostly-fighting strength, with a mostly negligible number healed every day after since the easily treated are already healed. This assumes good supply lines, long campaigns would mean more careful triage of Alchemical potions and later battles may see less healing due to lack of supplies.

In this world will wounded or those that treat them be off limits? Or will they now be too large of a tactical threat to leave off limits? What are the chances that making killing blows on wounded is a standard tactic? Will flanking to get to your enemies medics and kill them be a valid and honorable tactic? Perhaps the rules will vary for healing: magical Healers are fair game, Alchemists are a grey area, and mundane treatment still of limits?

Related, what are the odds of something like the Geneva convention affecting this (there will be a neutral party that helps to negotiate these sort of conventions and has a limited ability to encourage sticking to a convention by lowering aid to sides that don't stick to them, but is not powerful enough to enforce anything if both sides don't want a convention)? Is it likely that sides will agree to either leave certain wounded/medics off limit or agree to emphasis saving most lives possible at expense of being able to heal fewer to the point where they may rejoin the fight; something that would be tactical suicide unless you're certain the other side will do the same?

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    $\begingroup$ 10% of wounded soldiers returning to the battlefield a week later seems to me quite a low impact. If your world and stories focus on healing (as your multiple questions seems to indicate ;) you might want to make it more effective. As is, there's no real incentive to take special actions against wounded enemies in most combat situations. $\endgroup$
    – Stephane
    Dec 14 '15 at 18:32
  • $\begingroup$ @Stephane yes, I was thinking about that. I'm not at all committed on exact percentage here. My point was merely to stress that healing was limited and many still need mundane healing. As to the other comment, I actually have a few worlds with healers in them, once I asked one question I realized many other related ones; but not all questions are about one world. I tried to leave this one pretty open to standard fantasy world, with one of my stories most relevant to it. $\endgroup$
    – dsollen
    Dec 14 '15 at 18:54
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    $\begingroup$ Understood. My point was that, in order for commanders to change their behaviors on the battlefield (like targeting healers or the wounded as your question asks), it has to be worth the effort. It may be incompatible with the abilities you describe except in special cases (like for countering a Napoleon-in-Russia-like campaign). $\endgroup$
    – Stephane
    Dec 14 '15 at 19:31

We have a lot of fancy rules to try and "civilize" things, but ultimately war is about destroying your enemy.

Whether you will resort to killing the wounded and/or medics, however, depends on the situation.

"Civilized" Conflict

Imagine a scenario where two neighboring countries routinely scrap with one another over minor territorial issues. They may be fighting today, but they know they'll be trading with one another again in a few months. They won't want to permanently damage the relationship between them by performing "barbaric" deeds.

They'll keep things "civilized" - kind of like a duel of old, when two gentlemen would face off, and maybe even kill one another, but with no "hard feelings".

They may go so far as to heal the enemy's injured soldiers, and to offer extensive medical assistance to the defeated party after the fighting is over. Healers would likely be off limits as targets, and if you happen to capture your enemy's hospital you will treat their healers are guests more so than hostages, or prisoners.

A Serious Fight

In a more escalated situation, such as when one country is trying to completely conquer another (think American Civil War), it will make sense to take out the enemy's ability to remain in the fight.

Executing the healers or wounded might be a little extreme, however depriving them of healing supplies, or killing as many of the soldiers as possible while "no one is looking" would probably be an acceptable tactic.

On the surface neither party would engage in anything scandalous, however behind the scenes some pretty nasty things may occur, because each party wants to win, and the stakes are very high. (for example the Americans took to sniping the British officers at any opportunity, which the British considered barbaric, but was very effective at disrupting the flow of battle).

All-Out Slaughter

Last but not least, fighting may be taking place between two sides which positively hate one another, and who truly wish to see each other become extinct (Turks and Kurds, anyone?). In this situation nothing is off the table.

The focus becomes eradicating the enemy by any means - and that includes the civilians, not just the wounded and healers.

So yes, in this case it would make perfect sense - to the point of it becoming a priority - that one would target the enemy's healers, and execute their wounded.

It would be very demoralizing to the enemy, as well as making their soldiers fear getting wounded - no more quick healing, etc.

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    $\begingroup$ I'd argue that war is not actually about killing your enemy, but achieving your objectives. Killing your enemy may help achieve objectives, but battles are usually important because some objective was completed, not due to raw numbers of people killed! $\endgroup$
    – PipperChip
    Dec 14 '15 at 19:06
  • $\begingroup$ @PipperChip - I agree completely, but that's not what the question is about. The focus here is on whether healers/wounded should or should not be valid targets. What I'm saying is that resorting to those types of cut-throat tactics depends on the conflict. $\endgroup$
    – AndreiROM
    Dec 14 '15 at 19:12
  • $\begingroup$ If you agree, then you ought to reframe your answer in terms of achieving objectives: "War is ultimately about achieving objectives" which would then segue very well into "here are the kinds of wars which can be fought" which then leads to "is it OK to kill wounded and healers in this type of war?" If war was only about killing your enemy, you kill everyone, all the time, without exception, because that is what war is supposedly about. $\endgroup$
    – PipperChip
    Dec 14 '15 at 19:18

This covers many things that you, as the world-builder, must simply decide! There can be arguments for and against answers to your questions. Maybe this can be a simple cultural difference between two armies; one kills medical staff and the wounded, while the other does not.

Falling In Combat

Lindybeige talks about falling in battle. He makes some good points. They are:

  • Fallen individuals can fight.
  • Fallen soldiers actually reach further on the ground, cutting at ankles but lose mobility.
  • Recovering hurt individuals is usually a priority for comrades-in-arms. This is just human behavior; if a friend is in trouble, you help them.

You would expect commanders to place more importance on recovering the wounded if they can be fighting in the next battle, or the battle after that. People who have been trained, have a special skill, or are otherwise important to a functioning army will take priority.

Killing fallen fighters and prisoners can be tricky, but has been done. Famously, at the Battle of Agincourt, King Henry ordered the death of many prisoners. Supposedly this order was not only for troops' safety, as the prisoners outnumbered the captors, but because they would slow them down too much.

Attacking Healers

Obviously, the more effective healers in your world are slower. Since they're a limited resource, you would expect them to be reserved for the more critical components of an army or organization. Denying an army that resource has obvious advantages. However, killing unarmored individuals is a scruple most people have.

This, simply, comes down to culture. Do you hate your enemy so much that you want them dead, or are you trying to achieve something? Does attacking healers serve a general's or one side's purpose? Are there social or religious taboos against doing so?

The Original Geneva Conventions

Chivalry set the standards of behavior for knights in combat in Europe. Japan had Bushido. Arabians had Furusiyya, which had ethical considerations. Cultures appear to make rules about what is and is not acceptable in combat. It's something that you must ultimately determine for your world, and the cultures therein!

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    $\begingroup$ +1 just for using Lindybeige as a reference. But other good points as well. $\endgroup$ Dec 14 '15 at 21:25
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    $\begingroup$ A great shortage of healers may help, too - eg they have a choice of "just keeping everyone alive to heal (slowly) naturally", which is good for morale... or of healing a much smaller number completely, which sucks for morale as it's basically a lottery (seeing your mate die while another guy is completely healed), but helps strategically/tactically. Makes for interesting strategic interactions regarding attrition if one side has more manpower but fewer healers, for example, and the other the reverse. $\endgroup$
    – Jon Story
    Dec 15 '15 at 10:48

Here's a way to think about it: it sounds like a healer can heal one person per day for their entire life. A healer with 50 years to live can heal 18000 people in their lifetime. So getting that healer killed is as bad as getting 18000 of your civilians killed.

So: I don't think there are healers on the battle lines at all.

Consider: most nations will have conventions about not killing healers, but:

  • when you're firing arrows at the enemy, sometimes you're going to hit healers purely by accident
  • there's always the chance that the enemy nation will get desperate and violate the convention
  • even if you don't want to kill healers, you're probably just fine with capturing them and using them to heal your own people.

It's possible that a large army might have one or two healers in it, heavily protected, for healing "important" people. But most of the healers (and most of the nations) have done the math: a healer can save just as many lives in a big-city hospital as they can on the front lines of the army, and keeping the healers well-protected in the hospital is way way safer.

(Reference: in a comment here you wrote: "there isn't enough magical healing to go around. Many have to wait for natural healing because they aren't deemed to need the limited magical healing as much as some other cases" -- which is how I know that healers have plenty to do in big-city hospitals.)

As the number of healers in the population increases, eventually we reach a point where (barring some sort of major catastrophe) every hospital has enough healers to heal everyone that reaches a hospital. At that point it starts to make sense for healers to be in places that aren't hospitals. This is when healers start getting deployed into the military.

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    $\begingroup$ In a "standard fantasy world" the rulers don't usually care as much about healing civilians as soldiers. Your point still stands, though - a valuable resource will be kept further away from the battlefield. $\endgroup$ Dec 15 '15 at 3:21

For enemy wounded, if they are taking prisoners, most would probably get traditional medicine once the battle is over and your own wounded are cared for.
There are a few reasons why this is a good practice:

  1. If your doctors will help their wounded, they are less likely to be attacked by the enemy.
  2. A enemy prisoner makes for a good hostage to help guarantee that your own captured soldiers are treated humanely.
  3. If an enemy knows they will be treated humanely, they are more likely to surrender instead of fighting to the death. A man with nothing to lose will fight a lot harder than someone that knows he'll get fed and a place to sleep if he just stops fighting.

Just figure, if you're picking off their healers, they probably will do the same. A lot of countries agree to rules before battles, as it just makes things more civilized. If you break the rules, you know they'll give you no quarter.

For your own wounded, on the front lines you'd probably deal with alchemical healing the most, used to stabilize and fix up wounded so they can be taken to a medical center. At the medic they would assess the situation of each injured, see who would be ok with just the battlefield alchemy, and who needs extra attention.
When demand for the healers is high, they probably wouldn't try to bring everyone back up to 100%. Maybe just to the point where they are in no danger of dying from their wounds, and then turned over to alchemy or traditional healing methods.
This is so that the healers can help the maximum number of people before being completely drained, and so if a special case comes in that needs to be completely healed there will be something available.


Healers would have to be protected from overwork due to the high demand for their ability. Assuming that like anything else a person could push themself over and above normal limits to the point of self injury. It is possible that healers could be convinced or coerced into over extending themselves even unto permanent injury or death. How many would survive to have children? Healers would likely be a highly prized resource, protected even fought over. Failure to protect them could result in them dying out in just a few generations. Alchemists would probably be treated much as pharmisists are in our world unless they also require the healing ability to create their potions.


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