In Conclusion...

Eric Lis

Dr. Eric Lis is a physician, gamer, and author of the Skirmisher Publishing LLC sourcebook, Insults & Injuries.

As previously stated, today will be my last post to this website. Although Skirmisher and d-Infinity have been good to me over the years, it’s time that I move on to other projects. In the four years that I’ve been writing this column, I’ve posted once every week, without fail. I’ve posted on major and minor holidays; I’ve posted from three different continents; I’ve posted articles while working over-night shifts in the emergency department; I’ve posted while I was a patient in the emergency department. Although it was a fairly significant commitment in time and energy, I’ve generally had a lot of fun writing this regular feature, and I’ve learned a lot of fun and ridiculous stuff doing the research for it each week.

To celebrate this last post, however, rather than write something entirely new, I thought that it might be fun to look back over the other 199 posts that I’ve written and find the ten things that I most enjoyed learning, or that most affected my games. So, in no particular order:

1) Healing magic in the Harry Potter universe is really unlike any other setting. When I wrote a post about Harrypotterian healing magic in 2015, I commented that I’d never actually read the books. In the year since, that’s changed; I picked up the novels as audiobooks and, during my daily walk to and from work, I’ve made it about halfway through book five, so I now have an even greater appreciation for just how weird (and logically inconsistent) the healing system is in that universe. I think that it’s well worth the time for anyone with an interest in magical healing to read up a bit on how magic works in that universe because it provides a lot of very clever (and some just silly) ideas for how to make healing more specialized in a game. And if nothing else, let me leave you with this thought: in the Harry Potter universe, not only is there a potion specifically used to regrow bones that have been magically removed from the body, but there’s enough demand for it that there’s a brand-name version of it mass-produced and readily available in hospitals. Think about that.

2) Medieval healing in the real world was weirder than anything you’ll find in the SRD. Every time I think I’ve reached the peak of weirdness reading about the history of medicine, I find something even weirder. To date, though, my very favourite example, which I’ve mentioned in a couple of columns, has been something that came from the British leechbooks: to cure certain physical illnesses, physicians advised sick individuals to stand under the full moon, pray to god, and drink rainwater out of a human skull. These were our ancestors, and I don’t think that we as a species have gotten much smarter.

3) An Egyptian king was either allergic to bug bites or was killed by an enraged hippo, and we don’t know which. Menes of Egypt is thought to be the earliest known person to ever die of a bee sting. However, we aren’t 100% sure, because in the hieroglyphs that have been found, the same symbol that indicates “wasp” could just as easily indicate “hippopotamus.” Menes probably died as a result of anaphylactic shock in response to a sting, but we’ll never know for certain, due to what I consider to be perhaps the funniest case of ambiguous translation in human history.

4) Although it’s uncommon, a handful of people have survived falls from over ten thousand feet up. Granted, they’re all thought to have landed on things that helped to break their falls, but still, the stories of people like Juliane Koepcke and Nicholas Alkemade remind us that we live in a stranger and less predictable world than we often think.

5) Dragons almost certainly carry salmonella. Because, after all, so do pretty much all reptiles in our world, and a dragon who wants privacy, or to be as deadly as possible, probably doesn’t take steps to reduce its infectivity.

6) Four thousand years ago, people thought the poor should have fair access to health care. The Code of Hammurabi, which dates back roughly 1700 years BC, is the earliest known codified system of laws. It covers a range of situations, and in many respects we would today consider it draconian. In terms of laws relating to medicine, it was surprisingly enlightened. The Code set a maximum that physicians could charge and required that prices be lower for the poor than for the rich. It even mandated that physicians had to regularly evaluate their own records to ensure that they were practicing competently. These sorts of things continue to be problematic in the modern era.

7) Snake venoms are really cool, and really complicated. This topic was the subject of a few different columns and had an extensive discussion in the revised version of Insults & Injuries, so I won’t go into it here, but the biochemistry of snake venom remains one of the coolest things that I learned as a result of writing this column, as well as knowledge which I’ve gotten actual use out of (fortunately, not in clinical practice or on myself).

8) For most of human history, nearly every society in the world had better medicine than the “advanced” Europeans. At one time or another, the Islamic nations, the Aztecs, and even the Babylonians made European healers look like morons, and a good chunk of the articles I’ve written for this site provide the evidence for that statement. Actually, in many respects, this remained true until well into the eighteenth century. More than anything else, this should be a sobering thought and important reminder to anybody living in the modern Western world who feels a bit too sure that we’re right about everything.

9) A lot of medical literature written before the modern, “dry science” era was actually beautiful. Texts such as those written by William James West and Olivier Ameisen, about the illnesses which effected their own lives, could be profoundly moving and well-written documents, while Greek and Roman physicians were expected to be able to record their observations and therapies, not merely in a useful form, but as close as possible to poetry. In our era, when scientific and academic writing is often unreadable and obtuse, sometimes deliberately so, it’s nice to be reminded that there are more beautiful ways of doing things.

10) And lastly, the gods of historical mythology were often far stranger and more fascinating than most that you’ll find in our rulebooks. Whether it’s Imhotep, Egyptian god of medicine and architecture, or Ek Chuaj, the Mayan god of mercantilism, warfare, and chocolate, even the most creative modern authors often fall short of our ancestors when it comes to imagining new deities. Granted, a modern author might get laughed at for creating a god whose portfolios include both warfare and chocolate, but the fact remains that such a god actually was worshipped by a powerful civilization. Religion, after all, doesn’t have to make sense.

And that’s that. So, to the people who followed this column, I thank you for your readership and the comments and questions which helped inspire new columns. I leave you in the hands of this site’s other writers to continue to provide you with further edutainment.

I wish you all an early happy Topin Wagglegammon. Be seeing you.