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D&D 5E Mythological Figures: Florence Nightingale

We’re looking after you today on Mythological Figures with a woman who is indelibly woven throughout the practice of modern nursing: the Lady with the Lamp, Florence Nightingale!

Florence Nightingale DnD 5e BANNER.jpg

Born into a well to do British family on May 12th 1820, Florence (named after the city where she was born before emigrating back to England) was raised by an abolitionist with progressive views on women’s education and thus she learned history, mathematics, Italian, the classics, and generally were encouraged to think and learn—and she was the best student among her siblings. Florence was taken on a family trip through Europe in 1838 and met one Mary Clarke, a woman whom she took great inspiration from. Mary was not a fan of the expectations of the British upper-class, preferring the polite company of intellectuals (usually men because of the times), and demonstrated to young Florence that women and men could be equals.

Despite the expectations put upon her to become a wife and mother, in 1844 Florence decided to enter the field of nursing (against the wishes of her family) and devoted herself to the task. Though she was fetching and had a nearly decade long courtship with Richard Monckton Milnes (a poet and politician), ultimately she never wed, instead focusing entirely on becoming a nurse, then reforming the practice altogether. While traveling further and learning the nursing arts in Rome in 1847, Florence befriended the politician Sidney Herbert—a recent Secretary at War and soon to be again, a man that proved to be important to the work she does in Crimea years later. Not long afterwards she got 4 months of proper training at the Institution of Kaiserswerth on the Rhine in Germany, then for a year became superintendent at the Institute for the Care of Sick Gentlewomen in London in 1853.

In 1854 Florence took 38 female volunteer nurses (which she trained) with her to the Ottoman Empire when the news of conditions for casualties in the Crimean War wove their way back to England, taking up in Scutari. This is where “The Lady with the Lamp” nickname comes from (as she would go about alone at night to tend to the wounded). Quickly assessing the situation, she wrote to The Times pleading for help from the government. That assistance came in the form of a prefabricated hospital (prepared in England, shipped to the Dardanelles), which with her other actions (like enforcing handwashing) helped reduce the death rate of wounded soldiers by 40% (to just 2%). Most of these were due to infections but Florence was convinced it was a matter of living conditions (inadequate food, stale air, exhaustion), taking her crusade beyond the realm of the armed forces to hospitals and the homes of common folk.

A year later the Nightingale Fund was created to commemorate Florence’s efforts thus far and further the training of nurses, though the Nightingale Training School (soon renamed the Florence Nightingale School of Nursing and Midwifery) in St. Thomas’ Hospital didn’t come about for another 5 years, and the first pupils from there deployed into the medical field another 5 years after—specifically into the workhouse system that dominated British industry at the time, another important element to her crusade for better public health. Ultimately this was absorbed into King’s College London. However in this timeframe (1859) Florence wrote what might be her most important mark upon history: Notes on Nursing. While this played an important role in her school’s teachings, it was really meant for the everyday person on the street to improve those living conditions and ward off disease.

Life did not get easier for Florence despite her success and though she won many impressive rewards—the Royal Red Cross (first recipient), made a Lady of Grace of the Order of St. John, awarded the Order of Merit, the Honorary Freedom of the City of London—she spent most of her life after 1856 stuck in bed and depressed. This didn’t diminish her progressive stride until her last decade though, when blindness and mental decline made it harder for her to wield the power of the pen. At the age of 90, on August 13th 1910, Florence Nightingale met death in peaceful sleep.

Design Notes: WHEW! That was a long one! There really isn’t a better choice for Florence here than rogue, and to get her that healing feat we need at least 4 levels. As usual the statistics are getting a step-up to 5th level to pick up a little survivability with Uncanny Dodge because otherwise she’s got very little of that. There was a strong temptation to squeeze in find familiar somehow (at one point she nursed a sick owl she called Athena back to health and kept it as a pet) but really that’s not entirely necessary—she can just have a pet owl. Also of note, her background is perhaps not quite standard but it felt like such a good fit we’re going to go with it. Let’s do the numbers! Unsurprisingly a low AC low hit points rogue with standard Dexterity scored very low on the DMG chart (0.34375), but the more comprehensive Blog of Holding puts her at 1.625. The average is 0.984375 which is close enough for the rare round-up to CR 1. Which is fine since Florence wasn’t a fighter, she was a (mundane and nonmagical) healer through and through.

Florence Nightingale

Medium humanoid (human), neutral good rogue (scout) 5
Armor Class 11 (padded)
Hit Points 27 (5d8+5)
Speed 30 ft.
STR
DEX
CON
INT
WIS
CHA
9 (–1)​
10 (+0)​
12 (+1)​
16 (+3)​
16 (+3)​
14 (+2)​
Saving Throws Dex +3, Int +6
Skills Insight +6, Investigation +6, Medicine +9, Nature +6, Perception +6, Persuasion +8, Stealth +3, Survival +6
Senses passive Perception 16
Languages English, French, German, Italian, Latin
Challenge 1 (200 XP)

Background: Plaintiff. Florence is greatly experienced in matters of law and medicine, and not afraid to draw upon her knowledge of the esoteric language in each to coerce less educated people into doing as she requires.

Cunning Action (1/Turn). Florence can use a bonus action to take the Dash, Disengage, Help, or Hide action.

Feat: Medical Learning. A creature that Florence uses a healer’s kit to stabilize regains 1 hit point. In addition, she can use an action and a single use of a healer’s kit to mend a creature’s wounds. The creature regains 1d6 + 4 hit points, plus hit points equal to the creature’s total hit dice. A creature can only benefit from this feature once between short or long rests.

Sneak Attack (1/Turn). Florence deals an extra 10 (3d6) damage when she hits a target with a weapon attack using a finesse or ranged weapon and has advantage on the attack roll, or when the target is within 5 feet of an ally of Florence that isn’t incapacitated and Florence doesn’t have disadvantage on the attack roll.


ACTIONS
Nurse Knife. Melee Weapon Attack: +3 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 2 (1d4) piercing damage.


REACTIONS
Avoid Enemy. When a hostile creature ends its turn within 5 feet of Florence, she can use her reaction to move up to 15 feet without provoking opportunity attacks.

Uncanny Dodge. When an attacker Florence can see hits her with an attack, she can use her reaction to halve the attack’s damage against her.
 

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Mike Myler

Mike Myler

Hatmatter

Laws of Mordenkainen, Elminster, & Fistandantilus
Thanks, Mike. I always love your builds. When faced with an illumined figure like Nightingale, it is apparent how D&D (a game so close to my heart) truly breaks down...having to include "sneak attacks" and knife attacks for her seems so preposterous, right? This, by the way, is no criticism of your build. I love the vision of a character who is so skilled at helping, healing, and who has a pet owl. Reading about a true, full person like Nightingale here, this morning, amidst the bickering that can occur in the forums, is like a breath of fresh air. Thanks for some reality with the fantasy...both are enriched.
 


Ixal

Explorer
Characters like her simply do not fit into the D&D level system.
In the end the game only portraits people who kill others and rates them based on their abilities to do just that. People like Nightingale were never supposed to have stats, at least in the newer editions.
 

Medically, she wasn't exceptionally knowledgeable, and certainly wasn't a surgeon. Her most significant achievements where the invention of the pie chart and persuading the government to expend more resources on injured soldiers.

As a nurse, what she should be is strong and tough - there is a lot of heavy lifting involved, as well as long hours without rest.
 

Hatmatter

Laws of Mordenkainen, Elminster, & Fistandantilus
Characters like her simply do not fit into the D&D level system.
In the end the game only portraits people who kill others and rates them based on their abilities to do just that. People like Nightingale were never supposed to have stats, at least in the newer editions.
I am not sure that it is the level system that is relevant...it is simply the need for each character's attacks to be included because D&D is so combat-heavy.

I have DM-ed a character who did not fight. The class and level system worked great for her...she was one of my favorite characters. The player originally modeled her on Deanna Troi, but she because her own character. In a fantasy context there are other options that are not as available for real world figures, though, when creating a build.

Anyway, it is just nice to read about the sufferings and contributions of a real person here, which include battles with depression and also includes the occasional pet owl...like Tesla's pigeons.
 

Hatmatter

Laws of Mordenkainen, Elminster, & Fistandantilus
Characters like her simply do not fit into the D&D level system.
In the end the game only portraits people who kill others and rates them based on their abilities to do just that. People like Nightingale were never supposed to have stats, at least in the newer editions.
Certainly the way the game originated and the way the game is usually discussed this is true, Ixal, without a doubt. But, as I said, I have seen a player make a character who was not a killer and, to her credit, it was barely noticeable most of the time. The existence of the Peace domain and some other newer options make this even easier.

In my last four or five sessions of DM-ing, there has been precisely one fight...and that was a non-lethal joust. I am DM-ing a group of seven players, four of whom are brand new. The game has been filled with role-playing, trying to discover information, some ability score contests, a bonkers episode of trying to stuff escaped butterfly-like creatures back into a bag, and other stuff that seemed to get people engaged. There will be combat down the line, but none of the players seem to want it.

My, how things changed from the days of Chainmail and hack 'n slash.
 
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Ixal

Explorer
Hmmm...certainly the way the game originated and the way the game is usually discussed this is true, Ixal, without a doubt. But, as I said, I have seen a player make a character who was not a killer and, to her credit, it was barely noticeable most of the time. The existence of the Peace domain and some other newer options make this even easier.

In my last four or five sessions of DM-ing, there has been precisely one fight...and that was a non-lethal joust. I am DM-ing a group of seven players, four of whom are brand new. The game has been filled with role-playing, trying to discover information, some ability score contests, a bonkers episode of trying to stuff escaped butterfly-like creatures back into a bag, and other stuff that seemed to get people engaged. There will be combat down the line, but none of the players seem to want it.

My, how things changed from the days of Chainmail and hack 'n slash.
Funny you mention the peace domain. Despite its name it is still dedicated to war with its spells and abilities. It even specifically says that its bond ability is used to boost attack rolls. The only feature which is really peaceful is the skill proficiency.

D&D is a game about adventurers who murder things and the rules system very heavily makes sure that every character is murder capable. The last edition where you really could build a non combatant was maybe 2E or 3E. But even there it was very obvious that D&D is not a system designed to support non combatants as compared to for example Traveller.
And thats the reason you get a sneak attacking Nightingale, as combat abilities are hardwired into the level system and you can only get better at skills by raising your murder ability rank.

You can try it with a more extreme example and stat Stephen Hawking or Albert Einstein (to not have to deal with the disease part). Lets see how strong a combatant he must be to have genius level knowledge checks.
 
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Well, a Scalpel is an easy refluff for a knife. I can also seeing her as somewhat of a ranger multiclass as well since, does Favored Enemy/Foe counts for surgery? Refluff th-OOOOOOOH Wait Myler the Savant Chireugeon!!!
 

Mike Myler

www.epic5e.com/ KS ends April 22nd!
Well, a Scalpel is an easy refluff for a knife. I can also seeing her as somewhat of a ranger multiclass as well since, does Favored Enemy/Foe counts for surgery? Refluff th-OOOOOOOH Wait Myler the Savant Chireugeon!!!
I did have that thought but the Masterclass Codex stuff builds were really a promotional thing. If we open up the box to those classes on the regular there'd be a whole slew of different builds and this would quickly stop being the rules-as-written column it's mean to be.

She is definitely a prime candidate for the savant class though.
 

Blue Orange

Explorer
Funny you mention the peace domain. Despite its name it is still dedicated to war with its spells and abilities. It even specifically says that its bond ability is used to boost attack rolls. The only feature which is really peaceful is the skill proficiency.

D&D is a game about adventurers who murder things and the rules system very heavily makes sure that every character is murder capable. The last edition where you really could build a non combatant was maybe 2E or 3E. But even there it was very obvious that D&D is not a system designed to support non combatants as compared to for example Traveller.
And thats the reason you get a sneak attacking Nightingale, as combat abilities are hardwired into the level system and you can only get better at skills by raising your murder ability rank.

You can try it with a more extreme example and stat Stephen Hawking or Albert Einstein (to not have to deal with the disease part). Lets see how strong a combatant he must be to have genius level knowledge checks.

In a world with magic instead of science they might have studied magic instead, leading one to worry about rituals to conjure uranium hemispheres and slap them together. (2000d6 radiant?)

I do agree Nightingale doesn't really work in a game with a very different theme. In 2e there was a healer NPC class, in 3e an expert class that would fit well.

Arguably in a D&D world her passion would have led her to follow a god with the Life domain.
 

ColonelHardisson

What? Me Worry?
In a world with magic instead of science they might have studied magic instead, leading one to worry about rituals to conjure uranium hemispheres and slap them together. (2000d6 radiant?)

I do agree Nightingale doesn't really work in a game with a very different theme. In 2e there was a healer NPC class, in 3e an expert class that would fit well.

Arguably in a D&D world her passion would have led her to follow a god with the Life domain.
Yeah, and if we're using NPC classes for 2e and 3e, then it's easy enough to create this character by way of 5e's paradigm of NPCs not having to follow PC rules.

As for the sneak attacks and other combat abilities, it's also easy enough to ignore them as a PC or NPC. They're there in case she needs them in a pinch, but she's not likely to be armed for combat anyway. Same goes for any such noncombatants; bereft of weaponry, someone like Florence isn't likely to be effective even if forced into defending herself (check that 9 Str). And if she is armed, it's not unheard of for even the apparently helpless to put up a fight when their life is at stake (that Hawking example above is a canard, but if one is looking for a roleplaying challenge, give such a character a permanent Paralyzed condition, modified to allow limited communication).
 

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