This page is about the Barber, as the term was known from Classical Antiquity up until the end of the Colonial Era. For more modern eras (Wild West especially), see The Barber.

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Basic Information

The art of the Barber goes back as far as the Bronze Age, being established in Classical Greece and the Roman Empire. They were barber, dentist, and surgeon all in one. This combined role was the norm until it was broken by Royal Decree in 1745. In the wake of that declaration, people had to specialize, and being a Barber was no longer the same as being a surgeon.

Things a barber does before 1745:

Ships going to war, or on long sea voyages, would have their own Barber-Chirurgeon on board. These "Ship's Barbers" had one extra responsibility - triage. In the middle of a battle, they would decide which injuries were worth trying to save, and who was so far gone you should just throw their soon-to-be corpse overboard. This later evolved into the naval surgeon and later still into actual medical staff, with barbering being split off into a sideline for other crewmen.

Barbers have their own Trade Guild, separate from that of Physicians - the later of whom did not practice surgery (and being a profession rather than a trade tended to be somewhat apart from the guild system).

By ancient tradition, The Barber-Chirurgeon tends to be extremely talkative, often taking advantage of having a captive audience who can't reply because they've either got a hot towel on their face or a razor at their throat. In general, the Barber-Chirurgeon's shop is a good place to pick up the latest news and gossip.

In Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome the Barbers set up shop in the Agora and Forum to facilitate both business and gossip. In the Roman Empire, your first shave is a rite of passage into manhood, and known as the Tonsura (and the Roman word for Barber is Tonsor)1. It was also somewhat dangerous, because the Romans only made razors out of copper or bronze, neither of which holds an edge well.

In some eras and nations (England is one example), being clean-shaven is actually required by law. That's a pretty sweet gig for the Barbers.

In the Arabic world, barbering was not an uncommon cover profession for the Hashishim.

It would also not be completely insane (although ahistorical) for guilded midwives to belong to this guild - possibly as a seperate distaff chapter.


3. "Pumpkin Dreams" — a story about a medieval barber

Game and Story Use

  • The barber gets many of his supplies from the Apothecary.
  • The barber's shop is a useful place to make your gather info roll.
  • In low magic and historical settings prior to the 18th Century, the bloody practices of the Barber are your best bet at healing. Have fun!
  • A mystery involving grave robbing may feature a Barber-Chirurgeon as a suspect or the person paying for the stolen bodies. Ultimately, the crime is being committed for a moral reason - to learn more about how bodies work, or practice surgical skills, so as to save more lives in the future. Do the PCs turn them in?
  • You may have a variety of specialists within the role - some who specialise in surgery and neglect the barbering, some who may prefer to shave and tonsure, but might, for example also use something like aromatherapy in their grooming work.
  • Some primitive surgical skills might be relatively common amongst martial types - the ability to stitch your own, or other people's wounds appears to be a staple of slightly grittier fantasy and historical fiction.

Building This Character



  • Some games let you create a Professional skills directly related to your job - so in such a system, you'd have Barbering, and that'd cover the whole concept. However, in this era, that's covering a lot of ground, and some GMs might not be too keen on that concept. So, instead, expect you're going to have to pick up several of the following skills:
  • Healing and Herbalism.
  • Knowledge Skills pertaining to fashion, anatomy, medicine, philosophy, dentistry, etc.
  • Possibly Occult - because knowledge of illness and anatomy is esoteric, but also because supernatural causes were believed for many mundane illnesses in the era. You need to be able to treat not just injuries and sickness, but also the Evil Eye.
  • Information Gathering, Socializing, Gossip, etc. These are a natural outgrowth of talking to your customers, and may also be how you drum up new business.
  • Cosmetics and Fashion (which might fall under Disguise), for the haircutting part of the job. This is unlikely to be as high as it would be for later barbers, since you need to divide your training between it and medicine.

Special Abilities

  • You know anatomy, so you might consider some Feat or Edge that increases your chance of a Critical Hit.
  • Healing spells would be appropriate, but you might ask the GM if you can have them draw on strange trappings and explanations. I shall cast "Leeching of Light Wounds" - hold still while I stick a leech on your neck.


  • For more modern depictions, see The Barber.
  • Barber-Chirurgeons of murky ethics or morals might also learn to Torture - it's not natural for the profession, but it'd be properly fitting in the standard fantasy setting.
  • A Ship's Barber needs a good constitution or endurance score, and will have extra skills:
    • At the very least some extra knowledge skills to represent places they've been and things they've learned aboard ship. Geography, Navigation, Area Knowledge, Cartography, etc. Astronomy is also a possibility, since sailors chart their course by the stars.
    • If the crew's ever been decimated, you may have been pressed into more menial service, and picked up a bit about sailing, rowing, woodworking and/or rope use.
      • The ship's barber/doctor might have substantial overlap with the also-common role of carpenter/doctor, especially in eras where a surgeon needs to be skilled with both knife and saw.
    • Often the Chirurgeon's position onboard is that of an officer. If so, you may have picked up command, leadership, oratory, or intimidation
    • As mentioned, Triage, which might be rolled into First Aid or Diagnosis. If you can specialize, Combat Medicine is a good option for similar reasons, as are Dodge and other defensive skills.
  • In a silly enough story, a barber-chirurgeon might offer medicinal haircuts.
  • In a magical setting, the barber-chirurgeon might exchange surgery for chirurgy. Raise the Occult skills and add healing magic appropriately.
    • A barber-mage turned evil has easy access to hair and nail clippings, for exploiting the Law of Contagion.
    • Such a barber might moonlight as a cunning man, or have started out that way and learned medicine and hairstyling later.
    • If magical healing is the sole province of divine magic, that means the magical barber-chirurgeon is likely part of a religious order. In that case, the monk who tonsures all of the others (and probably shaves the nearby lay population) might also be the one who specializes in healing.
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