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:
- blood-letting and leeching
- neck manipulation
- extraction of teeth
- draining boils and fistula
- lancing cysts with wicks to draw out the fluid
- nail clipping
- scalp-cleaning and massage
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.
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 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.
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 robbers 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?
Building This Character
- Dexterity or Agility is probably the top priority. You need a steady hand.
- Social Attributes should be above average. (This is different than barbers of The Western who often had the advantage of being the only barber in town.)
- Mental Attributes will probably contribute to better skill rolls or better spellcasting, so don't skimp on the brains.
- 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.
- 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.
- Often the Chirurgeon's position onboard is that of an officer. If so, you may have picked up command, leadership, oratory, or intimidation.