Psychic Surgery
rating: 0+x

Basic Information

Psychic surgery is a procedure typically involving the apparent creation of an incision using only the bare hands, the apparent removal of pathological matter, and the seemingly spontaneous healing of the incision. Although psychic surgery varies by region and practitioner, it usually follows some common lines. Without the use of a surgical instrument, a practitioner will press the tips of his/her fingers against the patient's skin in the area to be treated. The practitioner's hands appear to penetrate into the patient's body painlessly and blood seems to flow. The practitioner will then show organic matter or foreign objects apparently removed from the patient's body, clean the area, and then end the procedure with the patient's skin showing no wounds or scars. In regions of the world where belief in evil spirits is prevalent, practitioners will sometimes exhibit objects, such as glass, explaining that the foreign bodies were placed in the patient's body by evil spirits.

Psychic surgery has been condemned in many countries as a form of medical fraud. The American Cancer Society maintains that psychic surgery may cause needless death by keeping the ill away from life-saving medical care. The practitioners are most likely using sleight of hand techniques to produce blood or blood-like fluids, animal tissue or substitutes, and/or various foreign objects from folds of skin of the patient as part of a confidence game for financial benefit of the practitioner.

Accounts of psychic surgery first started to appear in the Spiritualist communities of the Philippines and Brazil in the mid-1900s.


2. movie: Penn & Teller Get Killed (1989) — has a major subplot involving psychic surgery. And it has Penn & Teller. Which is irrelevant to the subject, but makes the movie worth seeing regardless.

Game and Story Use

  • Within the context of a role-playing game, Psychic Surgery could easily be genuine.
    • It would make for very flavorful (and somewhat gross) flavor text or trappings for various Divine powers. Healing spells suddenly becomes a very messy affair, and their reversed / negative versions would be a lot more creepy and colorful than just a simple touch attack that sucks HP abstractly.
      • This might only be changed / enforced / used for certain types of magic or miracles. Could be a single class, or a handful of spells that use this imagery and methods.
    • If the intent is to make healing more miraculous and/or difficult (not just a matter of popping off a quick "cure light wounds" or downing a potion), this changes the dynamic of combat in interesting ways. Making magical healing take time, effort and concentration changes it from being a thing you do in the midst of a battle to something you can only between fights. Withdrawal, interception, and fleeing all become more viable targets.
    • Of course, in a wainscot fantasy setting, legitimate magical healing might well be dismissed as fraudulent "psychic surgery" or "faith healing" (or a fraudster might follow along on a legitimate healer). This might actually be a benefit to the practitioner.
  • Charlatans and Con Artists in a fantasy setting might have a version of this con that actually does involve some form of magic, but is still fraud. Picture a low-level power that combines a very minor healing effect or pain relief with some showy (and possibly grotesque) special effects. Depending on how the system handles healing, it may not be obvious till much later (or not at all) that the spell wasn't all it was presented to be.
    • Making a new spell might not be necessary. As a D&D specific example, there's any number of Cantrips, Orisons, or 1st level spells that do minor healing, give temporary hitpoints, or make the target feel better for a while. A fallen (or faux) Cleric could cast a couple of these, along with some showmanship or sleight of hand, to convince an ailing mark that they'd been healed by a far more impressive (and reliable) magic. In such a way, an unscrupulous caster could rake in the big bucks that higher level spell casters make. Or, a high level caster could "help" more patients (aka victims) per day, charging the higher fee even when using a lesser spell.
    • It's also possible that making money might not be the true purpose. In a society that respects or benefits priests and wizards, there's bound to be perks to passing yourself as a far more competent spell caster than you really are. Perhaps this is a stepping stone towards becoming Bishop or gaining power in a Magocracy.
    • Could be completely legitimate (and quite powerful) healing magic, but Wizard's Guild grossly over charges as a way of keeping it's members in wealth and opulence.
      • PCs could become heroes of the common man by offering healing at a price the peasantry can afford. If they do so, though, they'll be making enemies in The Guild.
    • Another possibility is that a character who actually does have healing powers might use visually impressive showmanship on people who don't know the difference, padding out spells-per-day or saving on material components.
    • Of course, this option doesn't work if the PCs have meta-game knowledge of their own status.
  • Depending on how the game handles resisting magic, another option might be for the spell caster to actually heal the patient, but sneak in some other spell or effect at the same time. Maybe once you've let your guard down, the caster is free to sneak in other enchantments. Sure, he cured your disease and saved your life, but he also planted a post-hypnotic suggestion, stole your soul, or installed a "back door" to enchant you further at range and a later date.
  • The PCs could be hired by a dying patron or family member who wants them to check out a supposed faith healer. If the psychic surgeon is legit, it'll save their patron's life, but if he's a fraud he might deprive the PCs of their inheritance.
    • Maybe the NPC relative is going to see the faith healer whether the PCs check them out or not. They may be convinced the power is genuine, and get very upset when the PCs act sceptically.
Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License