Gloomhaven Sawbones Guide – Cards, Builds, Perks, Enhancements & Items

Last Updated on November 9, 2023 by Samuel Franklin

Gloomhaven Sawbones Guide – Cards, Builds, Perks, Enhancements & Items

In this guide to the damage and healing focused Sawbones you’ll learn how to find the balance between aid and pain to make you a valuable contributor to every Gloomhaven team. Covering the card decisions from level 1 to level 9 which serve as the fundamentals of your overall Sawbones build I’ll discuss my recommendations to maximise the Sawbones character in the diverse scenarios that you’ll encounter. Expanding on these fundamental recommendations I’ll also explain the best perks, enhancements for your cards and finally the item purchases you’ll want to consider to find the balance between your strengths and weaknesses.

The Sawbones (Saw) is an unlockable mercenary for your Gloomhaven guild who has elements of healing throughout their kit but also a capable damage dealer through direct damage and status effects. Playing as one of the few human characters in Gloomhaven who are a race that have rapidly expanded across the continent consuming everything in their path you’ll step into the shoes of a follower of the Great Oak. These religious healers are knowledgeable about the methods of healing and recovery that has been honed over generations although there is nothing magical about their methods. The core mechanic of the Sawbones is the use of medical packs that literally provide their allies a card to heal themselves amongst a number of other direct healing methods and status effects like wound, disarm and stun that can slow down incoming enemies or damage them outright with swings of your saw. The result is a Sawbones that moves in and out of melee combat as necessary to support or tank damage for the team and is always a welcome sight amongst a team for the flexibility they can provide.

For information and build guides on other Gloomhaven character options visit our Gloomhaven classes overview and the related Gloomhaven class tier list. Note that from this point onwards this guide contains full card spoilers for this class and minor item spoilers (general themes only and not specific non starting items).

Table of Contents:
Sawbones Cards, Perks, Enhancements and Items Overview
Sawbones Cards Detailed
Sawbones Perks Detailed
Sawbones Enhancements Detailed
Sawbones Items Detailed

Gloomhaven Sawbones Guide Overview

The intent of this overview section is to provide a useful reference guide for building your Sawbones when you want to focus on playing Gloomhaven and not reading the lengthy reasons why certain cards should be taken. It covers level up decisions all the way to level 9 including the cards best suited to being replaced during this process to create a consistent mercenary with a balance of healing and damage.

In addition to this you’ll find a summary of the best choices for perks, enhancements and equipment options when playing as the Sawbones character. For those that prefer to dive into the detail the latter section of this Gloomhaven Sawbones guide will explore why I recommend each of the decisions presented in the overview portion.


Sawbones Cards Overview

  • Level 1: Remove Mobile Response, Battlefield Medicine and Teamwork to create your starting deck of cards
  • Level 2: Hamstring replaces Triage
  • Level 3: Precaution (level 2 card) replaces First Aid
  • Level 4: Do No Harm replaces Boost Shot
  • Level 5: Amputate replaces Bloody Saw
  • Level 6: Euthanize replaces Curative Mixture
  • Level 7: Surgeon’s Satchel replaces Precaution
  • Level 8: Gentleman’s Anger replaces Hand of the Surgeon
  • Level 9: Grisly Trauma replaces Syringe

Sawbones Perks Priority Overview

  • Remove two -1 cards (take twice)
  • Add one +0 refresh item card
  • Remove four zeros
  • Replace one +0 card with one +2 card (take twice)
  • Add rolling +2 card (take twice)
  • Add rolling stun card
  • Add one rolling heal 3 card (take twice)

Sawbones Enhancements Priority Overview

  • Add Jump to the bottom of Hamstring
  • Add Strengthen to the bottom of Do No Harm
  • Add Curse (or other debuff) to the top of Prevention is Key

Sawbones Items Priority Overview

  • Minor Stamina Potion
  • Boots of Striding
  • Minor Healing Potion
  • War Hammer
  • Iron Helmet


Gloomhaven Sawbones Guide Detailed

Within this detailed portion of the Sawbones gameplay guide I detail the thought process that sits behind each of the decisions in cards, perks, enhancements and items. I also discuss some of the potential alternative decisions you could make a long the way which would push players between the two spectrums of Sawbones (healing and supporting our tank) to support your core damage cards as damage should always be a key component to any Gloomhaven character.

Sawbones Cards Detailed

The Sawbones has many great top and bottom actions available which makes balancing your options critical as you grow in levels and ensuring you obtain some key damage cards along the way. Importantly there are a few key level decision paths that can move the Sawbones in different directions which are discussed below.

  • Starting Cards: Removing cards where neither the top or bottom actions provide significant value is important to cleaning up our starting hand of 10 cards which sees us remove Mobile Response, Battlefield Medicine and Teamwork as each of these is lacking in either both actions or one action. If your team lacks movement Teamwork may slightly beat out Triage which focuses on giving us a large move card but given the Sawbones is unlikely to start at level 1 given it is an unlockable character it’s unlikely to matter as you’ll not have room for either amongst our better unlocked cards.
  • Level 2 Cards: The Sawbones wastes no time in offering players two powerful cards to pick from although Hamstring is the priority at level 2 given it provides us our best move card that only grows in power when it is enhanced with jump and ensures we can get into the thick of combat at the cost of immobilising ourselves. Hamstring also gives us another attack action that we can use to immobilise and then step away from a melee enemy to prevent damage. Our other level 2 card is not weak by any means though with a fantastically low initiative of 9 that plays perfectly into the top action to shield our allies while the bottom gives us a way to provide medical packs to an ally without sacrificing the potential for a top attack.
  • Level 3 Cards: Given the high praise of both level 2 cards it will come as no surprise that I recommend going back to the other level 2 card you didn’t take previously given our level 3 options simply cannot compete. Regenerative Tissue’s top heal action is simply overkill for the Sawbones and lacks the flexibility of our similar strength heals as it is a self use only while the bottom action isn’t a significant amount of healing during your average scenario that it is worth burning one of our own cards. Vital Strike is slightly better as an option with the top pairing with the bottom of Hold Back the Pain as a potential devastating attack although it can be difficult to achieve in practice.
  • Level 4 Cards: At level 4 it is hard to pass up the top action of Do No Harm which gives us that useful execute for when we don’t want to deal with a particular elite enemy towards the end of a scenario with the bottom move and heal being a powerful combination until then. Blood Transfusion simply can’t compete with the net 5 heal on top and the bottom attack and heal that lacks the same level of flexibility.
  • Level 5 Cards: Level 5 is the first divergent of the Sawbones playstyle with my default recommendation being Amputate for the raw upgrade to Bloody Saw by adding an additional attack value and the sometimes beneficial immobilise. With this being only a small upgrade the bottom of Research the Cure can be an invaluable boost to the tank hero in the party instead given the amount of damage it reduces over the course of a scenario to effectively reduce every attack by 1. For this reason your decision will be party dependent with teams that have only one dedicated damage absorbing tank likely to benefit more from Research the Cure.
  • Level 6 Cards: The winning option of our level 6 cards is Euthanize which we can combo with our own attacks and that of our allies to make for another source of execute and simply beats out the alternative in Prescription. While it can be tempting to treat Euthanize as a straight upgrade to Syringe you actually want to keep Syringe around as the two cards are the perfect combination to trigger the execute.
  • Level 7 Cards: Surgeon’s Satchel is an easy upgrade to Precaution with the same bottom action, similar initiative and flexible top action that makes our level 7 option an easy one in comparison to the healing focused Master Physician that is not needed given our abundance of healing already available if needed.
  • Level 8 Cards: Bedside Manner is an interesting card with a bottom action that creates some deadly combinations with certain mercenaries that can be repeated several times when factoring in equipment like the minor stamina potion that allows us to continually play it although unfortunately the top is a burn action with little value. To further hurt the reasons to take Bedside Manner is the powerful and flexible Gentleman’s Anger that gives players another disarm or a long ranged bottom attack if they find themselves on the edges of the battlefield that make it a core card.
  • Level 9 Cards: Like many Gloomhaven decisions at level 9 players will find some interesting Sawbones mechanics between Prep for Surgery and Grisly Trauma. The top of Prep for Surgery once again pushes the Sawbones too heavily on healing mechanics to the point that it is simply not necessary albeit an interesting mechanic given it turns basically every single card into a heal while the bottom stun is okay but we have other ways to inflict similar status effects. Grisly Trauma on the other hand has a strong situational top that relies on having both the right enemies in a scenario and a high enough party level so these enemies have high health values but is reusable. When waiting for such a situation we also get the powerful bottom movement and debuff infliction which can perfectly replace Syringe in our Euthanise combo.


Sawbones Perks Detailed

The Sawbones choices for perks are quite small in comparison to other Gloomhaven characters and have a number of rolling card choices which results in quite high damage output although the small modifier deck and these rolling options means you’ll likely encounter that deadly null at a higher frequency. Despite these factors your path is pretty typical by removing the negative cards, adding the powerful refresh item card, trimming your deck, adding some powerful +2 cards and then working in the rolling options.

For rolling perks +2 is a good initial choice as we always appreciate additional damage before adding in the likes of stun and healing that are likely to be useful in most situations. Of the remaining options I would then look towards wound and lastly the immobilise options even though this also offers a +1 modifier.


Sawbones Enhancements Detailed

Like most Gloomhaven characters the Sawbones has some important core enhancement options and then plenty of additional options if we are flush with gold and want to push the Sawbones even higher. For foundations the jump on Hamstring is an absolute must as we often want to pair this with the likes of Prevention is Key which generally means going deep into enemy territory which the jump significantly assists with. Prevention is Key is also an attractive place to add another debuff to our kit given we’ll always want to use the top of this card and it’s all adjacent enemies targeting with curse being the ideal choice as we already have other debuffs in our kit. Last but not least your next best enhancement will be the bottom of Do No Harm as we’ll be using it for the majority of the scenario with strengthen a good choice to setup our own attacks although bless is also an option for healing cards with this card even able to support both.

Beyond these core other potential cards for enhancement include the top of Vaccine which is particularly nice at higher party sizes where we always hit three enemies and the top of Hold Back The Pain with bless/strengthen empowering the heal further.


Sawbones Items Detailed

Starting items for the Sawbones are pretty typical of a melee fighter with the choices of Minor Stamina Potion, Minor Healing Potion, Boots of Striding, War Hammer and Iron Helmet providing everything that we need to save some damage that will inevitably come our way.

Just like our card choices from here on the items we take can focus either on empowering ourselves, the tank on our team or general team utility. With this in mind unlockable items that provide us supportive healing, card recovery, additional debuffs, transform our attacks into area of effect ones and even allow us to generate elements if needed by our party.

Written by
Samuel Franklin
Samuel Franklin is the founder and lead editor of the Games Finder team and enjoys video games across all genres and platforms.

Gloomhaven is one of Sam’s favourite board games and he finds himself regularly playing the convenient digital version alone and with friends. He enjoys the tactical turn based combat and unique characters that Gloomhaven offers with his favourite being the Spellweaver.

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