Potions in DnD have very few rules associated with their use and creation. The entry on potions in the Dungeon Master’s Guide is scarcely two paragraphs of text, giving little to no instruction on specifics for potion creation and use. Simply put, potions are regarded as just another type of magic item and the finer details on their use is left up to the Dungeon Master.
What do We Know About Potions in DnD?
The DMG states that potions are grouped into three distinct types.
- Brewed from magical herbs
- Magical Water
- Oils for topical application
Outside of that it offers only that they are usually a single ounce per application.
When it comes to rules, the ones provided are simple:
- Potions are consumable/single use
- Their use requires an action unless otherwise specified
- Potion effects are immediate
These two sets of known information are a loose framework, but they suggest a lot more that we can infer by looking at the standard potions in the DMG.
Almost all of the potions available in the source materials are spells put in liquid form. Not all spells have potions associated with them. Very few potions are detailed at all, but every single one of them has a magical effect. There are no mundane potions with the exception of Potion of Poison, which is just poison enchanted to look like something else.
From the information above we know that potions are magical spells or effects applied to liquid or oils. There are no rules in DnD for mundane potions, likely because they would be mundane and not functional for combat. We can likely also assume that not all spells can be made into potions. All of the potions we’ve seen in the source material for DnD have a target of self and oils target that which they are applied to. This would preclude spells like Fireball from being made into potions as we assume all potions target the drinker and we know they cast instantly upon use.
We could also assume that potions have a specified potency and come in a drinkable dose. If the dose for a healing potion is 1 ounce, we might be able to double the effects by doubling the quantity, or essentially drinking two potions. This would not hold for potions that have long duration effects as we know from the Player’s Handbook that spells that have persistent effects don’t stack or overlap. You cannot, for example, have stacking effects of Bless cast on you twice.
Finally, since we established that potions are magical effects, either the potions’ creator or one of its ingredients have to provide magic to the potion. Similar to scrolls, which are single use magical items as well, the power needed to cast the spell is expended upon use. This is supported by the rules for crafting magical items, which indicate that spell slots must be expended during the creation process of the item for each day it is being created.
Crafting Potions in DnD 5e
Potions are magical items; we’ve established this through both our assumptions and corroborated it with the DMG. While there are not specific brewing rules, the same creation rules that apply for any magical item are in effect when creating a potion. To make any magical item, you must work on it for 1 day for each 25 gp of creation cost. The items also consume their value in materials as follows:
- Common – 100 gp
- Uncommon – 500 gp
- Rare – 5,000 gp
- Very Rare – 50,000 gp
- Legendary – 500,000 gp
So a common magical potion would cost 100 gp to make, take 4 days to brew, and the brewer would need to spend an appropriate spell slot each day in addition to knowing the spell.
This creates an issue DMs need to solve. We don’t know the rarity for any potion that is not provided in the DMG. We could assign a rarity to any given spell and we could decide which can be made into potions and which can’t, but it would be on a case by case basis. Potion rarity does not track one to one with spell level as far as I can tell, so we’d be hard pressed to create a reliable rule without coming up with an entire system.
While this creation process works for some potions, there is still the issue of potions that do not specify which spell they use. Potion of Invulnerability does not list a specific spell and it offers resistance to all damage types rather than just one. Similarly, a Potion of Resistance does not cast the same effect as the spell Resistance. It is precisely these uncertainties that make brewing potions or creating magical items of any kind a difficult task for DMs to rule on.
What Potions Can We Make?
We can only really make potions that are already in the core rule books with any sort of certainty. Beyond that there is a lot of guesswork, but it is possible to follow the basic guidelines provided when you get a player who wants to make their own potions.
First and foremost you need to determine if the potion can be crafted. As a rule of thumb you could say only spells that target the user and apply an effect can be brewed into potions. Your next task will always be considering what goes into the potion and determining its rarity. The rarity of the potion is not simply a function of the spell’s level, but also of the material components used to craft it. This gives you some leeway in determining rarity. Some items might be hard to come by and other spells might need special materials to be made as potions.
After this you simply follow the magic item creation rules and you can have a passable brewing system in DnD. You’re going to have to make a lot of judgement calls and you will likely need to take notes as you go to keep things consistent, but in the short term applying what the system lays out for you will work in a pinch.
Better Potion Brewing
What’s that? You want more detailed potion brewing? Specific rules? Additional non-spell effect potions? We do too! Potions are an essential part of DnD and I’ve seen a lot of players want to make potions and brewing a more significant part of the game. There should be more on alchemy, using potions in combat, and non-combat applications of potions and magical effects.
While I would love to lay all of that out here, that’s going to need to be a whole article itself. Later we’ll look at all the different ways you can buff up potions and brewing for your game and roll out specifics for implementing them in your campaign.