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Drinking a Healing Potion in Combat (New Rule)

I was watching this video, by the excellent Dungeon Dudes, when I realised there is an issue on my table that hasn’t been resolved satisfactorily to my mind. That of drinking a healing potion in combat.

The official rules state that drinking a healing potion requires an action. But when you consider that this means allowing whatever creature you’re fighting a free round in which to hit you, the odds are that you are actually going to take more damage in the round you drink the potion than you receive from drinking from it. (Even if, as the Dudes suggest, you use the maximum dice rolls possible to determine number of hit points recovered per potion… although this will certainly help even the odds quite a bit!).

Overall, in any situation where the monster is likely to target you with their next attacks, it’s almost always a disastrous strategy to use an action in combat to drink a healing potion.

Of course you could try retreating, to drink the potion in safety, but that assumes you have allies who are able to prevent the monster pursuing you: and even then the monster will get one free opportunity attack on you, making this ploy almost as risky as drinking it under their nose.

Kill your enemies with a cough and a handshake.

I’m not surprised that some DMs (including one of the three in my group) rule that drinking a potion only requires a bonus action, to offset this problem. Unfortunately for me, that feels way too generous mechanically (there’s almost no cost to doing it), and is also almost impossible to justify in a narrative sense. Even assuming the potion is kept close at hand, perhaps on a belt or necklace (and not at the bottom of a backpack), it still has to be retrieved, uncorked and drank. That seems too intricate an activity to require a mere bonus action, and definitely not something you could combine with casting a spell for example.

Is there a middle ground here? When stopping to drink a potion still has a cost to your own offensive potential, and still carries a risk, but where that risk has a decent chance of paying off.



Simply put, I would house rule that when you use an action to drink a potion in combat, you can choose to use all of your other combined actions (bonus action, move, free action and reaction) to take the Dodge action.

The Dodge action (p.192, PH), you probably don’t need reminding, imposes disadvantage on all attack rolls against you (by attackers that you can see at least).

For me this rule neatly achieves what I want it to. It makes drinking a potion in combat a viability, by reducing the odds of taking damage in the round you’re trying to heal up in, without needing to introduce the “videogamey” feel of on-the-go power ups at the speed of a bonus action. And while Dodge is quite a powerful benefit to give the PC, the fact that they can’t use their movement to retreat to safety at the same time, or get an opportunity attack, feels about right.

Narratively I feel it’s easy enough to justify. The fighter pulls out a potion, flicks out the cork and chugs it down, at the same time as they shimmy lightly on their feet and keep their longsword at full arm’s length to prevent their opponent from getting close, maybe throwing in a feint or two for good measure. There’s no time for the fighter to attack, and the opponent has a free pass to move away, but the savvy soldier is able to use their weapon as a deterrent, keeping the pointy end between them and danger.

So there you go! As always, let me know what you think…


Circle of the Moon Druid. The Unlikely Tank.


Not The Dreaded DC 15…


  1. Sam

    I have yet to see what anyone has against making taking a potion a bonus action. This is equally against RAW, but takes a little more thought (not a lot, but a little).

    • duncan

      Haha, well I did literally just write a post about what I have against making it a bonus action!

      In the video from minutes 6:40 you can see what the Dungeon Dudes have against it.

      I think the comment from Paul is bang on as well.

      Finally here’s a bit more from Jeremy Crawford himself on why it’s not a free action (and by extension not a bonus action either).

      He says: “Potions are effectively bottled spells. Do you want spells cast as non-actions in your game?”

      Of course bonus action is not the same as a free action, but making drinking a potion a full action was clearly a well considered point of game design.

      Actually, that tweet thread is quite interesting, and gave me an idea. I would be totally fine as a DM with drinking a potion being two bonus actions, as another option besides my Drink & Dodge suggestion. The first bonus action to get it out and uncork it. The second to drink it. That would mean you’d have to wait an additional round to get your buff, but you could keep on attacking… and if you’re lucky one of your buddies would have killed the beast by then, and you can simply put the cork back in!

      • Paul

        ‘potions are effectively bottled spells’.

        Actually, they are a little better than bottled spells. You ignore the concentration aspect of a spell effect gained through a potion. So for example, you could theoretically have haste, bless and invisibility all at the same time! Admittedly, its very unlikely, and limited to the ‘spells’ made possible by potions, but potions currently provide the only means to circumvent the concentration limitations in 5e…

  2. Paul Field

    Personally, I find drinking a potion as a bonus action to be a terrible idea for a number of reasons.

    1) already mentioned above (its not very realistic—frankly, anyone foolish enough to stop in the middle of a fight to chug a drink, no matter what size, is just asking to get cut to pieces…)

    2) It steps on the ‘toes’ of some class abilities. Namely, the Fighter’s Second Wind ability and indirectly on the Monk’s Ki options (because in RAW, Monk can pop potion as normal action, and still have a number of action choices available as bonus actions, so less feeling of ‘wasting’ a turn to drink said potion). Giving everyone bonus action healing (provided they have the potions of course, but let’s be real, they are pretty easy to accumulate!)

    3) Its kind of game breaking when we look at other potions (and it doesn’t make sense for a healing potion to follow one set of rules and non-healing potions to follow another, quite frankly). Being able to pop a Haste, Heroism, or even Vigour potion as a bonus action is simply too good!

    4) It rewards players for making a ‘poor tactical choice’. As alluded above, drinking a potion in combat should have a serious downside (because it would really be a suicidal thing to do in a ‘real’ fight!). But as a bonus action, it removes a lot of danger (i.e. Withdraw/Dodge as your action, then pop potion as bonus action).

    5) Not only does it make PCs more survivable, but it actually makes the DM’s tactical options more difficult. Think about it: the DM wants his bad guys to challenge the players. The ‘smart’ thing to do is attack the damaged character that just withdrew or is dodging and popped a healing potion. But now doing so is no longer the ‘smart’ choice (because the monsters risk opportunity attacks or suffer Disadvantage to hit the ‘ideal’ target). Now the DM has to make a tough decision, when by all rights, it should have been the player popping the potion with the tough decision to make…

    So in conclusion, I think its better for the game to leave potions as is. Healing in combat can be tricky, and popping potions in particular is a tough decision. But that’s a good thing! It makes combat more interesting and challenges players with difficult choices. Removing such from the game just ‘dumbs’ things down (player side) and gives the DM a possibly more difficult time. Which, IMHO, is the exact opposite of what a good ‘fix’ should do…

    • duncan

      Hi Paul, agree with everything you say, until your final conclusion that RAW works. Because for me it doesn’t. Drinking a potion in combat – unless maybe it’s Mega Super Superior Potion or whatever and you’re fighting a bunch of orcs dealing paltry damage – is just virtually always suicidal in RAW.

      Once you’re fighting monsters with multiple attacks, significant to hit bonuses and large damage you’re almost always going to take more damage in a round when you stop fighting, than you receive back via the potion.

      If you’re happy for drinking potions in combat to be a) not an option or b) last chance, “against all the odds” risky, then I guess it’s ok… but if you want something a bit more balanced in terms of risk and reward then I think my fix will help.

      Something in between would the Dungeon Dudes rule that healing potions always return maximum hit points (a house rule I’ve seen quoted by other recently as well… so one that presumably works quite well).

    • Josiah Walker

      copied from a different forum:
      “We know that one could, for example, “drink all the ale in a flagon” as a free object interaction (PHB p. 190)”

      I seriously doubt drinking a healing pot is more time consuming than drinking a flagon….. if you’re worried about all the other things, add a “speed-drinker” doodad for some cost to equalise the convenience.

      Spending a full action to drink really does make the game painfully slow.

      • duncan

        Hi Josiah

        Picking up on this way later… but drinking all the ale in a flagon would be fine as a bonus action if you are already holding the flagon.

        It doesn’t list, for example, grab a wine skin from your belt, uncork it and drain it as an example.

        In other words, it’s not the drinking that’s time consuming, its the fiddling about with a potion when you probably need those two hands for wielding weapons, shield, balance, spellcasting etc.

  3. Paul

    While I don’t want drinking potions in combat to be a ‘non-option’, I certainly believe it should be a sub-optimal choice in combat. Or as you say ‘last chance, “against all the odds” risky’. Otherwise combat feels less dangerous, and the game loses some of its excitement.

    In older editions, drinking a potion in combat was usually very punitive (admittedly it could be DM/campaign dependent though), so most sane warriors would move off the front line to pop a potion and have their buddies cover them while they got out of harm’s way to drink.

    I admit in 5e this ‘smart play’ has become a less attractive choice simply because combat does not last very many rounds (even compared to the earliest editions). So I can see why a lot of players find this type of solution to be unpalatable (because let’s face it, ducking behind your buddies to save your skin is just not very heroic). Plus taking 2 turns to quaff a potion when the fight might only last 3 – 5 rounds seems like you just won’t get to contribute much.

    So I admit that I can see where it might be a problem with the default standard action to drink a potion (and I can see an argument that it kind of punishes the martial classes more than other classes, since front-line fighters are the ones most likely to need healing potions).

    However, I think bonus action to drink a potion just goes too far (as I’ve already explained).

    I think Max Hitpoints from the potion might actually be ‘good enough’ of a fix. Players still have to think carefully about the tradeoffs of drinking the potion (losing their turn in a lot of cases), but at least they are not at risk of that loss being a total waste (i.e. getting a bad roll on HP recovered). Also, it still encourages players to be creative in supporting each other when one character needs to heal (other solutions that make it easier to drink a potion can stifle team work and reduce the need for tactically covering each other when healing is required—-and this ultimately leads to a reduction in tension during combat which means more blandness).

    Your Dodge & Drink idea is not bad neither, since there’s a very real cost (all of your movement and actions), but it still puts a little extra difficulty onto the DM’s shoulders when the DM has to decide how the monsters will react (because now the ideal target becomes a poor choice since Disadvantage means unlikely to hit). And it also waters down the danger of having low Hitpoints, although that danger isn’t removed completely like it would if drinking becomes a bonus action (because even with Disadvantage, there’s still a risk your character takes a lot of damage, but its reduced).

    Ultimately, I like the way potions work as is, because I like the game to be dangerous. Although my perception is skewed since I have played a lot of earlier editions when PC fatality was much more likely than it is in 5e, and so I see combat in 5e as already being ‘watered down’ in a lot of ways (particularly death & dying rules). But even in my own playgroup I know there are differences of opinion on this particular matter. We may end up adopting some kind of house rule around potions (although we haven’t yet as we haven’t agreed on a mutually satisfying solution).

  4. Nathan Brown

    As a long-time player (25+ years) and novice DM (2 years) I have sought fame and fortune throughout the Realms and it’s various iterations. Generally speaking 5E seems to be taking D&D on a path toward AD&D/3E, and further from the videogame-esque feel of 4E. That being said, the topic at hand is potion usage, specifically of the Healing variety…

    My belief is that healing potions aren’t meant to be quaffed mid-combat, which is why [almost] every group will have at least one cleric/druid/paladin amongst their members. Divine magic is the only real answer to the dangers inherent to heroic adventuring.

    Yes, chugging a potion is a viable combat action.
    No, it shouldn’t be able to replace a divine spellcaster (for all intents and purposes).
    Yes, with a bit of luck and/or strategic planning it can effect the outcome of an encounter (much like a ‘Hail Mary’ pass at the end of a football game).
    No, it shouldn’t be a fix for poor planning or reckless actions.

    In looking through sourcebooks (via Beyond) however, I noticed something interesting… the only place I see that drinking a healing potion requires an action is on the ‘item card’ itself under “Equipment”. In looking through the DMG’s “Magic Items” section I was unable to find anything alluding to it using your Action to drink (it is quite possible that I missed it somewhere though).
    In ‘Chapter 9-Combat’ of the PH there is an excerpt (hiding right after the ‘Prone’ entry) that lists what were previously called Free Actions…

    “…a few examples of the sorts of things you can do in tandem with your movement and action.”

    Among them are entries for:
    “Withdraw a potion from your backpack” and
    “Drink all the ale from a flagon”. It also states that a second interaction in a turn requires expending your action to ‘Use an Object’.

    What it all means to me — drinking a potion in combat takes EITHER an action (free interaction to withdraw, then ‘Use an Object’ to drink) OR it takes 2 turns but no action (free interaction to withdraw during first turn, then free interaction to drink during round 2). So it’s a trade off, depending on what you need… instant healing at the risk of leaving yourself vulnerable Vs. a combat action at the risk of being knocked unconscious before you can drink (possibly wasting the potion if your DM rules that it spills or you drop it as you collapse).

    The “Dodge and Drink” mentioned in prior comments seems to be a mash-up of sorts between these options, using your reaction (and bonus action if applicable) to drink instead of the Use an Object action.

    Over the years we have come up with several “alternative” ways to make use of healing potions…
    — Use after combat when a short rest isn’t feasible in order to save spell slots…for more attrition style adventures
    — Each party member keeps a potion in a specific, easily accessible place on their person (belt pouch, shirt pocket, tear-away pocket sewn onto backpack, etc.) so that when a PC is knocked unconscious an ally can use their Action to retrieve and administer the potion to the fallen… gives utility / non-combat-oriented character builds a greater role during fights
    — Potion Helmet; two potions affixed to a helmet, each with a tube running from vial to mouth for convenient hands-free sipping… convenient yet fragile
    — CamelBak of Healing; similar to the Helmet, but more versatile and durable… military style hydration for the on-the-go damage sponge
    — Intravenous healing potions, pretty self explanatory… a Medicine check to insert it without hurting/killing the patient, with followup checks to adjust drip speed (or as deemed necessary by the DM); gameplay effect can vary drastically and should be discussed with your DM. The way it worked for us: *Dump potions into IV bag. **Roll as if potion were consumed normally. ***IV will ‘release’ that much healing over a predetermined timeframe. [*3 dumped potions resulted in **30 points of healing ***released over 10 minutes, or roughly 1 health restored every 3 rounds]

  5. Will

    If drinking potions in combat as a bonus action seems to be “too easy” I propose you are handing out too many potions. Consuming a magic item should be a carefully considered part of resource management. A fighter’s Second Wind ability can be safely used and the character can count on it returning with a quick rest. Replacing the magic potion should not be so simple an endeavor. Also consider an advantage gained by the PCs is an advantage gained by the villains. Bad guys quaffing healing droughts should be every bit as common as PCs doing the same.

    • duncan

      I see your point, but that’s very subjective, and there’s no established norm in D&D for how ‘available’ healing potions are. For me, the fact that a basic healing potion is listed in the Adventuring Gear table in the Player’s Handbook suggests that you can pick one up in any medium sized town, along with the rest of the items listed there, provided you can afford them.

      If you do make them common items, I agree with you in that it makes sense that any intelligent and wealthy villains would have access to them as well. I would personally rather avoid a scenario where both PCs and NPCs are quaffing potions in the middle of battle (feels a bit artificial to me) and keep them more as an out-of-combat solution, or last resort.

      For me there’s a larger discussion to be had about how healing works in 5e… the short rest mechanic is incredibly powerful and easily abused and it often feels that you literally have to place encounters back to back to pose a challenge to parties.

  6. Thomas Bithell

    Personally I like the economy of drinking a potion as a bonus .. when fights last a long time. Even for small groups costing the player an action to as you say, simply have the damage redone on the creatures turn is depressing for the player .. but in that case I tend to make potions a bit rarer. Some people say that it makes it to simple but when your fighter or monk can no longer make 4 attacks or more in a round the decision is still a hard one. Done people also state that potions are designed to be used in combat . But once again in my opinion a story where they know exactly how to prepare for each fight or dungeon gets old .. fast .. especially for me the DM as I enjoy the fun of a player not getting a look at an icy lair until the pressure of combat then bonus action downing a potions of fire breath to try and melt some shelter before the bosses breath attack or something. To put it flatly yes .. it does “cheapen” the action economy somewhat but what I gain and my party gain is much more flexibility in combat encounters to try new and weird things

    • duncan

      Yeah, I think you’re right in that, ultimately it comes down to personal preference. It’s a bit more fun to enjoy the buff as a bonus action, or drink a potion on the spur of the moment as you say, but if you like your action to be grittier, then you’re going to have problems rationalising finding, uncorking and swigging a potion in a few seconds, while doing something else at the same time.

  7. Ken Hardy

    Great conversation above. I think you could do this within RAW and without sacrificing your attack or move, but it would take three rounds. Round 1: retrieve potion (assuming it’s not in a bag of holding) via interact with one object, attack, and, if necessary, move. Round 2: open vial or bottle with teeth (this assumes a cork is used) via interact with one object, attack, and, if necessary, move. Round 3: drink open bottle or vial via interact with one object (see “drink all the ale in a flagon”), attack, and, if necessary, move.

    This approach also assumes you can retrieve a potion with one hand. It’s seems tricky to me to be able to retrieve something from deep inside a backpack with one hand, but I’m willing to overlook that. I suppose the potion could be in a portion of the backpack that is more accessible. It would also be less difficult if a potion was in a pouch or attached to a belt. This approach also assumes that your weapon requires only one hand to use.

    Also, the DM could, depending upon the situation and within RAW, decide to impose disadvantage on your attack roll. But I think it would take an unusually difficult situation to justify disadvantage.

    • duncan

      Hi Ken

      I like this and I would definitely allow it as a DM.

      I don’t see it coming into play too often because

      a) if you need a healing potion you tend to need it now! And not in three rounds time.

      b) can’t think of any front line fighter that I’ve played with who fights with a free hand. Well maybe a monk! Actually I occasionally mean to homebrew some advantages for fighting with a free hand… (having said that, I guess this point applies whether you’re using three free actions or an action. Those that fight with two weapons shouldn’t really be able to drink a potion in combat, although in game terms I guess they can use their free action to stow, and re-draw the following round).

      Anyhow, your comment inspired another solution, which I haven’t given much thought yet, but I’ll put it out there. I would maybe allocate each type of action an Action Economy score.

      Action = 4
      Bonus Action = 2
      Reaction = 1
      Free action = 1

      And drinking a potion requires use of 4 action economy points, over multiple rounds if you prefer. As I say, just a thought for now.

      Btw, I agree with you point on rucksacks, but I would go further and say, you can’t get one of your rucksack as a free action (if you’ve ever travelled with a rucksack you’ll know it’s more likely to take about 5 minutes to unstrap the bag, find the thing you’re looking for and get out). You have to keep potions on your person, and I introduce a small cost for that. In my critical misses chart I have a result of ‘broken object’ I imagine the potions that a PC carries on them for speed of use might well be the ones that get broken on a natural 1.

      • Your economy score is interesting . . . I like the concept in theory, although I think it would be tricky to apply that over the board, because you would, ahead of time, have to score each task. I think having a house rule just for potions, and maybe just for potions of healing, is more manageable. The max hit point option seems the easiest to apply, but I think your dodge and drink is only a bit more involved and is more fair, particularly because you give up your opportunity attack. So, regarding the free hand issue (yes, I’m kind of preoccupied by that one), I take it that you don’t deal with that issue? The max hit point rule doesn’t either. I know the rules are intentionally abstract, but that just seems like a deal-breaker to me, even with a house rule. Whether you have a shield and weapon or 2 weapons, stowing and retrieving would push out any potion consumption by a round, unless you just add the stowing to the list of things you could do with the dodge and drink rule. So maybe at the end of the day, the “one-handed” fighter has this benefit of being able to drink potions (either immediately or over 2 or 3 rounds depending on the rule) during combat with disengaging, and sacrifices some AC or attack, and the 2-handed fighter simply doesn’t . . . . or you could have a house rule that simply ignores the free hand issue.

  8. Rick Coen

    Been playing Baldur’s Gate 3 a lot recently. It has normal, greater, and superior healing potions (2d4+2, 4d4+4, and 8d4+8, respectively). BG3 uses the common “Bonus Action to drink a potion” house rule – any potion, Paul, they don’t care. Yes, I know BG3 is “based on” 5e, but leave that aside for the moment.

    I buy them all out when I find a store that stocks them. I drink them. I throw them at downed PCs. A PC that stands up from unconsciousness only has a Bonus Action that round — intended to be used to swig a potion. I find myself regretting even *bonus actions* spent having to drink a potion, because I have so many other things I could have done with that BA! And yet… I still find myself running out of potions. (At least on my Tactical run… most monsters go for the kill if a PC’s ally isn’t standing right there!)

    Duncan, your rule – drink a potion *and* Dodge, but lose all other actions – would fundamentally change the flow of combat. Right now, CORE, you can drink and move (and BA, if you have one). HOUSE, you can drink AND Dodge AND move. BG3, you can drink and dodge and move (but no dodge the round you stand up). Your suggested rule puts you between CORE and HOUSE — choose to drink and move (and BA), OR drink and dodge. It’s better than Core, because you have an option; you can make the choice that suits the situation best, and we agree that Core is too restrictive. I tried a different angle – drink as a BA, but only from your “belt”, and you can only have 4 things on your “belt” — which might include a spare weapon, your spell component pouch [hah, limiter to casters! martials carry more potions!], a torch or flask of oil, etc. In practice… only 2 belt items at the most ever used in a fight, so even “4” was an irrelevant limit – which means it was a waste of cognitive space, just say “BA”.

    Would I be upset at having your rule (if my only other choice was Core)? No. Would I prefer the easier smoother “drink as BA” rule, which then puts all the choices on the table… yes please.

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