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Healing Potions That Scale & Are Easy to Remember

I was thinking about healing potions the other day (as any 40-something responsible adult does), and I believe I came up with a pretty good solution to the two big issues that healing potions suffer from in 5e D&D.

The first problem is, famously, that they don’t scale at all, and your humble, standard issue, healing potion (2d4 +2 hit points of recovery) isn’t even worth using an action to drink, once you advance a bit in levels.

The second is that no one ever remembers the names of the more powerful ‘superior’, ‘legendary’, ‘top dollar’, ‘super-charged’, ‘back-in-one’ healing potion names… let alone how much HP they help you recover. This usually creates an awkward pause in the game for a book flip / Google search that I’d rather avoid if possible.

So, how about this instead…

Hipsters Healing Potions

Level 1 Healing Potion
Uncommon
You recover 1d10 hit points plus 1 hp per character level.

Level 2 Healing Potion
Common
You recover 2d10 hit points plus 2 hp per character level.

Level 3 Healing Potion
Rare
You recover 3d10 hit point plus 3 hp per character level.

Level 4 Healing Potion
Very rare
You recover 4d10 hit point plus 4 hp per character level.

That’s it!

Now a healing potion is pretty much always worth chugging, and you’ll never forget how much hp a potion recovers.

Further Reading

My house rule on drinking potions in combat (and no, not as a bonus action!) provoked some interesting discussion, so head over for more healing potion pondering.

Variants

After some comments and also some more thoughts on the matter, I could propose a couple of variants on these scaling healing potions…

For example they could scale with class as well, replacing the d10 I propose with your class’s hit die instead.

They could also scale using proficiency bonus instead of level (as I mentioned in the comments).

The important thing is just keep the structure of multiples, so once you decide which system you’re using, neither you nor your players need look up the amounts again.

Eg. Level 2 Healing Potion = recovers 2 hit dice of HP + 2 x your Proficiency Bonus.

The only other thing to consider is if you allow bonus action drinking or not, as that will affect the balance of your game.

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10 Comments

  1. keith case

    Costs? I like the idea. Have used something like it in the past, back in 2e, but everyone wanted to use the 5e pots lately so haven’t used the idea in a long time.

    • duncan

      Hi Keith, I don’t really make anything but basic healing potions readily available to buy, plus these potions don’t cost up well if you follow the typical loot progression in D&D, because Level 1 potions continue to be valuable as PCs get richer, while it would be weird to make them a tonne more expensive.

      Not such a problem for me as I only really play low level tiers and I try to keep my players relatively poor…

      https://www.hipstersanddragons.com/money-as-a-resource-in-dnd/

      I’d probably cost the Level 1 potions at 50 to 100 gp, but after that it would really be up to factors like how common is magic in your world and how much money you give out to players.

      You might prefer my alternative suggestions of…

      Level 1 potion = 1d10 + proficiency bonus
      Level 2 potion = 2d10 + double proficiency bonus, etc.

      …if potions are more readily available in your world, as they are probably easier to work into a classic D&D economy.

  2. Rick Coen

    Sorry Duncan, that’s not complicated enough for me! 😉

    Seriously, though, I – as a DM – haven’t had trouble with remembering the 3 levels – they just double – and I added my own “level 0”, a natural herbal healing concoction that is just 7gp and heals 1d6. Only lasts 3 days from purchase, though, and using more than one in 8 hours can make you sick (CON save, or “nauseous” [poisoned condition] for an hour).

    But 2d4+2 (or 10), 4d4+4 (or 20), and 8d4+8 (or 40).

    Just had a “boss fight” where the Boss’s “legendary actions/resistances” were the ability to grab and drink a potion AS A REACTION. She clearly had 8 potions – 2 of each size! including my herbal pots – so the PCs could see that despite her essentially shrugging off their actions… her ability to do so was limited. I bring this up just to illustrate something about potions though. She got suprised by the fighter when the bard Dimension Door’d the pair of them into her face. 28 damage upfront and personal that she wasn’t expecting (numerous Bonus Action defenses she could have used, but didn’t because the PCs weren’t close enough yet). She reacted by grabbing and drinking the Superior Healing potion, healing (8d4+8) 26 pts. She then Misty Steps away. The fighter – in truth, a Battlemaster / Arcane Trickster – uses Arcane Legerdemain to STEAL THE OTHER SUPERIOR POTION from her! And Action Surges to drink it for 40 healing! [Common house rule: bonus action = roll dice, full action = full value.]

    Ironically, the battle ended with a parlay, and that same fighter ended up buying another Superior Healing potion from her!

    Do I like your idea? Sure. I like the idea of ANY healing that scales to the recipient. But, from your own problem statement, I don’t think it scales enough… until it does, and scales too much? Let’s look at a few breakpoints…

    PC level 1. Access to Level 1 Healing Potions. They heal 2-11, avg 6.

    PC level 5. Access to Level 1 and Level 2 Potions. They heal 6-15 (avg 10) and 12-30 (avg 21).

    PC level 10. Access to Level 1, 2, & 3 Potions. 11-20, 22-40, and 33-60 respectively.

    PC level 15. Access to all potions. 16-25, 32-50, 48-75, and 64-100.

    Really? If a potion heals – level 10 example – 45ish would you drink it? Yes!! Absolutely, you achieved your design goal, it is totally worth an Action to drink that potion. and 45 isn’t much different from Core (house ruled) doing 40, right? And honestly, it’s still absolutely worth drinking the Level 2 potion, averaging 32 healing. I think your idea breaks past this point, though, because what I see happening is the cleric never casting cure spells, because it is VASTLY more efficient to buy and drink potions. Potion scarcity will be the only control on this. even at 1000gp per shot for Level 3 potions, the 15th level PC will heal 50+ every time… and [see your other related blog post] what else is he going to spend money on?

    At low level, the d10s are the controlling factor – but outside of odd exceptions, low level PCs won’t get their hands on the big potions, so the scaling level bonus will be the deciding input. And, though it pains *my* personal preferences to say it, D&D is designed such that healing *can’t* keep up with damage. With these potions, it can. The 6th level Heal spell only heals 70 pts; at the level the PCs acquire the Heal spell, they are healing up to 66pts with their best potions. I can see level 3 spell slots becoming the most valuable ones the cleric has: “Alexa, add another crate of level 3 potions to the shopping list…” [Sending spell to your hireling Alexa, back in town. Shipping/teleport cost can be non-zero, who cares?]

    • duncan

      Hi Rick

      Well despite remembering three types of potion, you actually did forget about Supreme Healing Potions (which, by the way, don’t conveniently double from Superior Ones. They are 10d4 + 20).

      I understand the drawbacks of the system I proposed, but a) they won’t come into play in my games, which never go above second tier b) I don’t really see them as drawbacks.

      As the DM you control the flow of potions, so prices and issues with stockpiling etc are irrelevant IMHO… if I give my players a Level 4 potion and later I see it is too powerful, then guess what… later they can’t find any more of them. It’s more about simply recognising how powerful the items are. If you can do that (which you just have!), you can ration them according… is this potion more powerful than a 6th level spell slot? Then give them out according to that knowledge.

      Equally, to remedy the issues you mention, you could just remove Level 4 potions from the game and that would probably do it.

      In any case there are few different ways you can cut this…

      Level 1 healing potions

      1dWhatever + 1 x your proficiency bonus (and recover 1 hit dice?)

      Level 2 healing potions

      2dWhatever + 2 x your PB (and recover 2 hit dice?)

      The main idea of this post is… give Healing Potions a level, and multiples that match those levels, and you won’t have to consult the DMG ever again!

      • Rick Coen

        Fair point on rarity and scarcity! 🙂 And I like your compromise position of PB! It accelerates more slowly, but does still increase to provide some scaling. Good call!

        (In my own silly “must make everything too complicated” mind, I quickly jumped ahead to different Levels of different potion Potency. Meaning you could have a Level 4 Basic Potion (say, 1d10 plus 4), a Level 1 Superior potion (3d10 plus 3*1), a Level 10 Greater potion (2d10 plus 2*10), etc. Totally unnecessary!)

  3. Tom Miskey

    I like the revised Healing potions you list above, and I agree that it is easier to remember.

    What I’ve done is to say that a character can retrieve and drink a potion quickly as a bonus action for the usual random amount of healing (so the basic Healing potion is either 2d4+2 originally, or 1d10+1/lvl for your version) or they can use their action to take their time and make sure to get every last drop to get the maximum effect from the potion (So a basic healing potion heals 10 HP originally or 10+1/lvl for your revision)

    When a character is feeding a potion to another (possibly unconscious or wounded) character, that always takes an action, no shortcuts possible there (but they get the full (10 HP) potion benefits as usual).

    I like this rule because it gives players a choice, and they can either choose to take their chances on using a bonus action and rolling the dice (that just might give them the full effect anyway), or they can choose to use their action and guarantee the full effect. This leaves the choice in each player’s hands, and likely is decided by what is going on in the fight and where they are at that moment. This rule could also work quite well alongside your “use all your other actions & movement to Dodge” option.

    • duncan

      Hi Tom, yes I think Rick mentioned that common house rule too.

      Like you I enjoy the choice it offers, and also how it tallies with the action economy.

      I can’t really get my head around the same potion being more or less effective depending on the speed it is drunk however, and I don’t really buy the whole: “I drink it hurriedly and spill half of it line” either. It feels like an obvious effort to make sense of something that doesn’t really make sense. But hey, that’s down to personal preference really, and certainly mechanically those rules work rather well.

      • Tom Miskey

        Hi Duncan, as an artist, it makes more sense to me. If I take my time it is easier to do a good job, but if I’m rushed or in a hurry or are distracted, it’s far more likely that I’ll make a mistake or not do my very best, Sure, sometimes it might still turn out great, but sometimes it lacks detail or has some incorrect lines.

        To relate it to eating and drinking, if you take your time to eat a meal or drink a beverage, you’re likely to enjoy it more and get more out of the experience. If it is a timed competition or race to see who can finish first, do you really enjoy and savor each bite or just choke it all down as fast as you can?

        To carry it over to other sections of the game, wouldn’t a trained fighter/archer be a better shot if he could take his time to line up the shot on a clear sunny day with no distractions, vs being in the middle of combat with monstrous enemies attacking him and his allies, in a dark dungeon room with only 1 flickering torch for light, and spells going off everywhere around him?

        That’s how I look at it, at least. True, it’s magic, but if just drinking “some of…” or “most” of a potion gave you the full effect every time, you should be able to divide a single potion into several smaller portions, or affect multiple people all drinking from 1 vial.

        • duncan

          Hi Tom, your examples are all correct… but misleading 😉

          A bottle of isotonic drink has the same number of calories, vitamins and minerals whether you drink it faster or slower.

          The only logical reason to make a potion less powerful, in this scenario, is if you somehow spill 40% over your face every single time you hurry it down. Unless your PC is a klutz it doesn’t quite add up… (obviously a lot of things don’t add up in a fantasy game, so it’s down to lesser of evils by your own preferences).

          I don’t really have a problem with people drinking half a vial of a healing potion if they want, but avoiding that rather metagamey scenario is another good reason to imagine the potion as just a mouthful of liquid. And therefore even harder to spill!

          • Rick Coen

            As a side note, I have seen house rules that allow potion sharing. You can split a potion in half, but then lose the fixed bonus. For example, a standard 2d4+2 potion of healing can be given in two doses – each healing just 1d4.

            As for spilling the potion – I don’t find that hard to believe, in the middle of a combat, attacking and dodging and being hit. Buuuut, I get your point too – either it’s a huge amount of liquid, such that you can spill it (but then, how could you grab, open, and drink in 6 seconds while doing other things) or it’s just a mouthful – and how clumsy must you be to spill that? Maybe it’s a thick slow substance, and once opened, it quickly loses potency – whatever you didn’t consume that is left in the bottle is just wasted?

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