Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Plentiful Potions

Aah, potions. Those useful little gulps of liquid, especially when they happen to be a potion of healing and one's hapless PC is in desperate need of hit points; dungeon standbys, really, especially in the low levels where I tend to have most of my games.

Magical potions have an appeal for me (as do one-shot items in general, but more on those in another post), evoking a certain alchemical flavour on the one hand and strange herb-brewery on the other. They can easily get a little boring, however, especially if delivered with a routine "you find a potion of healing/invisibility/ESP" -- so here are a few thoughts on making potions a little more interesting.

Standard Descriptions: This one is an old chestnut but always bears returning to; give each non-poison potion type a typical suite of details. (Sure it makes identification progressively easier -- until the party comes across a flat of botched or deliberately altered potions -- but that's not always a bad thing. Rewards for observation are good!)

Maybe invisibility potions are typically completely colourless, filled with uncountable tiny bubbles and rather thin. A potion of growth may be syrupy, granular, and the colour of flesh or a deep greenish-brown. Potion descriptions may even be specialized within certain time periods, specific cultures/organizations or both; unsettled were the PCs in a past campaign when, unwittingly on the trail of a certain small god's cult, they kept coming across potions of healing of a distinct deep crimson, thick and vaguely metallic-tasting. Certainly they worked just fine, but it was like drinking blood -- which was exactly the point.

Other forms: Of course, the liquid-in-a-vial potion is the "industry standard"; but changing it up a bit can make for a nice change of pace. Some of these alternate forms are as easy or easier to make use of than the "standard" potion, some harder:

- Powdered: Sealed in a waxen packet or small pouch, this potion requires mixing with a liquid (mmm, magical Kool-Aid) before being consumed. On the upside, no worrying about bottles breaking ...

- Tinctures: Found in tiny phials indeed, droppers of metal or glass encased in a "sheath" and often hung on a chain or lace to be carried around the neck, tinctures are highly concentrated and are meant to be dropped under the tongue or -- frequently -- into the eyes. (If there is more than one dosage, be careful!)

- Fruits or other edibles: Enchant a peach instead of a potion? Why not? This one is a classic, used in everything from Snow White to Dark Sun.

- Absorption gels or crystals: Now we get a little stranger, with ovals of flexible crystal or gelatin (or stranger things) meant to be applied to the flesh directly. Perhaps they fall off immediately; perhaps they stay attached until the effects end, slowly changing colour or being absorbed by the body.

- Injectibles: Almost a standard potion, except this one needs to go into the flesh by the direct route. Whether administered by the "poison pin" of a ring, through a cut in the flesh, or perhaps by its own specialized mode of delivery (perhaps a bulb of glass with a long 'stinger' -- break off the tip, drive the thing home), its all good.

And here is a new potion, just to round things off:

Ghostsight Potion: Murky grey-white threaded with colourless marbling, a ghostsight potion seems to swirl a little whenever it is watched for a time; it resembles mist or fog captured in water. When a ghostsight potion is consumed, it grants the ability to perceive intangible, invisible and ethereal creatures for 2-7 turns.


Greg Gorgonmilk said...

Excellent overview and useful too. Thanks!

BigFella said...

Oh hot damn! A potion as the payload of a poison needle trap! What an awesome idea!

It's so simple and eeEEEeeevil!

David said...

The powdered version could also be a tea that would need to be brewed. It might even make enough for several people to drink!

taichara said...

@Greg Gorgonmilk:

You're quite welcome :3


*grins* Mwehehehe ~


Very true, especially if multiple dose at a time are placed by the DM --

The Rubberduck said...

Ah yes, this brings memories from the olden days when I ran a mega dungeon. All my healing potions smelled of peppermint.

taichara said...

@The Rubberduck:

Hehe. That's cool X3

C'nor (Outermost_Toe) said...

"- Fruits or other edibles: Enchant a peach instead of a potion? Why not? This one is a classic, used in everything from Snow White to Dark Sun."

Speaking of which, would you be willing to stat up the potion that is given (using this method, and in a peach!) to the girl in Labyrinth?

taichara said...


I'm not familiar with the details of that potion (I haven't seen Labyrinth for aeons), but if you have them at hand I could give it a shot ...?