I love potions. I love all one-use magic items, and I dole them out a lot more than I do magical weapons or armor. Why? Because they don’t give a flat, everlasting “bump” to the players’ power level which they soon get used to and bored with, and they encourage thinking and resource management.
Recently, my players asked me to create some rules for making an attempt to identify a potion “on the fly” by using the classical method of simply sampling it. I’ve allowed this in earlier campaigns, but never really codified how it should work, and it was about time!
Basically, the rules allow a character to identify the general purpose of the potion, but at the risk of “suffering” its effects (whether good or bad) or ruining it somehow. I based it on the premise that a potion is a rather disgusting mix och unsavory and unhealthy ingredients that somehow have a magical effect when taken as a whole. Thus, if you accidentally swallow the Eye of Newt swimming in there, you’ve not only made yourself sick, but also turned the remaining potion into nothing but a very disgusting stew…
Sipping a Potion
Potions fall somewhere between mundane items and the more advanced magical items; they usually have a single purpose, and their activation is very simple. Thus, they can be identified “in the field”, especially by someone skilled in the magical arts. The safest method is, still, to take the potion to an Alchemist or other skilled NPC.
To identify a potion in the field, a character must be willing to take a sip from the flask. This carries some risks, but grants the character a roll for the Lore skill to successfully identify the basic effect of the potion, with the amount of details judged by the GM. For a Potion of Flying, the GM might simply say, “you sense that this potion would grant some sort of flight”. The determination of the exact nature and duration of that flight would need an examination by an Alchemist, or that a character is willing to quaff the potion. A bonus of +1 for Deeper Knowledge should be given for this roll to Magic-User characters, but not Elves.
Sipping a potion is a simple action, requiring only one round. There are risks associated with sipping potions, however. If the die rolled for the Lore skill check turns up a 6, the player must make another roll on the table below (note that this might also be a successful identification attempt in some rare circumstances).
|1||You Sipped Too Much! The potion takes effect in its entirety upon the sipping character immediately, and is used up.|
|2-3||You Ruined It! Something in this particular sip was crucial for the function of the potion, and now the entire flask is ruined without any effect.|
|4-5||Dilution! The potion will now only have half its usual effect. This affects rolled amounts, duration and most other things, susceptible to the DM’s interpretation. If the effect of the potion is very binary, a simple 50 % chance of it taking effect when drunk can instead be used.|
|6||Barf! This potion was not an appetizing drink to begin with (few potions are, even healing ones), and this particular sip was especially unhealthy. If the potion was dangerous or cursed (such as a poison), you suffer its full effects with a -2 to any Saving Throw. If it was not deadly, you still become violently ill and are stunned for D3 Turns.|