Elixirs in 5e: What’s the Difference Between Potions & Elixirs?

Liquid magic items are wide and varied. In general, they all go under the heading of “Potion.” Unlike Dungeons and Dragons 3e, 5th edition does not clearly delineate between different types of potions and how they are used.

In previous editions, we had “splash weapons,” “oils,” “potions,” “poisons,” and “elixirs.” Splash weapons and poisons were nonmagical. Potions were based on spells of 4th level or lower. Elixirs were based on spells for 4th or higher. In 5e… it’s just random. In streamlining the game to make it more user friendly, Wizards of the Coast just kind of left all that up to interpretation in order to profit off the free labor of fandom.

(And with the recent purchase of D&D Beyond, Wizards now has copyright over every homebrew option the fans make as well. As kdowh said, “Never trust a wizard!”)

At Black Citadel, we base our definition of Elixirs on the Elixir of Health. This means Elixirs are complicated potions that you drink that combine multiple magical effects.

What Is an Elixir in Dungeons and Dragons 5e?

An Elixir is an especially powerful potion that can combine several magical effects.

What Is an Elixir in the Real World and in Dungeons and Dragons 5e?

In both the real-world history of alchemy and the real-world practice of herbalism/plant medicine, there are three types of “potions”: oils, tinctures, and elixirs.

  • Oils are topical and usually made from herbs that have been soaking in some type of skin-friendly oil for several weeks.
  • Tinctures are what you get when you take a mix of herbs and soak them in alcohol or glycerin to extract the medicinal properties of the plant into a liquid form that you imbibe in small amounts over time to receive their benefits.
  • An elixir is a much more complicated recipe wherein your herbal blend soaks in a blend of alcohol and something else — usually honey or syrup. An elixir is meant to be sweeter and could even be sipped over ice like a mixed alcoholic drink. The effects of the elixir are meant to be immediate.

The main difference is that while a tincture is meant to have one specific medicinal effect, an elixir is supposed to be a more well-rounded cure for both body and spirit.

For this reason, in our Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition games here at the Black Citadel, elixirs are at least of the Rare quality and can deliver multiple effects of a similar theme. Potions can only deliver one effect.

Consider the Elixir of Healing:

Elixir of Healing Stats

Potion, rare

When you drink this potion, it cures any disease afflicting you, and it removes the blinded, deafened, paralyzed, and poisoned conditions. The clear red liquid has tiny bubbles of light in it.

Dungeon Master’s Guide, pg. 168

This is a rare magic item that contains the effects of lesser restoration. However, lesser restoration only cures one disease. This cures ALL diseases.

There are many DMs who feel this potion is overpriced, especially since when it is used in combat, there is a chance you will just receive the condition again the next turn. This argument has merit. Given that, it would be best to use this elixir after the combat is over and rely on scrolls or potions of lesser restoration during combat.

Elixirs as Rewards

The Elixir of Health is a great post-combat reward. Its effects are varied enough to help a character overcome whatever lingering effects of the battle there may be. You can also use any elixirs you homebrew or find below as rewards in order to work as plot devices or deus ex machinas.

Do you need to plane shift a party? Do you want to inflict them with lycanthropy? The great thing about an elixir is that it can be as powerful as you need it to be. Calling it an “elixir” instead of a “potion” is a clue for discerning players to get the idea that they are dealing with a potent magic item.

New Elixirs for 5e

We love the idea of powerful magic items here at the Citadel. So, I went rummaging around the alchemists’ lab and stole borrowed a handful to show you here.

Elixir of Transformation, Rare

This elixir works as a polymorph spell for whoever drinks it. It has the added benefit of not requiring concentration. However, the person is not transformed into a beast of their choosing. Instead, roll on the chart provided for a gray bag of tricks. That is the beast into which you are transformed.

Elixir of [Ability], Very Rare

Choose one ability score. This elixir grants the drinker advantage on all skill and ability rolls for one minute, no concentration required. In addition, the elixir is essentially aiding you in your ability score, granting you a +2 to all related skill and ability checks.

The elixirs for each ability are named thus:

  • Strength – Elixir of Swole
  • Dexterity – Elixir of Agility
  • Constitution – Elixir of Iron Body
  • Intelligence – Elixir of Intellect
  • Wisdom – Elixir of Pragmatism
  • Charisma – Elixir of Sophistication

Elixir of Rest, Rare

This elixir comes in a purple bottle and grants you the benefits of a long rest but only if you drink it slowly during a short rest.

Elixir of Forced Inner Work, Legendary

This forces the character to fall asleep and have to repeat nightmares based on traumatic events of their past. Every hour they may make one wisdom save of DC 13 to resolve the inner emotional issues associated with that trauma.

When they pass such a throw, they may make a DC 12 CON save to wake up. Every hour they remain asleep incurs one level of exhaustion. This means they could potentially die if they incur too much exhaustion. They can also be woken up by any effect that removes a curse. Any exhaustion incurred can not be removed by any magical means.

Upon waking up, the reorganized emotional makeup of the character allows them to change one aspect of their character creation, such as proficient skills, spells known, alignment, or even levels (DM willing). The number of character creation choices they can reconfigure is equal to the number of Wisdom saving throws they made before waking up.

Elixir of Great Fortune, Very Rare

This elixir works as a wish spell, except you can only affect yourself.

Elixir of Alacrity, Rare

For the next minute, you may take an extra bonus action during one single turn.

Elixir of Instinct, Rare

You may take an additional reaction during any one round within the next minute.

Elixir of the Deepest Roots, Rare

For the next minute, you cannot be forcibly moved from your spot by any means. This effect ends early if you move yourself.

Buying Elixirs

How Much Should an Elixir Cost?

Since an elixir is a consumable item, it should be at the lowest price point available for its rarity. This means 250 for rare and 500 for very rare. If you brew the elixir yourself, you should cut that price in half, assuming you bought all of the materials. If you source the ingredients and harvest them yourself, then the only cost that goes into them is whatever you paid in travel and tools.

Elixirs as Side Quests

Elixirs are obviously powerful magic items. If you have a party member who enjoys crafting magic items in their downtime, you could bake in sidequests to your adventure that will give that player the ingredients to make an elixir. Or, if they defeat a rare enough monster, perhaps they can harvest body parts from the monster to create the elixir with a suitable Survival or Arcana check.

In the section below, we will discuss brewing potions and elixirs. We recommend allowing players to harvest from monsters in order to create elixirs from preexisting potions.

Brewing Elixirs (and Potions)

In previous editions of Dungeons and Dragons, brewing magic potions of all kinds was a very specific process. In 5th edition, we are given no such rules. While frustrating, this is ultimately a good thing because it means we can take some liberties to make it fun and rewarding. So, we put a little Black Citadel sauce on the topic and made you a complete set of rules for brewing magic potions and elixirs. As far as we are concerned, these rules replace any rules on potion creation.

BCRPG Potion Brewing House Rules

A potion delivers a specific magical effect as a one-time consumable. An elixir is an improvement made to a potion that can do multiple magical effects or tweak a magical effect in a specific way.

 Follow these guidelines:

1. A potion must deliver an effect identical to a spell.

2. If the potion is applied topically to a creature or a weapon, it is called an oil. If it is ingested, it is simply called a potion.

3. If the potion requires a saving throw and deals a harmful effect, it is called a magical poison but is still created as a potion.

4. To brew a potion, you must have proficiency in the appropriate tools and skills.

  • For potions based on arcane spells, you must be proficient in Alchemist Supplies and the Arcana skill. Arcane spells are rare and require scientific training and knowledge.
  • For potions based on divine spells, you must be proficient in Brewer’s Supplies, Cook’s Utensils, Alchemist’s Supplies, or Herbalism Kit and be proficient in the Religion skill. Divine spell potions require no special training aside from the prayer and intention that goes into making the potion.
  • For potions based on the Druid or Ranger spell lists, you must be proficient in the Herbalism Kit and the Nature skill. These potions require specific training and knowledge about the spiritual and magical properties of the plants and animal parts used in the potion.

5. You must be able to cast the spell on which the potion is based, and you must do so while mixing the ingredients. There are some monsters that can be harvested to make potions if you do not have the spell required. For example, the eye of a displacer beast could be used in lieu of casting blur.

6. If the spell has material components, you must use them in the casting of the spell. Your spell focus item will not suffice. The liquid that distills the magical effects must draw those effects from the material components.

7. You may brew as many potions per day as you have spell slots and material components for.

8. Each potion must “tincture” (sit and absorb the magical properties) for at least 1 day per level of the spell used.

We suggest making potions in your downtime activities. If you let them sit and cure while you are on an adventure, they will be ready so you can restock for your next adventure.

BCRPG Elixir Brewing House Rules

An Elixir is an advanced version of any given potion. To make an elixir, you must first decide which potion(s) the elixir is based on and then modify it. Follow these guidelines:

1. To combine multiple potions, you must make an Arcana, Religion, or Nature check as appropriate versus a DC of 10 + the combined levels of the spells in question. This process takes one hour. For example, if you want to combine the effects of dragon’s breath and fog cloud to leave behind a plume of steam or smoke after a breath weapon, you would need to make an Arcana check against a DC of 14 since both of those spells are 2nd level.

2. To tweak a single spell, you will need to make an Arcana, Religion, or Nature check as appropriate versus a DC of 10 + the level of the spell in question. This process takes one hour. For example, if you want to modify a potion of heroism to also grant the imbiber inspiration for the next minute, you would need to make a Religion or Arcana check (if you are a paladin or bard) against a DC of 12. Some DMs may also require you to be able to give inspiration die as well.

3. Once these checks are made, the elixir is ready and does not need to sit and “tincture” for any time since the potions have already done so.

4. There are some monsters that can be harvested for making elixirs. If you use materials from a suitable monster in the crafting of your elixir, you can bypass the necessary skill check, DM permitting. For example, a chunk of flesh from a mud mephit could be used to add the false appearance ability to a potion of stoneskin.