Healing Potions 5e: How They Work and Other Great Healing Options

© Wizards of the Coast by Matt Stewart

Potions of Healing, more commonly referred to as “healing potions,” are among the most iconic items of the fantasy genre. It’s hard to imagine a fantasy world without the glowing red tinctures that heal wounds when consumed.

In Dungeons & Dragons, healing potions are given game mechanics that tailor their use to the Dungeons & Dragons D20 system.

Players are free to and even encouraged to create their own rules surrounding all the mechanics. Here’s the drop on healing potions in D&D Fifth Edition.

Potions of Healing 101

Potion of Healing: 2d4 + 2 Healing, 50 gp, Common

Potion of Greater Healing: 4d4 + 4 Healing, 200 gp, Uncommon

Potion of Superior Healing: 8d4 + 8 Healing, 2,000 gp, Rare

Potion of Supreme Healing: 10d4 + 20 Healing, 20,0000 gp, Very Rare

For starters, there are different grades of healing potions as presented by the Player’s Handbook. The different grades of healing potions heal for different amounts and thus cost different amounts. 

Using a potion is covered on page 139 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide, which states that drinking a potion consumes the primary action of a combat turn to start and resolve the effect.

The Dungeon Master’s Guide also clarifies that administering a potion to an ally requires the entire primary action of the administering party.

Jeremy Crawford clarified on Twitter that this is a game balance rule because potions are “effectively bottled spells,” and he asks whether you would want spells to be cast as non-actions. 

Numerous people have said they feel the rule is myopic and encourage players not to use potions since that would be their primary action. Several homebrew rules have been suggested to allow players more flexibility in using potions.

Rules-As-WrittenHouse Rule 1House Rule 2
Drinking a Potion1 Action1 Bonus Action1 Free Action
Administering a Potion to an Ally1 Action (Adminsterer Only)1 Bonus Action (Administerer) – 1 Bonus Action (Adminsteree)1 Free Action (Administerer) – 1 Free Action (Administeree)

House Rule 1: Potions as a Bonus Action

One option suggested is reducing the “cast time” of potions to 1 Bonus Action. This rule effectively makes a healing potion equivalent to casting Healing Word but ultimately more powerful.

A regular healing potion is about as potent as a Cure Wounds spell which means that being able to use it as a Bonus Action is about a strong as using Cure Wounds as a Bonus Action. This rule is not a particularly game-breaking change.

It’s balanced quite well by the scarcity of higher-leveled Potions of healing.  For 1350 GP a pop, a Potion of Supreme Healing costs more than a cast of Ressurection.

Balancing it as a Bonus Action isn’t too hard since it would be about as efficient, cost-wise, as just resurrecting a dead player once you factor in the cost increase.

House Rule 2: Potions as a Free Action

This rule gets a little bit game-breaky. Using a Potion as a Free Action means that both the Bonus and Primary Action are still accessible for use. Physically, this should be possible, as drinking a bottle of ale is considered a free action.

However, gameplay-wise, this could seriously mess up the balance of the game.

Even when only considering healing potions, restoring your health for no turn cost is a significant power boost. There are no creatures, spells, or features that allow a player to just get more health like that.

Furthermore, a player can take any number of free actions per turn. When it comes to free actions, there are lots of game-breaking free action combos already, but adding potions to the free action combo roulette is asking for trouble.

One way to balance this idea is to limit the number of free actions a player can take — something I, as a DM, do already because there’s no way I’m letting my players do combos like the Sand/Chicken combo. 

My Thoughts as a Dungeon Master

I, personally, agree with what many people on the internet think. I think that the current rules do discourage players from using potions, especially those without healing properties.

I believe that changing the cast time to 1 Bonus Action is an excellent middle ground. It boosts the power of potions in general without giving them away for free.

I have seen several people take different options, but I think that changing the cast time of a potion to 1 Bonus Action does precisely what they want to do with fewer moving parts that could break under pressure.

Brewing a Potion in D&D 5e

Brewing a potion is covered in the Dungeon Master’s Guide and expanded upon in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything. The Dungeon Master’s Guide gives a price table for the crafting of magic items.

Common100 gp
Uncommon500 gp
Rare5,000 gp
Very Rare50,000 gp
Legendary500,000 gp

The cost is halved for a consumable item such as a potion or a scroll.

Using the Dungeon Master’s Guide rules, the forger must spend gold in 25 gp increments daily to work on the item until the gold sum is paid off. So, a Potion of Healing would cost 50 gp and two days to craft.

Xanathar has a different opinion of Potions of Healing. His glorious eyeballness has beheld how commonplace the Potion of Healing is and thinks they should yet be easier to obtain. 

Potion of Healing1 day25 gp
Potion of Greater Healing1 workweek100 gp
Potion of Superior Healing3 workweeks1,000 gp
Potion of Supreme Healing4 workweeks10,000 gp

To brew a potion of healing using Xanathar’s methods, a player must have proficiency with the Herbalism Kit. Xanathar’s Guide to Everything also brings down the crafting cost of all items and makes them far more affordable to craft.

As a Dungeon Master, I stand by Xanathar’s reimagining of the crafting rules. They make crafting a worthwhile option rather than something NPCs do behind the scenes.

Magic Items Similar to the Potion of Healing

Staff of Healing

The Staff of Healing is a rare magic item that must be attuned to a Bard, Cleric, or Druid character. The Staff contains ten charges and regains 1d6 + 4 charges at dawn. A character attuned to the Staff can expend charges to cast different spells using the staff.

Cure Wounds costs one charge per Spell Level and can be cast up to the fourth level. Lesser Restoration costs two charges. Mass Cure Wounds costs five charges.

Goodberry

Goodberry is a Druid/Ranger healing spell that creates ten berries that can be consumed for 1 HP and sustain the eater for a whole day. The healing part of this spell is an afterthought more than a primary portion of this spell; it’s not that great of a healing spell.

Scrolls

Players can also use scrolls inscribed with healing spells to heal their allies. To use a scroll with a healing spell inscribed on it, the caster must be of a class that can cast that spell. They don’t have to have it on their spell list, however. 

If the spell is on their spell list but of a higher level than a spell they can currently cast, they have to make an ability check equal to 10 + the spell’s level. The scroll itself determines the spell’s level. A scroll of a higher rarity will cast a bit at a higher level.

Wand of Cure Light Wounds

The Wand of Cure Light Wounds is a 3.5/Pathfinder magic item. Like the Staff of Healing, it contains charges that the players can use to heal other creatures. No such item in D&D 5e exists since “Cure Light Wounds” is not a spell in Fifth Edition.

In Edition 3.5 of DnD a Wand of Cure Light Wounds would cost 750 gold, and heal 1d8 + 1 per caster level. The 5e closest equivalent is the Staff of Healing mentioned above.

Homebrew Options

While items that can be used for healing are relatively scarce in variety in Fifth Edition, there is always the option to homebrew an item that your players can use. 

The need to create an item that can heal isn’t mechanically necessary since Staff of Healing already exists. However, a player may want an item for flavor, or maybe your party doesn’t have a Cleric, Bard, or Druid to use the staff. 

One possible method is to allow the players to use the Staff of Healing even if they don’t meet the class requirement. You could simply void the class requirement altogether or create a side quest for one character to go on to gain the ability to use the Staff of Healing.

Another is to homebrew an entirely new item that allows the players to use healing spells. I let my players to homebrew items in my game using an NPC who is a master crafter that can make custom items. When doing so, they pay the NPC based on what is being crafted for them.

For instance, we already know that a staff that can cast Cure Wounds is a Rare item, so that would run them approximately 2,500 gp, 2,000 for the cost of crafting as per Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, 500 for labor.

I’ve heard other takes from Dungeon Master friends to use the relative cost of an item as it would have cost in 3.5/Pathfinder, which is quite a bit more expensive than in 5e. If no such item exists, you would take a similar item from 3.5.

Other Questions About Healing Potions in 5e

Administering a Potion to Another Player

It is possible to administer a healing potion to another player. According to the Dungeon Master’s Guide, it is no different than consuming the potion yourself. It requires your entire primary action.

You can still move and perform bonus and free actions. Notably, administering a potion to an ally doesn’t consume their action, only yours. 

You can also pour a healing potion down the throat of an ally who has been knocked unconscious. Apparently, part of the potion’s magic is that it doesn’t suffocate them when you do so!

How Fast Can Artificers Craft Healing Potions?

The 10th level Artificer feature, Magic Item Adept, contains the following rule:

If you craft a magic item with a rarity of common or uncommon, it takes you a quarter of the normal time, and it costs you half as much of the usual gold.

Using this rule, you would be able to craft up to two healing potions a day using the rules from the Dungeon Master’s Guide or four per day using Xanathar’s Guide to Everything.

How Much Do Healing Potions Cost?

While previous editions of Dungeons & Dragons featured hard rulesets surrounding the cost of potions, Fifth Edition notably left these out of their books.

The pricing of items was left up to the Dungeon Masters, who would have to decide how to price their items based on other information.

A good rule of thumb that I use is Cost To Craft + 10%, which is the average profit margin. For customized items, I add 25%.

Can You Drink Half of a Healing Potion?

Potions lose their magic the moment any amount of the liquid is consumed. So, leaving half for someone else isn’t possible.

Conclusion

Potions of Healing are an iconic and irreplaceable part of the fantasy genre. While many have expressed discontent with Fifth Edition’s ruleset regarding them, people can use plenty of options outside of those rules.

Dungeons & Dragons is, first and foremost, a sandbox adventure. If the ruleset doesn’t work for your adventure, then it’s encouraged that you find a ruleset that does! You should never feel bound to the ruleset if it’s not working for you.

Many have come up with their own homebrew frameworks that you can use or build upon. Whether you decide to go the simple route and make drinking a potion a bonus action or create an elaborate framework of potion usage, there’s no shortage of creativity in D&D.

Wizards has always encouraged players to build upon their rulesets and create an experience and adventure that works for them. So, don’t feel bad if you decide that the rules as written don’t work for you!

As always, good luck, have fun, and happy questing!