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Monday, December 15, 2014

Potions - Labeled or Not?

When a potion is found in your campaigns, are the bottles labeled as the the contents (accurate or otherwise)? Are there common symbols use for healing, invisibility and the like? Do all healing potions have the same color (and can the experienced alchemist identify potions by color and or smell alone?)

I'm always on the fence as to whether or not the party should be able to quickly ID the more common potions they find in their adventures.

How do you handle potions?

20 comments:

  1. I'll label really common potions, like _Cure Wounds_ or _Neutralize Poison_ potions and the like, mainly because I like the idea of the party finding a bunch of bottles with ornate labels advertising "Professor Pinkham's Patent Poison Preventative". Plus, it gives me a chance to make some labels as handouts :)

    Labels for rarer potions would be a lot more obscure, something more like laboratory notation, so that although someone with the appropriate knowledge _might_ be able to interpret them, they'd likely be unintelligible to any layman.

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  2. I have made a couple stabs at a system that I haven't implemented yet, but I want a Nethack-like potion identification system, where every potion type has a distinct appearance and odor, so it's possible to learn to identify a potion by examination. The appearance and odors would be assigned randomly, so not even I would know what a red, bubbly potion that smelled like honey would do until it was tested.

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  3. I do a combination: some potions are labeled (especially if a PC is poisoned and there's an antidote that I want to get to them to get the story moving), some not so it's a guessing game, and some where I've intentionally mislabeled potions so they don't think I'm getting soft.

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  4. Since I play GURPS, it's as easy as a taste and an Alchemy skill check, or a longer time for safer testing. You could do something similar, and let magic-users identify potions with an INT check or a saving throw (with an INT bonus or penalty, if you like.)

    As for labels - the store-bought ones are labeled. You can remove those. Some found ones are labeled, others aren't. They don't all look the same because alchemy is magic, not science.

    That works for us, although I like potions (and scrolls) being reliable, easy to identify, and basically just a fantastical form of equipment instead of a rare treasure.

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  5. I think it depends on the situation. Some people would carry labelled potions for their own sake, others make them so they know what they are. In Pathfinder it becomes very easy to test them with skills to identify them so it's not a big deal. In OSR type games the experimentation is like a game as well.

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  7. Me: "It's an amber liquid in a small vial."
    Player: "I taste it."
    Me: "It tastes of honey, you can tell it's a healing potion."

    I can't remember why healing potions in my games are always amber, taste vaguely of honey, and are easy to identify. I'm always tempted to call for random poison saving throws after the PC tastes a potion but I never do.

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    Replies
    1. Because Killer Bees' honey is a weak form of Healing Potion? So, there's probably some Killer Bee Honey (perhaps mixed with Troll blood or something) in a Healing Potion.

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  8. Sometimes they are labelled but not very often. I try to have descriptions that if the players pay attention they will be able to puzzle out what the potions are.

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  9. Depends. If the potion is found in the laboratory of a fastidious wizard, then it would be labelled. If it is found on the body of a NPC (especially if it is the only potion on the body), then it wouldn't be. The DM has to have fun, too!

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  10. I think potions can be labeled, but often are not or are mislabeled. I use a d6: 1-3 -- unlabeled, 4-5 -- labeled, 6 -- mislabeled. Then I determine what language they are labeled in.

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  11. Yes and no. Depends on the circumstances. Orcish and other humanoid healing potions, for instance, are not and they also have a tendency to smell and taste like slimy, rancid water. God knows how many players have skipped over in the past. Some herbal preparations from a druid's lair, probably not. Wizard's lair, well, sure, but either written in code or magic. potions handed out to men-at-arms or (more likely) their officers, labelled.

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  12. If they buy potions from a merchant, most likely labeled in some fashion. Those found in a ruin are less likely to be marked, although if they are in a clear container, there may be visual clues.

    My players found a potion not too long ago that I described as brownish, with what appeared to be hairs and bits of bone floating in it. They opened it and it smelled like animal excrement. In the same room they found recipes for several potions, including the potion of animal command that they had found, which did indeed call for animal excrement, animal hair and bits of animal bone as well as a few less ordinary items. Needless to say, they have not been desperate enough yet to drink the potion :D

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  13. Not labeled or in consistent colors; every alchemist has his own formula. Magic-users can identify them with a sip (risking poisoning of course) or the party can pay an alchemist to identify them (if they're in a city).

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  14. I always went with a fairly standard appearance/taste method myself. Random Wizard has a list of detailed potion descriptions from various modules that I find useful, here: http://randomwizard.blogspot.com/2012/10/potion-taste-and-colour.html

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  15. They are all labeled, but the labels have the worse adhesive in the world and fall off.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks man, thanks for ensuring Erik won't tell us what potions are any more.

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  16. I never really thought about it much when we first started playing (we were ten after all). Pretty much, the common potions (esp healing and antidotes) were always self evident. It was only the more advanced potions that required the use of magic or experimentation to identify. We also were a bit generous in that we would allow detect magic to help with the identification process.
    Nowadays, I run it where region and creator have an influence on flavor and appearance.
    Each region will have their own distinctive appearance and taste for the common potions ( healing and the various buffs). This reflects that while not a precise science, the core fundamentals do have an internal consistency that all alchemists learn when they are starting out. So in the desert area all healing potions will have note of lavender in their scent even if each one has a slightly different flavor. Just as all pizza has the same core ingredients, but there is a definite difference in flavor when you compare New York pizza to Philadelphia pizza.
    When labelled, the flask will usually have a sigil of some sort related to the personal shorthand of the alchemist that brewed it. As the players gain exposure to a particular alchemists creations, they can start to deduce the power of the potion without experimentation. Of course, this means that an unscrupulous charlatan will not hesitate to mimic the markings to make it easier to pass their own shoddy goods.
    And of course, when it comes to higher powered potions, the consistency will start to disappear. This also reflects the fact that higher level potions are more tailored by individual bias and interpretation as well as cultural impact on the same.

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  17. It's generally assumed that in my games all potions of a related spell are the same color and consistency due to how the magic manifests (healing potions are a bright blue, polymorph potions a dark muddy brown, etc). Spellcasters who possess knowledge of said spell can identify the effects on sight, but otherwise can only determine its identity by drinking it or with an alchemist's lab.

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  18. Magic and magical potions are exceedingly rare. And it's doubtful anyone will find more than a few potions over a lifetime. Plus the origins of the potions are usually lost to time and by no means homogeneous. And there are many languages, many archaic and out of use, so even if there is a label it's unlikely to do one any good.

    Sounds like everybody else goes for the "Ye Olde Magick Shoppe" on every street corner approach.

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