top of page

Deep Dive: Holy Water


In the world of TTRPGs there exist undead creatures whose malice and hatred and sometimes hunger for the living consume the rest of their unholy existence until they meet a cleric's mace or a paladin's magic, flaming hammer. Thankfully, there exists a simple option for those adventurers who wish to have a defense against the undead but who may not have clerics or healers in their party. Good old trusty holy water. From pages 151-152 in the PHB can be found the following information about holy water:


As an action, you can splash the contents of this flask onto a creature within 5 feet of you or throw it up to 20 feet, shattering it on impact. In either case, make a ranged attack against a target creature, treating the holy water as an improvised weapon. If the target is a fiend or undead, it takes 2d6 radiant damage.
A cleric or paladin may create holy water by performing a special ritual. The ritual takes 1 hour to perform, uses 25 gp worth of powdered silver, and requires the caster to expend a 1st-level spell slot.

This is all the information we get about holy water from the 5E sourcebooks. But if you're anything like me, I kind of want to know all the little details about the items in D&D, so let's make a Deep Dive and really examine everything we can about holy water.


Quick Aside


Want a free adventure you can play tonight with 30 minutes of prep? Have one on us! https://headlesshydrapress.ck.page/d3b48c4324


HISTORY

Potions have existed in some capacity since even the time of Shakespeare's Hamlet when poison made an appearance, or in A Midsummer Night's Dream when Shakespeare introduced a love potion. Holy water isn't a potion but is more of a utility for primarily dealing with undead. The Apostolic Constitutions attribute the usage of holy water to the Apostle Matthew which roughly dates to about 400 AD so the concept has been around for quite some time. The sprinkling of holy water is meant to recall baptism. Holy water grew to be thought to ward off vampires in Eastern Europe, and holy water was sometimes sprinkled onto the corpses of suspected vampires in order to render them inert, and this practice was dramatized eventually with fiction and ultimately ended up finding its way into D&D.


APPEARANCE

Holy water largely looks in appearance like regular water. However, as you can see from the above description, sometimes you can see flecks of powdered silver swirling around inside the flask. This is largely interpretive, as some DMs require you cast divination spells in order to figure it out if it's not labeled. Holy water is most often kept in glass flasks that can be shattered on impact and are sealed with a protective wax stopper and labeled clearly. Some clerics may even put their person stamp on the seal.


TASTE AND SMELL

Not surprisingly, holy water has no real taste or smell in and of itself. According to various sources, silver is said to be tasteless when in water. However, some resources have said that in D&D, holy water is surprisingly cool and refreshing. This is largely interpretive, as the initial rules don't say this. It needn't be said that if any undead were to drink the water, they'd suffer heavy radiant damage.


EFFECTS

As per the description, using an entire action you're able to splash the holy water onto a creature within five feet of you. When the water hits the skin of an undead creature or a creature affected by holy water, the water is said to burn and sizzle the skin of the evil one while they're taking 2d6 radiant damage as if they were covered in corrosive acid. This will cause the undead to shudder in pain, cry out, or perhaps even burst into flames. With someone normal drinking it, nothing will happen except maybe they'll be refreshed and get a mouthful of silver powder. With enough trace silver, there's no doubt there would be a metallic taste, or even a bitterness in the taste.


HOW MUCH?

In the PHB on page 150 on the Adventuring Gear table, a flask of holy water is listed at 25 gp and weighs just one pound. That's really not a bad price for 2d6 radiant damage to undead. However, there has been a lot of controversy around the cost because for a priest to bless the water and commit to the ritual of actually creating the holy water, the priest must not only expend a spell slot, and an hour of time, but also spend 25 gp worth of powdered silver. Surely, the church's interest in battling the undead somewhat outweighs the need for funding, but to me the pricing feels off. I would personally leave the cost as is for the holy water, and at the same time maybe reduce the cost on the side of the priests creating it, because it makes no sense to charge the same as the base cost for something when you can just buy it instead of make it and with all the extra work. That's just me, though. It's only 2 cp for an empty flask, but with that additional cost, that alone outweighs the cost of just buying a flask of holy water vs making it yourself because if you made it, you'd be spending money on the flask, losing a spell slot, spending an hour of your time, and paying the same exact amount money making it as buying it.

Now, as usual, when it comes to D&D and other TTRPGs - Dungeon Masters are allowed and encouraged to create their own details for items, spells, and the like so you may not experience this version of holy water in your own game. However, as a forever DM myself, I like to familiarize myself with items that are consistently used in D&D but we may not think about too often. For example, before I did a Deep Dive myself on the information about holy water, I'd forgotten that holy water has silver powder infused into it. Little details like that are great for making your world feel more alive. Do you handle holy water differently in your games? Let us know in the comments below, and as always - thanks for reading! - Joe




Recent Posts

See All

Comments


  • discord-icon
  • TikTok
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Youtube
  • LinkedIn
bottom of page