We've all played TTRPGs and even video games where our character's health was compromised to the point that they were in danger of dying. Thankfully, there exists a magical concoction in these games that heals wounds to varying degrees, depending on the formula, enabling our characters to live long and healthy lives. In the Dungeon Master's Guide on page 187 (5E), the description of the "Potion of Healing" is as follows:
You regain hit points when you drink this potion. The number of hit points depends on the potion's rarity, as shown in the Potions of Healing table. Whatever its potency, the potion's red liquid glimmers when agitated.
Also, in the Player's Guide on page 153 there is an additional description:
A character who drinks the magical red fluid in this vial regains 2d4 + 2 hit points. Drinking or administering a potion takes an action.
This is all the information we get aside from a couple of tables for cost and rarity in both the Dungeon Master's Guide and in Xanathar's Guide to Everything on the infamous Potion of Healing we've all come to appreciate and covet in our games. It's red, and it glimmers when agitated (actually a very useful fact players can use to identify the potion), but if you want to know everything there is to know about the potion, we're going to do a Deep Dive and really unlock this potion's potential as a tool for storytelling in TTRPG games.
A few potions existed in literature before D&D was ever invented. Shakespeare wrote several potions into his plays, such as the love potion in A Midsummer Night's Dream and also poison in Hamlet. In the original The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen, the Sea Witch crafts a potion which will turn the Little Mermaid into a human. However, the first appearance of the Potion of Healing in the form of a TTRPG mechanic was in Men & Magic from 1974, a supplement to the original D&D game.
As above, it's already been stated that all Potions of Healing are bottled red liquid which shimmers if you agitate it, at least in 5th Edition. However, there have been other versions within D&D canon which appeared slightly different. The viscosity also varied in some cases. Some have appeared to be blue and slightly phosphorescent, while others have been a deep purple color. Additionally, there have been others with a sort of milky appearance. Aside from the shimmering quality, one can tell if a potion has healing properties due to a wax seal placed over the vial or bottle, or a symbol placed onto the container itself. In most cases, the viscosity is sort of like a syrup.
TASTE AND SMELL
If you've ever wondered how to describe the taste and smell of a Potion of Healing, in most cases the potion smells pleasantly of honey and orange blossoms. Others could be honey-herb scented. In most cases, the flavor profile seems to be almost identical to a sweet tasting warm mead, although some Potions of Healing have existed which taste minty. It seems the main idea is that Potions of Healing have a sort of warm sweetness to them that provides comfort.
Now, in the description it says that using the potion is an action, whether you use it on yourself or on someone else. There are variations on this rule, such as using it as a bonus action instead which is up to the individual DM/GM. You can pour the potion down someone's throat if they're unconscious and they won't choke on it. The basic Potion of Healing restores 2d4 + 2 hit points. But what does that look like to your characters? Well, the potion essentially functions as a bottled version of the Cure Wounds spell. So, small physical injuries that are relatively fresh will magically close up. It does not cure poison, or starvation, or things like that but it will make it so you don't die from those conditions right away. From all accounts, if your character were to consume one of these potions, the other characters watching would notice bruises start to fade and cuts begin to seal. Depending on the severity of the wound, there may be lingering pain for a while. It should be also noted that the Potion of Healing does not restore limbs or digits that are no longer attached - fresh wounds only that still have the capacity to heal on their own over time.
There seems to be some pretty big flexibility in the official D&D source books as to what it should cost for healing potions. In the Player's Handbook, the cost for a basic Potion of Healing is 50 gp, with the price going up for each additional tier of healing potion such as Greater Healing (100 gp), Superior Healing (500 gp), and Supreme Healing (1,350 gp). However, in Xanathar's Guide to Everything, the regular Potion of Healing stays the same, but it gives formulas for the higher tier healing potions. Greater Healing (1d6 x 50 gp), Superior Healing (2d10 x 500 gp), Supreme Healing (1d4+1 x 50,000 gp). Obviously with the formulas, the prices can change a lot from the basic prices in the Player's Handbook.
Now, even though this Deep Dive focuses on details surrounding the Potion of Healing, and it comes from established D&D canon, obviously as DMs/GMs, we are able to alter these things any way we see fit for our games. But I believe there is value in understanding what has already been established to at least provide a framework. There's nothing saying you can't have your Potion of Healing be fluorescent orange and taste like cream soda. I got most of my information from the Forgotten Realms wiki as well as the core source books, and additionally some other surprising details from the D&D Lore Wiki. Are there any details I missed? How do you handle Potions of Healing in your own games? Hopefully this knowledge can help you take a common and boring magic item and inject it with a little personality. Hit us in the comments below!