"You are here to learn the subtle science and exact art of potion-making… As there is little foolish wand-waving here, many of you will hardly believe this is magic. I don't expect you will really understand the beauty of the softly simmering cauldron with its shimmering fumes, the delicate power of liquids that creep through human veins, bewitching the minds, ensnaring the senses…. I can teach you how to bottle fame, brew glory, even stopper death — "
Professor Severus Snape in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling.
Somewhere in the grey area between magic and medicine, between the alchemist and the apothecary, between the shaman and the snake oil salesman lies the potion. Usually brewed by a sorcerer or a witch or some sort of arcane specialist, the potion could be medicinal in nature, or poisonous; baneful or beneficial; but almost always, it is a powerful spell in liquid form.
Mechanically, settings will vary as to the requirements to make a potion - sometimes they will just be a matrix into which a spell is bound, in others the supernatural effects will be due to the special properties of the ingredients … of course, the matrix variety may still require some fairly exotic stuff to accept some or all magics … or may at least be improved by use of certain materials.
A potion may well also serve as a humbug in settings where magic resistance is a significant issue… this may or may not be bypassed if the drinker doesn't know what the potion is (either the exact end effect or whether or not it is a potion at all).
Within a given setting, all potions of a certain kind may be similar ("a healing potion requires aloe, mugwort and rose-hip") or may differ by their creators (Ibrahim al Andalus bases all his healing potions on a cordial made from oranges, the Druid Coel prefers bull's blood). Some people's potions may be better smelling and/or tasting than others, some may have side-effects and volume may also be an issue (the deluxe healing potion is about half a gill of slightly oily liquid that tastes of cinnamon, the cheap stuff from the hedge-wizard closely resembles a pint of small beer with stuff floating in it). Particularly picky creators might even have species-specific potions (or at least issues with using ones for the wrong species, even if they are only aesthetic ones - for example, a healing potion intended to give a goblin a "healthy glow" might impart an oily tone and grey-green tint to the skin of a human).
Some Types of Potions:
Game and Story Use
- In Classic Gygaxian Dungeon Fantasy, potions are one of the standard types of treasure an adventurer may find in a monster's lair. The shrewd GM tries to make sure he gives his players potions that will be useful in the rest of the adventure.
- Although random oddball potions can be fun too, simply to see if the players will come up with a use for them.
- If your party has no mage, or if the mage has only a limited number of spells, stocking up on useful potions can be a good way to remedy things like petrification and some of the more serious forms of death.
- Most Fantasy Role-Playing systems will have lists of different types of potions and encourage the GM to invent new potions of their own.
- Potions don't have to be magical! In a setting where belief in magic is prevalent, people will ascribe magical properties to medicines, poisons or even harmless placebos.
- Remember kids, Don't Try This at Home. Brewing magical elixirs is a job for trained professional mages only.
- Who says it has to be liquid? You can shake things up a bit by using your potion stats on a pastille, magic cake, topical cream, or incense. Eat me to grow small. Rub bravery cream into the chest until absorbed, twice daily. Etc.
- For edgy wizards, make them druggies who smoke, snort or inject their magic. "I could quit using mana at any time, if I wanted to."
- In some places, potions may end up looking a lot like a bowdlerisation of drugs in general.
- Little changes to form and flavor (with or without changes to function or mechanics) can help customize your world or establish the traits of an NPC.
- The line between potion and charm can be slender to non-existent.