Potion Creation

Last Updated: 221011

How do PCs create potions? For years I’ve assumed there’s two stages: a) the mage researches the formula, b) the mage creates the potion. But is that really how it works?

In addition to the Alchemist expert hireling in the DMG, Dragon magazine includes not one but four different variations of the alchemist (#002, #046, #049, #130). The alchemist is also discussed in the 2e Player’s Options (Skills & Powers, Spells & Magic). Several include the research component:

  • Dragon #002: “Research costs are the same as MUs for Spells”
  • Dragon #130: “The DM adjudicates the alchemist’s success in research. The costs for research is at least 50-300 GP per level of the potion desired.”
  • Skills & Powers: “The alchemist must first research the potion’s formula, as if conducting normal spell research.”

Yet per the DMG: “In order to find out [how to fabricate magic items], they must consult with a sage (q.v.) or a high level character of the proper profession, the latter being detailed a bit hereafter.” where the only item that requires consulting with someone “of the proper profession” is potion creation and the alchemist. The only requirement for a 7th level magic-user (or presumably 7th level cleric in the case of healing potions) to concoct a potion is hiring an alchemist (and even that requirement is removed when the magic-user reaches 12th level).

So, the magic-user needs:

  1. an alchemist
  2. a lab/workshop
  3. the appropriate special ingredient
  4. manufacturing

An Alchemist

Hiring an alchemist will cost a 10d10 GP hiring bonus plus assurance of 300 GP / month for a minimum of 1 year.


Initial outlay for the creation of a workshop costs 200- 1,000 GP, based on the relative availability of the tradesmen and goods necessary to complete the work room and stock it properly (and keep it stocked). In addition, upkeep of the laboratory requires a further monthly outlay of 10% of the total cost of the place, exclusive of any special provisions or protections, in order to stock basic fuel and supplies, replace broken equipment, and so on when the laboratory is in use.

The Appropriate Special Ingredient

There are lists of suggested special ingredients in the DMG (pp. 116-117) and Dragon #130. Per the DMG, there’s no need to figure out what the special ingredient is. Some overly complicated math suggests that the average cost of the special ingredient, if available on the open market, would be 24% of the GP value of the potion. Otherwise, it’d be up to the PCs to acquire.

That said, I really like the idea of specific formula determination as a rate limiter on potion creation. That research would require 1d3+1 weeks at a cost based on the potion’s XP value per week (in addition to any costs for an alchemist), but if the character uses a commune or contact other plane spell to speed his research, they automatically succeed in the minimum time. Otherwise, at the end of this period, successful potion creation requires a roll as per the chance to learn a spell, -2% for each 100 XP (or fraction thereof) of the potion. If the character has a full dose of the potion in question to use as a sample, the research takes one less week with no penalties. If unsuccessful, research continues week-by-week until successful.


Both the cost in gold pieces and the days of compounding are determined from potion’s XP (default 200 XP otherwise). The XP for a given potion is the cost in GP to concoct the basic formula sans the special ingredient. Each hundred XP (or fraction thereof) indicating one full day of compounding time to manufacture the liquid, i.e., 250 XP = 250 GP basic costs and 3 full days of time. The cost of the special ingredient if available: 24% of GP cost of potion in the DMG.

The DMG suggests: “Alternatively, a 5% to 20% failure percentage can be assigned to all potion manufacture, and those which are failures become delusion potions of the sort which was being attempted, i.e., animal control, flying, etc.” where you either require a special ingredient, or assign a chance of failure.

Where’s the fun in automatic success? So instead, let’s assign that range of failure: 2% for each 100 XP (or fraction thereof). What happens when upon failure to create a potion? The DMG suggests that these failures are simply the source of the potion of delusion, but that’s uninteresting. The Potion Miscibility Table provides some guidance, and can be readily adapted by adapting the wording (see also Dragon #130):



01 EXPLOSION! Those in a 10’ radius take 4-24 hit points, no save.
02-03 A poison gas cloud of 10’ diameter results, and all within it must save versus poison or die.
04-08 Mild poison which causes nausea and loss of 1 point each of strength and dexterity for 5-20 rounds, no saving throw possible.
09-25 Potion ruined and inert.
26-35 Potion at 50% normal efficacy.
36-90 Ruined (potion of delusion).
91-99 Potion has 150% normal efficacy (determine if both effect and duration are permissible, or if only the duration should be extended.).
100 DISCOVERY! The potion’s special formula will cause its effects will be permanent upon the imbiber with potentially harmful side effects.


  • Alchemist: 10-100 GP hiring bonus + 300 GP / month for a year
  • Lab: 200-1000 gp + 10% / month (for a year)
  • Research: d3+1 weeks at XP value / week
  • Manufacturing: Requiring 1 day for each 100 XP (or fraction thereof), at a cost in GP of the XP value, +25% of the GP value of the potion (the special ingredient).
  • Failure: 2% per each 100 XP.


Dragon #2, August 1976. “A new D&D Character Class: The Alchemist”.
Dragon #45, January 1981. “…and one who seems the perfect mix”.
Dragon #49, May 1981. “A recipe for the Alchemist”.
Dragon #130, Feb., 1988. “Better Living Through Alchemy. Poison and Potions: The alchemist NPC class”.
Player’s Option:  Skills & Powers, 1995.
Player’s Option: Spells & Magic, 1996.