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One of my players decided, on the fly, to throw a potion of healing at an ally as they ran past. I had nothing planned so I improvised this rule

A potion of healing has a thrown range of (20/60). If thrown the receiver must use their reaction to make a DC 15 dexterity saving throw to catch the potion. On a failed save the potion shatters on the ground and is unusable, on a critical fail the receiver takes 1d4 slashing damage as the glass shatters in their hand and is unusable.

Should I make the thrower roll a ranged attack roll? What should I do if they threw it at 30 feet? Would I just give the DEX save disadvantage? Also is the DC too high, or too low? Does the 1d4 slashing on a crit fail work?

Just generally is there anything I should change about this or does this work well?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Is throwing the potion an action? \$\endgroup\$ – kviiri Jun 3 '18 at 11:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ Do you use the DMG p. 242 optional rule on critical failures for all ability checks? \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jun 3 '18 at 16:24
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The rule is, apart from some inconsistencies with the existing mechanics, roughly fine. Basically, you're giving your players a new option to use, which is to their advantage - however, the option does have weaknesses that make it rather unattractive for frequent use. Here's some things I'd change:

It should be a free object interaction

You didn't specify whether throwing the potion counts as an action or not. Assuming it is, a word of caution: giving the potion (or any other item) normally (without throwing it) is a free object interaction (listed as an example on Player's Handbook, page 190), and has no risk of failure. Having to spend one's action and the recipient's reaction to throw a potion for those extra 20 feet, and with the additional risk of failure, seems like too steep a cost to me. Consider making the throw a free object interaction.

Neither attack or a saving throw is a perfect fit

Attack rolls are meant for, well, attacking, and don't work at all for situations like this - your party's monk would have a hard time catching the potion with their unarmored AC! Saving throws are meant for resisting harmful effects. Both are poor fits for situations where the two parties (the thrower and the catcher) are collaborating. The difference between a DC 15 ability check and a DC 15 saving throw isn't that big, but maintaining consistency with the core rules makes your house rules easier to remember and understand.

Note that thrown ranges like (20/60) only make sense for attack rolls. Since we're not using those, you'll have to use a different kind of range system.

Be mindful of Goblin Dice

"Goblin Dice" refer to a single die roll determining the outcome of things; sometimes unimportant like the life of a goblin minion, sometimes important to the point where you wouldn't generally want a single die roll to determine them.

The Potion of Healing is likely to be in the category of "too important for a single roll": its primary use in intense situations where one'd like to throw them instead of just handing them over is to serve as an emergency item. A loss of an emergency item, or even a delay in its delivery can be really detrimental to the party. I'd advise not leaving it up to a single die roll, or at very least toning down the effects of failure.

An example of a less painful failure effect is the potion landing safely on the ground, forcing the recipient to use their object interaction to pick it up.

Drop the critical fail

1d4 slashing damage is, in most situations, negligible, and in the situations where it isn't (eg. being down to your last hit point), it's likely to be extremely frustating. It's also worth noting that critical fails are not an official rule in DnD 5e - we're obviously talking about a house rule here, but if you haven't house ruled other saves/ability checks to have critical fails, I don't think the tiny bit of damage is a good place to start.

If you really like having critical fails in your game, consider having the potion breaking be the critical fail case, and landing on the ground intact the normal one. The loss of a potion is a nasty blow against the party's resources and shouldn't be overused, but critical fails are statistically rare enough to not deter using the throwing option too much.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The problem with it being a free interaction is that I can't see catching it without paying attention to the incoming bottle. \$\endgroup\$ – Loren Pechtel Jun 4 '18 at 4:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think you could improve your answer by applying your suggestions in a single complete rule example. However, I disagree with the "goblin dice" warning in this scenario: throwing stuff is simple enough that it should be abstracted as a single ability check. The players should be aware of the possibility of damaging or loosing what they are throwing upon failure of said check so that they can evaluate the risk. If the item is too important, they just shouldn't throw it, or they should use their features to enhance their ability check for the throw. \$\endgroup\$ – Ruse Jun 4 '18 at 6:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ @LorenPechtel I agree, it's similar to opportunity attacks and counterspells in this respect. Moreover, it makes sense that the catcher must use his/her reaction to rule out passing things to incapacitated creatures (which includes paralyzed, petrified, stunned, or unconscious creatures) who are obviously are in no condition to catch anything. \$\endgroup\$ – Ruse Jun 4 '18 at 6:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ Wouldn't retrieving the potion be the thrower's free interaction? I also agree that catching something is akin to rolling to hit or an ability check and therefore not likely free on the recipient's part. But table mileage may vary. \$\endgroup\$ – Slagmoth Jun 4 '18 at 12:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ The use of the free interaction to pass a potion is too strong, I feel. In the middle of a fight, your free object interaction per turn is likely not being used for anything (unless you're fighting a door mimic that keeps closing on you). While this doesn't affect the economy to drink, and the same total action economy is being spent overall, it significantly reduces the value of inventory management. The value of consumables is that they are a preparation for something to come. Antivenom? Venom. Health Potion? Need healing. Players that aren't prepared don't need to be if someone is for them. \$\endgroup\$ – Axoren Jun 4 '18 at 23:39
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As a GM I hate the idea of thrown transfers in combat, I've seen them abused far too often so my gut instinct says either a flat no, or make them as hard as possible to pull off if they're going to be a thing; the issue isn't so much when you do this with a healing potion but once established as a mechanism the question becomes what can't you throw? Then why can't I throw B if I can throw A?

I think the worst case I ever saw was two characters using a thrown switch to swap and alternately use a Great Sword back and forward across the room. I've also seen it used to expedite looting caches of armour and weapons to direct use in combat which was more chaotic than useful but it wasn't good.

Outside of combat throwing something to another player is usually inconsequential, although it did nearly cost one of my characters about 100,000 credits worth of gun case one time, just a bit of flavour; but when it starts to be used in combat it uses up actions in strange ways while it also shortcuts tactical movement restrictions.

If you're determined to allow such a transfer then you should have a purely fixed range at which such can be coordinated, 15 ft or so maybe, and it should be allowed only when coordination is possible, so characters who cannot see and communicate with each other shouldn't be allowed to use such a transfer.

Obviously the catcher needs at least one free hand and I'd give a DC reduction for a two handed catch as well. A base of DC 15 seems about right to me, not too easy but not so challenging as to prevent it's use. I also like the idea that a critical fail results in wasting the potion but that's because I'm not in favour of the idea generally and want it to be hard and definitely not risk free if you're going to use it.

I think I do agree with @kviiri that it shouldn't cost actions to execute such a transfer but I think there has to be some kind of roll for the catch which is problematic for the reasons he has mentioned. Potion tubes are designed for hard usage so I'd say that unless you want to inflict a critical failure special effect they shouldn't break when simply dropped.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Can you exemplify cases of such abuse? Additionally, if the rule is explicitly for potions, can you see any problem on that, or it only becomes a problem after the slope for throwing weapons and any other thing? \$\endgroup\$ – HellSaint Jun 4 '18 at 1:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ @HellSaint No I can't really see a problem with it being used for potions and other small items, Ioun Stones, Alchemical Flasks and the like but Players will always try their luck at extending the mechanism to other things which tends to be a problem in and of itself; you get into "but I've got X strength why can't I throw Y it only weight Z?" every time someone wants to take a shortcut. If it's made really clear what the limits are and that they are absolute it could work with the right group. Have noted the worse couple of instances I remember, but it has been a while. \$\endgroup\$ – user40081 Jun 4 '18 at 10:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Hellsaint, an example from my early days in AD&D. Player 1 attacks with a magic sword, then throws it to player 2, who is next in initiative. Player 2 catches it, uses it to attack, throws it to player 3. And so on. \$\endgroup\$ – Greenstone Walker Jun 4 '18 at 22:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ @GreenstoneWalker 5e has attunement rules that make it impossible for any relevant magic item. Besides, throwing a magic flaming sword is arguably way harder (to throw and to catch) than a potion, so I don't see that slope happening easily. \$\endgroup\$ – HellSaint Jun 4 '18 at 22:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GreenstoneWalker Yeah I had a party that got up to doing that sort of thing with a Great Sword, it's one of the main reasons I don't like to let this get started but if that's not a thing in 5e it'll be easier to limit the downright silly stuff. \$\endgroup\$ – user40081 Jun 5 '18 at 11:25

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