I will soon be DM for the first time. As preparation, I have been reading the DMG and I found this rule on identifying a magic item page 136:

Potions are an exception; a little taste is enough to tell the taster what the potion does.

I have never seen this rule used in previous games as a player. We would always identify them like magic items: it takes a short rest or an identify spell.

I find the rule risky and wouldn't apply it as a player. If what the player assumes to be a potion is actually contact poison, he would automatically suffer the effects, right? Sounds like a stupid idea to me to taste some strange liquid I don't know.

How should I handle this as a DM if my players wish to taste what they assume to be a potion but is actually poison? Should I tell them that it smells "bad" and doesn't seem "healthy" to taste?

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    \$\begingroup\$ I have never seen this used either, my suspicion is that it is a legacy of wariness from earlier editions where everything tried to kill you \$\endgroup\$ – SeriousBri Jun 10 '19 at 10:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ Related: Can you drink part of a potion? \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Jun 10 '19 at 13:51

At your discretion a partial dose of poison may have (reduced) effects.

The DMG (257-258) distinguishes between different kinds of poisons and how they take effect, by contact, inhaled, by injury or Ingested (DMG 257):

Ingested. A creature must swallow an entire dose of ingested poison to suffer its effects. You might decide that a partial dose has a reduced effect, such as allowing advantage on the saving throw or dealing only half damage on a failed save.

Handle it at your discretion. Maybe you want to use the Variant rule on the same page (DMG 136) that makes identification generally more difficult and adjust it by making it explicit that tasting potions is dangerous or bears no effect at all.

The narration of poisons are mostly at your discretion as well, you define whether they are tasteless, smell-less, indistinguishable (for that matter you also narrate the smell and taste of magic potions and you may indulge in that healing potions taste foul or like soap), etc. How identifying potions should work gives narrative techniques.

Contact poison only works on exposed skin by RAW, but as a DM you are free to change that (you should inform your players when you do that and before it has negative consequences for them) your character's lips and mouth technically is all mucous membranes and not skin. But I'm not arguing that point, if you think it is skin, then contact poison affects you while tasting. These mucous membranes of humans are even thinner than skin and in that way, realistically speaking, may be affected by contact poison (DMG 257):

Contact. A creature that touches contact poison with exposed skin suffers its effects.

The uncommon magic item (potion) Potion of Poison, (DMG 188):

This concoction looks, smells, and tastes like a potion of healing or other beneficial potion. However, it is actually poison masked by illusion magic. An identify spell reveals its true nature.

tastes like the mimicked potion by illusion magic, that is it tastes like whatever potion it is masked as (which you can narrate as you like). Which is contrary to its true nature - revealed by an identify spell. So the actual taste is not that of the mimicked potion (which you can narrate as you like).

The tasting of a Potion of Poison replicates the look and smells with illusion magic. It does not replicate the healing effect or other benevolent potion effects.


A Potion of Poison tastes/looks/smells exactly like a Potion of Healing.

If you're talking about the Potion of Poison item:

This concoction looks, smells, and tastes like a Potion of Healing or other beneficial potion.

PCs that taste it will think it's a harmless Potion of Healing, and get a nasty surprise when the situation is dire.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Very interesting. What if a player never tasted a potion of healing? According to the dmg he should still recognise it? The description in the dmg only tells that "a little taste is enough to tell the taster what the potion does.". I assumed he knows it because he feels a hint of the actual effect and not based on taste. But a potion of poison would not do a hint of healing, rather a hint of damage. Should I edit the question to include this? \$\endgroup\$ – findusl Jun 10 '19 at 14:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ It would be beneficial to add the part about why it tastes like the mimicked potion; that is by Illusion magic. Which is contrary to its true nature - revealed by an identify spell. So the actual taste is not that of the mimicked potion. \$\endgroup\$ – Akixkisu Jun 10 '19 at 14:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Akixkisu So you are saying that by tastes like a potion of healing it would also make the hint of healing like a potion of healing might do during tasting? This is for me not strictly part of the taste. It's more like Whisky. The taste can be dry and cold but when it goes down you feel the warmth. \$\endgroup\$ – findusl Jun 10 '19 at 14:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ @findusl I think the point is that anything the taster perceives is part of the illusion. They will taste whatever a healing potion tastes like and feel whatever else they would feel if they tasted a healing potion. \$\endgroup\$ – Ryan C. Thompson Jun 12 '19 at 5:22

It's a trap!

What you're describing is technically a trap (except in the case of the potion of poison, which would need to be fully drunk in order to have any affect), and you should treat it like one as a DM. You need to decide as the DM whether they detect the trap and whether they trigger its effects. If they trigger it in a cautious way, you may consider reducing the DC of the saving throw.

I should clarify, it doesn't have the intent of being a trap, what I'm saying is that you can treat it like a trap in this situation. I've come across this type of things a number of times as a DM, the players want to do something that is stupid (my players think it's funny to do stupid things, and they're right) and I essentially improvise a trap situation for them and attach an appropriate DC for them triggering it based on what exactly they are choosing to do.

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    \$\begingroup\$ (first off, I did not downvote and I don't like people dowbvoting without explanation) But what if it wasn't put there as a trap? As loot from an alchemist hut maybe. They would have time to identify it via short rest like any other magic items, wouldn't it be unfair to not allow that but they have to drink and risk? \$\endgroup\$ – findusl Jun 10 '19 at 21:16

Tasting a potion offers no insight into what it is. Potions, even of the same type, may have various tastes depending on various factors: who made it, how long has it been since it was made, how was it made, and so on. An example is that an elf making a potion wouldn't make it exactly the same as a human or dwarf or another race. Just like food, it can have personal things added to that creature's liking or to keep others away.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I would really like to see some rule support for this answer. As it seems, this is just what you personally find logical, which might be fair, but does not constitute support for an answer. \$\endgroup\$ – Someone_Evil Jan 20 '20 at 22:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ On the other hand, Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already and see the help center or ask us here in the comments (use @ to ping someone) if you need more guidance. Good Luck and Happy Gaming! \$\endgroup\$ – Someone_Evil Jan 20 '20 at 22:47

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