The other night one of my players thought it a good idea to throw a potion of healing at the undead skeletal mage. Her idea was that the potion would harm undead. A creative idea and I said go ahead, but I really didn't know what to do.

Luckily she rolled a one and the potion smashed against the wall behind the skeletal mage. I had the mage take one of his bony fingers, scrape some of the potion off the wall, and apply it to his mouth saying he was healed 1 hp point.

My thoughts were healing potions are not radiant, therefore it would not hurt him. Was I wrong in my jugement?

Thanks :)

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Ah, I suspect your player may be familiar with earlier editions where healing potions and spells used 'positive energy' that healed the living and harmed the undead - whereas 'negative energy' did the opposite. \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Jun 18, 2012 at 5:47

1 Answer 1


No, potions of healing don't hurt undead (unless you hit them really really hard with the vial).

Monsters and NPC usually have 1 healing surge per tier, and potions are one of the few ways they are able to tap on them. Some humanoid monsters from early monster manuals have the Second Wind power explicitly listed in their stat block (most template-created intelligent undead, for example).

The following healing potions (those that appear on the Player's Handbook) require the user to spend a healing surge in order to gain their effect.

The following potions, however, function even if the imbiber is bloodied and has no healing surges left. They can be found in the Mordenkainen's Magnificent Emporium.

Positive and negative energy is a thing of previous edition. In 4th edition, radiant and necrotic are damage type keywords, but they are not intrinsically tied to the healing keyword or mechanics.

For example, some undead have healing powers (like the Skull Lord, the Spirit Devourer, or the Voidsoul Specter).

The way you handled the thing was, in my opinion, correct. You gave the hint to your players that the healing keyword does not mean radiant damage.

Edit: In a previous version of this answer I stated that monsters usually have no healing surge. This is false, as @wax eagle pointed out.

  • 6
    \$\begingroup\$ Actually, most monsters have 1 healing surge/tier. They just don't typically have a way to use them. \$\endgroup\$
    – wax eagle
    Jun 18, 2012 at 12:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ Woha! You're totally and awesomely right! I forgot it. Going to edit the answer before spreading false information. Thank you for being watchful. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 18, 2012 at 12:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ It amuses me that the 1d4 damage the potion bottle could have done on a hit would then be healed by taste-testing the contents. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ananisapta
    Jun 18, 2012 at 13:44

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