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Potion usage costs an action according to RAW, as stated in the DMG on page 139:

Drinking or administering a potion takes an action.

However, I have heard of GM's house-ruling that PC's may use a bonus action to drink a potion -- at least for oneself (pouring it down the mouth of an unconscious ally still requires an action). Would this materially unsettle the balance of the game, e.g. could it be exploited by players in a way that makes them over-powered?

Please say if you have ruled this way at your table and what the results were like. Or, if you believe that it would be over-powered, please explain the combination of rules or situations that would result in that being the case.

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5 Answers 5

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I've seen potions houseruled to be available as a bonus action, and I've houseruled this myself on occasion.

The answer to your question is:

It depends on the availability of potions

In the early game, 50gp for a potion is very expensive, and nobody's going to use one except in emergencies when someone is unconscious.

Later in the game -- well, checking this D&D Beyond forum post, I see that a level-10 character is expected to have 16563gp. The most they could spend on equipment is like 1500gp for a plate armor, so the rest of it could reasonably be spent on potions.

If a potion takes an action to use, then our hypothetical tenth-level party can now spend an action to heal, whenever they want. That's not very good, because it prevents them from attacking! But, if they can spend a bonus action to heal, they might start doing that every turn.


In my games, I houseruled that potions could be administered as a bonus action. I did this even though I knew it was a large power boost, because I wanted my game to not have much risk of death. I strictly limited the gold supply and the potion supply, to prevent combat from being entirely risk-free.

More recently, I don't use the house rule any more. I expect people to bring the healing word spell if they want to get their allies back to consciousness.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I like this experience-based answer, and the "lessons learned" bit at the end. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 1, 2023 at 11:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ The point about availability is a big one that often gets forgotten in discussions like this, and it’s even bigger in 5e because of how wonky the player wealth setup is (there is no real gold sink for players other than potions RAW). \$\endgroup\$ Sep 1, 2023 at 13:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ Limiting the availability of potions above the basic Potion of Healing should only be natural as they are considered magic items, while the basic one is merely adventuring gear. The basic potion's average 7 HP per bonus action is useless outside of saving 0 HP characters and by level 10 everyone should have a far better use for bonus actions than chugging a potion every turn. People also tend to forget carrying capacity rules, as lugging around hundreds of potions will quickly become unwieldy. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kryomaani
    Sep 1, 2023 at 19:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ There are also plenty of RAW gold sinks like lifestyle expenses and downtime activities, yet these rules too often get overlooked. It is true that even the aristocratic lifestyle of 10+ gp a day might not sap the resources of a rich adventurer, but that is mostly down to the DM giving them too much money to begin with. The rules are not perfect, but it's still a bit dishonest to say there isn't a RAW solution to the wealth problem if your game specifically opts to ignore all of the related rules. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kryomaani
    Sep 1, 2023 at 19:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Kryomaani: Yes, it is a magic item – no matter how it's implemented in DDB's systems. That's why it's italicized in the adventuring gear table in the PHB. The regular potion of healing also appears under D&D Beyond's magic item listing, in addition to appearing in the DMG's list of magic items (and the corresponding section of the basic rules). \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Sep 5, 2023 at 20:03
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It depends ... (my house rule follows)

... like the other answers already explained. Likewise, I'm thinking that drinking a potion as a bonus action is a strong benefit for all potion owners. But I have a house rule, that - I think - balances this again and perhaps you like it.

Note: In my games I limit the amount of magical items including potions quite strictly. Also, for easy playing, I rule that items are stored safely in the backpack; only in the very worst situation I check if items are destroyed or damaged. (This is somewhat (!) backuped by the rule e.g. that in many cases items don't catch fire if carried by someone.).

I have to add that I have not had games in the third or fourth tier recently.

A potion (and similar consumable magical items) can be administered by the owner as a bonus action only if that item was 'Readied'; which can be done as an action or even before the combat starts (of course, it still needs only an action to administer a potion, even if not readied). 'Readying' means that the potion was retrieved from the backpack and put in the belt (or similar). It depends on the situation whether the readied potion can be seen by enemies or is slightly concealed.

The drawback of readied items: They are possible subjects to all damage - especially AoE spell damage but even melee attacks can destroy such an item by chance. Actually, I am still trying different rules to decide when this is the case, but these are those I favor:

  • enemy attacks with critical hit (perhaps additional to enhanced damage)
  • owner fails with a critical miss (item slips out of the belt)
  • area of effect damages (magical or mundane)
  • fall damage
  • water (in case of readied scrolls)

I don't want to put those readied items into too much danger; I do not try to apply this part of my rule in every situation and the items are not destroyed automatically (applying the Object Damage rules). Just the risk of losing items accidentally means that players ready items only in important situations. This seems to balance the game very much by itself.

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    \$\begingroup\$ For clarity, I think you mean that a "readied potion" under your house rule is not to be confused with the PC having used the Ready action (has nothing to to with that). Right? \$\endgroup\$
    – Valley Lad
    Sep 2, 2023 at 5:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ Correct, I should have mentioned that. \$\endgroup\$
    – Flynxer
    Sep 3, 2023 at 6:35
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It can, yes

In the first 5e campaign I ran, I had the party find healing berries that could be consumed with a bonus action — effectively healing potions that could be consumed as a bonus action. This was to make the low-level characters a little more resilient, so they could stand up to the creatures I had in store for them.

Some players thought it was a great treasure, but others weren’t wild about them. The cleric felt they kind of supplanted her power as the healer of the party. Another player felt they were overpowered, taking the spotlight off the PC’s and their powers.

After the party leveled up, the berries were gone for good, and I stuck more closely to the standard action economy.

I’ll also point out that a few potions, such as Fire Breath have effects that happen on a bonus action. This rare, powerful effect of being able to consume and benefit from the potion in the same round would just become how every potion works.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Funnily enough, you would no longer be able to benefit from Fire Breath on the same round, if you used a bonus action to drink it. \$\endgroup\$
    – Wlerin
    Sep 2, 2023 at 17:54
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This won't necessarily ruin your game, but it does make it more difficult to challenge players who keep a ready supply of consumables, and it definitely increases their power.

As a lower end example of a tactic I've used under this rule, I've cast a beacon of hope using my action, and then used a bonus action to drink a potion of superior healing for 40 HP. Being an abjurer, this also brought up my arcane ward.

Let's look a little farther into the future, though, where someone can drink a potion of heroism with their action, a potion of speed with their bonus action, and now with their haste action, a potion of giant's might/size.

It's a nice rule to offer beginners in the first tier of play while they get things sorted, but once they've gotten their feet wet it offers a level of power scaling in the first round of combat that encounters aren't really designed for, IMO.

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    \$\begingroup\$ If people are stacking multiple potions that have ongoing effects (unlike healing potions), consider using the potion miscibility table; apparently there is one for 5e in the DMG as a variant rule. Also, how does the party have this many potions to burn? Are they brewing them themselves during downtime, or are they readily available at every shop? If potions themselves are hard to find, making them feel powerful by allowing a bonus action seems reasonable. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 1, 2023 at 21:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ @PeterCordes TBH I was aware of that rule (and enjoy it!) but had somehow managed to miss the detail that it applied to stacking multiple potions, not just pre-mixing them in a flask. Although, some of those effects on the miscibility table escalate the power scaling issue rather than ameliorating it... which is why I like it. :-D Drools at the thought of permanent Giant Size \$\endgroup\$ Sep 1, 2023 at 22:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ Hope you don't need to visit the homes of any gnomes, or climb through a window (without using your strength to make a bigger hole :P). Oh, and I mis-stated it slightly: it can be applied when you "drink one potion while still under the effects of another," so could affect instantaneous healing potions consumed while under the effect of an ongoing duration potion, not just for two potions with ongoing effects. Unless the DM specifically wants to exempt healing potions. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 1, 2023 at 22:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ @PeterCordes Oh, there's challenges, for sure... but having to burn a spell resource to deal with being too big for permanently doubled HP (not to mention 25 strength...) is a no-contest trade, even if you have to burn it every day. Clerics using a level 9 aid spell would certainly be jealous... I feel like doing that to healing potions would be unnecessarily evil, unless it was baby's first heal potion. You also don't want the players to take advantage of the availability to prompt lotto tickets for permanent effects. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 2, 2023 at 8:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ Oh, I wasn't familiar with that potion; I assumed it was just an Enlarge effect. Yeah, doubling your HP max is hugely valuable, even without doubling your short-rest hit-die healing to keep up. And triple weapon damage is way better than an extra 1d4. Ok, it does make you Huge, not just 1 size larger. Yeah, no wonder it's a Legendary potion, not a 2nd-level spell! \$\endgroup\$ Sep 2, 2023 at 8:40
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From my own game, allowing using a Potion on yourself (not others) as a Bonus Action not only aided the desire to use Potions at all (because they didn't waste a turn) but has even led to epic moments in our story.

Might there be some potions that could destabilize things if they are used as a Bonus Action? Perhaps, but there are always some things that are just better than others. As the DM, that's part of your job to incorporate a balance of what materials are available to the party. If they can easily stock up on tons of high-recovery potions then this would certainly be a foolish rule to add.

So the direct answer is: don't allow them to easily get tons of healing potions (no matter what level they are). Make them have to put in the work to get the potions, whether it be limited supplies in stores, limited supplies for crafting, or other problems (like time to craft, bandits that steal resources, etc.) that interfere with stocking up. And have things deadly enough to make using them up at the wrong time a real risk.

It's totally up to the DM to allow or deny players having tons of healing Potions, Potions of Dragon's Majesty, or whatever else they might be. Like many other things, they should be a slow-renewable resource that can't be counted on to be available at all times.

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