The PHB description of a Potion of Healing states:

A character who drinks the magical red fluid in this vial regains 2d4+2 hit points. Drinking or administering a potion takes an action.

(emphasis mine)

My question is does this final sentence apply to all potions or just healing potions.

The DMG Description of a Potion of Healing does not explicitly specify that it requires an action to drink or administer.

The DMG p. 141 states that:

If an item requires an action to activate, that action isn't a function of the Use an Item action...

But the "if" there clearly implies that there are magic items that do not require an action to activate.

The section on consumables on the same page says nothing about how long an item takes to activate.

We know that one could, for example, "drink all the ale in a flagon" as a free object interaction (PHB p. 190) but we know that a Healing Potion, at least, is an exception to that rule and always requires a full Action to consume.

This came up at the table with a potion of fire breathing. I made an at-the-table ruling that since healing potions require an action to consume, that one would as well. But is there clear guidance somewhere in the rules that I've missed? Or are we meant to take the final sentence of the PHB description of a Potion of Healing as the general rule?


2 Answers 2


Drinking/administering a potion takes an action, as you cited from DMG at p.139. That's the general rule in effect, unless specifically contradicted.

You note that the DMG's description of the Potion of Healing doesn't mention that it requires an action to consume, and seem to be wondering if that omission is meant to signal something. But every other potion described in the DMG also omits any description of the mechanics of drinking potions: they just start with phrases like "when you drink..." or "for one hour after drinking...." So we can't read anything into the omission, or the general rule would apply in no cases. (DMG5e pp.187-8)

So why does the PHB call out the consume action in its Potion of Healing description?

The Potion of Healing is the only potion described in the PHB (p. 153); the PHB doesn't have a general "potions" section akin to the DMG's on p.139. So this is the natural place in the PHB to mention that interaction with the action economy1. Would it have been clearer to add to the sidebar on p.190? Maybe, but that's a sidebar full of free interactions, not examples of things that aren't-free-interactions-though-you-might-think-they're-just-the-same.

Sidebar: But I can quaff an entire flagon...

Yeah, this bugged my table too. We made in-world sense of it by saying that a magical potion is an... unusual enough mouth-experience to take a moment2 to consume. A flagon of ale... apparently the game designers assume our characters are more-inured to that experience than to the experience of drinking spells.

1 - it's also mentioned in the Herbalism Kit, but that's the least-natural place to talk about the potion's consumption.

2 - I think about trying to get my kids to take emoxicillin and Wish it only took six seconds =P

  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Feb 15, 2017 at 15:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ It's perhaps worth mentioning that you can only quaff an entire flagon if it is already accessible. If you somehow had a flagon in your backpack it would take the exact same number of things from your action-economy as taking a Potion out of your backpack and drinking it. It might not even need to be in a backpack at all \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 2, 2020 at 11:36

I think the action implies all the things one must do to get the potion to the mouth. A flagon of ale is already in your hand and you are assumed to be ready to drink it. Unless you walk around and fight with a potion of healing in your hand, it's definitely an action.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Can you explain your reasoning further? \$\endgroup\$
    – Mark Wells
    Commented Nov 30, 2019 at 23:08

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