A classic method of identifying potions (especially in OSR games) is by sipping them. This method is attractive to me for the potential fun involved in experimenting with unknown effects. However, I find that there are conceptual problems with it. These are the possible scenarios I can think of:
- A character discovers the effect of the potion by experiencing them through a sip (example: if Bob the Fighter tastes a healing potion, he will be healed): the logical consequence here is that a sip is sufficient to elicit the full effect of the potion. Thus, nothing would stop Bob the Fighter to drink only a small sip of a beneficial potion every time he needs its effects, rather than the entire potion. This would extend the durability of the potion to multiple uses, invalidating the equation 1 potion = 1 use. Furthermore, it would make difficult to count remaining uses (how many "sips" are there in a potion?).
- A character can guess the nature of the potion by experiencing a milder version of its effect through a sip (example: if Bob the Fighter tastes a healing potion, he will be healed by a only few hit points). This is possibly better than the previous version, since if Bob the Fighter wants to elicit the full effect, he must drink the whole potion; however, it doesn't address completely the problem. Let's say Bob the Fighter is down a few hit points, and doesn't want to waste a full potion: he can decide to drink a few sips to regain a couple of hit points. So there is still the problem to count remaining uses/remaining effect after a sip. Furthermore, it doesn't work too well with potion with all-or-nothing effects. What happens when Bob the Fighter tastes a potion that changes permanently the color of his hair? It changes the color temporarily? It changes the color permanently, but only slightly?
- A character can guess the nature of the potion by experiencing a "descriptive" version of its effect through a sip (example: if Bob the Fighter tastes a healing potion, he will feel "refreshed", or the GM will describe how bruises disappear and small cuts rapidly heal - but with no mechanical effect). However, as the previous scenario this doesn't seem to work very well with all-or-nothing effects.
- A character can guess the nature of the potion by recognizing its taste (example: if Bob the Fighter tastes a healing potion, the GM will will describe its peculiar taste, and the character will subsequently recognize the same potion by recognizing the taste). This could be a good solution, but I'm concerned that it might grow old pretty fast.
- A sip is not enough to discover the effect, the character must drink the whole potion (example: to know that a healing potion restores hit points, Bob the Fighter must drink it - sipping will have no effect): Another good solution as far as game mechanics and verisimilitude is concerned; my only complain is that Bob the Fighter may be discouraged to drink a potion of which he has only one specimen.
Are there other methods that do not have the previous problems (methods that could encourage experiments while keeping the whole thing amusing for the players and simple for the GM)?