PHB 153 reads:

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

By my interpretation, this means that while the rules are flexible in regards to who has to spend the action, they are inflexible in that a character must still actually drink the potion. In other words, any character can administer a potion to save someone else's action, but their target must be conscious and able to drink.

I know part of a DM's job is to apply common sense to my rulings, and common sense tells me that an unconscious person is more likely to choke to death than to swallow 4oz of liquid.

A few of my players disagree. Who's right in this situation?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Given that swallowing is a reflex, I don't see why consciousness would be a requirement for it. On the contrary, drowning people regularily swallow sea water, despite attempting to consciously suppress swallowing. \$\endgroup\$ – Tom Feb 12 '19 at 11:30

Your players are right. An unconscious character can consume a potion administered by another player.

This is held up by this sage advice entry, by Jeremy Crawford, a 5e designer.

Imathil Half-Elven
@JeremyECrawford Can potions be administered to unconscious characters as an action? Aspirating being the issue.
10:01 PM - 18 Aug 2015

Jeremy Crawford
Yes, you can administer a potion to someone else as an action (DMG, 139).
10:47 PM - 18 Aug 2015

As with all things, it's perfectly allowable to house-rule this, especially considering the real-life concerns with dumping fluids down someone's throat. If you decide to do so, make sure your players know that you are making the house rule, and if they are new players, that it is a house rule, so they do not get confused in future games. Additionally, it might not be a bad idea to allow players who purchased potions for use on others to retroactively not purchase them, as the world does not work the way they thought it did when the purchase occurred.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This answer could be improved by including the text JC refers to in DMG 139. \$\endgroup\$ – Isaac Reefman Feb 12 '19 at 0:59

From DMG p.139, "Most potions consist of one ounce of liquid." Just to clarify the amount of liquid we are dealing with here.

From PHB p.197, "If damage reduces you to 0 hit points and does not kill you, you fall unconscious (see Appendix A). This unconsciousness ends if you regain any hit points."

The most obvious answer to this would just be "Rule of Fun" - it's going to be really boring for the other characters if they have no other method of healing, and have to just sit around waiting for the unconscious person to regain a hit point after 1d4 hours. That's not even considering other possible trouble, if they happen to be somewhere it isn't safe to just sit around for several hours.

If that doesn't work, consider ways around it. While drinking a potion is considered the standard application method, it doesn't have to be the only way. Dribble the potion over the other character's wounds, or maybe even just splash it at them. It is rules-legal to administer a potion to someone who is engaged in the middle of melee, and I can't see whatever they are fighting taking a step back to let someone heal their opponent.

Additionally, there's always the "it's magic" excuse. Perhaps part of the magic causes the person to swallow it automatically, or maybe it works like mouthwash - swish it around in your mouth so the magic soaks in, then spit out the now-useless liquid.

It's considered rules-legal by the designers. It's reasonable based on extrapolation from other instances when applying potions are legal. It makes the game more fun, and proceed more smoothly.

If none of these reasons satisfies you, then don't allow it.

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  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ It's implied on p.139 of the DMG and clarified in a Jeremy Crawford tweet. sageadvice.eu/2015/09/04/… \$\endgroup\$ – keithcurtis Jul 15 '16 at 17:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ I didn't notice the tweet had been referenced in another answer. I'm keeping the comment here, since it refers to the immediate clarification requested. \$\endgroup\$ – keithcurtis Jul 15 '16 at 17:17

Actually, I used to be a paramedic and during a cardiac arrest situation (the patient is making death saving throws), we would routinely give some drugs through the endotracheal tube (a tube, used for Oxygen delivery, that goes into the trachea). This is a thing in real life.

In the D&D world where things like healing potions are, by definition, magical, we could say with reasonableness that as soon as the potion enters the character's body (with the mouth being the most common, but you play your character your way and I'll play mine my way), the potion is immediately ingested.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jan 12 '17 at 19:27

The idea of "administering" a potion to someone who is fighting is so hilarious to me that I have trouble envisioning any use for "administering" a potion EXCEPT to someone who can't drink it themselves.

Additionally, I think it's unreasonable to stipulate that a healing potion is "1.5 pints" - that would be an extremely large "vial".

Every game I have ever played in allowed unconscious people to be 'force fed' healing potions. It might not be extremely realistic, but I believe its within the spirit of the rules.

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  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Are you suggesting this as a house rule? \$\endgroup\$ – Robert Jul 15 '16 at 17:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ Maybe imagine the action as being mostly about un-stoppering the bottle (which was well-sealed to withstand the rigours of travel). Imagine the person spending the action doing that and then just handing the vial to the person fighting, not pouring it into their mouth while they tip their head to the side while actively fighting with a sword in each hand. \$\endgroup\$ – Peter Cordes Jul 18 '16 at 6:53

As stated previously, unconscious, near death characters are routinely allowed to have a healing potion "administered" to them. In my own, old school D&D games, I envisioned (and described) this more like a medic pouring the potion into the wound itself than trying to force the potion down the other character's throat. After all, if the point is to get the potion into the bloodstream (which it may not be, since it's magic) then applying it directly to the wound seems to logically fulfill the requirements.

For the sake of consistency (why doesn't everybody just pour a potion onto their wound instead of drinking it?) I stated (though I made no formal rule) that potions were more efficient when taken internally, so the external application would remain something done only when another player was unconscious or incapacitated.

My players thought that it worked pretty well logically speaking.

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Jeremy Crawford has answered this in his Twitter feed, and I'm sure it made it to Sage Advice. An unconscious person can drink (or be fed) a potion. Potion away!

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for adding the link, Tal! I went to find it and when I came back, there you were. \$\endgroup\$ – Dharmabob Jul 15 '16 at 16:38

It is common for unconscious people to drink by pouring liquid in mouth and holding mouth and nose closed. This forces a swallow, and therefore prevents choking.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This does not really answer the question from a game perspective \$\endgroup\$ – Erik Jun 19 '17 at 16:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ Hi Thatoneguy, and welcome to the site. Please check out our tour to see how we work here. We're looking for expert guidance on the game's rules and how they relate to this situation -- could you provide citation to ground this in the game itself? \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jun 19 '17 at 16:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Erik it does both from the RAW and real life all answers don't \$\endgroup\$ – Neuromancer May 6 '18 at 15:11

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