Typically, players find or are awarded magic items, but sometimes they wish to create them—or at least know how they are made. There are a number of existing resources for how to make magic items, but many of them focus on general abstractions that boil down to who can make it, how long will it take, and what does it cost. I find it can be valuable to spell out specific fantastic processes.
Knowing these details aids in worldbuilding and gives your campaign a more lived-in feel. It can help players visualize what their characters or NPCs actually do and how magic works in your world. And it aids in character development—the method a druid uses to brew a potion may be different from that of a wizard.
A magical formula can be a fun adventure hook. If you give the players a formula for an item that they want, then it will feel natural for them to seek out the required ingredients. Many adventures use that type of McGuffin plot device for good reason, and in this case, it empowers the player to choose how they engage with the story.
It is a different and interesting way of awarding treasure in a manner that feels interactive to the players. If they have a variety of formulas that they’re interested in using, then every adventure becomes a scavenger hunt in addition to whatever the main plot is.
So let’s dive into some potion and oil formulas you can use.
Formula: Oil of Etherealness
- Infuse a mature hickory tree with ethereal energy from a ghost or wraith. A tree growing in a haunted area may naturally become infused with ethereal energy over a course of weeks if a wraith or ghost pass through it on a daily (nightly) basis. If a ghost or wraith stop within the tree long enough to take damage or if they are destroyed or put to rest in the immediate vicinity, their essence will infuse the hickory with ethereal energy for at least 24 hours.
- Make a 10-foot-radius circle of powdered silver and iron around the tree. This circle must remain unbroken and untouched until the nuts are harvested (see below).
- Water the hickory tree once a day using holy water. As the tree drinks the holy water, it will try to expel the ghostly matter inside it, which will not be able to escape due to the circle.
- The next batch of nuts that grows will contain several ghost nuts. They are easily identifiable by their gray hue. Harvest the ghost nuts, shell them, and soak them until soft. Drain the water and blend the nuts into a smooth paste. Put the paste in a sterilized airtight container and let them sit undisturbed for one to two days. Oil of etherealness will start to rise to the top and can be separated from the nut paste using a sieve.
Formula: Potion of Animal Friendship
- Collect two dollops of honey, a tuft of bear fur, a giant poisonous snakeskin, an eagle feather, giant frog slime, and the tooth of a giant shark. The animals these items are collected from must all be alive at the time of brewing the potion and must not be hostile toward the brewer.
- Obtain a leaf freely given from a dryad’s tree. Crush the leaf and pulverize all of the animal ingredients together. Add the mixture to a gallon of dark beer.
- Reduce the mixture over low heat for 4 hours and strain the liquid into 8-ounce glass bottles to cool.
- Discard the bottles separately within an acre of your dwelling. An animal will retrieve one of them and leave it on your doorstep within the week. This is the finished potion. (Leprechauns get drunk on the others.) This step works best if they are discarded into a wilderness where sapient beings are unlikely to find them.
Formula: Potion of Greater Healing
- Boil troll blood using concentrated sun rays, lightning, or another flameless heat source. Do not use fire as it will destroy the blood. While it boils, a frothy film will rise to the top. This is troll blood extract. Carefully skim and reserve the extract, being sure to separate ALL the troll blood. Troll blood in the final potion will cause the imbiber to grow troll flesh to knit wounds.
- Mix just enough ground yarrow with hot water to form a paste. This poultice will make the potion effective at healing fire damage.
- Add the yarrow paste and troll blood extract to chicken stock, mix until all ingredients are suspended, and seal in an airtight container.
Formula: Potion of Mind Reading
- Carefully drain the jelly from a sizeable purple jellyfish, separating out the membranes, tentacles, and organs. You will need two quarts of jelly, and this must come from one creature. Place the jelly in a round-bottomed glass container, shining a bright light through it to remove any impurities.
- In a bowl made from a doppelganger’s skull, mix two parts crushed dream lotus stamen and one part amobarbital (a bitter, white, crystalline alchemical powder). If the bowl does not have the properties inherent to a doppelganger skull, then the resulting potion may cause the imbiber to speak their thoughts aloud rather than being able to read the thoughts of others.
- Add the mixture to the jelly and, over a period of days, slowly agitate. The mixture will bond with the jelly to create a pink cloud, and the purple jelly pigment will collect around the cloud, draining color from the rest of the solution.
- Once the solution is separated into a purple and pink cloud within a colorless transparent solution, remove the colored portion with a syringe and seal in an airtight container.
4 thoughts on “Midgard Alchemy: Potion Formulations”
These are great. I’d buy a whole book of formulas like these!
Can you share some of your inspirations for these formulas? How do you approach making up a formula for a potion?
Thank you so much Benjamin, I’m glad you liked them. Good news, I am working on more for the future.
I came up with the idea of doing this at all back in a 2nd edition game I was running. The party was curious about brewing potions so I came up with formulas for all the potions and wrote them down in a notebook which I gave them when they discovered it in a defeated wizard’s laboratory. I wish I still had that notebook! The greater healing potion formula is from it because I still remember it they used it so much. They eventually met and recruited a troll henchman named Bloodletter and would drain his blood.
When I was writing these I started with the potion entry in the 5e DMG and worked backwards. I looked at the description, thought of a monster from the SRD that would be connected to its effects. To me its important that it be possible to do, but difficult enough that you can’t necessarily get the ingredients together as a matter of course. The description of what the potions look like gave me some direction as well.
Once I have the monster I try to come up with a process using it that makes sense based on who wrote the forumula. So the greater healing potion is something that an alchemist would do in a laboratory, where the animal friendship potion is more like a druid doing something out of a folk tale. The exact way I came up with the greater healing potion for instance was trolls heal really well except fire and acid, I thought it would be interesting to have to heat it up but without using fire. Theoretically that shouldn’t be able to heal you from fire or acid burns, since trolls can’t do that, so I added the yarrow ingredient because yarrow is used to treat burns. Then the chicken stock base is to make it a consumable liquid and because chicken soup is something you eat to get better (in my childhood home anyway).
I second the idea that a Deep Magic article covering all the potions in the DMG (plus any bonus potions) would be well worth the price of admission.
What I love about this idea is that it could easily be adapted to more complex magic items by just making the gather quests and process more time consuming and difficult.
Very well done.
a booklet of 5 that are made with easily findable ingrediant to be included in an alchemists kit when you first buy one makes sense in my head also gives you somthing else for your loot tables (new recipies)