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Potions, !, are magical drinks that appear in NetHack.

All potions have a weight of 20, and are used by drinking them via the quaff command; other monsters may be subjected to the effects of some potions by wielding the potion and hitting them with it, or else throwing it at them. It is also possible to dip other items into potions; some potions can be mixed together in this way to produce other potions—this is called alchemy.

Potions do not leave behind the empty bottles when consumed; the bottle presumably evaporates or is otherwise disposed of when the potion is drunk.

Table of potions

Potion Cost Weight Relative probability[1] Appearance
water (uncursed) 0 20 6.9% clear
booze 50 20 4.2% random
fruit juice 50 20 4.2% random
see invisible 50 20 4.2% random
sickness 50 20 4.2% random
confusion 100 20 4.2% random
extra healing 100 20 4.7% random
hallucination 100 20 4% random
healing 100 20 5.7% random
holy water 100 20 1.15% clear
unholy water 100 20 1.15% clear
restore ability 100 20 4% random
sleeping 100 20 4.2% random
blindness 150 20 4% random
gain energy 150 20 4.2% random
invisibility 150 20 4% random
monster detection 150 20 4% random
object detection 150 20 4.2% random
enlightenment 200 20 2% random
full healing 200 20 1% random
levitation 200 20 4.2% random
polymorph 200 20 1% random
speed 200 20 4.2% random
acid 250 20 1% random
oil 250 20 3% random
gain ability 300 20 4.2% random
gain level 300 20 2% random
paralysis 300 20 4.2% random


Potions constitute 16% of all randomly-generated items in the main dungeon, 18% in containers, 22% on the Rogue level, and 1% in Gehennom.[2] Potion BUC distribution is as follows: 18 cursed, 34 uncursed, and 18 blessed.[3]

On top of random generation, potions can be found in shops, and various monsters are generated with certain potions.


There are many ways to identify potions, without resorting to the obvious methods. Clear potions are always potions of water, and potions of oil are automatically identified for players starting with an oil lamp.


Most monsters will only use, pick up, or be created carrying the following potions:

Nymphs will pick up anything, and are created with a potion of object detection half of the time.

Monsters drink useful potions occasionally; if they are in line of sight when quaffing, you will observe any changes to their condition, which can formally or informally identify the potion. Monsters will never quaff harmful potions, but are likely to throw them at you.

A user has suggested improving this page or section as follows:

"Do monsters with the Likes_magic attribute pick up unusable potions? Yes, most potions are magical (sickness, fruit juice, booze, acid, oil and water are not). likes_magic covers wizards, dragons, winged gargoyles, salamanders, archons and numerous named monsters"

Dip identification

The following table summarizes the effects of #dipping items into potions (excluding alchemy). In most cases, dipping will consume your potion, but on occasion it will change the potion instead; both are listed where applicable in the "Resulting potion" column.

Dipped object Initial potion Resulting potion Notes
Unicorn horn Potion of oil (Potion consumed) You get the message "Your unicorn horn gleams with an oily sheen."
Potion of sickness Potion of fruit juice
Potion of blindness Potion of water
Potion of confusion
Potion of hallucination
Poisoned projectiles Potion of healing (Potion consumed) The projectiles become unpoisoned. (Eligible projectiles are arrows, crossbow bolts, darts, and shuriken.)
Potion of extra healing
Potion of full healing
Unpoisoned projectiles Potion of sickness (Potion consumed) The projectiles become poisoned. (Eligible projectiles are arrows, crossbow bolts, darts, and shuriken.)
Any polymorphable item Potion of polymorph (Potion consumed) Most items will be polymorphed, but have a chance of resisting. If the item polymorphs into itself, you get the message "Nothing seems to happen."
Any non-polymorphable item You get the message "Nothing happens."
Amethyst Potion of booze Potion of fruit juice This is also useful for identifying the amethyst.
Lichen corpse Potion of acid The corpse will "turn red around the edges", or orange if the acid is somehow diluted.
Any iron or copper item (Potion consumed) The item will corrode.
Any rusty or corroded weapon Potion of oil (Potion consumed) The weapon loses one measure of erosion damage.

Unicorn horns are incredibly useful for identifying potions. If dipping a unicorn horn into a potion produced no effect, then the potion is probably safe to drink, although some harmful potions (notably paralysis and sleeping) are not neutralized by a unicorn horn. Potions of booze will not be neutralized, but the negative effects can be dealt with as long as the potion is not cursed. Creating fruit juice using a unicorn horn or amethyst can also be useful when trying to identify the potion of see invisible; both produce the same message when quaffed.

However, carelessly dipping a unicorn horn into every unidentified potion might present difficulties if it is transformed by a potion of polymorph. While unicorn horns are not too hard to come across, this is still best avoided if you only have one at the moment; this also breaks polypileless conduct, and players adhering to it will want to refrain from dip-testing with anything but a wand of polymorph until they have potions of polymorph identified. Conversely, players with spare unicorn horns may want to do this for the chance of producing a useful (and possibly magical) tool, such as a magic marker.

Dip-testing with ammunition, such as a single dart or arrow, can safely detect potions of polymorph, and has the added benefit of identifying potions of sickness, since they will poison the item; if dipping projectiles that you intend to use, you should dip test for polymorph and acid first.

Price identification

Main article: Price identification

Most price categories have at least one good potion and one bad potion, so price identification needs to be combined with other methods to be useful. Price categories with just one harmful potion can be quaff-tested with very little preparation: for example if you have a carrot to cure blindness, you can quaff-test any 150 zm potion.

Base cost Potion types Notes
0 Useful to differentiate from holy and unholy water

In this category:

  • Sickness is harmful
  • Booze is inconvenient
  • Delicatessens only buy or sell booze and fruit juice

In this category:

  • (Un)holy water will be clear potions, and can be ruled out instantly
  • Hallucination is harmful
  • Confusion and sleeping are troublesome if enemies are nearby

In this category:

  • Only blindness is harmful, and can be easily cured with a carrot
  • Invisibility will make it hard to leave a shop

In this category:

  • Polymorph is harmful, but can easily be identified with a junk item
  • Levitation is a nuisance

In this category:

  • Oil is very easy to identify by applying.
  • Neither of these are good to quaff

In this category:

  • About 40% of potions will be gain ability, which benefit from blessing
  • Cursed gain level can cause you to rise out of a shop with unpaid items
  • Paralysis is dangerous


Try to apply every new potion you find. If the potion lights, it will auto-identify as a potion of oil. Do not do this with an unpaid potion is owned by a shop, or you will be charged a Yendorian Fuel Tax. It is possible to avoid the charge by dropping everything else that can be applied besides the suspected potion, then hit a. If the potion is oil, you will be asked what to apply; if it isn't, you will be told that you have nothing that can be applied. This may be a bug.


When you have tried the above methods and all else fails, you can always quaff an unknown potion. However, this will not always identify it, and there are dangers. See potion quaffing effects for a comprehensive list of potion effects when quaffed.

Before you start quaffing, curse-test the potion, as quaffing a cursed potion is unwise—although you will still be able to identify it, you will miss out on some benefits of useful potions and suffer increased damage from harmful ones.

You should wait for your health to completely heal before quaffing. That way, should you quaff a potion of healing, extra healing, or full healing, your maximum health will increase. In addition, should you quaff a potion of acid or sickness, it will be much less likely to kill you outright.

Surviving harmful potions

Before drinking a potentially harmful potion, there are some things you can do to prevent or at least minimize the risks. Additionally, after drinking a harmful potion, there are ways to cure the bad effects. These are summarized in the table below.

Potion Risk minimizers Cures
  • potion is blessed, or
  • you are a Healer
paralysis, sleeping

Perhaps, a Healer with a ring of free action who is also wielding Grayswandir while wearing the Eyes of the Overworld and an amulet of unchanging would be in a good position to quaff-identify potions without fear. However, most players manage to find a unicorn horn before any of those other items.

Interpreting messages

If the potion is not automatically identified, the message is often helpful to identify it.

Message Possible potions
You feel great, good, or mediocre restore ability
You feel better either restore ability ("Wow! This makes you feel better!"), or healing ("You feel better")
tastes like "liquid fire" or "dandelion wine" (maybe "watered down") booze
you have an "uneasy feeling"

you either

it tastes "rotten", "overripe", or its taste has something to do with slime mold or your favorite fruit potion of either see invisible or fruit juice (aka slime mold juice). However, if you were invisible, could not see invisible already, and were not blind, it must be a fruit juice.
it tastes "foul" cursed potion of gain ability
you feel "threatened", or you "get the heebie jeebies" potion of monster detection without monsters on the level
it is something about your leg or legs (they "feel somehow better", or "get a new energy") potion of speed
your eyes itch, or your eye itches either a potion of blindness or a potion of hallucination
"you have a strange feeling for a moment, then it passes" potion of blindness or a potion of hallucination, and you are an eyeless monster
you "rise up, through the ceiling" cursed potion of gain level
it "burns", or the potion feels sour or tangy if it was not water (a clear potion), then it was acid

If you have a "peculiar feeling for a moment, then it passes", it can be several cases:

If you have a "normal feeling for a moment, then it passes", it can be the same as peculiar feeling while hallucinating, or it can be a potion of blindness or hallucination while you are an eyeless monster.


Fire and cold attacks can cause potions in your main inventory or on the ground to boil or freeze and be destroyed. This does not happen to potions in a container, so it is generally advisable to stash potions in one when possible. Potions boiled by fire attacks are vaporized, which can subject you to the effects of the vapors; potions frozen by cold attacks will not release any vapors.


Most potions will become diluted when they get wet, either through immersion in open water, or dipping into open water, a fountain, or another potion. This will not happen when dipping into holy water or unholy water—those potions change the beatitude of the dipped item without actually getting it wet, and are consumed in the process; potions of water also cannot be diluted.

Diluted potions are listed as such in your inventory, and they will not stack with non-diluted potions, but function largely the same as their undiluted counterparts. This can be a minor hassle if your intention is to bless a group of potions with holy water, or if you have no container and inventory slots are at a premium. There are also some exceptions, mostly minor:

  • A diluted potion of booze will not cure 1HP of damage, as a non-diluted one will.
  • A diluted potion of see invisible will give somewhat different messages, though the effect is the same.
  • A diluted potion of fruit juice gives half the nutrition of a non-diluted one.

If a diluted potion is diluted a second time, it will lose any blessed or cursed status, and become an uncursed potion of water. This is often used for making holy water, and provides a reason for most characters to hold on to otherwise useless or harmful potions.

There are some exceptions to the above principles:

  • A potion of acid will not dilute, but instead cause an explosion that does damage to the character. If your character dies as a result of this, the cause of death will be listed as "elementary chemistry."
  • A potion of water can not be diluted, which is not surprising, but this means that holy water and unholy water are also immune to dilution, as they are simply blessed or cursed potions of water, and losing beatitude is a consequence of dilution.
  • Alchemy will not dilute an already-diluted potion, so it is safe to convert a potion of healing into a diluted potion of extra healing, and then into a diluted potion of full healing.

Alchemy is a somewhat complicated process which has a few wrinkles of its own; players are advised to study that article for more information before alchemizing, unless they enjoy picking imaginary shards of glass out of their faces.

Thrown potions

Potions may be wielded or thrown in combat by you or other monsters. A monster has an 80% chance of taking 1 HP of damage when hit, while you may receive 1 to 2 HP of damage. If you don't see the potion hit the monster, you will get the message "Crash!" A monster hit by a potion is subjected to its effects, but generally to a lesser extent than from quaffing it; however, a thrown potion has a chance of missing the target, in which case it will shatter without affecting them.

When a potion shatters, it is possible for the vapors to affect monsters in adjacent squares, including the player. For this reason, wielding a potion hand-to-hand can be riskier than throwing it from a distance, although in this case the potion will only shatter when it hits the monster. Circumstances will ultimately dictate which is more preferable for hitting a given monster, e.g. wearing a ring of free action and wielding a potion of paralysis.

Smoky and milky potions

Smoky and milky potions are special. Regardless of their other properties, quaffing a smoky potion has a chance of releasing a djinni, and quaffing a milky potion may release a hostile ghost.


You have a peculiar feeling for a moment, then it passes.
You quaffed a potion, but it had no noticeable effect, e.g. quaffing a potion of blindness while already blind.[4]
You have a normal feeling for a moment, then it passes.
As above, but you were hallucinating.[5]
That is a potion bottle, not a Klein bottle!
You tried to dip a potion into itself.[6]


External links

Encyclopedia entry

POTABLE, n. Suitable for drinking. Water is said to be
potable; indeed, some declare it our natural beverage,
although even they find it palatable only when suffering
from the recurrent disorder known as thirst, for which it
is a medicine. Upon nothing has so great and diligent
ingenuity been brought to bear in all ages and in all
countries, except the most uncivilized, as upon the
invention of substitutes for water. To hold that this
general aversion to that liquid has no basis in the
preservative instinct of the race is to be unscientific --
and without science we are as the snakes and toads.

[ The Devil's Dictionary, by Ambrose Bierce ]

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