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Potions are magical drinks. They are denoted by an exclamation mark, ! and weigh 20. Some of them are very useful, some can be deadly. The effects of potions take effect when they are drunk ("quaffed"), or sometimes when they are broken (via wielding, throwing, or effects that destroy items). Some potions can also be mixed together to form new potions — that is called alchemy.

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

The table is divided into price groups. See price identification.


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] Potions appear 1/8 cursed, 3/4 uncursed, and 1/8 blessed.[3]

On top of random generation, potions can be found in shops, in bones files, and amongst the possessions of recently deceased monsters.


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

"tidy up and organize better."

With the exception of potion of water (which is always clear), potions always take a random appearance from the following list:

   ruby        pink        orange        yellow          emerald
   dark green  cyan        sky blue      brilliant blue  magenta
   purple-red  puce        milky         swirly          bubbly
   smoky       cloudy      effervescent  black           golden
   brown       fizzy       dark          white           murky

If you start the game with an oil lamp, the potion of oil is already identified for you.

Ultimately if any action from potion manipulation will formally identify that potion, it will either do that explicitly or will prompt you to #name it. Of course, you can still do that independently.


Quaffing an unknown potion is a way to identify it, albeit it does not always work, and there are dangers. See potion quaffing effects for a comprehensive list of potion effects when quaffed.

BUC test the potion. Quaffing a cursed potion is unwise - although you will still be able to identify it, you will miss out on the benefit of useful potions and suffer increased damage from harmful ones.

The most harmful are potions of sickness, blindness, hallucination, and polymorph.

With the potion of sickness, you may lose 3–6 points from a randomly selected ability. The potion is not dangerous if it is blessed, or you are a Healer, or you have a non-cursed unicorn horn, or a non-cursed potion of restore ability. It is not that bad if you are poison resistant, because then you lose only 1 point. You can protect yourself from the bad effects by dipping non-poisoned darts, arrows, or shuriken into the unknown potion before quaffing it. If it is the potion of sickness, it will poison the weapons, being used up and identified.

The potion of blindness is not dangerous if you have a non-cursed unicorn horn, a non-cursed potion of healing, extra healing, or full healing, or a carrot.

The potion of hallucination is not dangerous if you have a non-cursed unicorn horn, a non-cursed potion of extra healing or full healing. It is also not dangerous if you have a blessed potion of sickness, or any potion of sickness while being Healer or having also a non-cursed potion of restore ability.It is also not dangerous if you are wielding Grayswandir.

The potion of polymorph is probably the worst of all. It is not dangerous only if you have polymorph control. However, you may, and probably should, avoid quaffing it inadvertently by dipping some disposable object into any unknown potion before quaffing it. If the potion is polymorph, the object will be polymorphed. Certain objects won't be polymorphed, and so shouldn't be used for this; these are the potion of polymorph, wand of polymorph, spellbook of polymorph, heavy iron ball, Amulet of Yendor, Book of the Dead, Candelabrum of Invocation, a corpse on which you are riding, an object embedded in your skin, and (95% of the time) any artifact.

A potion of paralysis will render you immobile for some turns, but the effect will wear off in 13–46 turns. There is some small chance that a monster may kill you while you are unable to move. It is a good idea not to drink unknown potions when there are many hostile monsters at your level. The safest way to avert this danger is to wear a ring of free action, which protects against paralysis and sleeping. Other mitigation techniques include being on a shallower dungeon level, killing all monsters around you, and having your pet(s) nearby. If you are paranoid enough, lock yourself in a closet. Potions of sleep and paralysis will not clear when a unicorn horn is dipped into them, making them especially dangerous.

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.

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

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.

Price identification then quaffing

If the price is 50zm, the only harmful potion is the potion of sickness. If the potion is blessed, you can safely quaff it. If you are a Healer or the potion of sickness is identified already, you can quaff it even if it is cursed. If potion of sickness is not identified yet, dip any kind of (non-poisoned) arrows, darts, shuriken, or crossbow bolts into it. If it is a potion of sickness, it will poison the projectile weapons and become identified. If nothing happens, you can just quaff the potion.

  • If you have a unicorn horn, dip it into the potion. If it is a potion of sickness, it will become the potion of fruit juice, thus identifying both potions.
  • If it could be a potion of booze, and you have an amethyst, or a gem which can be an amethyst, dip it into the potion. If it is a potion of booze, it will become the potion of fruit juice, thus identifying both potions, and the amethyst.
  • You can show the potion to a delicatessen shopkeeper. They will offer to buy potions of fruit juice or booze, but not see invisible or sickness. Similarly, the only 50zm potion a health food store will buy is fruit juice.

If the price is 100zm, and the potion is not water, the only harmful is potion of hallucination. If you have a non-cursed unicorn horn, quaff the potion, and if it is the potion of hallucination, cure yourself. Instead you may #dip your unicorn horn into the potion. Potion of hallucination will turn to water, but so will potion of confusion. If you have no unicorn horn, quaff the potion if you have a potion of extra healing or full healing, a blessed potion of sickness, or any potion of sickness and something to mitigate its bad effects. Potions of sleeping are marginally risky; other potions in this group are harmless even if they are cursed.

If the price is 150zm the only harmful potion is the potion of blindness. If you have a unicorn horn, dip it into the potion. If it is a potion of blindness, it will turn to water. If you have no unicorn horn, quaff the potion if you have a non-cursed potion of healing or see invisible, any potion of extra healing or full healing, or a carrot. Other potions in this group are harmless, providing they are not cursed. Be careful about quaffing the potion in a shop! The potion of invisibility is in this group, and it is hard to leave a shop if you are invisible. Things can be especially bad if it turns to be a blessed potion of invisibility.

If the price is 200zm, the only harmful potion is the potion of polymorph. Unless you have polymorph control, dip a (not very useful) item into the potion. If it is a potion of polymorph, the item will be polymorphed. Other potions are harmless, providing they are not cursed, but a potion of levitationcan be a bit of nuisance.

If the price is 250zm, it is either acid or oil. Ensure it is not cursed, and try to apply it. If it is a potion of oil, it will light. Do not do this when the potion is owned by a shop, or you will be forced to pay for the potion and will be charged Yendorian Fuel Tax.

If the price is 300zm, it is either gain ability, gain level, or paralysis. Potion of paralysis is slightly risky, especially if there are hostile monsters around. If you are cautious, lock yourself in a closet before quaffing the potion. If the potion can be a cursed potion of gain level, don't quaff in a shop if you have unpaid items. About 40% of newly generated potions in this group are potions of gain ability, so you may want to bless the potion before quaffing it.

Unicorn horn dipping

A unicorn horn can be used to help in identifying potions by means of dipping.

  • Potions of polymorph present a special problem: dipping a unicorn horn in one will polymorph the horn. This presents several considerations:
    • You can dip a wand of polymorph first—you'll get the message "nothing happens" if the potion is polymorph.
    • Players without a spare unicorn horn may want to dip junk items into unidentified potions. Dipping ammunition (such as arrows) has the added benefit of identifying potions of sickness, since they will poison the item.
    • Players adhering to polypileless conduct will want to refrain from dipping anything but polymorph wands into potions until they have potions of polymorph identified. Polymorphing in this manner breaks the conduct.
    • Conversely, players with spare unicorn horns may want to use potions of polymorph on unicorn horns. Being magical tools, polymorph has a small chance of producing something useful, such as a magic marker.

The following potions will change when a unicorn horn is dipped into them("The {color} potion turns {color}."):

If the potion changes color or clears and was not already named, you will be given the opportunity to name the original potion.

If the dipping 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 cancelled as long as the potion was not cursed.

Since fruit juice and a potion of see invisible both “taste like [fruit] juice”, but dipping a unicorn horn into a potion of sickness only produces fruit juice, this is also a way to identify the potion of see invisible.

Amethyst dipping

Dipping an amethyst stone into a potion of booze will also transform the potion into fruit juice. This can be a way to identify both types of potions as well as one of the three kinds of soft violet gem.


Try to apply every new potion you find. If the potion lights, it's oil and autoidentifies. Do not do this when the potion is owned by a shop, or you will be forced to pay for the potion and will be charged Yendorian Fuel Tax.

However, it is possible to avoid the charge, though it may be a bug. When you find a potion in a store that you suspect may be oil, drop everything else that can be applied, 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.


Most monsters will only use, pick up, or be created carrying the following potions: confusion, healing, extra healing, full healing, sleeping, blindness, invisiblity, polymorph (difficulty < 5 only), speed, acid, gain level, paralysis.

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

Monsters drink useful potions occasionally and, if they are in line of sight when quaffing, the condition of the monster may also be informed. Monsters will never quaff bad potions, but are likely to throw some harmful potions 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"


Fire and cold attacks can cause potions carried 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 protect potions that way 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 (in alchemy). Note that 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. Hey, they're magic.

Diluted potions are listed as such in your inventory, and they will not stack with non-diluted potions. 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. But otherwise, diluted potions function largely as full-strength ones do. There are some exceptions, mostly minor, which include:

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 a vital step in the production of holy water, an activity that will occupy most characters to some extent for much of the game. Even otherwise useless or harmful potions become a vital resource when considered in this light.

This is NetHack, so naturally 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." (Acid can be used as a weapon, a cure for stoning, or turned into water via cancellation.)
  • 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 this into a diluted potion of full healing--this will not leave you with a very expensive potion of water.

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

Hitting and being hit

Potions may be wielded or thrown in combat, by you or by monsters against you. A monster has an 80% chance of taking 1 HP of damage when hit; you receive 1 to 2 HP of damage. If you don't see the potion hit the monster, you will get the message "Crash!" Whoever is hit by a potion will be affected by the potion, 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 the target. When a potion shatters, it is possible for the vapors to affect the player, if standing in an adjacent square. For this reason, wielding a potion hand-to-hand can be riskier than thowing it from a distance, although in this case the potion will only shatter when it hits the monster. Circumstances might dictate the choice to throw vs. wield a potion, for instance, someone wearing a ring of free action and wielding a potion of paralysis would be able to reliably paralyze a non-resistant foe.

Properties of potion bottles

Potions, or rather the bottles they come in, are one of the more remarkable types of objects in the world of NetHack. Potion bottles are not watertight, because falling in water while carrying them dilutes them. And yet they don't ordinarily spill or leak, because you can carry them for tens of thousands of turns and even fall down stairs without any risk of this happening. The bottle, presumably, evaporates or shatters or otherwise is destroyed when the potion is drunk, or else it could be refilled at any fountain for a practically inexhaustible supply of holy water.

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 while 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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