Herbcraft in D&D 5E

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Hey! Long time no see, right? I know, I know. I’m very behind. Partly for the usual reasons and partly because I’ve been working behind the scenes to bring another batch of my high-level Patreon supporters into my online game. But I haven’t been completely complacent. I’ve got a batch of articles coming over the next week and a half for you. So don’t fret. But this? This ISN’T an article. This is actually a little set of rules I wrote. I will be talking about the WRITING of said rules in the upcoming article that should be up at the end of the week. But to tide you over, I’m sharing the rules themselves here. They replace the rules for herbalism kits and crafting in D&D 5E with a system that actually lets players craft nonmagical herbal remedies. And, best of all, the GM can easily expand them simply by inventing new herbal items on par with the three described in this system. So, check them out. And then come back this weekend and check out the discussion about how these rules were made and why they were made and what lessons you can learn about making rules.

And, if you’d prefer, you can download these rules in PDF format.

Herbal Items

Herbal items include nonmagical medicines, salves, poultices, and concoctions made from plants, roots, berries, and other naturally occurring ingredients using special instruments and processes. Herbal items come in three qualities: Minor, Moderate, and Masterwork. Generally, the higher the quality, the more potent the herbal item. Herbal items also tend to lose their potency if not used within a certain period of being made. Herbal items may be purchased from herbalists during play who will quickly concoct the desired item. However, because herbal items lose their potency, they cannot be purchased between game sessions. Characters who have proficiency with the herbalism kit can craft herbal items if they know the appropriate recipe by gathering the ingredients during their adventures.

The Herbalism Kit

The following text replaces the description of the herbalism kit on PHB 154.

This kit contains a variety of instruments such as clippers, mortar and pestle, and pouches and vials used by herbalists to create remedies and potions. The herbalism kit also generally contains a small book in which the herbalist can take notes and record recipes. Proficiency with this kit lets you add your proficiency bonus to any checks you make identify or apply herbs. Proficiency with this kit also lets you craft herbal items for which you know the recipe or to analyze herbal items to discover the recipe.

Crafting Herbal Items

To craft an herbal item, you must have proficiency in the use of the herbalism kit and you must know the recipe for the item you wish to craft. After choosing the item you wish to craft, you must gather the required ingredients and then craft the item.

Herbal Recipes

If you know the recipe for a particular item, you know which ingredients are required to craft an herbal item, where those ingredients are likely to be found, and how to prepare them. You even known enough to substitute ingredients based on what’s available in the local area.

Every herbal recipe specifies the DCs required to craft Minor, Moderate, and Masterwork quality versions of that item. It also specifies the terrain or terrains in which the ingredients – or substitute ingredients – can be gathered. Some recipes specify rare or special ingredients that cannot be gathered through normal means. Those ingredients must be acquired through special means, either through purchase or during the course of an adventure.

Gathering Ingredients

After you select the item you wish to craft, you must gather the ingredients for that item. You may only gather the ingredients for one item at a time. And you must be in the appropriate type of terrain specified by the recipe.

To gather the ingredients, you must spend one hour wandering the local area, searching for appropriate ingredients. During this time, you cannot perform any other tasks, nor can you travel too far in any specific direction and this period does not grant you the benefits for a short rest.

Alternatively, you can gather ingredients as a travel activity. This is similar to foraging except, instead of gathering food and water during a day of travel, you gather the ingredients required to craft an herbal item.

At the end of the gathering period, day of travel, or other period as specified by the GM, make a Wisdom check and add your proficiency bonus for your use of the herbalism kit. Compare the result to the DC required to craft the item you were trying to make. If your check result does not meet or exceed the DC required to craft the lowest quality version of the item, you failed to turn up enough useful ingredients. Otherwise, you turned up enough ingredients to produce the desired item at a highest quality whose DC to craft you met or exceeded.

EDIT: In general, gathered ingredients cannot be stockpiled with an herbalism kit. To properly gather and preserve ingredients for any significant length requires more extensive equipment, preservatives, sealed jars, and more careful gathering of herbs than a simple traveling kit allows. Most herbalists do keep stockpiles of carefully gathered ingredients on hand in their homes, shops, or labs to prepare herbal items for sale. A player who gathers ingredients with an herbalism kit must quickly turn them into the desired item or else they will spoil. Thus the act of gathering the ingredients and the act of crafting the item (see below) should be combined into one action.

A ranger with the natural explorer class feature may gather enough ingredients to produce two items of the same quality at the same time if they are in their favored terrain.

Crafting the Item

Once you have gathered the appropriate materials, it generally takes only a few minutes of work to craft the item. No further check is needed to construct the item. You may simply add the item to your inventory and use it normally.

Learning New Recipes

If you are proficient with the herbalism kit, there are a number of ways you can learn new recipes. Herbalists can easily teach each other recipes in just a few minutes. If you discover an herbalist’s notes, you can also learn any recipes they had recorded. And most herbalists keep their notes with their herbalism kits. Learning recipes from another herbalist or from their notes does not require any check.

In addition, if you acquire an herbal item, you can use your herbalism kit to analyze the item and figure out the recipe. It takes one hour of quiet, careful work to analyze an herbal item and the item is destroyed in the process. At the end of the work period, roll a Wisdom check and add your proficiency bonus for your use of the herbalism kit. If you meet or exceed the DC required to craft the item at Masterwork quality, you learn the recipe. Otherwise, you have learned nothing and destroyed the item.

List of Herbal Items

The GM is encouraged to create new items for their home game. The following items are examples only.

Burnsoothe Ointment24 hr.20/40/50 gp1/2 lb.
Venomcleanse Tea24 hr.15/30/45 gp-
Woundbind Poultice24 hr.20/40/50 gp1/2 lb.

Burnsoothe Ointment

This paste, composed primarily of roots and plant oils, reduces pain and speeds the recovery of burns. If applied to a creature’s wounds within 10 minutes of their taking fire damage from any source or if applied within 10 minutes of the end of an encounter during which they took fire damage from any source, the creature heals 3 (1d6), 5 (1d6+2), or 6 (1d8+2) hit points depending on the quality.

Cost: Minor 20 gp; Moderate 40 gp; Masterwork 50 gp
Expires: 24 hours
Gather Ingredients: Forest, Swamp
Craft DC: 10/15/20

Venomcleanse Tea

This herbal tea composed helps cleanse the body of normal toxins. It is normally imbibed but can also be used to clean a poisoned wound. When a creature suffering from the poisoned condition is treated with this remedy, they may roll a new saving throw to end the poisoned condition immediately with Disadvantage, normally, or with Advantage depending on the quality of the tea.

Cost: Minor 15 gp; Moderate 30 gp; Masterwork 45 gp
Expires: 24 hours
Gather Ingredients: Forest, Grasslands
Craft DC: 10/15/20

Woundbind Poultice

This is a spongy mass of absorbent moss treated with a number of herbs designed to staunch bleeding, cleanse wounds, and dull pain. If bound over a wound, it promotes quick healing. When applied to a wound, the recipient heals 2 (1d4), 4 (1d4+2), or 5 (1d6+2) hit points depending on the quality.

Cost: Minor 20 gp; Moderate 40 gp; Masterwork 50 gp
Expires: 24 hours
Gather Ingredients: Forest, Grasslands
Craft DC: 10/15/20

30 thoughts on “Herbcraft in D&D 5E

  1. I like this idea, looks like a good framework that can easily be expanded into Alchemy and Poisoner’s kits as well. The 24 hour expiration on these items feels pretty fast though. I understand it’s done so that players don’t spend a weak stockpiling 56+ Burnsoothe Ointments before they go fight the red dragon, but it seems like a tea, made from boiling dried herbs, would last longer than a day. I’d give these an expiration of a week or two and instead limit how often any given player can benefit from an item. Either make them complete a short rest, or if that is still too abusable, a long rest before they can gain the benefits of a specific item again. Similar to the way the Healer’s Kit works if you have the Healer feat.

    • I would almost say ‘once per encounter’, if that were a clock 5e respected, or have it reset when the character takes damage. It’s a lot more bookkeeping though, so not sure if it’s worth it.

    • JWillians, the expiration time doesn’t seem odd to me. A lot of medicines lose their potency once opened, and a lot of juices and teas oxidize pretty fast. And of course, the three itens presented here are only exemples, it would be possible to design others with higher expiration dates. But I can understand your point.

      But I must say, I believe the short expiration time isn’t meant to prevent players from stockpiling, but to prevent them from selling the itens. Angry has argued before that money is basically useless in D&D, and based on that, to let the players make money with crafting wouldn’t actually break anything. But it still seems to me like bad design to let the players engage fully in this activity. I think the intent is for crafting to be a complement to their adventuring lives, not the whole of their activities.

      What I’m actually concerned with is the crafting time. A proficient party can gather a lot of ingredients if they spend the entire day foraging, and since the crafting time is quite short they could almost bath on venomcleanse tea after a fight with a green dragon.
      Also, at the moment there is nothing to stop the players from stockpiling the herbs, and due to the short crafting time, this is almost the same thing as stocking the finished products.

      But well, Angry will probably talk about these things in the next article.

      • Emphasis on ‘after’. Time required to apply these items isn’t given, and it’s implied to be something you can’t do in the middle of combat. It’s necessary to stockpile this sort of thing in ingredient form and craft as needed if the items are conditional, the ‘few minutes’ reminding me of the 5 minute short rest from 4e.

        Basically, these let you recover health and from negative conditions without taking the full hour of a short rest, but only after you’ve survived the situation that caused your problems. If anything the woundbind poultice, being relatively condition-free (barring encounters exclusively using damage types which do not produce ‘wounds’) is the one to watch, as one that could be spammed to heal to full between every encounter – if ingredients are easy to come by. These aren’t quite resource-free, as you need to spend wilderness actions and character proficiencies to get the option. Even with downtime gathering, that’s time that could’ve been spent otherwise.

        • I agree with your points (and I realize I have overestimated a bit the party’s maximum gathering capacity). But I think some of these things should be clearly stated. For example, the amount time required to use the itens. On my first reading I assumed it would be 1 action, since you can “use it normally” after crafting the item and most consumable itens require 1 action (actually I don’t recall any that doesn’t).

          Also, I know that in some points I’m just nitpicking.

          Well, I think I will just wait for the design process and keep thinking until there.

      • Your concerns assume that:
        a.) Every person in the party has proficiency with an herbalism kit, which is kind of unlikely
        b.) They can all forage all day without running into encounters
        c.) They pass the crafting DCs

        I think as written, it’s pretty balanced and would be hard to abuse. And compared to the healing spells that already exist, the concoctions shouldn’t be overpowered. In the Venomtea example, it just gives you Advantage on your poison saving throw, IF you’re able to craft a Masterwork version of it.

    • That would be a nightmare of tracking who benefited from what item on what day. That would be as bad as tracking the difference between hit points from fire damage and hit points from anything else.

  2. Thanks for these rules, Angry! I think I saw you discussing this on twitter the other day. Glad to see it appearing here. As far as I know, D&D has always lacked the kind of healing herbs that we would expect from a magical world (or even a common world, for that matter). This is a nice addition, and as JWillians said, easy to expand to other crafting kits.

    Really liked the burnsoothe ointment. Got me thinking about itens in Final Fantasy and the likes that remove “burnt” effect. Maybe it was your inspiration?

    Can’t wait to read the design reasons behind these rules, specially about the time to concoct/craft the item. Why a few minutes and not over the course of a short rest, for example?

    Again, thanks for the hard work!

  3. I think the expire time is added in case the PCs buy the items instead of making them themselves. It seems to be assumed that PCs make the items as they need them, not when they gather ingredients.
    As it stands ingredients are infinitely usable, which could be a problem when PCs have lots and lots of downtime.
    Still, the spammability is low. PCs who could benefit from the use of multiple items after each encounter are higher level and can probably afford magical alternatives to herbalism. So it saves some money, which they cannot spend anyway.
    Low level characters benefit the most from these items. If they have enough time they could, in theory, start each encounter with full HP. That may or may not be a problem, depending on if the adventuring day is focused on depleting HP or depleting other resources.

    Me personally, I like it. My games don’t feature a lot of downtime, so stockpiling ingredients is not a problem. I try and have each PC at least a few potions, which they now can make themselves. Which saves me from putting potions in weird places. And it rewards players for choosing a non optional proficiency (or rather introduces a new optimal proficiency) which may result in more varied characters.

    However I very much dislike tool proficiencies and would like to get rid of the lot of them. And instrument proficiencies and languages for that mater. I might couple the herbalism kit proficiency with the medicine proficiency.

  4. One facet of this system that I like is how you could easily create near equivalent items with ingredients gathered in different environments and can adjust gathering DCs and creation DCs to allow more potent remedies that effectively level up with you.

  5. I love this! Definitely gives more utility to rangers and druids.

    My mind is already buzzing with potential herbal concoctions. And as JWilliams suggested, it should be really easy to apply the same mechanic to Poisoner’s kits and Alchemist’s supplies.

    I think the key is simply making sure the concoctions aren’t overpowered. Ones with stronger qualities could have shorter shelf-lives and higher DCs.

    Something I’m not clear on is the “cost” you mention. Is that the cost to buy that particular herbal remedy in a shop? Or do you need to spend that amount in gold to attempt crafting it?

  6. Seems like a fairly balanced system. Burnsoothe ointment is a bit wonky, though. The RAW restores non-fire damage, provided the character is missing HP from other sources and the healing done is greater than the fire damage incurred. To work as intended, one would need to track fire damage separately, which is too crunchy for my tastes.

  7. I find it most interesting that the items that you’ve added to the game through this system are more situational, i find that i like that- none of them appear to be “Bog-Standard healing potion” which is interesting in that it gives players control over their collection of consumables but also makes those consumables less powerful- while also leaving room to have a large variety of different effects since people really like to dig their teeth into subsystems like this- it also adds an extra impetus to travel and spend time in different areas. It rewards forethought since for certain ingredients you might need to stock up before moving on to some place you might need them.

  8. Translating this into purely mechanical terms, here’s what I’m seeing:
    1: On traveling to a dungeon, a character with herbalism can stockpile ingredients for a single first level healing spell that can be used only on the first day of exploring the dungeon.
    2: During a short rest, instead of taking the advantages of the short rest, a character with herbalism can stockpile ingredients for a single first level healing spell that can be used during that day.

    1 is pretty straightforward. 2 creates an trade-off, although one that’s most valuable if you have little value in a short rest (ranged ranger or defensive cleric. Most everyone else gets resources back or needs the HP).

    • Alternately characters can spend a ‘work’ day gathering 8-16 doses outside a dungeon (that can also only be used on the first day of the dungeon).

      Given the extremely generous daily healing in 5e, this seems like a wasted day, unless the party anticipates 2 really rough fights back to back.

  9. Will start running my first 5e game in a couple weeks. Will definitely use this. I can see plot spurring from “find a rare ingredient for a Remove Curse-like herbal potion” at low levels.

    For future reference, If I have a minor question or suggestion about an old post whose comments have been locked already, would you be terribly annoyed if I mentioned it on the comment section of a newer (hopefully related) post? Or by email?

    • Yes. Yes I would be VERY annoyed. People have tried this before. And I really don’t grasp why people think that MIGHT be okay. I mean, if I made the CONSCIOUS CHOICE to lock the comments on a thread, I had a reason. You don’t know what the reason is. But whatever the reason is, the conclusion is the conversation is over and I don’t foresee any use in allowing it to continue. Given that, why the motherloving f$&% would I want someone else to decide to reopen the conversation on a completely different post.

      Seriously. Just think for a second.

  10. I have updated the post to explicitly state that, NO, ingredients cannot be stockpiled. Because the ingredient gathering is the part that requires the time AND the die roll, there would be no mechanical difference between stockpiling the ingredients and stockpiling the items, thus rendering the expiration time utterly pointless. The reason for the expiration time is precisely because players can spend hours or even days stockpiling basically infinite numbers of these little mini potions in campaigns in which the GM doesn’t make good use of wilderness encounters, exigency, or other tradeoffs. And D&D is really stupid about explaining to GMs exactly WHY those things are important. So I have to assume the worse case scenario – that players can spend weeks and weeks wandering the wilderness gathering ingredients – and figure out a way to limit that.

    Now the absolute worst case scenario is this: the party can spend eight to ten hours sitting in one spot, stockpiling up to 50 of these little items for use the next day. Which is ridiculous overkill given the low power-level of these items and the fact that they are going to expire. And that is not a likely scenario in any case.

    • Maybe it would make sense to limit player’s ability to gather herbs, to keep them from trying to stockpile items. It would make sense that herbal remedies require relatively rare ingredients so you might have to search for a while to find the Kingsfoil or whatever it is you need. You could make it take one hour to find ingredients for the first dose of an item, two hours for the second dose, four for the third dose, and so on. That would represent that you are cleaning out the local area of useful herbs and have to keep traveling farther and farther to find what you need. This way, a group of herbalist couldn’t each stockpile 8 doses of Woundbind Poultice, the woods would run out of ingredients first. So, it would take 15 hours for one player to gather 4 doses, but two players working together could gather those 4 doses in 7 hours (assuming they pass their ability checks). Personally, I’d make it so that each item’s ingredients are tracked separately, so that an herbalist would be encouraged to gather up one of each item they can make instead of just stockpiling a single item, but it’s possible that would be too good so you might need to rule that these items share ingredients so once you’ve gathered all the ingredients in an area you have to move on before trying again.

  11. “Here I am pointlessly adding nothing to conversation with my contempt for crafting systems because the mere existence of an option I don’t like is intolerable. The world must know MY opinion, even when it does nothing to advance the discussion I’m barging into like a foul-smelling buffalo. It’s just THAT important.”

    – There, fixed it for you, hugs and kisses, Angry.

      • It seems like whether crafting mechanics are necessary, or if they enhance the drama of the gameplay experience, will depend heavily on the engagements that are being emphasized. I can understand Steve’s point that it they may bog down a narrative, submission, or challenge game, but I can see how they could add to a fantasy, discovery, or expression game.
        To me, Angry’s design philosophy is to make conscious choices to run the best possible game for you and your players. For many, that means having game sessions that cover as much plot as possible. For others, it means being able to interact with as much of the world as possible, including the weeds on the side of the garden path. Let’s give Angry a chance this weekend to post the discussion about how these rules were made and why they were made and what lessons you can learn about making rules.

  12. If you are worried about them being spammed, maybe create a class of non-magical items called treatments with a rule like “A treatment can only be applied during a long or short rest, and a character can only benefit from one treatment per rest.” Healing ones could could be tied to hit dice, so each hit die used during a short rest gains a bonus based on the level of the item (like +1/+3/+5 per die spent). Since hit die come back at the rate of half the ones you spent, a long-rest treatment might boost that by 1/2/3. Another might grant advantage on saving throws vs. poison for 8 hours or until you start another rest.

    If instead you are wanting to create a mini-rest mechanic more like 4th ed’s 5 minute short rest, then the treatment rule is “A treatment takes 5 minutes to apply and can only be done outside of combat. A character who has received a treatment gains the “treated” condition (can’t benefit from more treatments). After a long or short rest, you lose the “treated” condition.” A treatment might allow a character to spend hit dice (1/2/3), regain a spell slot (of up to level 1/2/3), make a saving throw (dis/reg/adv), etc.

      • I meant no disrespect to you; I offer suggestions for anyone who wanted to tinker further to address their concerns regarding hoarding, stockpiling, spamming, etc. I’m always interested in the ways GMs perceive problems or opportunities in their games and how they address them.

  13. I love this system as a simple version of herbalism that you can use without much hassle. But, on an more complex version, I’d probably want to see something like different allowing the player to gather different substances from all types of plants, insects, animals, fungi etc., and mixing these substances to create the poultices and potions. I think this would “feel” more like alchemy, and would be more attractive to people who have Discovery as a main engagement. Mixing different things to find out what the result is would be cool, and it would encourage people to write down the recipes they find out to replicate them later.

    • I was thinking you could link these rules to crafting poisons with the poisoner’s kit (I would guess Dex might be the controlling skill for crafting poisons), and maybe add an alchemy kit perhaps based on Intelligence. It mentions in the DMG that in order to create magic items, you need a special formula and possibly rare materials. These rules suggest a system to help develop an interesting method for determining those details.

      • In looking back over the thread, I now realize I had the same idea as the first guy who commented. My memory clearly ain’t what it used to be. Sorry!

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