What Color is that Potion?

One of the great things about being sort of a "grognard" in Role-Playing Games is the amount of old stuff you have around the house. The other day, I was flipping through the old AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide (DMG). I came to the appendix section where they have tables to help randomly determine what potions look like. This of course got me to thinking.

You may ask, "Thinking what"? Well, I was thinking do people bother to describe potions any more? Have things like potions become so common and bland that we no longer bother to describe them? Should we be describing them?

I guess the best place to start is why I always expected them to be described by the DM in the early days. Back in early days of D&D, potions were not easily identified. As a matter of fact, there were many times the only way you would know what a potion did was actually drink it. Right or wrong that was the way things were back then. I think as players we sort of wanted a clue as to what function the potion could have, which meant we wanted it described to us. Which is where the tables in the old AD&D DMG comes in. As a matter of fact, I know some DMs that took this to the logical progression of having a color, taste, & smell matrix, where each potion type had a slot on the matrix. That way the players could write such info down when they discovered what a potion did and if they ran across said potion again, they would know what it did. Personally, I never went that far.

Over time, I think various systems updates have made it easier to identify magic items and potions. I'm not going to judge the merits of that. It just made things different. I think this is where many of started to stop describing something as basic as potion. Move forward and finally, we are at the point where potions are pretty much just standard equipment to be bought and sold (as well as most magic items). It was at this point that we generally stopped bothering. After all, you don't really bother to describe an arrow or sack do you?

I guess the questions I'd like to ask the reader are the following. Do you think we lost something by not generally describing potions? Do you or your DM bother to describe potions? I know my answers are yes and sadly no respectively. I think this is something to work on the next time I run D&D (or Pathfinder).

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