Down with pots!

Damn them all to hell!

Damn them all to hell!

By the Gods, I’ll quaff no more.

I’ve been having a small discussion on my last YouTube video about hoarding potions, scrolls, and the other sorts of temporary power-ups you tend to collect in most CRPGs. It seems that I’m not alone in saving all of these for some perceived future battle, in which I’ll need to use them all to overcome a particularly nasty fight. However, what usually happens is I simply never use them, and by the end of the game have a huge, mostly obsolete stack of low-level stat boosting and emergency stuff. For the sake of convenience, I’ll just say “potions” here, though I also mean things like healing scrolls or anything else that either grants a temporary bonus or is considered an “emergency” item, such as a healing or mana recovery potion.

My hoarding habits are especially apparent in games that have tiered items of this type, such as World of Warcraft, in which low level healing potions are effectively worthless as your character advances. When you have a million health points, a potion that heals you for fifty health points is laughable. I’ve seen some games (including WOW) workaround this by making the potions heal you for a percentage of your total health rather than a fixed amount, but I suppose they kept in the old potions as a legacy (I’m guessing they didn’t want to have to redo their alchemy system).

Some game designs all but make it mandatory to use these potions. The battles are simply so tough that there’s no way around quaffing pot after pot in a desperate bid to stay alive (I’m looking at you, Divinity Original Sin!). I never liked this arrangement; I don’t like the idea that the designer is forcing me to use potions. Indeed, my gut instinct tells me that if I’m having to quaff them, I’m not playing the game very well. I feel that potions and other temporary aids are put there to help lesser players get through the battles. A seasoned veteran such as myself shouldn’t have to use them at all.

In short, I don’t like healing potions or any “consumable” item in a CRPG. At best, they’re a mild irritant. At worst, they’re a temptation to hoarding, filling my bags and taxing my patience as I constantly attempt to manage my inventory. It’d be like a guy trying to lug around six cases of fine ale, but never drinking one because–hell, there just might be an epic party in the next days and if you drink a single bottle now, there won’t be enough left to party hardy.

I liked the way some games get around this temporary nonsense by simply allowing you to block off some of your mana pool for a constant effect. I’ve seen these called “sustained spells.” Want earth resistance? Well, toggle a spell, and it’s on until you shut it off. The trade off, of course, is fewer spell points for other purposes. Fair enough.

Cooking is another easy fix. Cooking skills are fun to put in, and it’s always fun to find recipes and such. But it’s also easy to just leave the details to the imagination. Just have the character with the cooking abilities provide a constant bonus to him or herself and the rest of the party–say, faster recovery, or bonuses against certain kinds of spells. If you find a recipe for cupcakes that grant moral bonuses, for example, just assume that character will bake and serve them without having to be told to do it. Throw in some dialog occasionally to remind us that it’s active–“Ah! Here’s some flour and sugar…I’ll stock up so I can make some more cupcakes!” (no need to represent this in the inventory, mind you). Or, from the other characters: “Oh, delicious cupcakes!” or, “Oh, man, rat stew again! Why don’t you learn some more recipes, you damn wannabe cook!” Everything doesn’t have to be clickity clickity click. Leave the boring stuff to the imagination already. Assume that the characters will carry and conserve small amounts of gold for minor purchases; the player shouldn’t have to bother with it.

As far as healing potions go, I’d get rid of them altogether. It’s a simple enough matter to scale the difficulty in such a way to make them a moot point, and it’s never fun to have to waste a combat round chugging a damn healing potion.

11 thoughts on “Down with pots!

  1. Fox

    I’m right there with you. But rather than hoard, period, I set myself quotas. IE I won’t use any of potion X until I have a stack of more than 20, and I’ll never let that stack get below 20–because that’s the minimum number I want to have on hand for that really, really tough battle that I’m sure will happen eventually (but never does).

    I don’t think getting rid of healing potions is the best way to solve this problem per se.

    I think the chief problem is that one of the most heavily indoctrinated RPG tropes is this idea of multiple pools of consumable resources–IE having separate resources for “health” and “magic.” Or HP and MP/mana/what have you. In most settings, these two pools are basically representing the same basic concept–the “spirit” or “strength” of the character.

    I’d love to see a game where, instead of spending HP to absorb damage and spending MP to deal damage, there’s only one resource. It would certainly make healing potions more relevant when you have to balance out your “vitality” both with what is spent to soak up damage from enemies AND what is spent to deal out damage to those same enemies.

    1. Matt Barton Post author

      That’s a nice idea about quotas, Fox. I’ll try that next time I’m in this situation. I also like the idea of being able to combine lesser potions into stronger ones for use later on.

      Most FPS games did away with health potions a long time ago. I suppose “mana” is roughly equivalent to needing bullets, though, which are still in most FPSs. I don’t know why the idea of hit points or mana points and having to manually restore them still lingers in CRPGs. “Mana” seems to me like a vestige of the reagents from older games, but instead of having to collect and carry different materials, you just have that abstract bar.

  2. StormCast

    Yups that sounds like it, Healing spells and spell buffs do what potions do and better, at least then you feel your party members contribute. Difficulty scaling should fix the rest easy with faster/slower HP and/or mana recovery depending on difficulty. Just give me items that just say ‘sell-me’ if you want your game to have inventory management and limited space, or give me gold directly.

    Also Matt I liked your Idea about cooking being passive, in a similar but not precisely the way they did with leadership in Original Si, and if the passive feels to good, then put it in the first 12 hours after resting, and give resting at the right spot some meaning. Not railroading, but in a strategic way.

    Most use I had of scrolls was with a DnD 3.5 sorcerer that needed a bit more spells on the side for strategic reasons. Though that campaign it worked REALLY well

    1. Matt Barton Post author

      Leadership was a nice touch in DOS, Stormcast. It’s not a bad model for a lot of the rest of the CRPG mechanics. Maybe a set of skills called “camping” could cover similar skills associated with food prep, warm fires, secure tents, and so on.

      I didn’t like that DOS was missing a rest or camp option. If you’re going to have health or mana that doesn’t automatically replenish, at least make camping as easy as possible. I’m actually okay with health and even wounds as long as there’s a convenient camping system. Plus, I like the idea of my guys recovering at a tavern or around a campfire after a long day’s adventuring.

  3. kravkalash

    Healing potions make sense if you have a dnd-ish game system, where healing spells are only available to certain classes. They enable the non-clerics to heal themselves, which means you are more flexible when putting your party together because you are not forced to take a healer (although it is usually a wise choice).

    Also, I think the hoarding of potions goes hand in hand with the ability to save and reload your game. In “offline” RPGs, players tend to be more cautious about their actions compared to CRPGs (“Oh look, that guy has an interesting hat, lets try kill him and see if we can loot that..”). It is a huge difference for players if they don’t know whether or not there will be any surprises before they get to rest somewhere, so they will be more willing to drink that costly potion – better safe than sorry. But why would you do that if you could just try your luck and reload should something go wrong?

    1. Matt Barton Post author

      To be fair, Kravkalash, DOS did have a hardcore mode with no saving (I notice a lot of modern CRPGs are inserting that option). Works okay for a Rogue-like game, but I’m not a fan myself. Heck, I’ll even reload a battle I won just to do it better.

      I would never kill a friendly NPC just to get a hat. 😉

  4. wisnoskij

    This discussion always reminds me of King’s Quest Mask of Eternity, the action RPG of the KQ series.

    In addition to have ?mana? and health potions of many levels it has invisibility, double damage, etc., etc., etc (really powerful potions).

    And, most notably, it also have a healing fountain in every area.

    So I would fight a few baddies and then to save my worthless, piling up in the thousands, minor healing potions, trek 20 minutes back to the fountain. And forget about ever using the temp stats boost items, which were piling up into like the twenties or something by the time I hit the boss.

    I am at the final boss battle, and I have soo many potions. so I am like: “I really should use these”. So since I have so many, and am not used to using them, I sort of just continually mash my numbered quick use keys, walk up to the bos, hit him a few times and win the game.

  5. Gotrek44

    I find myself thinking the same way about potions. When early stages of the game, specially ones like DOS, I am rather thankful for potions and wish there was more. But as the game progresses I feel like “Ok, more potion pawning for gold.”. DOS was actually the first game where I indeed USED said collected scrolls. To fend off terrain hazards, use as a weakness to elementals, heal, and for puzzles. Not many games use spells and skills specifics for puzzles like the talking statues in DOS. But games like Baldurs Gate, Icewind Dale, NWN, Titans Quest, Ravenloft , Dungeon Sieges etc. I always sold my scrolls and pots and wands and stuff and did the quota system. Games like Diablo, I think we can all agree that potions are needed no matter what. I think it matters what game mechanic. Then you look at Fallout. You cant stop piling up your stimpacks! They stack and weigh nothing. DOS should have done something like Fallouts stimpacks. And Matt, yes, the mana pool block spell/buffs are one of my favorite mechanics. It lets you be strategic and liberating. Path of Exile and Marvel Heroes and Titans Quests, right off the top of my head, uses that mechanic.

    But I think these games have the option of potion and scroll hoarding for the choice of diversity…You can make a new game on DOS with any class you want without needing a healer. Start with two mages if you want with no hydro (heal spells) Or a rogue and ranger for example. I think that’s what the devs had in mind. You could theoretically go through the game without one party member casting a healing spell. Or needing a melee or needing a mage. So you can use potions and scrolls etc. So hoard them up. Hard? Very! But possible.

    1. Matt Barton Post author

      First off, thanks for the ale! Can’t wait to drink it on the next Matt Chat.

      Regarding DOS, one disadvantage to pots is that you can’t use them on someone else. So, as FREQUENTLY happens in DOS, one of your characters is paralyzed and has suddenly become a punching bag. If you don’t have anyone with hydro or a healing scroll (which same very rare compared to the pots and food), you’re screwed. I don’t recall finding any wands in the game, but that would have been neat.

      On a related note, I was thinking that NONE of these games has that awesome spell from M&M: Gold conversion! Why do they all make you drag your stuff to a vendor instead of being able to convert it into gold instantly using magic? I just don’t get why more games don’t let you do that.

      1. Gotrek44

        I actually remember on Torchlight one and two you can actually load up your pet doggie and send him or her to the vender in town. I found that really cool. I don’t think its cheap because they did a good job making the shops adequately priced and they take the help of your pet away for the time being.

        What about a junk bag like Kingdoms of Amelur? Something like that made all my unwanted potions and scrolls/books etc.

  6. Fox

    Yup–and that last bit is really my main problem. One of the “golden rules” of speculative fiction writing (IE fantasy, science-fiction, etc.) is to NEVER make unnecessary changes. IE, don’t make the sun rise in the west and set in the east unless it serves some larger purpose. Change for change’s sake is NEVER a good idea.

    If there is a corresponding rule in game design, it should be “NEVER make unnecessary abstractions.” If a set of systems doesn’t serve a specific unique purpose, it’s superfluous. My problem with mana (and others’ problems with usable items) is that it’s a redundant abstraction.

    If you have less complexity in a game with two systems (health + mana) than you would with just one, then there’s no reason to have two.

    Unfortunately, gaming is a VERY iterative media, and most of the mechanical and systemic tropes we’re saddled with are justified solely by “tradition.” And that seems unlikely to change. Ever.


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