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.