I'm not sure how useful you'll find anything I have to say on the subject, but I'll add my two cents. Mostly because I've been playing with these things for like... 10 years trying to build my game. So... I've got some First-Hand experience. Whatever that is worth to you.
So, as I'm still working on my recent game, a thought popped into my head as I was making my table of consumables.
You know the drill; Potion, High potion, Mega Potion, Ether, Elixir, Megalixir, ...
And a thought struck me.
There are several reasons.
1. The range of healing means you can dynamcially change combat to some extent. While you trudge into Mega Potion territory and no longer need Potions, you would probaby still find High Potions useful to an extent. If a Mega Potion heals 200 HP and the Character has 600 HP, then the optimal time to use the Mega Potion would be after you have lost 200 HP and not before. But, if your High Potion heals 100 HP, you can heal when you've lost 100 HP. Why does that matter? If the enemy has an attack that hits the player for 100 HP of Damage, and then immediately afterwards, hits the player for 500 Damage... now you've got a dead character, and a player who never healed.
Yes, this is a cruel trick I used on my players. It's a gimmick I implemented on several enemies in order to get them to purchase and use the better Consumables. The player may not need 200 HP Healed, but if I hit them with 100 HP and then 500 HP, they lose a person. They learn a valuable lesson... they should've healed the 100 HP when they were down that much.
Is that mean? Yes. Is it unfair? No. I'm here to teach you a lesson as a player. If you're going to get complacent and think the usual rules of RPG's apply, then you're wrong. Like Ivan Drago, "I must break you". Why isn't it unfair? Because neither attack would kill your character at full health. One is certainly dangerous, but the other isn't. A weak attack paired with a dangerous one is important.
It's also not an original idea. Final Fantasy has been doing it for years with its "Gravity" spells that eat a percentage of your HP and then just "basic attack" you afterwards for an easy kill if you're not healing, or think the enemy only knows Gravity. I'm just doing it in reverse. Weak attack first, then heavy attack to kill you from not healing.
2. It's just a means to control the economy of the game. The average Cash most players will end their JRPG experience with is somewhere around 500,000 or more (from the amount of gold drops, gold treausre chests, and lack of anything to ever purchase). The easiest way to make sure players spend more money as they gain more is just to increase the prices for the amount of healing going on. It isn't a perfect system (it has a ton of flaws), but it's the "quick and dirty" way to handle a chunk of your economy and to introduce what I call a "painless gold sink". That is, it's a place to sink gold where players won't even notice they're sinking gold, unless it's pretty excessive.
3. It's a form of "Progression". Ever play a game where there are "direct upgrades" to something? Man, you got the Infinity Sword! But, wait, there's an Infinity +1 Sword out there! AWESOME! Okay, it's not quite that impressive, but you sort of get the point. There's a part of our silly lizard brains that just wants a "direct upgrade" to things. A Potion is nice and all, but I really want something that does the job better than a Potion. It feels good that I no longer have to use Potions and get to use High Potions now. It's a sign I've grown in power. So, it's useful as a "signal" to the player of their growing power in a game. Or, at least, to their "Progression" in the game. To that extent, it can also make some treasures feel "cooler". Remember all those games where you could get something equivalent to a "Max Potion", that you couldn't buy anywhere, except for insane amounts of cash? Finding that in a treasure chest? Sure, you may not ever use it ("But, I might need it later!"), but it's like it's own interesting and unique treasure. Final Fantasy 6 has this with the "Elixirs you find in clocks". Nobody ever really used them, but once people knew to click every clock to get an Elixir, almost everyone inevitably collected them. Every game. Because they're cool. Why are they cool? No idea. Lizard brain stuff. They're rare and powerful. They're a treasure. Just like we must open every single treasure chest in every RPG, we must collect all the Elixirs for the same lizard brain reason.
I mean, first it was just the different tiers of items that bothered me.
Do I really need a potion that heals a 100; 500, 2000 and Max HP?
I get why this is usually so. Escalating gold rewards in most RPG's mandate consumables rise in price. So bigger effect for a higher price.
But looking at it from the other side of the coin, the immersion side, it seemed weird. The same potion that would have fully healed a fledgling adventurer to full vigor does near nothing for the hero of the land? Why?
In situations like that, it sounds like just a "Lore" problem. In practical terms, your "HP" is little more than a Stamina gauge. How much punishment can you take before you can no longer fight? A little? A lot? If you can take a lot, how many energy drinks do you need to feel refreshed? How much sleep? More? Less?
It all just boils down to the Lore of your game. If you frame it as "A Potion can even heal your cut off limbs", then you've got no reason for "Tiered" Consumables of any kind.
But, if it's framed as "ability to fight" or "stamina" or something else, rather than "how many whacks to the face with a mace you can take" or "how many stab wounds to the throat you can survive", then the Tiers can make a lot more sense.
As for needing the potions... no, you don't need to adopt a system like that, but there are reasons you might want one like that (outlined above).
Simple solution: One potion. Heals a flat percentage, say 40% of Max HP, modified by the users PHA (Pharmacology) stat.
And now we run back into the problem that multiple tiers of potions are trying to 'fix': Players stocking up on the base ones and never needing anything else. If a potion will always heal a flat percentage, but they keep getting cheaper relative to my income, then ... At what point do you just assume the player has infinite potions?
The moment they get passed "break even". If I need to fight 20 monsters in order to take enough damage to use one Potion to heal (40% damage), and each monster gave me 200 Currency... while the Potion itself costs 50 Currency... By the time I've used 1 Potion, I can buy 80 Potions.
You need to balance your game well. It's most of the reason I have reworked my "Consumables" so often and frequently. What I settled on for "Balance" was that no matter where the player is in the game... the enemies should kill each character in 5 hits... except for Boss monsters who don't have that rule apply to them (and should burn as many Consumables off of players as I can manage. Letting smart players be able to conserve their resources while weak players will struggle and need to brute force with those Consumables).
In a system where the players lose a character in 5 hits, they typically need a Heal by hit #2. This means in fights with 4 or more enemies, they're consuming 1 or 2 hits every combat (until they get good at the game, at least... which is the hard to balance part... allowing players to "get ahead" without allowing them anywhere near close to an "infinite HP" scenario). So, if they consume 1 or 2 hits every combat, and have to eat like four consumables every combat or every other combat, then I can comfortably give them enough Currency to buy at least 4 consumables each combat. Right?
That's the threshold. The thing you need to watch very carefully as you balance for Consumables. Keeping the player from ever going into a shop and just buying 99 of any Consumable at any given point (except for obsolete ones). It is a nightmare system to balance though, I will tell you that immediately. You have to very carefully monitor how much Currency you're dropping and how much damage you're dealing with every monster hit. You have to very carefully curate the experience to keep the economy rolling so that Consumables are always useful, but don't break the combat.
All right then, why not just give the player infinite potions?
Game balance, you say. But in realistic therms, the only thing that stands between a player and a near infinite amount of potions is some grind work, which will also give him XP, levelling him up more, having all kinds of other effects on game balance.
As a personal annecdote, i cannot remember running out of potions in a game. Usually the game showers you in so many from random loot, just flooding your inventory.
This actually isn't the only problem. There's several problems that conspire against a dev in order to make your anecdote a reality.
1. MP Healing is too efficient. Even if the MP Consumable costs 2x more than a Healing Consumable, it is often still more efficient than a standard Healing Consumable. If you have a Potion that heals 100 HP, costs 200 Currency, and is only single target... it is an effective 100 HP. If you have 30 MP, can get 5 casts of "Heal" out of that pool, each cast restores 80 HP, and the MP Consumable costs 400 Currency (and restores all 30 MP)... Here's what you're looking at:
Potion = 1 HP Restored for every 2 Currency spent.
Heal Spell = 1 HP Restored for every 1 Currency spent.
Yeah, you read that right. I cut the healing by 1/5th, doubled the cost of the MP Consumable, and it is still more efficient.
To make them equal, you would have to basically make each MP restored to cast "Heal" the same amount of Currency spent as buying the Potion.
This doesn't even get into the fact that most RPG's have "multi-target" spells. Even with a 70% reduced Healing of a "Heal" spell... it could be more useful when healing 4 people. That means, you reduce the 80 HP Healing on a single target down to 24 HP on 4 targets... and you've gained ground. Now you're healing 96 HP instead of 80. With Multi-Target. With a 70% reduction in efficacy.
2. "Potion" is the go to "Treasure" option for any random nonsense chest that exists anywhere in a Dungeon. Design some dead ends into a dungeon just to put a chest at the end. What do you put in the chest? Well, it can't be equipment, 'cause you shouldn't get that too frequently... So... Currency or Consumables. Currency seems like it would break the game (at least at first instinct to most devs), so Consumables is the best option. "Got Potion!"
It's also the "Go To" drop for enemies when devs want enemies to carry loot, but have no idea what to give them. 5% Chance to drop a Mega Potion is fine. I'm just going to not think about how many of this enemy the player might actually end up fighting in this location and how many Mega Potions I've just potentially given them for free via 5% drop chance.
It's the "Go To" for "Steal" as well. Same issue as just outlined. Even worse if you get a player like me who doesn't kill enemies until he's taken their loot... Now every encounter is a guaranteed drop of every item every enemy has. Nevermind if you have means in the game to improve "Steal" chances, either. The higher those rates of Steal go up, the more extra loot players have carting around.
Few devs, AAA or otherwise, ever account for how much "Healing" they're giving players in a game. They don't go "5% chance of drop is actually an extra Consumable about every 20 enemies or so... or less... or more... and if you run into 20 of these enemies in 5 encounters... it's like a guaranteed extra consumable".
It's just not habit to think that far head in implementation. One of the reasons I advocate for devs on these forums to do such things. Think ahead, realize problems and potential pitfalls, and work to mitigate them. Everything you put in your game has knock on effects at every other aspect of your game. Nothing you implement exists in a vacuum. Nothing exists "as you imagine it".
A good quote for game design, "No plan survives contact with the enemy".
Las Vegas and the Gambling Industry keep far tighter reigns on their games than most devs do that make games purely for entertainment. They regulate their "prizes" a lot better and understand what "odds" actually mean in terms of profit margin. There's some useful stuff to learn there from studying how "The House Always Wins" in terms of gambling. Especially if you get into how they have the odds of most games set at very specific percentages to keep players playing... but also to keep from losing any profit from every single one of those wins.
3. Combat is often just too easy. Enemies are too easy to steamroll. It's too easy to break the game. Etcetera. Whatever you want to say about it. Combat isn't "resource intensive" enough in most cases tends to be the problem. If all combat can be won by ignoring the player's defense and just jacking up their attack to one shot things... there's a problem. Namely, that the player will never need a consumable as the enemy will never get a chance to inflict damage.
4. States are near worthless. DoT's don't do enough damage (Damage over Time) to be worrysome and often "clear" after combat has ended. When you have 2,000 HP and Poison or Burn is only sapping like 50 HP a tick... you can safely ignore it for a while. But, if it's dropping you 200 HP a Tick... well, now you got a problem. You need to blow two Consumables now. Mega Potion and Antidote. If states are too easily cured (and most are in RPG's), then there's never a reason for a player to use a Consumable. Or even buy one.
5. Consumables are insanely cheap to buy in most cases. I don't think I've ever seen a standard Consumable go for more than 1,000 Currency a pop... and that was in a game where enemies were frequently dropping 400+ Currency a kill. That's insane. If consumables are that cheap, how does ANYONE ever lose combat? How aren't the enemies carrying like stacks of 99 of these things on them at all times like your heroes are?
6. Games usually shower you in free healing regardless. Recovery Springs, free beds, Save Points that heal you up to full, etcetera. Even Inns are usually like a fraction of the cost of a single Consumable in most games. Yeah, I could spend 1000 Currency on 1 Potion... Or I could spend 400 Currency on the Inn, which recovers all my HP, MP, and Status Conditions for the entire party.
7. Equipment often nullifies the effects of combat. If you have equipment that gradually recovers HP or MP... that's more Consumables your players won't be using. If your equipment nullifies Poison and Sleep and whatever else... there's some more Consumables the players will never use.
This is the tip of the list. I'm sure you can even think of a few reasons of your own why you don't use Consumables all that much in RPG's that aren't on my list here. Or, even, reasons you end up with pockets full of the dang things and rarely needing to ever buy any.
So cut the grind and just give the player infinite potions.
But then what's stopping a player from entering every battle at full health, except for the tedium of opening the item menu between every encounter?
What indeed? I mean, for all the talk about resource management, it all just boils down to 'Buy more potions at the start of the dungeon'.
This is going to be... tricky. There's two main schools of thought on this subject.
1. If the player starts every fight at Full Health, then the dev can throw more dangeorus encounters at the player and has the capacity to make each encounter more exciting or interesting.
2. If the player starts every fight at Full Health, then the challenge is essentially gone. You can make any mistakes you want in combat as they are all forgiven at the end of combat anyway. The players is promoted into "Brute Force" fights instead of tactical thinking. After all, the reward for a win isn't just the loot... it's free heals.
Now, both of these suppose that the dev is healing the player between encounters. If they are not, and are merely giving the player ample means to do all that consequence free healing themselves... Then yes, "tedium" is your only roadblock. That roadblock may turn off some players and generate poor reviews of your game.
As for "buy more potions at the start of the dungeon", you could frame that any number of ways. I, personally, frame that as a positive player loop. I require
my players come to dungeons prepared. Yes, buy more Potions at the start of the dungeon. I will kill your party if you don't. Part of what I want the player to do is to be prepared for whatever is in the dungeon. If they can't even manage basic "resource management", then they should fail.
But, i don't give the player "Infinite Potions" either.
Put simply, I don't see anything inherently wrong in telling a player that the key to success in the game is being prepared. I like it more than letting the players win despite how poorly they've planned and executed any of the gameplay.
After all, combat in the real world is won by people who actually plan things out. People who prepare. I don't even remember where it comes from, but there's a phrase about "The battle is won before any soldiers ever take to the field". I, personally, think this is a valuable thing to teach players. It's useful even in their daily lives.
But, if you framed "buying more potions at the start the dungeon" poorly... then it's just a boring slog. It's just a requirement of going anywhere in the game. Grind in an area until you have 99 Potions to ensure you can get to the next area. Or, give them the infinite Potions for no money...
It's a lot about defining how that gameplay loop looks when you do any given thing with your Consumables. If you don't clearly set out with a goal in mind and a set of objectives you have for the player with each dungeon... Then, that loop might end up pretty bad.
This lead me to a second ... peeve of mine.
Mage characters, and how usually they're balanced: They do more damage but have limited uses (either through spell slots or just MP) than the physical characters.
It usually breaks down into three cases
- Them not actually doing more damage than the non MP users, making the whole limited resource point system moot (But that's a topic for another post)
- There being so many HP/MP recovery points or just such a huge MP pool that MP might as well be infinite (Original Final fantasy 7 had this problem for me), rendering physical characters useless
- They do more damage, but your MP supply is so small you can never 'have fun' with your characters and just never go bananas, instead twacking enemies with your walking stick to 'conserve MP for the boss', where your increased fragility makes you a liability for not that much more damage.
And here Ethers, (or whatever you call MP potions) become problematic. Often, they're so rare that you never use them, or they're plentiful enough that MP management becomes an illusion, sucking even more life out of the whole 'resource management' side of things.
I find that it's less that they're "rare" and more that "you have such massive MP Pools" and "There's so much free MP Healing every 5 minutes" that those MP Consumables are basically meaningless.
My own system tries to limit those MP Pools. But, it's difficult to balance since I want players using their Skills as often as possible. It's why the baseline "Wizard" actually gets like 6 casts before needing an MP Restorative. But, those MP Skills actually end up doing far and away more damage than just hitting "Attack".
It's just... a lot of balancing.
But, I also have "0 MP Skills" as well. You know, in case your mages run out of MP. It lets them cast some spells that do as much damage as "Mashing Attack", except it uses their primary stat of "Magic" to do it. I eliminated the weakness of Mage Characters, 'cause I've never liked it.
Nothing stops you from doing the same!
So, in conclusion to this, I have found an experiment, which I will be conducting during my next round of combat and dungeon playtests: Just have the players start every combat at full HP and MP. How to stop the players from just unleashing their best nukes right away? There's tonnes of ways to do that, but once again, this post is already on the long side, so that's a topic for another post. (Some short examples: The big booms require both MP and TP, they need a warm up period, or are conditional, or even take multiple turns to cast, SMaller but regenerating MP pools, ...)
I've... "solved' this problem in a really mean and evil way.
I have bosses where if you blow your "best skills" within the first few turns of combat... The boss can heal up back to 100%.
You read that right.
Yes, you can hate me for that.
Oh, you blew your Ultra Mega Death Cannon 5000 on the Big Bad and it lost 2/3rds of its HP on Turn 1? Yeah, the Troop Commands says, "If on Turn 1, HP is less than 50%, cast Full Heal".
The Ultra Mega Death Cannon 5000 can still work on the boss... But, you'll probably have to wait at least 3 rounds for it, first. If I haven't done anything else in the game to keep you from blowing it at every opportunity.
But, to be fair, not every boss has an answer for your UMDC5K. So... you know... sometimes it works, sometimes not. It's frequent enough that I think it will deter players from doing it every single combat, but not frequent enough that all bosses do it... I'm hoping about 30% of bosses having this feature is enough to naturally deter players from using that strategy... but we'll see.
Playtesting is important!
You could also just go with "Cooldowns" or "Charge Up" times for some of those things.
But, I like my idea better. Because it trolls players.
For combat Potion/Ether use I'll probably put it both on a cooldown, and just limit it to X amount of consumables per combat per character, the 'consumable slots' filled with the items a player has available (Kingdom Hearts style). So a character might have his three 'consumable slots' filled with 'potion, potion, potion', while another might have 'Ether, Antidote, Mega Potion (Multi target potion that heals less per target)', with some classes getting more consumable slots as the game goes on (think an Alchemist/Gadgeteer/Rogue class). Perhaps with a 'Restock potions' option that resets these limited uses in combat, but takes your full turn.
The big problem you need to look out for in doing this is "How to get the player to actually use the Consumables". Because, if you limit them, the player may go "But I might need it later" and never really use them all that much. It will likely promote either skill with the game or overpowering your characters through grinding, depending on what systems you've got in play to promote or prevent those options.
Secret of Mana and Secret of Evermore tried these mechanics out to a small extent.
You can only carry 4 of any given Consumable at any time. So, healing was exceptionally limited. Limited to 4 revives total, before you had to go buy more. Limited to 4 Health Regens before you had to go buy more. Limited to 4 items that heald 50 HP, 4 that healed 100, 4 that healed 300, and 4 that healed 999. LImited to 4 items that could restore 50 MP.
You can guess how useful Consumables are in both of those games. Too scarce to rely on, and too easy to overpower the challenge of both games to make using them even "useful". Even in "Trials of Mana", a remake of Seiken Densetsu 3, rebuilt from the ground up to be a third person camera fighting game... has its limit of 9 of any given item at a time, and no way to restock except outside of combat, if you have spares on hand. Even those Consumables were basically never used by a vast majority of the players.
Limiting how often the Consumables are used only adds difficulty or strategy to the game if you ensure the player actually needs to use those Consumables. Otherwise, they may as well not exist.
There are some wrinkles I do need to iron out, though.
Like how to explain this in game.
Maybe the team alchemist just gives them a 'supply box' of the items along on their adventures, but it's stowed in their backpack and inaccessible during combat? Eh, I'll fix this when I get to it.
Maybe new 'consumables' are added when the player finds the recipies?
"Before heading into the viper pit, we should try and find a recipe for an 'Antidote'!"
Whole sidequest chains revolving around finding the recipe for more powerful consumables, maybe even having to gather ingredients for a 'prototype'.
Having more powerful items, like an Elixir, take up more 'slots' could also be a good balancing measure for this.
Could also be fun to have 'buff potions' be an option. Or having the choice between a once per encounter Grenade or a Potion. Somehow it also solves the "Who needs ressurection spells when we can just buy more Phoenix downs?"
I'll let you work out the Lore reasons for whatever you decide on your own. I have nothing to contribute in terms of Lore. That's your job to make your game internally consistent for the player.
For balance reasons, players would only be able to change their consumable load-out in 'Safe zones' outside dungeons, off course.
Any particular reason you see this option as "more balanced" than any other? Or, rather, any reason you want to go with this option?
I'm asking because it goes back to the old questions:
"What do you want the players to be doing?"
"What purpose does this serve?"
"Does this synergize with anything else in the game?"
The fun old questions of game design.
Another problem would be the role of Healers in this.
If every character has plenty potions available, then, why bring a dedicated healer?
Hence why I deleted mine. A Dedicated Healer and Consumables are basically a redundency. Why have two sources of the same effect? Why have overlap? Unless you're going to make them both serve different purposes, then there's likely not a reason to have both.
If you plan to have both, then it's up to you, as the dev, to figure out why you want or even need both.
My answer is just "remove one" because it's much easier to remove a redundancy, then try to balance around it.
Well, on one hand, it does free party composition up a bit more, if healing can be spread among everyone.
But on the flipside, bringing someone who can cast Cure, means the rogue can maybe swap out one of his potions per combat for that 'Vial of Venom'. Which also brings up the possibilty of class or character specific consumables, like Poison needing Poison training, Grenades needing 'Explosives training', and so on.
The only real pitfall here is...
If you end up with characters who end up as "Dedicated Healers" anyway. As in, they are the least valuable contribution to every single fight, and it's not even a tough decision for you to figure out who sacrifices their slots and turns to heal everyone while everyone else focuses on damage.
Then what do players spend gold on, I might hear some of you ask? Well, seeing as I don't plan on having 'the threadmill of gear upgrades' either, I might just do away with gold all-together.
I'd be curious how you make exploration exciting and how you make "hunting treausre" interesting.
Lara Croft and her new set of games tried to do away with some of that... and "Tomb Raiding" in many of those games was "not worth it" as a result of the lackluster junk you tended to find.
You'll likely have to design the game more like a "Metroidvania" in that case...
But, maybe there's a different way to handle it. I'm curious how you'll handle exploration and treasure if there's no gold to find, nothing to spend it on, and don't plan on giving people many gear upgrades.
I know, this sounds like an extreme idea, but besides the obvious story/immersion reasons, I do think it could work.
What do you guys think?
I think it will depend on execution and whether or not you have answers/solutions to the common pitfalls you might run into. I also think it will depend very heavily on Playtesting. It's all well and good to discuss how cool our systems are and how good our ideas might be... But if you get into playtesting and those systems you spent months figuring out how to get to work EXACTLY as intended turn out to be "very freakin' boring", then all that work to get them to function as you envisioned was a waste of time.
I suggest testing these on small "tailor made" projects for them. I've largely engaged in this sort of testing for the last 5 years or so. Put simply, I put the feature I want into a "new game" that is decently short (about an hour or so of gameplay, no story, just gameplay, that gameplay being the expected loop) and watching how friends and family react to what it is they're playing. Do they smile? Get excited? Engage with the systems more? Complain? Etcetera. I'm watching to see if they're having fun. Trying to see if they want to keep playing the small snippet.
It's useful for Testing. I suggest you put together a prototype of this system and just shop that around to see what kind of feedback you might get out of it.