Dungeons & Delvers: Rebrewing Potions

After Melissa's Hemskil session last Tuesday, we kept shooting the shit with Adam and eventually got on the topic of potions. Big thing was that Adam doesn’t like using mending or vigor potions, because they impose a temporary Constitution penalty to the tune of -1 per potion, with points recovering at a rate of 1 per hour.

Melissa prefers to use them as backups, but at higher levels isn't going to bother with a standard or enhanced potion unless she thinks that it's the only way to not die. She's used them in our Age of Worms campaign, though not much since they've usually had a cleric with the Healing Domain on tap.

Personally I don’t think it’s that big of a deal: the penalty only reduces your maximum Wound Points, not your current, unless reducing your maximum would make it lower than your current, in which case it gets lowered to match. So, I just make it a point to only drink them when I’m missing more WP or VP than my level.

For example:

In Melissa’s game I’m playing a mine kobold fighter named Magnus. He’s 5th-level, has a Constitution of +2, 32 Wound Points, and 12 Vitality Points. So I don’t down a potion unless I’m missing at least 6 WP or VP: otherwise it at best just evens out. Well, not quite: if I do that in combat I’ve just wasted my turn!

But we want to get a broader opinion, so we’re going to hold a public poll on the G+ community and see what more people think. We have a few ideas on how we could change them, but before that I wanted to explain how potions work and why they work that way, so anyone participating in the poll can make an informed decision.

I can’t recall when I started disliking Dungeons & Dragons’s reliance on healing magic (both spells and items) in order to get by, but when we started working on Dungeons & Delvers I knew I wanted to design the game so that you didn’t need a spellcaster with healing magic, a cartload of healing potions, and/or a bandoleer of healing wands.

This led to Hit Points getting split into Wound and Vitality Points, as well as armor granting Damage Resistance. This worked out okay, but then during a playtest one of the players suggested adding non-magical potions.

I actually got the idea of alchemical potions that can poison you to death from Witcher 3. To me it was perfect: they heal you over time and penalize you in some way, meaning they weren’t as good as a cleric’s healing magic. They’d be relatively easy to brew, so you could buy them in most places, even shithole villages (or any PC with Novice Alchemy and a lab). And from an "in-game" perspective they made sense.

Witcher 3 also included enhanced and superior potions, which we used as a way to scale them up and remain more useful at higher levels (as opposed to 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons alchemical items, which quickly become worthless).

Basically, whatever you decide: I don’t want them to be as good or better than a cleric’s healing magic, because I think that would make clerics less likely to bother with the Healing Domain. They should be readily available in most places, and should not be overtly magical (being fantasy alchemical there is of course some leeway). Finally, how they work should make sense “in-game” (unlike, say, Dungeon World's bandages).

With that out of the way, here’s how they work mechanically so you don’t have to check the book:

Mending Potion (50 sp) 
You regain 1d8 Wound Points, at a rate of 1 per round (they slowly heal your wounds), and your Constitution is reduced by 1 for one hour. This penalty is cumulative, and your Constitution recovers at a rate of 1 point per hour. If your Constitution is ever reduced to -5 you die.

  • Enhanced (+25 sp): You instead regain 2d8 WP.
  • Superior (+50 sp): You instead regain 3d8 WP.

Vigor Potion (25 sp)
You immediately regain 1d8 Vitality Points (more like an adrenaline rush), and your Constitution is reduced by 1 for one hour. This penalty is cumulative, and your Constitution recovers at a rate of 1 point per hour. If your Constitution is ever reduced to -5 you die.

  • Enhanced (+25 sp): You instead regain 2d8 VP.
  • Superior (+50 sp): You instead regain 3d8 VP.

And here are some of the changes we came up with (go here to vote):

Number 1: Safe Potions
No Constitution penalty, otherwise functions as written.

Number 2: Enhanced Potions
Increased effects. Standard could provide 1d8, but Enhanced is 3d8, and Superior is 5d8. Or a static mod such as 1d8+1, 2d8+2, and 3d8+3. Or a mix of both. Whatever makes it worth the Con penalty!

Number 3: Safer Potions
Reduced penalty. The Constitution duration only lasts a half hour, or a random duration like 1d6 x 10 minutes (which equates to 1-6 turns in exploration time). Or some other penalty, like maximum WP is reduced by x amount for a period of time, or even just “you are Poisoned for x amount of time”.

Number 4: Safer & Enhanced
A mix of 2 and 3: they do more and there’s a reduced penalty.

Number 5: Customizable Potions
A very complex web of price modifiers to potions, kind of like how weapons and armor can have masterwork qualities. More money means better quality ingredients means better potions.

Mending Potion Example:

  • +10 sp: You also regain 1 WP per die rolled.
  • +15 sp: The dice are increased to 1d10.
  • +20 sp: The Constitution penalty instead lasts for 1d6 x 10 minutes.
  • +25 sp: It restores an additional die of WP (instead of enhanced and superior adding one die each time, you can keep tacking on 25 sp to keep adding more dice)
  • +25 sp: The Constitution penalty only lasts half as long.
  • +25 sp: The WP recovery is immediate.
  • +50 sp: The potion recovers the maximum possible amount.

Any number of these could be added, so long as you’re willing to pay the price. These could also be considered “masterwork” qualities, and a higher Alchemy crafting rank allows you to impart one effect for free (as Armorer and Weaponsmithing craft skills).

You can now get a physical copy of Dungeons & Delvers: Black Book in whatever format you want! We've also released the first big supplement for it, Appendix D, so pick that up if you want more of everything.

Our latest Dungeon World class, The Apothecary, is now available.

Dwarven Vault is our sixth 10+ Treasures volume. If you're interested in thirty dwarven magic items (including an eye that lets you shoot lasers) and nearly a dozen new bits of dungeon gear, check it out!

Just released our second adventure for A Sundered World, The Golden Spiral. If a snail-themed dungeon crawl is your oddly-specific thing, check it out!

By fan demand, we've mashed all of our 10+ Treasure volumes into one big magic item book, making it cheaper and more convenient to buy in print (which you can now do).

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