Right then. I know it’s a day late, but I’m hoping not a dollar short. It’s that bloody 12 hour car ride, I thought today was Tuesday. Well… whoops. Yes, tomorrow will be a regularly scheduled blog post, and of the normal variety. Today’s will be more of a discussion piece, hopefully getting some gears turning as you read. Back to back posts! I must be losing it to put myself through that. Anyways, on with the show.

Today is going to be a fun one, since this is something that can be found in virtually every game ever. That’s right, items! Various flavors and forms, items are the quintessential backbone of certain types of games, often being both the reward and means to an end. In order to make sure this post actually ends sometime this century, we’ll be mostly talking about items like potions and elixirs, and looking at how they can be balanced for the game in question with a variety of unique and engaging ways. Tomorrow will be the other side of the item world: weapons. For now, let’s get started with the most common potion variant: defensive.

Defensive Items:
This is the most common form consumable items take, and the easiest way to give examples is the classic RPG. Seriously, go look at any of them. Potions give HP, Antidote cures Poison, and so on. All of these are reactionary items and can almost never be used preemptively, and those that can are either resistance buffers or damage shields. These are the kinds of things players will use in a defensive playstyle. Let’s cover the basics first:

  • Potions: These are the basics, healing items, and probably one of the most important items in a game. How the Potions are structured dictates how players explore and battle. If potions are plentiful but heal very little, players are more likely to just sell them. If they heal too much, they’ll neglect any form of designated healer, or worse, come to rely exclusively on them. Likewise, potions don’t even have to heal in one big chunk. You can easily have them heal over-time for smaller amounts. If your game is PVP-centric, this is the form potions need to take. No one likes fighting an enemy only to have their health bar explode back up without warning or apparent reason. Healing over time gives more leeway and gives the player a chance to realize what’s going on. Take a long look at the amount potions heal for, and see how players react when that number changes. Likewise, don’t be afraid to add higher tiers in a PvE-centric game to encourage keeping potions as a buffer for battle and out-of-combat healing.

 

  • Cure Items: The second most common type in RPG’s, these are the counter to status ailments. Think carefully before adding these, or make sure the player can’t just stock up on a dozen in every shop (unless that’s what you wanted too). Once a player has a way of curing a debuff, that detriment will quickly drop in threat level. Say you have Blind, which makes all melee attacks miss, and Eye Drops cure it. If a player can just buy the Eye Drops, players will usually instantly cure an ailment and then get right back into the fight. If you want detriments to stay powerful against the player, only let a steady steam of cure items out, or make them rare for the exotic ailments. Special note to the Poison debuff: There is a fine line between a scary debuff and an annoying one. In my experience, instant-death is more enjoyable than poison when antidotes are too hard to get/come by. No one enjoys watching a character slowly die and being unable to do anything to stop it. Consider that when deciding monster drops/shop prices for antidotes!

 

  • Defensive Items: These are the rarer form, using involving temporary stat boosts or shields. Things like Fire Resistance Up or Attack Up, usually lasting a few turns, although more powerful versions can be battle-long. Usually you’ll see players hesitant to use these on anything but bosses, which is why they don’t really feature prominently. Keep these in your game if you want to give players an edge. Some players, like me, will often sell these for money, while others will use them to give themselves an edge on a tough fight. These are the items to use if you want to soften the difficulty curve in the game.

 

  • Utility Items: These are the rarest of items, which is a shame. Utility items can be some of the most fun, and have interesting ways of influencing the game. Do you have cooldowns in your game? Try a potion that gives cooldown reduction! Need to move? Try move-speed. Does your game happen in a Final Fantasy-esq battle screen? Try something fun, like a potion to speed up the amount of turns you get, or something to disrupt the grouping of enemies. If you want ‘flavor’ items that are silly or not really useful, but not detrimental either, this is what you want to do. Utility items add a unique flair to a game that most others lack.

 

Like I said before, defensive-use items are the most common, and need the most explanation. Numbers can be just as influential to player behavior as effects can be. Overall, if you are concerned, focus most on keeping potion usage under control. Most games today see potions as something vile and have a cooldown on them, when that isn’t the case. If you want to set up a potion-IV and let your characters drip feed themselves the whole game, go for it! Just be aware of the consequences. A good rule of thumb, a potion should be able to heal about 2-4 hits from a like leveled creature of that tier. If it’s PvP, keep that baseline at level 1-3, then let potions drop off in effectiveness to promote more risky play between characters.

Get to work!

Offensive Items:
Now, for the much more rare variant of potions and elixirs, these you typically only see these in MMO’s and the like, and even then their effectiveness varies wildly. Which is really a pity, because nearly all of these are insanely fun to use.

  • Damage Potions: The most basic and bland of this item type. Use item -> deal damage. Sometimes it’s something you throw, like a bomb or two volatile chemicals mixed in a vial, and sometimes it’s just something you use, but either way the result is the same, enemies go boom. General rule of thumb, the raw damage on these items should exceed the damage of similar items with other effects. Say you have a cocktail of doom that does 100 damage and burns the enemy, adding a damage over time effect (Let’s say 50 damage over 10 seconds), the bomb that just explodes and damages should do at least 175, if not 200. Make these items hurt! Even if it’s only for a short time before enemies and players out-level the items damage, make them fun to use while they last.
  • Status Potions: The opposite of cure items, these inflict ailments on whatever they touch. Poison, paralysis, silence, even instant death if you like, these are some of the most satisfying potions to use. Who doesn’t like hurling a bottle of poison onto a group of hapless enemies? Again, make these items matter. If your player can deal 100 damage in a single ability, no one is going to bother with a potion that inflicts 50 poison damage over 5 seconds unless it hits everything. Use area-of-effect to your advantage, giving players the ability to dish out damage to whole groups, or just debuff the hell out of one target. Variety is the spice that gives these potions and elixirs their kick. Don’t forget that.
  • Utility Potions: Yep, we’re here again. Just like before, only inverted. Have things increase cooldown times, slow down your enemies, just in general make life a living hell for them. Items that may not do direct damage or debuff, but still make the player’s life easier. Offensive Utility can be the most fun out of all of these to use, when done correctly. Give them that needed (metaphorical) punch to make players love them!

The most important thing to remember is that these groups are not mutually exclusive. Add an area-of-effect damage pulse to a rare healing potion to give it that extra flair, or having a poison that slows when the vial pops. The key is to keep things in perspective. Keep items that do two things under the same cap as its relevant sibling, unless the item is supposed to be rare. Say that potion I mentioned slows 25% and does 50 damage over 10 seconds, while the other two potions (Utility: Slow and Status: Poison) can do a 40% slow and 80 damage over 10 seconds. Rare items can exceed this threshold as long as they aren’t easy to get. Why bother using a potion that heals for 100 when you could just farm a ‘rare’ item that heals 150 and deals 60 damage to the enemy? Availability is just as much a deciding factor as power, and never underestimate just how powerful utility potions and brews can be when in the hands of a skilled player.

Like I said before, this was more of a discussion piece than comparing hard examples. Tomorrow’s with weapons will be more along those lines, but hopefully today’s got a few thoughts bubbling, having you think about your favorite type of item, and items you’d like to see.