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In addition to everything else I have going on here at Campaign Mastery, next month we are scheduled to host the Blog Carnival. The current carnival over at of Dice and Dragons is all about potions, and – despite having covered that subject in depth in the first part of the Spell Storage Solutions series – I’ll make a stab at saying something fresh on the subject in a bit.

Before I get to that, however, I want to discuss what Next month is all about.

Ordinary Life in RPGs

The theme is Ordinary Life.

This is a deceptively plain brown wrapper for a variety of content, falling into three main areas:

  • The Ordinary Life of the GM and how it impacts on their gaming, and vice-versa.
    • What compromises do you have to make?
    • What tips and tricks do you have for making Gaming part of your everyday life without getting characterized as “weird” or a “nerd”?
    • Or perhaps you’re a veteran who would like to educate younger readers on how gaming used to be a closet activity – and how it came out of the closet and became socially acceptable, or at least tolerable?
    • Or perhaps, how gaming has changed your life, and what you can learn from it? I saw a social media meme just the other day on how to describe gaming on your resume….

    Lots of choices there, and that’s not even what I consider the main vein of gold to be mined by this Blog Carnival!

  • The Ordinary Life of the Players and how that impacts on the game.
    • If one of your players has had a bad week, do you consciously twist the game in a direction they will like to get them ‘in the mood’ or permit them to blow off steam – rather than letting it interfere with the game in some more substantial way?
    • To what extent does ordinary ‘real’ life influence how players will react? What are the possible consequences for game planning?
    • Or, you might talk about the interaction of player and character personalities.
    • Or, perhaps, whether or not a player’s mood should be reflected in the mood of their character? I can see arguments both ways on this one. If yes, you could be letting the player blow off steam, as noted earlier, if no, you may be permitting them to step outside the bubble of ‘negative energy’ that filters people’s perceptions when they are experiencing troubled times in their personal lives. Is Gaming, and should gaming be used for, mood alteration?

    Again, lots of potentially interesting articles there. But this is still only one-third of the potential arena of discussion within this broad subject.

  • The real core of the subject (and potentially the easiest to write about), though, is The Ordinary Life of the PCs and how the GM makes the game seem real.
    • I’ve mentioned in other articles how ‘real life’ is incorporated into the Zenith-3 and Adventurer’s Club campaigns. How do you do it?>/li>
    • How do you avoid the PCs “real lives” becoming a soap opera? Or do you even care?
    • What sort of things do the PCs get up to when they aren’t out slaying monsters and behaving heroically?
    • If yours is the sort of campaign that makes everything dramatic and larger than life, how do you do that? What are your techniques?
    • Or you could write about just one aspect of the ‘real lives’ of the PCs in your campaign. What’s it like to go shopping in the Bazaar? What might you expect to find in a realistic Village Market?
    • Our real lives are shaped around work, rest, food, and play; how are these represented in your games for the characters? Is one category given short shrift, or is it a sequential deal where each takes the spotlight on occasion, or what?
    • How do you come up with incidents to populate your characters’ “real lives”?
    • Four of the dominating influences on our lives are Politics, Religion, Law, and Social Structure / Occupation. You could write about one or all of those in your campaign, and how they affect the PCs.
    • And that’s just scratching the surface! There are lots of other aspects of the ‘real lives’ of the characters that could make great topics of conversation.

For such a plain brown wrapper, there sure is a heck of a lot of potential underneath the surface. Everyone should be able to write something about at least one of these topics – and barely scratch the surface!

I have made space in my schedule to write and publish five posts on the subject, but which of the above I choose as the subject for each is still up in the air. There is so much ground that could be covered that you could write a fortnightly post for a full year just from the suggestions above. More, if you focus on individual PCs and not the big-picture. Still more, if you simply offer suggestions of events that PCs might encounter in their daily lives.

This post is to serve as the anchor for the Carnival; everyone should either link to it (to generate a pingback) or post a comment here when they post an article as part of the Carnival.

And so, to the main subject of the day (in terms of value for readers):

potion-bottles

How Long Should Potions Last?

I don’t mean, how many doses should they contain; I’m talking about expiry dates.

This is a question that pivots directly on the question of what a potion actually is. Are potions medical concoctions, perhaps with a magical energy infusion, or are they a form of magic directly, with the ingredients used simply to give form to the magical effects?

Indefinite Potions

The latter would indicate that the “ingredients” don’t necessarily have to be incorporated in the consumable ‘liquid’ of the potion (which may take some other form, if you like). Instead, they are used to give ‘form’ to the potion, is more literally ‘liquid magic’. As such, it would last indefinitely – energy doesn’t normally spontaneously change form.

This gives rise to a number of possibilities that the GM can exploit in terms of characters changing or altering the effect that a potion has simply by reconfiguring the ‘energy matrix’ (or equivalent) into some other pattern.

To prevent abuse, I would suggest that this only be possible through difficult and expensive rituals, but there is something appealing to an arcane sygil on the carpet that causes healing potions to spontaneously explode.

Of course, it is possible that this is “lost knowledge” possessed only by one of the PCs’ enemies…

A somewhat weaker and more controllable variation based on the concept of Reducing Metamagics, which I proposed in 2009’s Broadening Magical Horizons,, would be to adjust potion effectiveness with metamagics, using the reducing metamagics to maintain a net zero adjustment in spell level – meaning that you don’t have to know what the original spell level was. For example, according to the Pathfinder core rulebook, “Extend Spell” (doubles the duration of a spell) at the cost of +1 spell level, while the Reducing Metamagic feat “slow spell” doubles the casting time at the cost of -2 spell levels. Potions normally take effect one round after being imbibed, so the combination would enable a user to double the duration of effect of a potion twice (either a tripling or a quadrupling depending on how the GM handles the effects of stacking) in return for delaying it’s effects by a round.

This might well be what a PC mage learns to do from capturing the workbooks / research of the enemy in question, signaling that part of what the enemy was able to do has been understood, but part has not and can’t be replicated by outsiders that easily.

Decaying Potions

The polar opposite has the material ingredients of the potion being genuine ingredients which will eventually decay. The question then becomes how quickly this happens; if it is too short a time-span, consumable potions will never be found in treasure caches.

Of course, you could always specify that such potions can be temporarily ‘revived’ by a process costing half the price of a ‘new’ potion, i.e. half the price listed in the appropriate rulebook. This has multiple logistics implications – potions are useless when found, but can be (effectively) ‘traded in’ when the party get back to town for functioning potions, effectively representing a (fragile) form of “Half price voucher”. Once redeemed, the party has only a limited time before the potion becomes dead once again – meaning that the party have blown their hard-earned gold.

There are other possibilities. Potions might retain their effects but become poisonous – nothing so severe as the ‘official’ poisons, but still significant. Imagine a healing potion that restores Xd8 hit points of damage – but thereafter does one point of damage per round for two-or-three rounds per point of healing effect. Or perhaps it’s X points of damage for eight rounds. Or you could decouple the effects and roll Xd8 for the healing (happens all at once) and then secretly roll Xd8 for the level of poisoning (at Y points per round, starting the round after the healing takes effect).

There are other possibilities that can be fun. Perhaps the matrix ‘calcifies’ – the potion is still viable, but for an unknown period after consumption, the character imbibing it is immune to other forms of magic that might affect them. This period should be variable and the character should never know how long it will last, only that it has or hasn’t yet worn off!

The severe downside to all of this is that it adds to the logistical overhead on the GM, who has to keep track of how old potions are. This can be minimized simply by determining in advance the date on which the potion was last ‘refreshed’ and keeping track of the game date, something most GMs do anyway.

Spoiling Potions

There is also an intermediate possibility that is worth exploring. Potions might be fine until exposed to the air, triggering the start of the decay process. Each day that subsequently passes increases the chance that the potion has gone ‘bad’ in one of the manners discussed above by 1 in 20 – which means that as soon as a potion is identified by any means other than a convenient (and possibly misleading) label, the clock starts ticking.

This avoids most of that logistic bookwork by reducing it to a d20 roll made at the time of imbibing.

I certainly would not recommend the more realistic option of checking each potion in the party’s possession daily, though that has the option – if the risk is capped – of creating a greater degree of uncertainty. “Should I or shouldn’t I risk it” can distract players at exactly the worst possible time – from their point-of-view!

Wrap-up

Most medications have a use-by date, beyond which they are either reduced in effectiveness, increased in danger of (potentially lethal) side effects, or become outright dangerous. And each medication is different in this respect. Now, I’m not suggesting that GMs go that far – but perhaps specifying one of two of the most useful potions individually might be a worthwhile exercise. Water Breathing, Healing, and Invisibility, plus a one-size-fits-all solution for the rest, would probably be a worthwhile exercise.

The assumption is, generally, that potions last forever. That’s most unlike anything in the real world. Certainly, you can retain that option – opening the door to doing other interesting things with potions that would keep players on their toes – or you can make this aspect of the campaign more realistic, increasing the element of the fantastic in the process.

It’s rare to be able to do both with a single rules option, and only makes this something worth considering carefully in your future campaigns.

Postcript:

There is a way to instate these ideas in an existing campaign. All you need do is start thinking about potion bottles as well as the contents. Perhaps they weren’t quite as adept in the old days, and the PCs have just been lucky without knowing it…

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