As I dive deeper and deeper into the DnDTwitterVerse it becomes more and more clear to me that many play D&D differently from how I do it and from how the D&D of the late 80s and early 90s shaped my way of D&Ding. Not worse, not better, just with a different focus, and doing so it encounters different issues and presents different solutions to those issues. One instance recently was a post (and it’s associated Twitter threads) from the always readable blog DM David on potions and action economy: drinking a Potion, free action or not?
There is an interesting conflict between having potions as a bonus effect (ie heroism and speed) and potions as regaining resources (ie healing). It can be exciting to have players choose between healing and other actions (potions costs an action), but with only on average three rounds of combat, spending one round drinking a potion of heroism easily costs too much. Often players end up never using potions in part because it costs too much time and in part because there is always the risk of using the potion too early needing it for a later combat. A partial solution is to create various costs in time for drinking potions (healing costs an action, heroism is a free action), though this requires a bit extra administration for DM and the players.
Another approach is to have the players be aware of the duration of potions (and perhaps increase it), so that players are more likely to utilize potions once they enter dangerous areas. Right now, a potion lasts one hour, but if it lasts two or six hours, then players can use potions in new ways.
Finally, potions can be used not as combat enhancers but as problem solvers – a bit like Cyphers from the Numenera rpg or much like potions commonly are used in fairy tales – where challenges from blocked doors, trapped passages or magically warded places can be passed using the magical effect of the potion (heroism allowing people to pass a magical fear effect or using giant strength potion to force a door open).
For an example of how potions can have a different role in the game, have a look at the New Nordic Potions – a handful of magical potions working in unexpected ways.