Returning to the subject of D&D, I wanted to record some of a conversation I was having last night with my own smart life partner, about recipes or formulas for making potions and other magic items. In particular, the making of something I use in my campaigns, called healing salve.
This is a very simple sort of magic that I allow to be purchased. I don't like the purchase of magic items, but there are a few very minor ones that I consider to be common enough that they would exist in abundance, without overbalancing the power structure that I consider delicately reflects that of the real world, circa 1650.
One such item is the healing salve. This is a simple packet, typically a liquidy powder, that can be eaten or poured directly into a wound, which restores 1d4 damage virtually instantaneously (call it half a round, or about six seconds). If the wound is bleeding, the salve will close the wound up immediately, even if it only heals 1 point. It takes a character one round to administer the salve, either on themselves or on others. Typically, depending on where the party is in my world, a salve can go for as little as 75 to as much as 200 g.p. It is often not available, or available in small amounts, and parties will snap up all they can find if it turns up on an equipment list.
On the list of things that an alchemist could fabricate, from yesterday's post, is the healing salve, and there's no question that someone will rush to make it as soon as they are able. So the subject of 'how it is made' is bound to come up.
The first notion that we're likely to have is that it is made from some part of a given creature's anatomy, so that the party has to rush out and kill the creature, probably in a careful manner, to get the blood or ichor or fingernails of the beast, whatever seems most annoying. This would then send the party on an endless quest to kill trolls (regenerating makes an obvious healing ingredient), flesh golems (reconstituted life), giant slugs or worms (most sponges, annelids and the like heal rather easily) and so on. Unfortunately, doing so would make the game into Quest for Worms, which the party would probably pursue endlessly.
Another idea that we had last night was more interesting, practical and most importantly game-friendly. Suppose that the seeds for the medicinal plants needed to create the healing salve were fairly easy to get, and fairly inexpensive (say, a gold coin per seed). The seeds could only be planted during a 10 day period late in the spring, and had a 63 day growth period before harvesting. During that time, they would have to be watched very closely by the druid, which would restrict the druid from doing anything else for 2 months. Each week, the druid would have to make a roll for every plant, to see if the plant died. The roll would improve as the druid's study points improved. There'd be a limit on how many plants a druid could conceivably manage, perhaps a hundred, and attempts to manage more would drastically increase the likelihood of plants dying.
At the end of the 9-week period, the remaining plants would be harvested. To transform these plant into a packet of healing salve per plant would take three weeks, which wouldn't be expensive but would require intensive effort by the druid (nothing could be allowed to interrupt the process). At the end of the effort, the druid would produce perhaps 60-80 packets, depending on the success of each operation. Cost, as I say, would be about 1 g.p. per packet.
However, having now created these healing salves, the party could do nothing to make more of them until the following spring! That means, although they can make a ton, for 12 months, the number is limited, and they have to be reserved. Each one that is used is used with the recognition that these have to last.
Moreover, as planting time approaches, the party must somehow return to one of those parts of the world where the plant grows, or miss a whole year of crop growing.
I really like this system, as it encourages freedom for a lot of the year for the party, so they are not endlessly hunting some animal, while at the same time still offering a limitation to how much salve they can reasonably make. It helps stabilize the party's wanderings, and promotes a community association for the months when the party returns 'home' to grow more plants.
This is game play on a very powerful, meaningful level ... and as I was told yesterday by Maxwell Joslyn, it does the heavy lifting for me.