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I have recently started running a game of Pathfinder for a bunch of friends who hadn't played tabletop games before. H

The problem

They never use the scrolls or potions I give them, thinking that the potions will be needed later. When one player actually used one potion, the others got really angry with the player, asking what they were going to do when they faced a stronger monster (I think they've played too many role-playing video games).

I give them consumables in order to make them be able to take on tougher foes; because they avoid using them all the time, most of the slightly tough encounters I prepared become much harder to get past.

If they used the consumables, I would provide them with more. How can I make my players realize this fact and start using their scrolls and potions more freely?

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Give consumable items that go away on their own.

I speak as one of the players who will absolutely hoard every potion they get forever, and try to sell them in town for gear upgrades. So your characters want to hang onto their potions? Okay. Cool. Let them. Introduce a new type of consumable item - mushrooms or something. Every time you take a long rest, you roll a d6 for each one, and the mushrooms that get a 6 stop being useful. This forcibly breaks the idea that those items have any sort of long-term hoarding value, and no one in town really wants to buy the things because in a week they'll be useless anyway. Have mushrooms grow in high-magic areas (like the places that you'll often have to fight monsters) and basically duplicate potions. Possibly have the occasional herbalist in town who sells them for cheaper than the alchemist sells potions, but still won't buy the things, because if the party doesn't want them, she has no one to sell them to.

Once you utterly break the idea that the consumables can be seen in any way as a long-term resource, people will start using them as the short-term resource that they're intended to be... and those same urges to not waste will bite them every time they roll a six during a long rest, encouraging them further not to hoard. In the meantime, they don't have a reason to feel cheated because you're not taking anything away. They still have the potions they've earned, they can hoard them all they like, and they can even buy more. It's always easier to give a new thing than to take an old thing away.

I admit that I haven't been in a game where this was tried, but it would totally work on me. This answer refined from part of an earlier answer by Quadratic Wizard.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I really like this idea to break the hoarding pattern. I also think it makes sense even on potions, spell scrolls and bomb-like device (ignoring the fact I don't know if pathfinder has those by RAW). \$\endgroup\$ – 3C273 Oct 16 '18 at 20:49
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Make the items widely and commonly available.

This is the "but what if I need it later?" problem. Loss aversion means you're more concerned about losing something than you are optimistic about gaining it.

  • Have shopkeepers regularly try to push these consumables, sometimes at a discount. The players will get the picture that using up the item is only a temporary expenditure, because they can reliably get replacements between adventures. This isn't guaranteed to work if they also have a fear of spending money that could be spent on something better. However, it may help alleviate the fear of losing an item if they know they can recover it reliably.
  • Have the items be so common as treasure that the player characters are overflowing with certain items. It's one thing to use one of the party's three healing potions, but when you have so many that everyone in the party has five, they become more readily used.

There are other, more radical solutions, which would require you to be a slightly harsher DM than I suspect you're interested in being:

  • Start increasing the difficulty so that they really do need the items. Fulfil their suspicion that some future encounter will force them to use the items they were saving.
  • Have items start degrading in efficacy with time. They gradually lose potency, or become unreliable with time. The problems with this are that the players may feel you're stealing their rightfully-earned treasure, and you'd have to track all the individual potions and scrolls and game time, and it'd be challenging to explain why a scroll only fails now when it's been sitting in a dungeon for 400 years. This approach was historically done in AD&D with drow magic items which degrade in sunlight, although later editions abandoned this.
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  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't particularly like the last option. That is a pain for bookkeeping and raises many questions within the fiction. +1 for everything else though. \$\endgroup\$ – TimothyAWiseman Oct 16 '18 at 22:27
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You can directly tell them that you will provide easy ways to replace used items. But I don't think it will suffice to overcome the "I might need it later" syndrome. So here is an other solution I've seen in latest RPGs made by Zeboid Game:

Give "X times per battle/day/..." items rather than a lot of single uses items

In Cosmic Star Heroine, everything is reset between battles. You recover all your HP, MP, are healed from all debuffs, etc. All your items can only be used X times per battles (generally once). There is no advantage to keep tricks or potions for later. You are encouraged to give your all in every battle. They literally say so in the tutorial.

You don't have to, and probably shouldn't, go that far, but by replacing a healing potion by a homebrewed magically refilling flask of sacred water (let's say, heals 2d6 HP, four charges, recharge every night), they can't really save it for later.

That said, as these kind of items are basically bonus spell slots reserved for specific spells, there are a few downsides:

  • There isn't many magical items that work that way (or at least, I didn't find many in my superficial search), and those that exist are costly, and rightly so.

  • It makes scenarii where the party is progressively worn down by multiples encounters during several days without possibility of sleep a lot less intense, which can diminish the experience.

  • It makes the character's abilities less interesting. For instance, the homebrewed flask above is basically the class feature Lay on Hands of a lvl 3 Paladin with CHA 14. The player of the party's Paladin might feel less special and/or useful.

  • If your party is the kind where wizards don't cast their fireball to save their partners because they might need it later that day, it probably won't solve the problem.

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I think you're asking the wrong question. If they're able to overcome the challenges without using the consumables, then why should they use them?

I would look at two things on the DM's side:

  1. Create time pressures which feel legitimate but keep the players from resting regularly. In this way, they will tend to start valuing spell slots a bit higher and consumables maybe a bit lower. One of my parties is currently on an island with a series of challenges. Our ship home returns in seven days. We can choose to rest whenever we'd like, but we're being careful not to rest unnecessarily, because in seven days we have to leave.

  2. Make the encounters more difficult. If they don't need to use the consumable, why should they? Give them encounters which push their characters to the max, and get them accustomed to preparing ahead and expecting the worst. Nothing will get the players more invested in using consumables than thinking "oh man, I wish I drank that potion of water breathing before diving into the water."

In addition to that, I'd recommend looking at whether a consumable is the right choice for the problem. If you were to give the players a pile of gold, would they decide to buy the consumables you gave them? If not, then maybe they're considering selling them instead of using them. My DM gave our 7th level party four searing arrows, which are worth 1516 GP a piece. There's no way we're shooting one of those unless it the only choice we have and it saves someone's life. Otherwise, we're going to dump them in the next town we find and buy some sweet permanent gear.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Well said. Nobody's going to waste a resource when there's no apparent need for it. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Oct 16 '18 at 18:54
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If they used the consumables, I would provide them with more. How can I make my players realize this fact and start using their scrolls and potions more freely?

Give them more anyway

It seems that people may have missed a premise in your question. Your players don't sound like they're hoarding, it sounds as though you've given them a small number of items and they haven't used them.

People value scarce resources (at least, if they have the ability to delay gratification) and players are often trained into the thinking that "I've been given a thing, if I save this thing the hard part of the game will be easier."

Your players will always (based on the behavior you've already seen) keep a "spare tank of gas", so the idea that you'll convince them to do what their personalities dictate they will not do will be an unsuccessful endeavor.

Once your players have "enough" extra gas, they will probably use it. But, for the following point, don't be disappointed if they still hoard them.

The main issue I have with this is that I give them consumables in order to make them be able to take on tougher foes, and because they avoid using them all the time, most of the slightly tough encounters I prepared become much harder to get past.

Give them more varied single-use items

First, your players are deliberately increasing the game difficulty, but are overcoming challenges. If they aren't losing characters then your job is just easier as a DM and they're (presumably) enjoying themselves.

Don't fix what ain't broke!

But consider this; what if you gave them items that feel truly important that they need to save? Putting these next to the items that are less powerful makes those items seem more consumable as they are a tier lower.

An item I recently made up for my party was "Orb of Replenishment" - a consumable that refreshes all X-Per-Day abilities (but not spells) for the person who breaks it. Brimming with ideas, they see how powerful that could be and will probably hoard it for the big fight they see coming (or between fights.) This obviously makes some of the random things like Potion of Shield of Faith a lot less important simply because it sits next to something so powerful.

Track weight or use an "item belt" style limit

A lot of people get weird about tracking inventory/weight/etc. but if you're willing to hold your players to it then excess items get left to the wayside. I'll say this - I'm way more likely to hoard items in a system where I have no limit (because I can probably get through the game without using them; but it makes the harder part easier.)

When a system has weight penalties (say oblivion) and you have potions that weigh 1 lbs; if they aren't that effective you'll definitely use them at your earliest convenience. The reason? It's nice-to-have and it helps you, but it actually feels like a relief to stop carrying it.

An different example of this can be seen in Diablo 2. You can carry many potions and a diverse array of them, but once you fill your belt you're quite willing to use a potion because you know you'll find more. If you make your potions prevalent (as the first part of my answer and as others have mentioned) you can maybe get them to use them; but if you also limit the number they can hold all the sudden they can be "full", in which case using potions so they have room to carry more becomes attractive; because otherwise they just waste resources by dropping them by the wayside.

Addendum:

An issue in your current campaign (..probably)

Consider this: Your players are running into encounters that are difficult but doable when they don't use their potions. They may be considering these 'somewhat difficult' encounters as 'normal' and then be saving resources for the BBEG because if these battles are hard enough to be difficult, we're going to need those.

Thus I present you with one more premise:

Give them more varied difficulty

As presented above, the psychology may be snow-balling itself because of the fact that the encounters are difficult but doable. Give them some easier encounters, then give them one harder than the ones they've done so far (just a tiny bit.) That may be a cue that "this is what we saved our resources for!"

This could take a few sessions to get them doing.

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