Frequently when I DM I will give my players consumables (i.e. potions and scrolls) in loot drops in place of gold. My intention is to give them more flexibility in strategy during exploration and combat, especially by providing spells most spellcasters deem too "situational" to be useful (for example, a one-use scroll of Gust of Wind might slow down goblin reinforcements in a hallway, or provide extra force to a sail, but otherwise doesn't usually show up in my games).

The problem is: they never use the consumable items. The main reason seems to be the players abstain from using the items, waiting instead for the "perfect time" to use them, only to discover that time never comes, and the item is forgotten long after it is found.

How can I encourage my players to be less frugal with these items and use them more frequently? I thought about giving the items "time limits" (i.e. that potion will only last for one in-game day), but then it is hard to explain how it was still good up until the party found it. I'm also looking for empirical evidence of success in encouraging less frugal item use.

To clarify, I am not looking to force a play-style on my players. If they wish to forgo item use, that is their prerogative. I just want it to be for a reason other than waiting for the "perfect moment".


13 Answers 13


This is a behavior I myself have, and it often boils down to not wanting to use consumable items until my class features -- daily, short rest, or whatever -- have been burned. I hate to use something non-recoverable before something that is recoverable, and even then I feel like it's a waste of the item if the battle ends right after I use it and it didn't have a significant impact. (That is, even if my spell scroll contributed to the battle, if it wasn't an earth-shaking change to the fight, I'm left feeling like maybe I should've just used a cantrip instead.)

In addition, there's often a sense that the action cost is too high, for some items. A potion of healing that recovers less than the damage I took in a single round of enemy attacks doesn't feel like I'm making a good choice. I'm likely to try to push through even with 2 HP left, because spending an action to get myself up to 9 HP feels silly if the enemy is dealing 8 to 12 damage per hit. With or without the potion, I'm just as unconscious either way, and attacking instead might just end things here and now. And after the fight, do I really want to heal with a potion? I'm pretty beat up and we're out of healing spells, so we could find a way to sleep for the night instead...

This tends to get worse over time, as well. The longer you hold an item, the less useful it is, as the opportunity cost of using that item becomes higher. As the player character levels up, the consumable items you got several levels ago become weak compared to your improved innate powers. You're even more likely to say, "Why should I waste an action on this?!"

So how can you deal with this? I can think of a few potential options.

Give out fewer consumable items, but choose stronger ones.

If the issue is feeling that consumables aren't worth spending unless they have a big impact, play into that. Instead of giving the players four potions of healing, give them one potion of greater healing that really can take somebody from near-dead to full HP (adjust which potions I'm talking about to fit your party's level, of course). Instead of handing out a selection of below-level spell scrolls, let them find a scroll for a single spell that's a level or two higher than the players, something they need an ability check to cast. It's a risk, but if it works you turn the tide in a serious way.

If the players' hesitation is indeed based on the "save it for a rainy day" effect, then this could have the unintended effect of making the players even more hesitant to use their sweet item; but on the other hand, the fact that the effect isn't that great can be a big part of it never being "the right time" to use the item.

Put a time limit on the items.

I really like the idea of, say, healing potions that are only good for a few days before they go bad. As you said, it wouldn't make a lot of sense as treasure in a dungeon, but as something a local apothecary whipped up in thanks for the party's actions, it would be a great fit.

It wouldn't be a permanent thing, but you could place an adventure in an area with a pervasive aura of rot or a drained-magic area where non-permanent items start to degrade the longer you stay, so the items have to be used or lost. This could help get the party into the mind-set of using up their stored items, at least.

Remind the players.

Sometimes it's not that you really are thinking, "Oh yes, my feather token could help here -- nah, better not." Sometimes it's just that you forget the item list on your character sheet when you're in the middle of combat. You're deep in "What would a Cleric do here?" mode and don't really consider that second sheet that's off to the side of your spell list. If called on it later, you might come up with an excuse like, "Well, it wasn't the right time" rather than admit that you just forgot you had the dang thing. So sometimes maybe it'd be helpful as DM to just say, "Hey, remember you have an item that would be perfect here."

Provide NPC companions who can use the items.

If the problem is less "saving for a rainy day" and more "action economy and underwhelming effect", an NPC companion who doesn't have other options at hand might be a good way to burn off those items. An apprentice spellcaster who only has level 1 spells, but can use a scroll, wave a token, or feed potions to unconscious party members can be a good way to get use out of those items without forcing the player characters to actively use them.

Let them sell the items.

In some cases there's just nothing you can do. Like your stack of 48 hi-potions in Final Fantasy, sometimes you just have items you will never get around to using, and that's just the way it is. It's not my favorite thing, but at some point, maybe you just need to give the players a way to convert their loads of consumables into something less consumable that might actually make them excited.

Allowing them a way to convert a whole bag full of stuff they don't care for into a single wand of web or something may not be a bad idea; charged items often fix a lot of the problems I discussed, because charges feel a lot more like "use it or lose it" and are now more renewable than, or at least as renewable as, daily character resources. If you do this, I suggest limiting their options, and picking out items to offer that have more than merely combat use, which can help break out of that 'action economy' problem.

Another option is gifting those items to NPCs. Instead of selling them for gold or in exchange for other items at the Fantasy Swap Shop, handing over "weak" items to a local noble or organization might earn them boons and good-will that money might not be able to match. A bag of trinkets that the party doesn't really want could be a huge benefit to an army or constabulary, and might earn them favors, letters of introduction, or anything a bribe could do.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Feb 27, 2019 at 4:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ Please update this answer to describe experience of how these solutions have worked out in practice (your own experience or someone else's) so we can judge its appropriateness and workability. You've described some experience with this phenomenon but not how these solutions actually work out at the table. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 27, 2019 at 11:54

My players, and I, have this behavior as well. When I analyze why we do this, it's because consumables are non-recoverable, while spell slots and features are recoverable on rests. You'll want to use recoverable resources first before start whittling down the non-recoverable ones. When you run out of recoverable resource, you start using non-recoverable resource. How to accomplish this?

  1. Increase the rate of resource consumption. This can be done by increasing the number of encounters and the difficulties. Remember that encounters are not necessarily combat, but there are social encounter and puzzle and trap encounters. Each is designed to consume different resources.

  2. Target resource which they have none or only a few of. If a door can only be opened using a strong enough fire spell, you'll definitely want to use that sweet fireball scroll you've just looted from the enemy wizard. It might also can only be opened by pouring potion of healing? Or it takes a lot of blood to fill the pool to find the renowned Blood Sucker Dagger, and you need healing to recover?

  3. Control resource recovery. The simplest method is by not letting them having long rest benefit easily. In a dungeon, you might want to only allow short rests and not long rest because of the danger. Even short rest can only be done sparingly. In this question, there are methods how to control how they rest, for example by changing rests to 8 hours, and can only be done in an inn/city.

On a castle infiltration, I've given the party random guard encounters before the boss. I simply substracted HP randomly from each of them for each encounters (no initiative). The result? They'd rather use healing potions to recover than spell slots, which can be used offensively in the boss combat.

This utilizes the 1st and 2nd point: adding narrative encounters to consume resources, and target HP, where the party has limited healing (no cleric or paladin, only bard), so they use consumable instead of spell slots which has more flexible uses.

I use the 3rd point when I forbid the party to take a long rest inside a catacomb. They don't want to continue exploring the catacomb because they got exhausted by the skeletons and zombies, and they've exhausted their slots and HP. When they said they want to go back to the town to rest, then back inside again, they found the entrance has collapsed (not the best decision, but they had healing potion each and they're being stingy). They used the potions reluctantly, but they finished the dungeon and got replacement potions. I've told them after the session, too, and they now had grown past the behavior.


If players perceive scarcity, they are more likely to hold onto items. If they do not encounter many shops or find much gold, items will hold more apparent value. This is basic economics and lots of players will fall into this pattern of miserliness.

Make sure to illustrate the availability/abundance of goods as players move through the world, to mitigate their fear of scarcity. When they are in a market, the vendors can shout "Get your fancy adventuring items here! Best in town!" Have the PCs find plenty of gold when they are questing, in hoards, on bodies, as rewards for jobs.

You can also demonstrate NPCs (either combatants or non-combatants) making use of items to drive home that items are designed to be used.

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    \$\begingroup\$ An alternative would be to create an illusion: give them some healing pots and only few greater healing pots. They will try to keep the greater healing pots, but will less hesitate to use normal healing pots, simply because they perceive normal healing pots are less scarce and less precious. \$\endgroup\$
    – Vylix
    Commented Feb 25, 2019 at 1:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ Please update this answer to comply with our citation expectations for subjective answers: when recommending a course of action we expect you also describe experience (your own or someone else's) of how it's worked out in actual practice so we can judge its appropriateness and workability. Note we are not looking for solutions that say “here, try this” without any attached experience. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 27, 2019 at 11:52

There are many ways to encourage this behavior

Make consumables abundant

One method you can use is to make make consumables abundant. If they can always get some more healing potions at their local magic shop, and already have 5 from the treasure chest they looted, then they might be willing to use one when another character is making death saving throws. Its a lot easier to use something if you know you can easily get another.

Create a good opportunity for them to use it

You mentioned that they wait for the perfect opportunity to use such items. In that case, creating that opportunity would make such uses more frequent. If a character falls into a pit, a feather fall spell scroll would be useful. So put them in a dungeon with a lot of pit traps.

Make them not super amazing

It is pretty tough to use a once-in-a-lifetime-god-tier magic item, because it is worth a lot of money, and once it is gone, it is gone. It is a lot easier to lose less expensive stuff.

Potential buffs to items?

I know that this is the opposite of what I just said, but this is helpful in some scenarios, as a weak item such as a chromatic orb spell scroll is not good enough to use in combat. A house-rule Critical Role uses is that potions can be used as a bonus action instead of an action, which helps make them much more practical to use in combat. This effect allows them to use healing potions, a resource they buy and use often, in combat, as it is much more viable to do so.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Creating diversion with burning hands is a creative use of the spell. Not every player has the creative mind to do that, and even creative player sometimes forgot what all resource they have to do a trick. DM needs to give a hint what diversion would work, for example "if there's a fire, they would certainly leave their post!" while opening their options to do something else. \$\endgroup\$
    – Vylix
    Commented Feb 25, 2019 at 1:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ Potion action economy: Matt Mercer's house rune on Critical Role seems to work well: drinking a potion yourself is a Bonus Action or an Action (your choice, so you can cast a Bonus Action spell on the same round). Administering one to someone else (conscious or not) is an Action. But he also allows 2 spells on the same round, as long as one of them is lvl2 or lower, and as long as the action economy allows it. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 25, 2019 at 7:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ What 'information requires additional references'? I would like to improve my post but I am unsure of what I need to do. \$\endgroup\$
    – Juicetin
    Commented Feb 26, 2019 at 23:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ Please update this answer to comply with our citation expectations for subjective answers: when recommending a course of action we expect you also describe experience (your own or someone else's) of how it's worked out in actual practice so we can judge its appropriateness and workability. Note we are not looking for solutions that say “here, try this” without any attached experience. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 27, 2019 at 11:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ You've said "someone used this" but not "and here's how that went" which is the important part. Did they use consumables much? Do people just keep hoarding them anyway or maybe even moreso? You've also made three other recommendations which ought to be backed up. We're looking for tried and tested solutions. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 28, 2019 at 0:04

Regarding potion consumables, I have had good success by implementing a house rule that allows a PC to self-administer a potion as a bonus action. By making this simple change, a player can more easily make the decision to use healing/buffs from potions when they don't have to sacrifice their entire turn to do so.


Disclaimer: I used the tactics below on Pathfinder and D&D 3.5, but they work on D&D 5e as well with some tweaks.

I solved this issue by doing two things.

Firstly, I reduced by a fifth the cost of all consumables - scrolls, potions, wands, etc.

Then, I added in those house-rules:

Empowered/Mixed Potions: Fiddling a bit with alchemy, a player could combine a few different potions on a single vial, making it so that they could gain all of their effects when using the new, improved brew. This solves the Action Economy issue - Bob the Bard isn't likely to use an action to chug down a Health Potion to recover a few hit points, but he is more likely to use that action to drink a Fortified Health Potion, which is actually five regular Health Potions rolled into one. Combining Potions together is something that anyone trained in Alchemy could do, but it needed a check and for every potion threw in into the mix the CD went up.

Quiver of Wands: I gave my group a homebrew item that was, essentialy, a quiver that enabled the wielder of a bow to add, into his arrows, the effect of one of the wands stashed in such quiver, thus spending a charge. That made finding things like a Wand of Shocking Grasp actually exciting, because each new wand added more tools to the repertoire of the ranger of the group.

Tandem Spellcasting: My spellcasters got a new class ability at lvl 6 that let cast a spell from a scroll at the same time they were casting a spell from their slots, once a rest per every 6 levels. This had a catch - the two spells had to cast at the same target, and the caster needed a concentration check for them to not fizzle. Effectively, this boosted their damage or healing or "buffing" without costing another action, which made usually not-so-nice scrolls very attractive to them.

Those things allowed more options to the game, and gave them more resources to make up creative strategies. Using Tandem Spellcasting, for example, a Mage was able to deliver Resistance to Fire to a partymember alongside a Fireball - the first spell helped him to resist the damage while the second blew up the enemy mooks around him. Mixed Potions allowed our mage to create very interesting "buff kits", like the Red Dragon Emergency Kit, which threw in Fire Resistance, Fear Resistance and Dexterity bonus on a single kit.

The Quiver of Wands was the tool that enable our ranger - an otherwise very meh character - to become a very powerful and versatile scout, able to send an arrow with Magic Mouth to deliver an warning, blast foes with arrows charged with Shocking Grasp or Flaming Hands, or even guarantee a hit with a Magic Missile-Empowered arrow.

Yes... this is probably unbalanced. That said, those changes to the consumable mechanics gave a bunch of new options to my group, and thus I could throw more interesting stuff against them to see what would happen. More importantly, however, is the fact that opening a chest and finding a bunch of vials started to feel exciting once again.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I really like the mixed potions and quiver of wands. Very good answer. The quiver of arrows doesn't necessarily answer the one-shot consumables question, but still good inspiration. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 26, 2019 at 13:50

Posting this to "think out loud" and generally contribute to the community conversation. The answers so far have done a great job at illuminating the topic, but I want to try to tie things together.

To be effectively used, I feel a one-use item must:

1. Have a specific role the characters can't replicate.

Giving a Wizard who only knows Magic Missile a Scroll of Magic Missile is fitting to practically one situation of use: the Wizard has run out of spell slots and wants to cast another offensive spell.

Giving a Wizard who only knows Magic Missile a Scroll of Ray of Sickness fits two situations: the Wizard has run out of spell slots and wants to cast another offensive spell, or the Wizard wants to try a different strategy and focus on debuffing an opponent as well as damage.

An effective item should seek to increase the player's repertoire of abilities, and thus strategies. It is a short-term way to effectively play as a different character. A healing potion can turn a Barbarian into a Cleric for a turn, instead of their usual ripping and tearing. A Scroll of Water Breathing can turn an offensive Sorcerer into a utility Wizard for a turn, instead of their usual role as the glass cannon.

2. Create no feeling of regret in the player when used.

The key thing keeping items unused, in my experience, is the players' anticipation of a metaphorical bull market, or a situation in which the item will be perfectly utilized. The players are cognizant that, while they are in possession of this item, they can execute a certain ability they otherwise couldn't. Therefore, they want to make it as useful an event as possible, such that they never think to themselves, "I should have waited to use that item here."

The problem is: that situation may never come, and the item will go unused. So this can be resolved in a couple of ways:

  • Give the players that situation of perfect use.

Potion of Giant's Strength burning a hole in your Bag of Holding? Well, the temple is coming down all around you, and your party needs to do a lot of strength checks to move the rubble in order to get out in time.

Scroll of Water Breathing that just never seems to be what the kids are into these days? Well that castle you are infiltrating is heavily guarded, with the exception of the underground waterway that, well what do you know?! Your party can now traverse like fish.

Very important caveat here. Do not create this situation with the only solution being using the item. Giving the situation another solution ensures the player's not getting the hint or still (frustratingly) being shrewd with the item won't be the end of them. This time.

  • Give out items plentifully (though not excessively so).

If players start to recognize that many loot drops or treasure hoards will have one-use items, or that shops tend to have these items in stock, they know that using their items is not a permanent departure from temporary abilities. Just avoid going overboard or you risk either overpowering your players or overwhelming them with choices ("I became a fighter because I didn't want to think about 15 different spells.")

  • Give certain items an expiration date.

There is no remorse in using an item if one minute from now it will be useless. Let the player who blew that Nature check out of the water recognize that flower grants Jump to the player, but only for the next day.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Another couple possibilities is to either impose a cost to carrying items, or impose a limit on how many items of some type can be carried. If a player who is holding 10 wizzle scrolls won't be able to pick up any more without using one first, a player who is expecting to return to his present location later might decide that it would be better to leave behind a scroll than use one, but if scrolls are plentiful that would favor use. \$\endgroup\$
    – supercat
    Commented Feb 25, 2019 at 19:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ Please update this answer to comply with our citation expectations for subjective answers: when recommending a course of action we expect you also describe experience (your own or someone else's) of how it's worked out in actual practice so we can judge its appropriateness and workability. Note we are not looking for solutions that say “here, try this” without any attached experience. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 27, 2019 at 11:51

There are a few calculated risks involved I'll mention at the end, but you might try:

Make them an offer they can't refuse

By which I mean that you may need to create situations which reward creative thinking; situations which may look like they have no escape from. Situations which you may have created thinking "I have no idea how or even if they can deal with this; let's see what they come up with." You want these to be situations where their usual allotment of recoverable resources, like spell slots, are almost surely inadequate to resolve the situation and secure their safety; there's probably no time for them to recover them, anyway. This forces them to look to consumables to save the day.

Some examples:

  • The party has successfully stopped Evil Organization X from summoning Horrible Abomination Y! Mostly. Horrible Abomination Y is still partially manifested and has several turns worth of actions they can take before they recede into the abyss they came from. Very deadly turns, because this thing is way beyond anything they can handle. Plus there are still plenty of members nearby who are unhappy, and possibly a little stark-raving insane and stricken with bloodlust (either they were already that way, or the presence of the abomination has done less than beneficial things to them). The party needs to escape now, the faster the better, lest they all die. But access to other planes has been sealed here, perhaps due to the summoning, so they can't use things like teleport that rely on other planes. A solution may include:

    The party has a Feather Token: Tree. And druids just happen to have a spell which is basically "teleport from one tree to another", which is not actually a teleportation effect and does not require movement through other planes. If the party has a druid with 6th level spell slots, they may already have this ready to go, otherwise a party druid or high level rogue (depending on how you as the DM adjudicate the matter) may just whip out a spell scroll for it. In this latter case, bam, you've got them to use up two consumables at once! But note the token needs to be used outdoors. However Transport via Plants only needs a Large plant as a target, which may be available naturally in areas you don't rule as "outdoors": giant mushrooms in the Underdark, decorative trees in temples, tree roots or what have you growing through ruins and caves, etc. Other magical items/spells may even be able to produce or carry them.

  • Horrible Monster Z, who is way beyond what they can handle and shrugs off their spells and attacks, is rampaging through a city. The party needs to try to evacuate citizens (and themselves), and maybe contact someone that can help. What can they do?

    Injured citizens can be healed with the party's copious supply of healing potions. A quick thinking caster can have people jump into a portable hole, then use a wand of dimension door to zip hundreds of feet away. Creatures can survive for 10 minutes inside the hole according to its own description, allowing many casts in succession to get a long way away. You might also significantly extend their survival time by combining (a scroll/wand of) Water Breathing and a decanter of endless water. A staff of the magi can give them extra casts of plane shift to evacuate people, and/or passwall to quickly create escape routes. A druid and a tree can evacuate a bunch of people at once with Transport via Plants (which may be on a scroll). So on and so forth. And wands/scrolls can be used to contact powerful NPCs, if there are any. And have you ever wondered what happens if the monster steps in a puddle of sovereign glue?


Some players just need a little incentive to unleash their inner creative munchkins. There are certain magical items that can be used to hilarious and impressive effect in the right hands. But not all players will be good at solving the unsolvable, and not all parties will have someone who figures something out, or will particularly enjoy this sort of thing. Be prepared to give them some time to brainstorm a solution. You may or may not need to be a little lenient on rules to let the Rule of Cool/Fun take priority. Every group I've been with has enjoyed this sort of situation immensely, with it bringing them a great deal of satisfaction to bypass the DM's carefully laid plans, or to thumb their noses at an Eldritch Abomination as they run away with its loot. As the DM you will have to assess whether this kind of situation is appropriate for your group.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Please update this answer to comply with our citation expectations for subjective answers: when recommending a course of action we expect you also describe experience (your own or someone else's) of how it's worked out in actual practice so we can judge its appropriateness and workability. Note we are not looking for solutions that say “here, try this” without any attached experience. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 27, 2019 at 11:51

Steal them.

Magic items, especially consumable ones, are highly concentrated forms of wealth. Plus, they are often carried to be in easy reach so that they can be used at the “right time” with minimal fuss. This makes the prime targets for a pick-pocket, thief, or bandit. The more players hoard this sort of item, the more they become an appetizing target. This increased risk of losing the item without receiving any benefit, or of even having them turned against them, should make players more willing to use them while they can.

Example: Bandits raid the party’s campsite at night. They aren’t interested in a straight up fight, but a hit and run. Perhaps they cut the tethers on the party’s mounts and spook them. Then , while the party is trying to recover/calm the loose horses, one or two sneak in, grab something dangling from a pack and then hightail it out of there.

Of course, be fair about this. Especially at higher levels the players should spot the urchin pick-pocket without much trouble and be able to stop them, but even foiling such attempts places a cost on the players that should encourage them to use the items more often.

To be fair, I can no longer recall the exact circumstances under which I experienced this. I can’t even recall if I was a player or the DM. All I recall is the emotional reaction of the party when they/we realized that what was written on the character sheet could be taken away without any benefit to character or party.

  • \$\begingroup\$ While consumables are powerful, and signs of wealth, would you rather steal a one-time burning hands rod or a once per day burning hands rod? \$\endgroup\$
    – Juicetin
    Commented Feb 24, 2019 at 19:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Justin depends on the risk/reward ratio. The 1/day rod may be more valuable, but it’s also probably better protected. Give the choice between a relatively unattended one-time item and a 1/day item the is carefully guarded, I’d steal the unattended one. Several small but safe paydays are often better that one big risky one. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 24, 2019 at 21:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ Please update this answer to comply with our citation expectations for subjective answers: when recommending a course of action we expect you also describe experience (your own or someone else's) of how it's worked out in actual practice so we can judge its appropriateness and workability. Note we are not looking for solutions that say “here, try this” without any attached experience. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 27, 2019 at 11:50

Why is this a problem?

Item hoarding is a common quirk for players, but it's not necessarily something that is in detriment to their game. Also, you need to establish what the problem actually is.

For example,

I like to leave dead adventurers as hints of what's coming up or what people might expect to face.

You find a dead adventurer, their charred corpse lies in a bundle in a corner, on them, you find them clutching some scrolls. Your wizard identifies them as being scrolls of fire protection. Looks like they didn't get to use them.

Is the problem:

You then meet a red dragon and they don't use them because:

A) Lack of player experience / stupidity / forgetfulness This is when I'd suggest you have a player character say something that the character would think. e.g. the aforementioned Wizard might have the intelligence to think, "Hey we should use these fire protection scrolls because Red Dragon's breath fire".

B) They have facilities to deal with the problem and don't think they need to use the scrolls / are waiting for the right time to use them This is not a problem, but you may still want to have a character make a suggestion if it's within their personality. Lets say a timid Cleric thinks it's a good idea to use them and not risk relying on something.

C) You actually gave them scrolls of invisibility and expected them to sneak past the dragon, but they want to fight it / didn't care This is your problem, this is you being the problem because you want them to use your solution

From your example of gust of wind, it seems like that's closer to the issue. Or perhaps it's a combination of the above. In any case, I'll give you an example of a time I DM'd for a bunch of kids who were new to Tabletop RPG's and how I suggested they experiment a bit. This was back in 4e, 5e wouldn't change much

Their playstyle was fairly rigid, they only dealt with what they knew they could do, they didn't test boundries or anything. They would attack, cast spells, that's it.

So they're attacking a goblin fort on top of a mountain and there's a massive ravine leading up to the fort and the only way across is this narrow passage. They're struggling to get past a wave of goblins who are densely packed on this tight passage, then a sudden gust of wind causes a goblin to loose their footing and fall.

One of the kids asked "What happens if he falls" and this other kid says "He dies you idiot", it's like a spark in their minds. They don't have to just use binary attacks, they can try other stuff. Their wizard who's been using fire spells, suddenly thinks to use this daily thunder spell that pushes people, and a bunch of goblins just fall to their death, didn't die from damage, just falling.

Next their dwarf fighter bull rushes a goblin off a cliff, but the goblin makes his saving throw and hangs on. Kid asks, "Can i stamp on his hands?". I tell him, he can do it as a minor action and the goblin dies.

So they make their way to the fortress and they ask "Can we climb the walls?", I tell them, "maybe with the help of that grappling hook you have". With a little effort, they make it up the fortress wall.

Next session, they start reading through the PHB and picking up on the little items that can do things they think might be cool. Things they'd taken for granted, things that were there and they had, but they didn't think about.

In short, it's the seeding of ideas that gets them thinking and wondering what they can do. But if the problem is you giving them solutions they don't care for. That's a different problem that's more about you and your DM style than them as players.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already, and check out the help center for more guidance. Good answer! \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Commented Feb 26, 2019 at 15:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ Please update this answer to comply with our citation expectations for subjective answers: when recommending a course of action we expect you also describe experience (your own or someone else's) of how it's worked out in actual practice so we can judge its appropriateness and workability. Note we are not looking for solutions that say “here, try this” without any attached experience. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 27, 2019 at 11:49

You're the DM, Make the situation for your situational items.

Something that I haven't seen mentioned is that you're providing these items to "give them more flexibility in strategy during exploration and combat" With that said perhaps you need to give them out at the right time. (with proper context).

Meaning, don't give your players a scroll of Gust of Wind in a deep dungeon, but while they're preparing for a trip out to sea. Or that potion of Feather Fall right before they need to cross a rope bridge.

Give out the situational item, then cause that situation to happen. (And take into account what you give them when adjusting difficulty of the encounter) The encounter goes from very difficult to somewhat of a challenge.

Don't make it so they need to use the item unless you're very explicate "You need this scroll of Teleport to enter into "xyz" town. There are no gates in the walls."

Setting up the encounters this way the players will feel empowered by finding/receiving the item and being able to use it in the same session (or next few). This may also have the added benefit that the players will search and ask more questions, b/c when they do it nets them with useful consumables that they would otherwise not have.

Don't use time limits unless it's for plot reasons.

I strongly suggest against adding a time limit on the items. It's very arbitrary and locks them into that hard limit. I would only do this for Plot reasons and not for getting your players to use their consumables.

Up the Power, or not

Along with others, I also suggest upping the power and/or upping the variability. Meaning, a normal Fireball does 5d6, perhaps your players find a scroll where the damage is 3d12. It's similar mathematically, but make it more varied in use. You don't to just up the power, b/c that could cause the players to hold on to it, but again you control the situations, so giving them an epic consumable and then putting them up against the use of that within the same dungeon or as the 'boss' then it's more likely to be used.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Please update this answer to comply with our citation expectations for subjective answers: when recommending a course of action we expect you also describe experience (your own or someone else's) of how it's worked out in actual practice so we can judge its appropriateness and workability. Note we are not looking for solutions that say “here, try this” without any attached experience. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 27, 2019 at 11:50

Lots of good suggestions, but nobody has quite mentioned:

Make single-use items fragile and perishable

  • Your party comes across a chest of healing potions in thin-walled bottles. They could have sat in this chest perfectly fine for a hundred years, but carried in a pack, they have a tendency to break.
  • Magical fruit with potion attributes. Can sit on the plant for thousands of years but once picked will rot like any other fruit. (inspiration: user John's comment about old dnd Dark Sun setting.)

Give items that replenish charges

  • An artifact that does a small heal every six hours (inspiration: Rods of Light/Healing/Fire Bolts/etc in computer RPG Angband; Rods of something level-appropriate were ubiquitous in load-out recommendations.)
  • An odd scroll. You read the spell off but the paper is glimmery afterwards. The next day, there is a new spell on it. (inspiration: this answer)
  • An artifact that can hold charges of an assortment of spells, but gets twitchy if it's not being used. (inspiration: I had this object; DM later apologized for how OP it was for my level, but a better DM could make it smoother.)

Give consumables that work gradually

  • Instead of giving healing potions, give regeneration potions, which work best if you take them a half hour before damage starts. (Tune the effectiveness curve to your adventure style.) (Inspiration: Potions of Health in ChatWars.)

Give XP for Good Use of Consumables

  • Your adventurers are going around doing risky things, and learning from experience. One of the things you think they should learn is to use single-use items to achieve goals. So, give them XP every day if they used a consumable item rationally, and better XP if they did something clever (like that oh-so-convenient Gust of Wind on the bridge.) (May be too 'gamey' for some groups/campaigns.) (Inspiration: a zillion computerized games.)
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Way back in dnd there was a setting called Dark Sun. potions in dark sun took the form of magical fruit. as long as they were still on the plant they could sit for thousands of years but once picked they could rot like any other fruit. \$\endgroup\$
    – John
    Commented Jan 19, 2021 at 5:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks, @John, added \$\endgroup\$
    – arp
    Commented Jan 19, 2021 at 19:16

I would put them in a situation that gives no free healing for quite a while, and ban all use of other healing methods just once. For example, spawn an orc tribal mage that can silence mages, and send in a bunch of orcs. Of course, there'd be some consumables on one of the orcs, clearly labled in orcish, healing potion.

Generally, I do that kind of thing early on, because you can't teach an old dog new tricks. It's part of good level design to attempt to teach the player good habits. I don't remember good examples of this, but many video games do this. One of the Metroids? Probably? Generally, I prefer to make it optional, for example, if nobody takes a hit, or is only lightly damaged, then they don't need to use the heal.

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    – V2Blast
    Commented Feb 27, 2019 at 1:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ Please update this answer to comply with our citation expectations for subjective answers: when recommending a course of action we expect you also describe experience (your own or someone else's) of how it's worked out in actual practice so we can judge its appropriateness and workability. Note we are not looking for solutions that say “here, try this” without any attached experience. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 27, 2019 at 11:49

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