Given my obvious limitations, I can only really speak in Dungeons & Dragons 4E terms, but this may well apply to all games everywhere, especially if I’m deluded. In 4E, every character has lots and lots of powers of different types and effectiveness: some powers (At-Wills) you can use all the time and are slightly more dangerous than mosquito bites; some powers (Encounters) are cool and deadly but you can only use them once in a battle, kind of like a male “yahoo yahoo yippee” moment; finally, some powers (Dailies) can only be used once a day, tearing apart the earth in a cataclysmic nuclear explosion, laying waste and devastation in all directions, shattering hope, killing dreams, annihilating puppies, and spitting on your toothbrush when you’re not looking.
All of these are fun to varying degrees–no, seriously–but obviously it’s a stepped scale, and Encounters are usually better than At-Wills, and Dailies are usually better than Encounters. As a result of this, players become extremely reluctant to use their big’um, bad’um powers, sticking with the ones that never go away, because sure, this particular fight is going very badly,with most of the party bloodied or unconscious or dead or disintegrated, but who knows what lurks around that next corner? What if we need this particular power? I better hold onto it, just in case.
Trust me, more evil has been done in the service of just in case than any other cliched phrase, and I’m including a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush (hehe, I said bush).
Anyway, we as players need to start thinking and living in the RIGHT NOW instead of the NEXT LATER, because the RIGHT NOW is the only time we can actually do anything. I cannot store a success for an upcoming encounter, and I cannot bank a win for tomorrow’s battle. To put it in pure meta-gaming terms, if the next encounter really is super-duper, soul-rendingly difficult, the DM should probably figure out a way to throw the PCs a little sack-time to get ready for it. The point, as I’ve said one million times before, is not for the DM to “win,” but for the DM to tell an exciting and thrilling and heroic story about these characters.
Now then, does this open the door for abuse? Will the players simply burn through all their Deadly Dailies in every single encounter, and then insist the DM give them all nappy-nap time to get ready for the next one? Of course they will. The only way to really deal with this is to establish some sort of social contract between players and DM, wherein the players agree to use their powers judiciously and the DM agrees not to smash the players into unrecognizable pulp with the Vicious Mordenkrad of Ultimate Sorrow.
If I, as a player, decide to drop that Daily in Encounter #1, then I am accepting that I may not have it for Encounter #2. If I, as the DM, see an unrelenting string of natural 20’s on my side of the screen while all those beleaguered players can’t sniff a double digit on their side of the screen for six straight rounds, then I have to be willing to account for the PCs using precious resources for this “easy” battle just to survive, and should start planning for them to recoup those losses.
Just lately, I’ve been blessed with tons of gaming, and it has been both wonderful and lovely, with a creamy topping of excellent. I’ve played a full range of levels, a 5th level one-shot, a 24th level campaign, an 8th level multi-shot, and bits and pieces in between. Over the course of this span, there have been several challenging encounters, ones that pushed me and my compatriots to the absolute limit, where I wasn’t sure if all of us (or any of us) would survive.
For those battles, I’ve thrown down everything I had, furiously checking off powers on my character sheet like a deranged auditor, digging for one more thing, wondering, “Is there anything left? Did I forget an ability? Did I use that Daily on my orb? Do I still have an Encounter lurking on page 4? Wait, did I use my Action Point???” For these big old battles, I feel a sense of accomplishment when I stagger out the other side, bruised and battered and bloodied but still breathing, and I know I gave it my all. I put everything into it. I left nothing on the table.
And then I happen I glance over at the sheet of my fellow player, my ally, my comrade, my blood-brother, and I see he still has most of his powers left, and he’s happy–HAPPY!–about it. “I hardly used anything in that encounter,” he declares with an infuriating grin. And I have no choice but to kill him. It really wouldn’t be my fault. At least, that’s what I plan on telling the jury.