When it comes to fantasy, people think a lot about magical items. Rings, armor, swords, and all of these enchanted objects come to mind. I hear them get mentioned more often than another category: Temporary Magic Items. I also like to call these Power Ups because people who play video games suddenly know what I’m talking about. What am I talking about?
A Power Up in this context is a magical item that has a one time use. Potions and scrolls are the most common in fantasy. You also have wands and rings that contain a spell that can only be used once. That’s kind of a middle ground since they can be recharged, but only if the world allows. The point is that once you use this item, it’s gone. Characters either have to get a new one or hope that they won’t need it again. This is like the rule in video games where you should save your strongest, hardest to get items for the final battel when you know they won’t be needed any more.
The effects also tend to be temporary. It’s for a momentary burst to get through a trying situation. For example, a healing potion repairs damage, but it doesn’t grant permanent regeneration. Even a potion that casts regeneration will run out. The concept with these specifically is that they will be digested and be processed out of the system in a similar fashion to alcohol. Same thing goes for scrolls that bestow special abilities after being used. This is another reason why authors need to make characters careful about using such things.
If you’re wondering why the effects are temporary then imagine what it would be like if they weren’t. Power Ups tend to be fairly common, which means making them permanent would wreck the balance of the world. Everyone would be trying to get potions and scrolls to enhance themselves, which means everyone is superhuman. You can counter this issue by making them rare, but you will still have a great desire by most people to get their hands on one. It’s not like with a ring or sword, which can be stolen. Whoever gets these things will use them and they get the power forever. Yes, there are ways around it, but they depend on world-building. We’re talking general here for now.
Rarity is another piece of the puzzle. Do you want Power Ups to be plentiful or hard to come by? I’ve seen fantasy worlds where potions are sold on every corner and others where only a handful existed in the first place. The first scenario minimizes the important and impact of them, but allows for constant use. Readers know they’re common, so a character having Power Ups isn’t immersion breaking. The second scenario makes them very special and, at times, essential to the plot. Power Ups here are cause for suspense and a change in the plot path since they might appear only once or twice.
Personally, I like Power Ups and keep meaning to use them more often. Funny thing is that I keep forgetting. So, they’re common in Windemere, but my heroes typically don’t bother with them due to party abilities. That might make them more of a mundane, average person item. Makes some sense for a high magic world since potions, scrolls, and other usables would be sold to those who have a definite use. Kind of like medicine in our world. Probably should think about this more.