Alchemists and potions without spell equivalents

I was looking through some old threads and stumbled onto this one again:

And suddenly, it hit me. There’s a reason some potions don’t have spell equivalents and some potions for which spell versions might be over-powered. Alchemists don’t need to make a spell first. Sure it’s longer and costlier for them to make a potion, but there is no limit to the level of effect they can accomplish, save for their modest research roll of 12+. Sure some spells might have been lost to time, but I think alchemists may have played a part in developing certain potions.

A sufficiently-funded master alchemist, even one who is a mere level 0 man, can make 6th level equivalent potions, without a formula, on an 18+. This is a task normally reserved for level 11 mages who already possess the correct spell, requiring spell research if they do not. I’m figuring many a paranoid leader has chosen to pay for alchemists rather than relying completely on ultra-high-level mages who might have the power to usurp them.

Ah! Thank you for that thread divination, that answers all my questions from the other one.

And it also completely changes my outlook on the proficiency and what game-world implications it should have.

I’m wondering if there’s call to allow one to take the proficiency a 4th time, to be a Grand Master Alchemist, and raise the level to 7th - that’d give one the ability to do “Conventional” experimentation and thus require a Minor Mishap table for alchemy. Mishaps are fun.

While this may be an over-technical reading I suggest that Alchemists might still be limited to level 3 spells or under. While a 0th level Alchemist cannot know any spells they still only create spells as a 5th level mage. This gives the benefit of the 12+ research roll automatically. However, I would also argue that by the same language the Alchemist cannot be expected to obtain results more advantageous than a level 5 mage could. Since a mage would only have access to third tier magic at 5th level, I think this is a plausible limiter on the potions manufactured by baseline alchemists. If one wants to be super strict about it, the potions without spell equivalents can possibly be priced out using the spell generator in the companion to see if they would qualify as higher than 3. My $.02.

I wouldn’t think so either (above 3rd level effects). A 4th taking of the proficiency bumping the alchemist to 7th would allow for 4th, but without looking at the spell list or the PC I’m not sure how good of an idea that would be.

That would be the next step; plowing through the Player’s Companion to see what all can be done for <= 30 points in the spell creation rules.

For example, you could get some interesting ‘poison’ sort of effects out of this - a Hold effect (from Death) lasting 1 turn, affecting one creature, with a range of 0 (because it has to be ingested) costs 30 exactly (1510.4*5).

Depending on how loose you are with multipliers, you can put someone to sleep permanently for a value as low as 11.

And there’s a whole lot of interesting things in Transmogrification.

This is good. I like this. I’ve always liked the concept of Alchemy in a game; this is falling out to be very much like what I’ve wanted for a while, if all these statements are correct as far as rules intent.

As noted in the linked thread, alchemists are able to create potions as if they were 5th level mages. In lieu of having a repertoire of spells to draw on, they create potions at twice the base cost and time. If they have a formula or sample, they do so at half the base cost and time (as usual).

While the rules are not explicit that an alchemist would be limited to 3rd level spells when creating potions, I think that is an admirable rule which I will adopt myself.

In the Heroic Companion, I have added the following rules to Alchemy: “A spellcaster of 5th level or higher with Alchemy proficiency may add his Alchemy ranks to his Magic Research throws when brewing potions. If he has selected the proficiency three times, he can brew potions at half the usual base time and cost.”

I like the idea of Alchemists being able to go beyond what a 5th level mage could do, Their magic research throw is still limited and their research is more time consuming and costly. Plus it isn’t trivial to get 3 levels of a specific proficiency. They still have to worry about a difficult research throw and their costs can really spiral out of control if they fail a few times.

You could add some potential side effects for failing by too much when inventing higher level potions akin to the experimentation rules. Basically, they’re messing with powers far beyond their ken. They can try (after all, alchemy at that level is doing things normally restricted to mages), but it could be disastrous.

Depends on how you want to balance your setting. I active to the idea that bring able to create any magical effects is an incredible feat for a normal man. Leveled, classed characters will almost always be superior to those they share their skill sets with. Therefore if a rule would result in an outcome more powerful than what the relevant class may do, I give it a second, suspicious glance. Being able to get access to higher level magic earlier than otherwise permissible still strikes me as to powerful even if it is costly and unreliable. But that is obviously just for my game.

This is why I should never use a mobile device. I adhere to the idea that being

Given the addition to the Alchemy rule (or even without it, really), why do scrolls of self-targeted effects exist?

Potions and scrolls are both one-use magic items, made at the same cost and taking the same time using the same rules, but potions are more easily accessible/usable (anyone can quaff a potion, while you have to be the proper class and read the correct language to use most scrolls; reading a scroll is an interruptible full-round action, equivalent to casting a spell, but using a potion is an attack-equivalent action), which makes scrolls somewhat questionable from the start. Now this Alchemy addition makes potions easier to create for anyone with Alchemy (and someone usually has a rank just for the sake of identifying potions) and it allows a specialist to make potions for half the cost and in half the time of making an equivalent scroll.

Obviously, potions aren’t an option for effects targeted on someone other than the user (a Potion of Fireball doesn’t sound that useful, except perhaps as a trap), but what benefits do scrolls have to justify the existence of, say, an Arcane Classical Auran Scroll of Detect Evil?

Plus it isn't trivial to get 3 levels of a specific proficiency.

I disagree.

  1. "Civilian" characters get four free proficiency ranks at level 0 in lieu of Adventuring proficiency.
  2. Alchemy is a general proficiency. Any PC with Intelligence 16 or better starts with 3 general proficiency ranks at level 1.
  3. The Alchemist specialist has Alchemy 3 by definition. There's at least one for hire per month in any Class III or larger market. Their wages are 250gp/month, sure, but with the average Fighter collecting 1600gp by the time he makes level 2 (assuming 80% of XP from treasure), 250/month isn't really cost-prohibitive.
Between those three things, I would expect every adventuring party to have at least one rank 3 alchemist available if they want one.

Not every mage is going to believe that everyone should have access to magic. Indeed, I would expect many (most? almost all?) of them to believe that only those with proper training should be able to use arcane abilities, and so they’ll entrust their magics to scrolls that only the educated can use safely, rather than potions that any peasant can quaff.

You can’t spend those 4 general proficiencies on the same thing. only proficiencies gained from intelligence or living long enough can be used to stack ranks. So all those alchemists are either exceptionally intelligent or have been in the business for decades (or both).


Note the clean, proper presentation of the arcane equations, the esoteric diagrams. Sharp lines of ink, ink processed fully, containing only the essences it needs and not an iota more. Paper pressed via the ancient methods, of quality fibers. Consider the spell itself, drawn into this plane via the spoken word by conduit of the trained mind - the very act of a superior intellect proclaiming itself master over the forces of the multiverse!

Contrast, now, the potion. Brewed in unclean cauldrons, as if it were but a poor ale served at a local flophouse. Stinking vapors contaminating the workshop, if such a word truly applies to what ought to be a common kitchen. The creator stirring, prodding, mixing - and when not, sitting about, loitering about the room like some chef’s apprentice minding the morning porridge; whether or not it burns to the bottom of the pot the only valuable decision made that day. And then the application! Ingested into these mortal…shells, the “magic” released through common bodily functions - it is an affront to the powers we can wield! Perhaps they should each come with a small napkin to clean up any dribbles! I tell you know I’ve heard rumor of an apothecary in Hendja proclaiming a superior taste to it’s wares! TASTE?!?! Power to alter the very fabric of reality marketed to whether or not a picky child would choose to imbibe?!?!

These truly are the end times.

  1. You need to have 3 alchemy proficiencies to make new potions alone or 2 profs if working under a mage with a formula, so potion makers are quite rare (especially considering the great cost of creation).

  2. Anything that targets another person can’t really be in a potion, as you said.

  3. Potions don’t stack. If you take a second potion before the first wears off, both effects end and you are sickened for a half hour, unable to take any action. When coupled with the long, but variable, duration of effect, you could find yourself wanting to use a healing potion, but unable to because you buff potion you took over an hour ago is still in effect!

  4. As said previously elitism or mistrust of potential non-mages grabbing your magic might encourage use of scrolls over potions. You don’t want the rabble thinking they could just mug you and steal your power!

I’m not saying that potions don’t have a very important place, but scrolls have their uses as well.

Change the example of “why does this scroll exist?” to a Classical Auran Divine Scroll of Detect Evil, then. (Good) clerics are generally known more for wanting to help the peasants than for being elitists.

And, either way, I like a campaign world which makes sense without having to resort to “vast numbers of NPCs choose to do things in a way which is both more difficult and mechanically inferior, just because”. One of the things I like about ACKS is that, with all of Alex’s spreadsheets and attention to economics, it does a better job than most RPGs of avoiding that sort of thing.

However, the Random Magic Type table on ACKS 210 tells us that scrolls are 50% more common than potions (01-20 Potions, 26-56 Scrolls), which makes no sense if there’s a segment of the magical population for whom it’s easier, faster, and less expensive to create potions. (Even without the dramatic “half time/cost” benefit of Alchemy 3, a single rank gives +1 to the research roll, which makes it faster/cheaper by reducing the chance of losing your time and money on a failed roll.)

If Alchemy gives that kind of bonuses to potion creation, then there should either be an equivalent proficiency (Scribe?) which gives similar bonuses to scroll creation or some explanation for why scrolls are more common despite the increased difficulty, time, and expense required to create items which are slower and more difficult to use.

1) You need to have 3 alchemy proficiencies to make new potions alone or 2 profs if working under a mage with a formula, so potion makers are quite rare

Irrelevant. Anyone who can create scrolls under the existing rules can also create potions. (Unless there’s a class I’ve forgotten about which has “create scrolls, but not potions” as one of its class abilities…) So long as there’s at least 1 person in the world with three ranks of Alchemy, scroll makers are even more rare than potion makers.

Potions don't stack.

Good point! I hadn’t thought of that one.

Spell scrolls only occupy 41-76 of the scroll table. The other portions are 06-40 (warding) and 77-100 (treasure maps). Multiply that by the 35% chance of a scroll and what happens?

The actual comparable results are:
20% potion
12% ward scroll (anyone can use, does things potions cannot)
7.5% arcane spell scroll
2.5% divine spell scroll
8% treasure map
So potions exist at a rate of 2:1 over spell scrolls, and a rate of 8:1 over divine spell scrolls specifically.

Arcane spell scrolls are assumed to be more common than divine spell scrolls because they can be copied into spell books. In my own campaign, at least, this is by a common use of scrolls - a means for mages to share spells with each other without exposing their spellbooks - that nothing else can do.

Scrolls don’t break when you drop them.

Scrolls look nice in your library of non-self-targeting spells.

“Potions don’t stack. If you take a second potion before the first wears off, both effects end and you are sickened for a half hour, unable to take any action.”

And this is much, MUCH kinder than the old potion miscibility tables.

Yes… After being reminded of that, I went looking in ACKS for the exact details of what happens when you mix potions and was rather disappointed by the lack of a table. (…which is not something you hear often when talking about ACKS!)

I don’t suppose anyone might have a link to an online Potion Miscibility Table handy? (Doesn’t need to be an official TSR table, just something appropriate for giving players the idea that “you really shouldn’t do that unless you’re truly desperate”.)