Friday, 24 July 2020

Naively Simple Alchemy

Alchemy; as simple as I can make it and have a system that is still loosely playable. 

PDF HERE

All Potions require 4 things;

1. An Oil (1 item slot, provides adjective)

2. A Powder (1 item slot, provides noun/verb)

3. A Catalyst (1 item slot, provides tone + potency)

4. Alchemical Equipment (1 encumbrance slot)

How to make a Potion:

All things can be reduced to either Oils or Powders by use of Alchemical Equipment. These substances produce a single, unchanging effect based on what they were derived from. At its simplest, Oils provide an adjective effect and Powders denote a particular verb or noun. A single Oil and a single Powder are combined to create a potion, the effects of any potion are the combination of the Adjective and Verb/Noun.

For example, an amateur adventuring alchemist slays two Blink-Dogs and reduces one into an Oil and the other into a Powder using his alchemical equipment. Using his Alchemical Equipment, he is aware of the effect the Blink-Dog Oil and Blink-Dog Powder will bring to any particular potion. (These effects are improvd by the DM)

Blink-Dog Oil = Capricious

Blink-Dog Powder = Teleport  

Having discovered these effects, he (and the DM) log the effects into a codified alchemical grimoire for future reference. Before the Alchemist can make his Capricious Teleport potion (drinking this potion will cause random teleportation), he must select a Catalyst. Catalysts are rare and collectable magical artifacts that allow and modify the synthesis of potions. Catalysts dictate the Tone and Potency (and flavour) of the Potion. (the effect of Catalysts are known only to the DM)

The Alchemist only has one Catalyst, A Hand of Glory, a Catalyst of medium potency that makes potions Gothic. It takes 4 hours to distil a potion, but when complete the potion is recorded as 'Potion of Capricious Teleport (Hand of Glory)’. The Catalyst used, means that this Potion will last for 10 minutes and each teleport will be accompanied by a cloud of black, sulphurous vapour and an almost silent screaming sound.    

Additional Addenda:

Oils and Powders are used up during potion distillation. Catalysts (unless specified) remain unconsumed

Alchemical Equipment is never consumed.

Potions only ever have two ingredients, 1 Oil and 1 Powder.

Unless very large, most creatures or objects can only be reduced into a single batch of a single ingredient.

Alternate weights if using a coin-based inventory system:

Oils and Powders weight 10-20 coins.

Alchemical Equipment weighs 100-150 coins.

Catalysts can come in any shape or size, 1 coin immovable.

Exploitation of Mundane Substances: 

If players attempt to use incredibly mundane substances (like grass) in their potions, allow them. However, reduce the potions Potency by one step and think very carefully about what effects the Oil and Powder will give. The effects should be niche, dull and not terribly useful. Also consider the large quantity of the mundane substance the players would have to gather in order to produce an effectual yield of oil/powder. Grass for example may yield;

Grass Oil = Wilt/Wilting

Grass Powder = Grass


Potion Potency:

Potion Potency is derived from the Catalyst used to distil the potion. The DM ultimately rules for how powerful any potion is. However, as a guide, assign Catalysts a level; weak, medium or powerful. A Catalysts Potency is known only by the DM and is for players to work out, as with a Catalyst’s Tone.

Some potions have instantaneous effects while other would work for a duration, take this into account when assigning potion effects. It would be best practice for the DM to record specific potion effects for consistency.

Potency levels could be used thusly. Weak potions last from 1 combat round to 10, Medium potions last for 10 minutes to an hour. Powerful potions last anywhere between one day and a month. Some potion effects would be instant, Catalysts would affect this too. Damage is assigned thusly, weak Catalyst = 1d4, powerful = 1d20 and medium; any die in between. Anything else (such as if a potion effects or creates a volume of something) would be up to the DMs discretion.

 


On Catalysts and Tones:

Catalysts come in many forms. They are special things (or even places) that make the potion work something vaguely magical or extraordinarily masterwork, something that could theoretically hold, move, stir or affect the potion in some way can be a Catalyst. Catalysts are often bespoke, predefined items. Players shouldnt be able to pull out a trolls fang or an orcs finger and convince the DM it is a Catalyst. Catalysts should be rare. They should be something heard about in rumours; not bought in a shop.

Examples of Catalysts could include things like a Unicorn's Horn, a Cursed Alchemist's Ladle, an Elven Gossamer-Funnel, an Angelic Drinking Chalice ... an Atlantean Whisk? An entire dungeon could be a powerful Catalyst, with a chute or trough running from one end of the dungeon to the other. Pour the potion in one end and collect the finished potion from the other.

Tone descriptors derived from Catalysts are words that affect how a potion's effects manifest. Sloshing a potion of Capricious Teleport through an Elven Gossamer-Funnel might make it Ethereal. So, the random teleportation that happens when the potion is imbibed is slow and ghostly, it takes 1 round to complete a teleport, during this time an astral image of the teleporter is seen floating through the air towards the sight where they will emerge from their random teleport.

Its trickier to improv in the moment but if a potions flavour (Gothic, Ethereal) can have a potential gameplay effect, all the better. For example, a Gothic teleport leaves smoke and a smell, an Ethereal teleport is still random but can be more predictable.

Interesting Catalyst modifying words could be Hot, Cursed, Hideous, Alien, Hallucinatory, Bizarre, Light, Aggressive, Wild, Heavenly and so on, any word that is evocative to you, Tone could even be several words if you find that easier. The player wont know and can only intuit Tone based on their experimentation.


9 comments:

  1. This is very cool! My one question is--does creating the potion use up all three elements or does the Catalyst stay good for multiple uses? Multiple uses, right, since otherwise recording the name of the catalyst rather than the effect would be unwieldy?

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    1. Yes, the Catalyst is not consumed. Collecting different Catalysts was an attempt to explain why an alchemist would also be an adventurer. I'll see if I can explain this and still keep the PDF on a single page. Thank you for commenting, especially to point out a possible misconception.

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    2. There we go. I've added an addendum that should clear things up and hopefully, some other misconceptions too, even if my one-page layout has suffered for it!.

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    3. Would you mind if I used a modified version this alchemy system in a RPG system I'm working on? It's extremely focused on the players gaining their abilities through observing and interacting with an unknown world, so this is spot on perfect for it. With attribution, of course.

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    4. You can, absolutely - do it.

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  2. Will you be producing a list of example catalysts and their effects?
    Also, please provide alternate weights. Some of us still use coin to measure encumbrance.

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    1. I'm less familiar with coins. 10/20 coins each for Oils and Powders, 100-150 coins for a complete set of Alchemical Equipment. Catalysts can come in any shape or size, they could be immovable or tiny, so, 1 coin and up, average 30/40 coins maybe?

      As for Catalysts. I might write a more robust version of this system in the future, but until then; Catalysts can be things like a unicorn's horn, the fossilised skull of a primitive man, a master-alchemist's ladle, a lich's tongue, an elven gossamer-funnel, an angelic feather, an ancient chute in a dungeon that funnels around a volcano that you pour a potion into and collect from the other end... an Atlantean whisk? That special thing that makes a potion work. Anything vaguely magical or incredibly masterwork. Something that could theoretically hold or be used to stir/affect the potion in some way can be a Catalyst. But should only be things that are predefined as such, they should be somewhat rare so players shouldn’t be able to pull out a dragon’s tooth or an orc’s finger and convince the DM it is a catalyst. They’d be found when looting an magic-user’s alchemy station or heard about in rumours.

      Their effects are just words that affect how a potion's effects manifest. Sloshing a potion of Capricious Teleport through a gossamer-funnel might make it [Ethereal] so when your teleportation is slow and others can see a ghostly trail of mist leading to where you will next appear. It’s trickier to improv in the moment but if a potions flavour (gothic, ethereal) can have a potential gameplay effect, all the better. For example, a gothic teleport leaves smoke and a smell, an ethereal teleport is still random but can be more predictable.

      Interesting Catalyst modifying words could be [hot] [cursed] [hideous] [alien] [hallucinatory] [bizarre] [light] [aggressive] [wild] [heavenly] and so on, anything evocative to you, if could even be several words if you find that easier. The player won’t know.

      Catalyst power I was going to leave up to whoever decides to use the system but a simple; weak, medium, powerful scale would sort of work. Weak potions last from 1 combat round to 10, Medium potions last for 10 minutes to an hour. Powerful potions last anywhere between a day and a month. Some potion effects would be instant and Catalysts would effect this too. If damaging, weak catalyst = 1d4, powerful = 1d20 and medium; any die inbetween. Anything else (such as if a potion effects or creates a volume of something) would be up to the DM’s discretion.

      I hope that helps for now.

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  3. This is really amazing. Lots of room for experimentation. I can see an entire campaign or and advancement system developed around this.

    I have been inspired.

    Thank you for the post!

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    1. Thank you, excellent to hear you’ve been inspired by it.

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