Thursday, 23 July 2020

Naively Simple Alchemy

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


All Potions require 4 things;

1. A Powder (1 item slot, provides adjective)

2. An Oil (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.    

Addendum: Oils and Powders are used up during potion distillation. Catalysts and Alchemical Equipment remain unconsumed.

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.


  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?

    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.

    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!.

  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.

    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.