Magical Mondays: Alchemical Secrets 101   Leave a comment

Welcome to Magical Mondays!  Err, Tuesdays.  This should’ve been posted yesterday, but a lack of Internet, sickness, and MLK Day celebrating postponed it a bit.

I make no secret of the fact that I love potions and alchemy, and my home setting of Cantadel has more than a couple house rules for them.  One drawback to Potion Brewing is that it’s effectively only good for three levels of spells, and those spells are usually ones that you can work around not having access to by the time you’ve got sixth and seventh level spells.  Also: potions are just spells in liquid form in D&D 3.5.  Pathfinder isn’t much better on that front, though its Alchemist class has made some strides in the right direction.

The potion makers of Cantadel are occasionally able to surpass this limitation.  Doing so is costly, both financially and chronologically.  Also, it requires specialized knowledge that goes beyond the scope of most class features, meaning that somebody who knows how to surpass this ability has likely gone without some other facet of knowledge.  These devoted potion makers are few and far between, though many in the arcane industries are aware of their capabilities.  These are the people who know Alchemical Secrets.

Mechanically, Alchemical Secrets are non-physical things that are created with the Craft (Alchemy) skill.  They don’t represent an alchemical item or a construction of alchemical goods; rather, they represent an understanding of an obscure branch of alchemy that goes beyond the knowledge represented by ranks in the Craft (Alchemy) skill.  Every Alchemical Secret has a level equivalent to a spell level and, in most cases, takes the place of a spell known by the person who learns it.

There are many Alchemical Secrets in Cantadel, but the most well known (and the most easily translated to this blog post) are the ones that allow people with the Brew Potion feat to brew potions of spells beyond third level.  Every Alchemical Secret has an effective market price, though they are almost never sold (and often aren’t sold for their market price when they are; pricing knowledge is a tricky business.)  The market price is listed to help people figure out how difficult the item will be to craft.  While rolling the Craft (Alchemy) checks, the player does not actually create an item.  Instead, the player is mixing alembics and regents, performing calculations, and conducting experiments to figure out something fundamental about the nature of magic, alchemy, and the world in which they operate.  In addition to all of this, alchemical secrets also have caster levels: for the most part, these caster levels will be more or less in keeping with the effective spell level of the secret, but this doesn’t necessarily have to be the case.  (Bards, for instance, don’t learn their third level spells at level five like wizards do, but they could still learn a third level alchemical secret at level five… though the fact that they don’t have the ability to know spells of third level yet means that they wouldn’t be able to do it anyway.)  Once a caster has access to an alchemical secret, they may use it during Item Crafting, effectively casting the “spell” every day (meaning wizards must still prepare it to use it after it’s within their spellbook.)

The bad news: Alchemical Secrets aren’t as reliable as other things that can be crafted.  Even if a player is successful at crafting an alchemical secret, alchemy is a very mercurial art.  Traditional stories and depictions of alchemy involve failure, and this is jus as true in Cantadel; even when you do everything exactly right, you might not be ready for this secret of the universe just yet.  Every Alchemical Secret has a Failure Chance, and if you fail when you roll this then it is as if you botched the alchemy check, wasting some of the materials and money already spent on the project.

Here’s an example Alchemical Secret, probably the most well known in Cantadel: Delta Potions.

Delta Potion
Price 4000 gp
This Alchemical Secret allows for the creation of Delta Potions, which is to say potions or oils that reproduce the effects of 4th level spells (as opposed to Alpha, Beta and Gamma potions, which represent 1st, 2nd and 3rd level spells, respectively.  0th level spells are typically called Minor Potions by those who use this naming scheme.)  The formula for determining the market price of Delta Potions is the same as the market price for regular potions: Spell Level x Caster Level x 50.  Apart from the spell level, this potion behaves in all ways like a traditional potion created through the Brew Potion feat.
Requirements Brew Potion, Craft (Alchemy) 5 ranks, Spellcraft 5 ranks, Crafter must succeed at a DC 24 Craft (Alchemy) check to learn this secret, using the standard rules for item crafting.
Cost 1333 gp, 3 sp, 3 cp; replaces 4th level spell known
Failure Chance 10%

Delta Potions are the most common Alchemical Secret known, and they require preparation as a fourth level spell for every day of crafting (which will only be one day for most potions, though not all alchemical effects are potions).  Other alchemical secrets are very similar: to make Epsilon Potions (potions of 5th level), it costs 5000 gp instead of 4000 gp, and the DC is 25 instead of 24.  Meanwhile, the secret takes the place of a 5th level spell instead of a 4th level spell.  I’ve not been able to see my Alchemical Secrets in play enough yet to know if this is a fair price, but so far I think it works.  (Also: I’m not sure how I’d set the Failure Chance.  Probably an extra 10% per level of the spell emulated.  9th level spells would then have a 60% failure chance, which feels appropriate.)

Problems With The Potions
I’ve not quite figured out how this should work for anyone who isn’t a traditional Arcane Caster.  A Bard or a Sorcerer would lose one of their regular known 4th level spells, and put the knowledge and mystical knowhow of arcane brewing in its place.  A Wizard gets off much easier, merely adding all the complicated formulae and secrets onto four pages of a spell book.  But it gets harder to figure out how a Cleric, Druid or Paladin learns this information, since they effectively have access to all possible spells.  Similarly, an Artificer from Eberron might be able to add this to a list of infusions, but would it replace anything? Artificers don’t really have an upper limit to the number of Infusions they can know.  The Alchemist class from Pathfinder is an odd example; it’s not really a spellcaster for the purposes of most item creation, but we could probably handwave this as being acceptable for them.  They might be able to trade it in for one of their regular secrets without unbalancing things too much.

That Which Came Before
It’s worth noting that there are other ways to get potions of higher than 3rd level.  WotC’s Magic of Faerun has a class called the Master Alchemist which learns how to do this as a class feature, and 3.0’s Tome and Blood offers a formula for doing it that requires Craft Wondrous Item and (effectively) doubling the market price of such potions.  I also very recently saw the suggestion that a homebrew feat might be introduced to allow for the creation of potions of levels four through six.

These are reasonable alternate routes to go, but they don’t quite fit the way that magic functions in Cantadel.  In Cantadel, alchemy and potion brewing are mysterious arts, and a class that easily gives those secrets as a feature doesn’t quite work, and neither does just raising the price and calling it a day.  I have less trouble with the suggestion that a new feat might be introduced, that feels workable for Cantadel; however, it’s not something that I’ve introduced just yet.

Other Secrets Abound
Finally, it’s worth noting that the alchemical secret I’ve suggested here is just the tip of the iceberg.  Other secrets exist, such as knowledge of the creation of the philosopher’s stone, secrets that let people manipulate liquid darkness, and specialized secrets that can help each of the different schools of magic (Summoning Spheres, for instance, are snowglobe-like glass balls filled with a swirling potion-like concoction that, when hurled, can shatter and bring forth a pre-summoned creature.)  I will likely describe some of these other secrets in the future… but for right now, it’s time to wrap this up.

If you have any questions or suggestions about Alchemical Secrets, either the one I showed here or just in general, feel free to drop me a line.  As usual, I’ve not had many chances to playtest this myself, but it’s something that I’d like to see in practice.

Tune in next Monday for more Magic!


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