Alchemists (Al-Khemia from Arabic and Greek, literally "The Chemistry", also Khemeia is Greek word for metal-changing) were proto-chemists who worked in the medieval and early modern periods (and a few even survived into the Age of Enlightenment; Newton in particular is sometimes mocked for believing in alchemy) in Europe and the Islamic World. Like modern chemists, they thought matter followed specific rules and would reliably change at different heats, proportions, etc. Unlike modern chemists their rules were rather... derpy. They thought, for instance, that examining an object physically would reveal its internal properties, and spent lots of time in chemically useless pursuits like trying to find phlogiston, a hypothetical chemical that was attributed to be responsible for combustion, or, most famously, trying to turn lead into gold. A similarly-derpy tradition in Asia revolved around making various potions, most notably their quest for the legendary elixir of immortality which mostly yielded a plethora of potions of mortality, since they thought the primary ingredient was the highly-toxic element mercury, and ended up making gunpowder-grade phosphorus when urine got boiled. Alchemy was basically an attempt at outright magic before it got distilled into modern day chemistry when better measuring methods were developed. Nonetheless they did stumble upon a few useful ideas, like gunpowder (from boiling PISS, of all things), colorful dyes to sell to the wealthy and various other useful processes which helped pay the bills.
In the modern age, they're generally thought of as bumbling primitives at best and devious charlatans at worst, but they played an important role in keeping science alive in an age where research wasn't much of a thing and providing by accident some useful information for chemists. Also many of their experiments can be considered metaphorical, and the close attention they paid to exotic chemical reactions were often guided meditations which were intended to have lasting psychological effects on the observer. Like astrologers, they were often conmen, but some of them were highly skilled, intelligent, and poetic.
Fiction has found a new niche for Alchemy, however. Their mysticism has expanded into a fusion of Chemistry and Magic, either deriving magic from chemical processes, or infusing their chemistry with magic. After all, somebody's gotta make those healing potions, right?
The alchemist appeared in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons as a specialist option for the wizard, debuting in "Player's Option: Skills & Powers" before being reprinted in "Player's Option: Spells & Magic". Thematically, they are described as a scientist-wizard, similar to yet distinct from the Artificer - alongside its fellow Skills & Powers specializations, the Geometer, Shadow Mage and Song Mage, it was classified as a "Thaumaturgical Specialist" in Spells & Magic, gaining kindred in the form of the Artificer and the Wild Mage, but losing the Shadow Mage as a sibling; it was rebranded as an "Effect Specialization" in this book.
Functionally, they're a Transmuter who trades the bonus potency with transmutation spells for the ability to brew potions.
Mechanically, this specialist wizard has the following traits:
- Minimum Ability Requirements: Intelligence 15, Dexterity 14
- Permitted Races: Human, Half-Elf, Gnome
- Prohibited Schools: Illusion, Necromancy
- An alchemist can memorize 1 additional Alchemy School spell per spell level.
- An alchemist receives a +15% bonus to learning spells from the School of Alchemy, and a -15% penalty to learning spells from any other school.
- An alchemist automatically learns a spell from the School of Alchemy whenever he reaches a new spell level.
- When attempting to create a new School of Alchemy spell, the alchemist treats its spell level as being one level lower.
- Lab-Bound: An alchemist starts play with an alchemical laboratory, which requires 50 gold pieces a month to represent stocks of reagents, replaced equipment, and so forth. Building a new laboratory costs 1,000gp per character level. Without access to their lab, an alchemist cannot memorize their bonus daily spells, conduct research, make potions, or add new spells to their spellbook.
- Potion Brewer: From 6th level onwards, an alchemist can learn formulae for magic potions. This uses the mechanics for researching a spell, treating the potions level as equal to its XP value divided by 100. Research time is 2 weeks per effective spell level, and it costs 500gp per effective level. The alchemist must pass a Learn Spells check to learn a potion formula, and the number of potion formulae an alchemist can learn is the same number as their maximum spells per level score; it is also affected by Intelligence, rising or falling in the same way. Once an alchemist has learned a potion formula, they can brew doses of the formula at will, but this requires the expenditure of 3d6*100 gold pieces and a week's work in the lab for each dose - not to mention they need to pass a Learn Spells check to successfully brew it. In "Spells & Magic", the alchemist is stated to gain a +1% bonus per character level to this "brew potion check".
- Reagent Focus: When an alchemist casts spells labeled "School of Alchemy", they have no verbal components.
School of Alchemy Spells (from "Spells & Magic"):
- Affect Normal Fires (1st)
- Fire Burst (1st)
- Grease (1st)
- Metamorphose Liquids (1st)
- Patternweave (1st)
- Protection from Evil/Protection from Good (1st)
- Fool's Gold (2nd)
- Glitterdust (2nd)
- Melf's Acid Arrow (2nd)
- Pyrotechnics (2nd)
- Sense Shifting (2nd)
- Stinking Cloud (2nd)
- Alamir's Fundamental Breakdown (3rd)
- Flame Arrow (3rd)
- Melf's Minute Meteors (3rd)
- Protection from Evil, 10' Radius/Protection from Good, 10' Radius (3rd)
- Solvent of Corrosion (3rd)
- Enchanted Weapon (4th)
- Fire Charm (4th)
- Fire Trap (4th)
- Vitriolic Sphere (4th)
- Cloudkill (5th)
- Fabricate (5th)
- Rusting Grasp (5th)
- Transmute Rock to Mud/Transmute Mud to Rock (5th)
- Vile Venom (5th)
- Death Fog (6th)
- Glassee (6th)
- Stone to Flesh/Flesh to Stone (6th)
- Transmute Water to Dust/Improved Create Water (6th)
- Acid Storm (7th)
- Hatch the Stone from the Egg (7th)
- Neutralize Gas (7th)
- Statue (7th)
- Glassteel (8th)
- Incendiary Cloud (8th)
- Crystalbrittle (9th)
- Glorious Transmutation (9th)
Since Advanced Dungeons & Dragons had a tendency to reinvent the wheel, an alternative take on the Alchemist kit surfaced in the Ravenloft setting when Champions of the Mists introduced the Eremite, which is even described in its own flavor-text as a cross between an alchemist and a druid. Unlike the aforementioned alchemist kit, eremites don't get a traditional school of magic-based restriction to their spellcasting, and function largely like standard wizards, save for the fact they brew potions instead of memorizing text from their spellbook and for the following mechanical traits:
- Eremites can only learn spells that have a range of "0" or "Touch".
- All spells cast by an eremite have a "casting time" of 1d4+2, representing the fact that you're just chugging a potion (or splashing it on someone).
- An eremite can give a prepared potion to an ally, who can then "cast that spell" on themselves by drinking the elixir. This lets eremites ignore the usual targeting restrictions on spells like "Gaze Reflection".
- Once an eremite "spell potion" is opened, it must be used in that same round, or it goes inert.
- Eremite spell potions have a limited shelf-life; if they have level-based effects (such as the damage of a Burning Hands potion), they lose 1 level's worth of potency per week until they become useless, whilst otherwise they just go inert 1 week after being brewed. Shelf-life can be extended for 1 week per casting of the Freshness cantrip.
- Eremite spell potions have the same potion compatibility issues and "potential for breakage when hit" problems as standard D&D potions.
- Eremites can only store their potions in containers made of natural materials, such as glass or clay; use anything else, and there's a 25% chance the potion spoils and is wasted.
In Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, the Alchemist made its debut as a subclass for the Artificer in the original 2017 Unearthed Arcana release of that class. In this initial form, the Alchemist is actually quite simple; chosen at 1st level, the Alchemist gains access to a feature called "Alchemical Formula", which is literally the only ability that the character gets.
- As an action, the character can reach into their Alchemist's Satchel - which is kind of a spellcasting focus exclusive to the formulas, and which will cost you 3 days of work (8 hours per day) and 100 gold pieces to replace - and use one of the various formulas they know. Precisely what effect this has depends on what formula they actually use, as you might expect. An alchemist starts play knowing the Alchemical Fire and Alchemical Acid formulas, and one other formula of their choice. They gain a new formula of their choice at 3rd, 9th, 14th and 17th levels.
Not exactly a complicated class, but simplicity has its upsides too, you'd guess. Plus, aside from some timing delays, you can basically use these formulas as often as you'd like.
The formulas for this Mark 1 Alchemist consisted of the following, with any saving DCs being 8 + your Proficiency bonus + your Intelligence modifier:
- Alchemical Fire: A grenade that you can throw 30 feet and which explodes in a 5ft radius. Creatures caught in the explosion must succeed on a Dexterity save or take 1d6 Fire damage. This damage increases by +1d6 at every 3 levels after the first (so 2d6 at 4th, 3d6 at 7th, etc), all the way to 7d6 damage at 19th level. Using this formula requires an Action.
- Alchemical Acid: A grenade that you can throw 30 feet. The target must succeed on a Dexterity saving throw or take 1d6 Acid damage. Objects are automatically hit and take maximum damage. Damage increases by +1d6 at every 2 levels after the first (so 2d6 at 3rd, 3d6 at 5th, etc), maxing out at 10d6 at 19th level. Using this formula requires an Action.
- Healing Draught: A potion you can consume yourself or give to another creature. The drinker regains 1d8 hit points (plus another 1d8 HP per 2 levels after 1st, to 10d8 at 19th level). A creature that has drunk a Healing Draught can't benefit from it again until it's completed a long rest. Withdrawing this formula requires an Action, and drinking it requires another action. You can only have 1 vial of Healing Draught out at a time.
- Smoke Stick: You can produce a stick-shaped object that creates a smoke cloud, which you can either hold onto or throw up to 30 feet. The smoke stick fills a 10ft radius with thick smoke that blocks vision and dark vision, and lasts for 1 minute. After it has been used, you can't use this ability again until 1 minute has passed.
- Swift Step Draught: You can withdraw this formula as a bonus action, and drinking it requires an action. The drinker gains +20 feet of speed for 1 minute. After this formula has been used, you can't use it again for 1 minute.
- Tanglefoot Bag: You can hurl this grenade as an action to cover a 5ft area within 30 feet with sticky goo. The area becomes difficult terrain, and any creature that starts its turn there halves its speed until the end of the turn. The goo remains sticky for 1 minute. You cannot use this formula until 1 minute has passed since using it.
- Thunderstone: As an action, you can hurl this grenade up to 30 feet. On impact, it explodes, forcing all creatures within a 10ft radius to succeed on a Constitution save or be simultaneously knocked prone and pushed 10 feet away from that point.
Unlike the poor Gunsmith, the alchemist would return in the 2nd iteration of the Artificer 2 years later, and in fact so far is the only subclass to be present in all versions of the artificer after the wizard subclass. In this 2019 Unearthed Arcana, the alchemist was quite a different beast. Now starting from 3rd level, it had a whole arsenal of new features.
At 3rd level, it gains the following features:
- Tools of the Trade: You gain proficiency with Alchemist's Supplies and Herbalism Kit, as well as one of each of those items if you don't already have them. Also, when crafting magic potions, it takes you 1/4 the time and 1/2 the gold it would normally take.
- Alchemist Spells: Gain the following spells at their designated levels: Purify Food & Drink (3rd), Ray of Sickness (3rd), Melf's Acid Arrow (5th), Web (5th), Create Food & Water (9th), Stinking Cloud (9th), Blight (13th), Death Ward (13th), Cloudkill (17th), Raise Dead (17th).
- Alchemical Homunculus: As the feature's name suggests, you get a sort of bonus familiar in the form of a Tiny-sized flying Construct. In addition to being able to spit acid at anyone you don't like, it can also produce an Alchemical Salve thrice per day, which can be used to give you or an ally either some temporary HP, Advantage on an ability check, or Flight at a speed of 10 feet for 10 minutes.
At 6th level, the alchemist gains the Alchemical Mastery feature. The alchemist can now use their alchemist's supplies as a spellcasting focus when casting any spell that either restores hit points or inflicts Acid or Poison damage; the amount of damage healed/inflicted is increased by the alchemist's Intelligence modifier (minimum +1). Also, the alchemist can use their supplies to cast Lesser Restoration for free a number of times per day equal to their Intelligence modifier.
Finally, at 14th level, they gain Chemical Savant; this gives them Resistance to Acid damage, Resistance to Poison damage, Immunity to the Poisoned condition, and the ability to cast Greater Restoration for free 1/day so long as they use their alchemist's supplies as a spellcasting focus.
Chronicles of Aeres
In the 5e fansetting Chronicles of Aeres, Alchemists are one of the three unique classes invented for the setting, alongside the Witch and Dreamcaller. In-universe, alchemists are an offshoot of the wizardly traditions of spellcasting who focus on manipulating the raw magical essences imbued into inanimate matter, a feat they achieve by using magical runes to channel and concentrate one or more of the Three Primes - the "conceptual" essences from which all elements are made. This is a lot harder than "regular" Transmuter spells, and in fact it can easily go wrong; the early days of the alchemy style resulted in a lot of explosions, clouds of poisonous gas, raging fires and virulent diseases, which meant alchemists were largely rejected in favor of wizardry. But they survived by going underground, and in fact flourished during the era of magical persecution.
The Three Primes, the alchemist version of the wizardly schools, consist of:
- Sulfur: This element represents an expanding force, the essence of evaporation and gaseous motion; it’s also tied to the spirit, or the ephemeral internal essence of aether that normally inhabits living creatures, but which is also present in a minute form in non-living objects. Sulfur is the element of fire, smoke, steam, and air. Alchemists associate this element with heat, light, and energy; its movements are chaotic and hard to control.
- Mercury: An element connected to water and the transcendence between solid and liquid states. The mercurial prime is the fabric that binds aether itself to material, and so it’s often connected with the mind, or the psyche (the intangible force that controls the external). The movement or decomposition of mercury is associated with cold, moisture, acidity, blood, and even necrosis. Conversely, mercury also bears a power of rejuvenation, and without the essence of mercury, alchemists believe that material would simply fall apart.
- Salt: A prime element that would seem to be the exact opposite of Sulfur. Salt is the physical embodiment of a thing, its matter and material, independent of the other forces holding it together. As a result, the element of Salt is considered restrictive and fixed, immovable; it represents not only the earth, ores, and stones, but also the concepts of crystallization, hardening, contraction, and solidification. It’s the force that gives an object its physical weight as well.
Aeres Alchemists are also known as Elementalists or Thaumaturgists, and they are very much not your typical potion-brewing doddering old sage! In fact, they're closer to a gish class than anything. They don't have the traditional spellcasting attack modifier or spellcasting focus due to the way that their magic works, but they do have a spellcasting save DC, which is based on their Intelligence modifier (8 + proficiency bonus + Int modifier, like a normal wizard). They don't get subclasses, mostly because they're complex enough as it is.
Did we say that they don't use a spellcasting focus? That's not entirely true. Alchemists need an Alchemical Sigil to focus their powers, which is branded with the rune of one of the Three Primes. This is a small amulet or ring. Because of the complex energies involved, initially, Alchemists can only have a single sigil active at a time, which means they can only invoke Transmutations from that specific Prime; to switch to a different Prime, the Alchemist needs to destroy or remove their original sigil (it has to be 100ft+ away) to stop it from interfering; a new Sigil can be crafted as part of a short rest, or an alchemist can attempt to create a temporary sigil by drawing, etching into the dirt, etc, which takes 2 turns. A rookie alchemist can still have different sigils for the different Primes, but they can only have 1 active at a time; they can switch between active sigils during a short rest. From 6th level, they can have 2 sigils active at a time, which is also when they learn to start combining Transmutations. At 12th level, they're powerful enough they can have sigils for all Three Primes active at once.
More than anything, the Aeres Alchemist resembles a Warlock; they know a number of Transmutations, which are specific powers they can evoke, determined by their level, and they can only have a small number of these powers evoked at once - starting with just 1 at a time at 1st level, then 2 at 6th level, and finally 3 (the maximum) at 12th level.
So, how does transmuting something actually work? Well, the alchemist can place a Transmutation on any Medium or smaller object - for the most part, only weapons or armor are useful, as most transmutations are very combat-focused; you don't really want to use a Transmutation that electrifies something on your armor, now do you? Applying a Transmutation is an Action, and Transmutations don't stack; applying the same Transmutation to an object twice over does nothing. There's also a downside to Transmutations vs. spells; if you attempt to invoke two or more Transmutations on the same item, or even just a single multi-Prime Transmutation, you gotta roll a d20, about half the results of which will result in something going wrong, such as the item exploding, emitting a blinding flash, or becoming temporarily useless as the transmutational energies mix in unstable ways. It's not as bad as the traditional Wild Magic table, but it can definitely be a headache! If you attempt to apply a Transmutation to something an enemy is holding or wearing, that's a melee attack roll.
Now, all of this doesn't mean that alchemists can't actually make potions! At 2nd level, they gain the feature Apprentice Potion Making, which lets them create a single potion worth 50 gold pieces as part of a short rest, so long as they have access to a set of Alchemist's Supplies or other alchemical equipment. At 6th level, they gain Journeyman's Potion Making, which allows them to craft either 1 100GP potion or 2 50GP potions during a short rest. At 10th level, they gain Masterful Potion Making, which lets them make 2 100GP potions or 4 50GP potions during a short rest, and 1 250GP potion during a long rest. Finally, at 15th level, they gain Potion Making Grandmaster, which lets them use a short rest to craft 3d4 50GP potions, 2d4 100GP potions, or 1d4 250G potions.
Their class features consist of the following:
- 3rd level - Trifecta of Force: As a free action, you can change the damage type of your weapon to any other physical damage type (a sword from Slashing to Piercing or Bludgeoning) for 1 turn.
- 6th level - Alchemic Alacrity: You can ast single-element transmutations as a bonus action.
- 7th level - Elemental Projection: You can apply transmutations to a visible object within 10 feet.
- 9th level - Malleable Essence: As part of a short rest, you can grant yourself Resistance to one damage type for 1 hour.
- 13th level - Elemental Mastery: Double the duration of your transmutations.
- 18th level - Elemental Transcendence: Triple the duration of your transmutations. Also, you no longer risk failure for using combi-elemental transmutations.
- 20th level - The Philosopher's Stone: By spending 7 days and 500 gold pieces, you can fashion a Philosopher's Stone. This counts as a Sigil for all Three Primes, grants your transmutations an indefinite duration (you can still only have three active transmutations at once), boost Malleable Essence's duration to "your next rest" and lets you change your damage resistance by spending 1 turn doing so. Note that all of these benefits only apply so long as you have the Stone in possession.
The Deep Magic splatbook for the 5e version of Midgard features the Wizard subclass known as the Alkemancer. This is defined in the book as a wizard devoted to uniting the principles of magic and alchemy into a single greater whole, with a focus on spiritual transmutation. Whilst similar to transmuters, alkemancers regard those wizards as too reliant on brute force, as opposed to unlocking the deeper mysteries of the six fundamental essences, which are kind of the alchemical version of the elements: brimstone, lead, quicksilver, quintessence, salt, and void salt. As a result, Alkhemancy spells resemble a blending of transmutation, necromancy and conjuration. Mechanically, alkemancers gain increased aptitude with alchemy, including the ability to make common alchemical items, the ability to supercharge specific spells by using the specific fundamental essence as a material component (brimstone makes fire spells poisonous, for example), and the ability to create elixirs, oils philters, and potions, culminating in their ability to make six legendary magical tonics.
Pathfinder alchemists are basically a mad scientist character class. They cackle, they drink mutagen and turn into the Hulk, they make construct-soldiers out of dead bodies, they cast spells by chugging potions, you get the idea.
Alchemists are solidly tier 3, capable of doing a few things very good (damage, skill monkey) and still contributing when those things aren't useful through their wide variety of extracts. One pair of discoveries gives Alchemists access to the Simulacrum spell, which is broken enough on its own (Making a clone of a high level beat stick that follows your commands is the least creative way to break it.) they become tier 1 if taken.
Mechanically, Alchemists get three tricks. The first are alchemical bombs, which are essentially splash weapons that they can prepare a certain number of per day like spells. The second are infusions, which are bottles of magic that are prepared like Wizard spells but drunk like potions. The third is mutagen, which is basically Mr. Hyde juice; mechanically, it buffs one of your physical stats at the expense of your mental stat, and too much stat damage will cause sudden reversion. Complimenting these is the pick of "discoveries", additional alchemical tricks such as changing your bombs to do different types of damage, growing a familiar out of your own flesh, or making your body poisonous, at every even level, many of which are really good. Alchemist builds are put into two categories. The first is the "Jekyll" build, which focuses on party support while using bombs to kill things and control the battlefield. The alternative is the "Hyde" build, which focuses on using its alchemy to buff up and smash enemies, with most taking the Vivisectionist archetype to trade their bombs for sneak attack.
Alchemists are a lot of fun, since they get throw anything as a power and have lots of unique bombs they can make, and actually make "incredible discoveries!" as they level up, ranging from growing new limbs and tumors that fall off and act as familiars to learning how to cheat and bottle spells they shouldn't theoretically have. There's nothing else in the game quite like them, and it makes them unique and interesting. Unfortunately, all those powers aren't terribly focused, which is a downer. If you want to build a decent alchemist, pick one or two of their mechanics and leave the third by the wayside. Oh, and everyone will hate you if you don't take the discovery which lets other people use your infusions, which you should do anyway, because what else are you going to do with that enlarge person potion? Wade into melee? My 30+ AC, 3 Nat attacks a round, and +12 to Hit suggest that that is a good idea as long as the mutagen holds.
Also, they're very selfish casters that need to take a discovery just to let other people imbibe their spell-potions, and without cantrips they can only identify potions without spending spell slots. As a result, they aren't the best solo-casters in a party full of melee beatsticks.
If you want a hilariously awesome class that does things you haven't necessarily seen before in the d20 system, pick this guy. If you want something a little more geared towards optimized mechanical play? I'm sure they'll have another overpowered wizard prestige class/archetype/pile of new spells ready for you in the next splatbook, you damn munchkin-robot.
Pathfinder Second Edition
Second Edition saw the Alchemist promoted to being part of the CRB classes, likely thanks to how popular they were. As part of the revamp, they no longer have any access to spells. This means that alchemists are now exclusively crafters of all manner of alchemical items - the same ones you can buy in a shop, but now these items progress like tiered spells (Though it's almost always tiered rather than being an occasional thing). Incidentally, this makes said items more useful for non-Alchemists to buy past level two. Helping them out with this is the limited access to special reagents that allow them to make new items on the fly. This leaves them to suffer in combat, as they are only proficient in light armor, simple weapons, and bombs by default and have these proficiencies progress about as well as a caster's. (This isn't really much of an issue though, as bombs do have splash damage.)
Alchemist subclasses essentially pick one sort of item to focus on: potions, bombs, mutagens, or (as of the APG) poisons. As you progress, each of these subclasses grant you the ability to effectively create infinite quantities of low-level items from their chosen field. Each also gives minor boosts to their chosen items at level 1 and 13 (bombs don't splash on targets and eventually expand their splash range; potions let crafting replace medicine for healing checks and eventually let healing potions max out their heals; mutagens allow a single mutagen that was used that day to resurface for a bit and eventually allow mutagens to stack; poison makes applying it onto a weapon easier and eventually allows poisons to stack on weapons). This does, unfortunately, mean that the alchemist isn't able to specialize very well in other fields thanks to these specializations.
This new Alchemist does get a mixed reception, especially from newer players that are not fililiater with craftable items list (don't help that they are tucked into a big book and don't have their own dedicated section like spells). the fact that your hard locked into only one Alchemist item focus does misleads that this is a flexible utility class. Being more flexible than a wizard (the spells they prepare for the day are limited by what they copied into their book, while you can also make items from your book at any moment. also a GM is more likely to have NPCs shop keeper that knows alchamy recipes then finding a spell book). Remember, Your the guy that always well stock with Antivenom, resistance and healing potions, throwing snairs, and performance-enhancing drugs even then taking a extended trip to the Abyss.
|The Classes of Pathfinder 1st Edition|
|Core Classes:||Barbarian - Bard - Cleric - Druid - Fighter - Monk |
Paladin - Ranger - Rogue - Sorcerer - Wizard
|Alchemist - Antipaladin - Cavalier |
Inquisitor - Oracle - Summoner - Witch
|Arcanist - Bloodrager - Brawler - Hunter - Investigator |
Shaman - Skald - Slayer - Swashbuckler - Warpriest
|Kineticist - Medium - Mesmerist |
Occultist - Psychic - Spiritualist
|Ultimate X:||Gunslinger - Magus - Ninja - Samurai - Shifter - Vigilante|
|The Classes of Pathfinder 2nd Edition|
|Core Classes:||Alchemist - Barbarian - Bard - Champion - Cleric - Druid |
Fighter - Monk - Ranger - Rogue - Sorcerer - Wizard
|Advanced Player's Guide:||Investigator - Oracle - Swashbuckler - Witch|
|Secrets of Magic:||Magus - Summoner|