Alchemist

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Alchemists 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 of mercury. Alchemy was basically an attempt at outright magic before it got distilled into modern day chemistry. Nonetheless they did stumble upon a few useful ideas, like gunpowder, dyes 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 of the observer. Like astrologers, they were often conmen, but some of them were highly skilled, intelligent, and poetic.

AD&D[edit]

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)

Pathfinder[edit]

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.

Mechanically, Alchemists get three tricks. The first are alchemical bombs, which are splash weapons that they can prepare a certain number of per day. 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.

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.

The Classes of Pathfinder
Core Classes: Barbarian - Bard - Cleric - Druid - Fighter - Monk
Paladin - Ranger - Rogue - Sorcerer - Wizard
Advanced
Player's Guide:
Alchemist - Antipaladin - Cavalier
Inquisitor - Oracle - Summoner - Witch
Advanced
Class Guide:
Arcanist - Bloodrager - Brawler - Hunter - Investigator
Shaman - Skald - Slayer - Swashbuckler - Warpriest
Occult
Adventures:
Kineticist - Medium - Mesmerist
Occultist - Psychic - Spiritualist
Ultimate X: Gunslinger - Magus - Ninja - Samurai - Shifter - Vigilante

5e[edit]

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.