Secrets of Alchemy

Friday, April 20, 2018

Historically, alchemy was a protoscience with diverse traditions seen throughout the world. Its chemical discoveries were often explained and expanded upon using the metaphysical traditions of the practitioner's native culture. These alchemical experiments and observations were later refined by experimentation and rigor to become the modern science of chemistry.

In Pathfinder First Edition, alchemy was the domain of lower-level pseudo-magical treasures, at least until the alchemist made his debut in the Pathfinder RPG Advanced Player's Guide. This class forged the way for creating higher-level alchemical items and effects, though it often leaned on arcane magic to get the job done.

When we tapped the alchemist for inclusion in the Pathfinder Playtest, it gave us the chance to rethink the essentials of alchemy and create a broad tradition that reflected its historical inspiration. For the upcoming version of the game, we've pulled magic and alchemy apart. Alchemy might feature dramatic effects, but these are powered by the reactions of powerful chemicals—and sometimes catalyzed by resonance—creating a type of fantastic mad science. Where magical power comes from the energies of a spellcasting tradition, alchemical power comes from the fusion of latent potential trapped within matter, released as energy through a reaction with a different potent material. Strike a sunrod on a hard surface and its alchemical reagents combine to create light. A creature's internal chemistry interacts with an elixir of life to heal wounds or brace the body against toxins. Bombs let off explosive energy when their flask shatters against a creature, exposing the contents to the air.

While magic involves pulling energy out of thin air by way of spells, rituals, or magically empowered items, basic alchemy is a specialty of the Crafting skill. Any character with the Alchemical Crafting skill feat can create alchemical items as long as they have the proper formula, along with enough time and reagents. Alchemists know (or hazard) shortcuts to the process and can create unstable alchemical items by using an alchemist kit and paying a resonance cost.

So, what kind of items can they make in the Pathfinder Playtest? Alchemical items come in four general categories: here's what you can expect from each.

Bombs

This category will be familiar territory for those of you currently playing Pathfinder. Alchemist's fire, liquid ice, and bottled lightning have been a mainstay for low-level alchemists and other characters over the years. In the Pathfinder Playtest, these items are the baselines for alchemical bombs. While the base bombs deal a relatively low amount of damage, the advanced alchemy class feature allows the alchemist to infuse them with extra power according to the alchemist's level. While these powerful bombs are unstable (losing potency in either 24 hours or after a round, depending on how the alchemist crafted them), during that limited time they can pack a punch. For instance, here's bottled lightning.

Bottled Lightning Item 1

Alchemical, Bomb, Consumable, Electricity
Price 3 gp
Method of Use held, 2 hands; Bulk L

Bottled lightning is packed with reagents that create an electric blast when exposed to air. Bottled lightning deals 1d6 electricity damage and 1 electricity splash damage and causes the target to be flat-footed to all creatures until the start of your next turn.

If an 11th-level alchemist makes one of these bombs using his advanced alchemy, the electricity damage increases to 4d6 damage, though the splash stays at 1 (unless said alchemist takes the Calculated Bomber feat, which would increase that splash damage to his Intelligence modifier). The flat-footed effect also stacks with anything extra the alchemist might add to the bomb from his class feats, making bottled lightning a great choice when going up against bosses or high-AC foes.

Of course, there are some surprises among the alchemical bombs. Thunderstones, which deal greater sonic damage in the hands of a higher-level alchemist, and tanglefoot bags are also on the bomb list.

Elixirs

In Pathfinder First Edition, we have potions, elixir, and extracts, all taking up much of the same mechanical design space. In the playtest, these divisions are less ambiguous. Potions are potent liquids made by way of magical crafting and have magical, often arcane, effects. Elixirs, on the other hand, are alchemical concoctions producing effects that are often very dramatic, but are non-magical. Potions are often quicker to use and usually pack some extra oomph, but elixirs work even in places where magic is dulled or suppressed, and an alchemist can craft them in a hurry. Though both potions and elixirs are used by consuming them, and often require a bit of resonance to kick them into gear, elixirs' spectrum of effects tend to deal with changing the body or state of mind. An example of this second sort of elixir is the liquid courage found in bravo's brew.

Bravo's Brew Item 3

Alchemical, Consumable, Elixir, Mental
Price 7 gp
Method of Use held, 1 hand; Bulk L
Activation Operate Activation

This flask of foaming beer grants courage. For the next hour after drinking this elixir, you gain a +1 item bonus to Will saves, and a +3 item bonus to Will saves against fear.

Some of the most potent elixirs are mutagens. These elixirs transform the mind and the body in dramatic ways, granting sizeable item bonuses to a number of related skill checks and attributes. However, this comes with a drawback: penalties to some other group of relevant skills and attributes. Mutagens also tend to morph the user's physical features in some way. For instance, a lesser bestial mutagen gives you a more savage aspect with greater muscle mass, granting you a +2 item bonus to Athletics checks and unarmed attack rolls and increasing the amount of damage die you roll for such attacks, but this new form is clumsy and lumbering, imparting a -1 penalty to Acrobatics, Stealth, and Thievery checks, as well as to AC and Reflex saves.

Mutagens have some limitations. They must be attuned to a specific creature; this typically involves including some bit of the attuned creature's body (such as hair, nail trimmings, saliva, or the like) as a reagent during the crafting process. Moreover, you can only have one mutagen benefit active at a time, though you can suffer from any number of mutagen drawbacks simultaneously.

What about extracts? Well, in this scheme, they're just not necessary anymore. But, I wouldn't be surprised if we do something else with extracts sometime in the future, reviving that game term to make something particularly dynamic and fun.

Poisons

Alchemists usually deal with elixirs that bolster the body and the mind, but they can also dabble in alchemical poisons that do just the opposite. While there are many poisons in nature, alchemical poisons tend to be more refined versions of those natural poisons, often distilled or concentrated, created for both potency and ease of use.

For example, here's the sleep poison favored by drow.

Sleep Poison Item 2

Alchemical, Consumable, Injury, Poison
Price 5 gp
Method of Use held, 2 hands; Bulk L
Activation 3 Operate Activations, no Resonance Point cost
Saving Throw Fortitude DC 13; Maximum Duration 4 hours; Stage 1 slowed 1 (1 round); Stage 2 asleep with no Perception check to wake up (1 round); Stage 3 asleep with no Perception check to wake up (1d4 hours)

Let's say you found or made a vial of sleep poison. It takes three Operate Activation actions to apply it to a weapon (which must be one that deals either piercing or slashing damage). If the next attack made by the weapon is a hit or critical hit, the target must attempt a save against the poison, gaining the effects of Stage 1 on a failure (or Stage 2 on a critical failure), with later saves determining how the poison either intensifies or is shaken off. Since the maximum duration of the poison is 4 hours, no matter what happens, the poison will be completely gone from the target's system 4 hours later.

Like all alchemical items, an alchemist can create a less stable version of a poison using his advanced alchemy, as long as he possesses the formula for that poison and has the resonance to spare. Here's the bad news. Sleep poison is a closely guarded secret of the drow, so good luck getting the formula.

Tools

The last category of alchemical items is tools. Tools are the items that don't fit in other categories. They typically affect the terrain, vision, or other aspects of the environment, instead of affecting a creature directly. The sunrod is one example of an alchemical tool. The smokestick is another.

Smokestick Item 1

Alchemical, Consumable
Price 2 gp
Method of Use held, 2 hands; Bulk L
Activation Operate Activation, no Resonance Point cost

With a sharp twist of this item, you instantly create a screen of thick, opaque smoke in a 5-foot-radius burst centered on one corner of your space. All creatures within that area are concealed. The smoke lasts for 1 minute or until dispersed by a strong wind.

As you can see alchemy has become a discipline in its own right, with many tools to aid adventurers in general and the alchemist in particular.

Stephen Radney-MacFarland
Senior Designer

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4 people marked this as a favorite.

I was hoping for tripwires, landmines, and stuff like that. Maybe it's my old like of 4e, where you could set up a hazard and have your buddy shove an enemy into it. Or maybe that's combining alchemy with Craft (traps) or something.

Still, this is cool.

Paizo Employee Senior Designer

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RangerWickett wrote:

I was hoping for tripwires, landmines, and stuff like that. Maybe it's my old like of 4e, where you could set up a hazard and have your buddy shove an enemy into it.

Still, this is cool.

I'm sure we will eventually get there, but for right now we are going to cover the basics. Once we have a groundwork for alchemy, we'll get to the crazy mad scientist/engineer type stuff.


I like the idea of the poison so far. So, if you make the first save, that's it; you're fine? Or do you keep making saves for four hours?

Does the activation time for these items include an action to draw them? I've always wanted to make a character who has, like, a Batman utility belt of gadgets. Is it going to be possible for that to be actually useful as a primary tactic, or will alchemy mostly just be used for bombs, with only the occasional niche use of smokesticks and the like.


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The distinction between potions, extracts and elixirs create an interesting design space. This will make the already popular alchemist even better to play. Can't wait until the play test.


Seems interesting.


Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Pawns Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber; Starfinder Superscriber

From the examples shown, it appears that activated alchemical items require resonance by default. (However most the examples show 'no resonance cost')

There's also the line about attuning elixirs -- so if you steal an alchemists's elixirs you can't use them yourself. Neither the Bravo's Brew nor a mutagen. The Bravo's Brew, feels a little odd to me to have to be customized to a person, while I understand it for the mutagen.

Paizo Employee Designer

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NielsenE wrote:

From the examples shown, it appears that activated alchemical items require resonance by default. (However most the examples show 'no resonance cost')

There's also the line about attuning elixirs -- so if you steal an alchemists's elixirs you can't use them yourself. Neither the Bravo's Brew nor a mutagen. The Bravo's Brew, feels a little odd to me to have to be customized to a person, while I understand it for the mutagen.

That line about attuning in the paragraph on the restrictions of mutagens that starts with the word elixirs should say "mutagens." We should have a fix soon!


Definitely a Friday blog.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Maps, Modules, Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Very interesting. Of course its light on detail. Why is the 11th Level alchemists bomb doing 4d6? what is the progression?

It's interesting that the flat-footed condition applied by Bottled Lightning has no associated save and only lasts one round, can this be extended?

Non-alchemists can craft alchemical items, can they invest in skill feats to make better ones the way an alchemist does?

Poison also looks interesting if somewhat slow to apply, no doubt there will be feats (skill feats?) or class abilities that make this quicker.

Liberty's Edge

This all sounds pretty sweet!


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This is pretty neat. The sleep poison raises one concern for me, though. At a DC 13, I wouldn't expect it to be useful for very long. Will there be ways for characters (alchemists or otherwise) to improve the saving throw DCs for poisons or other alchemical items with saving throws?


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Are there any examples of different "Activation: (n) Operate Activations" that you can share? That's looking extremely wordy/cumbersome, but I assume for good reason.

Grand Lodge

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I can see why the alchemist is going into core with these updates.


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Leedwashere wrote:
This is pretty neat. The sleep poison raises one concern for me, though. At a DC 13, I wouldn't expect it to be useful for very long. Will there be ways for characters (alchemists or otherwise) to improve the saving throw DCs for poisons or other alchemical items with saving throws?

IIRC a previous blog says Alchemists have a class feat for that.

Edit: Yeah. 6th Level Alchemist Feat, "Powerful Alchemy".


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Great article! I'm starting to get pretty impatient for August!


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Mark Seifter wrote:
NielsenE wrote:

From the examples shown, it appears that activated alchemical items require resonance by default. (However most the examples show 'no resonance cost')

There's also the line about attuning elixirs -- so if you steal an alchemists's elixirs you can't use them yourself. Neither the Bravo's Brew nor a mutagen. The Bravo's Brew, feels a little odd to me to have to be customized to a person, while I understand it for the mutagen.

That line about attuning in the paragraph on the restrictions of mutagens that starts with the word elixirs should say "mutagens." We should have a fix soon!

OK, good! It was bugging the verisimilitude center of my brain to have "non-magical" elixirs be attuned by spitting into the brew.

(It still bugs me that "non-magical" elixirs require resonance. I'm hoping that little piece of equivocation drops out in the playtest.)


Very cool to see alchemist items improved that much, but makes me wonder how much booking is going to involve playing an Alchemist.

Also good to see the inclusion of bulk.


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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Roleplaying Game Subscriber

I can see a lot of Alchemist players crying "nerf!" but I must say I like what I'm seeing - including the fact that these work in magically-suppressed areas. Including perhaps that area of wild and null magic where firearms first arose according to Golarion lore?

Liberty's Edge

Bottled lightning missing an activation, or is that covered elsewhere?

Silver Crusade

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I’m wary of Bulk (mostly since at this point I have nothing else in the system to compare it with).

I AM curious, however, on one little tidbit.

Sleep Poison wrote:
Activation 3 Operate Activations

Not 3 “Actions”, 3 “Operate Activations”.

What’s an Activation?

What’s an Operate Activation?

:3

Paizo Employee Designer

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NielsenE wrote:
Are there any examples of different "Activation: (n) Operate Activations" that you can share? That's looking extremely wordy/cumbersome, but I assume for good reason.

It's like Somatic Casting. We initially just called it Operate, but the editors pointed out that the action is clearer this way in other contexts.


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Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Pawns Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber; Starfinder Superscriber

I'm assuming that 'Bomb' means activation: = thrown or some such and they don't list it.
Likewise, guessing:

Activation = what it takes to use the item
Operate Activation is an action.

They don't say three actions so they can add feats/class skills/etc that let people make Operate Activations not provoke, or do two at once, etc.


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The "Operate Activation" action is actually making me angry the more I think about it. Is there a reason it's not just called an Item or Use Item action?


What about ravages? Any chance we will see something like these?


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It's also interesting to note that both the elixirs mentioned (Bravo's Brew and Lesser Bestial Mutagen) along with the one we already knew about (Elixir of Life) give +1/+2/-1/-2 types of effects.

I think a lot of people were expecting PF2 to end the era of "fiddly +1/+2s", but it looks like they're here to stay.


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So Sleep Poison and smokesticks don't cost resonance since it says "no resonance cost" right there under "Activation". Is the assumption that if it doesn't say "no resonance cost" that it does require resonance?

Since that's kind of confusing unless almost everything costs resonance.

Grand Lodge

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FedoraFerret wrote:
The "Operate Activation" action is actually making me angry the more I think about it. Is there a reason it's not just called an Item or Use Item action?

It seems really clumsy wording to me as well. Mark says it makes more sense elsewhere in the rules document. I'm having trouble imagining a context where "Operate Activation action" is better than "activation action".

Paizo Employee Designer

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Ampersandrew wrote:
FedoraFerret wrote:
The "Operate Activation" action is actually making me angry the more I think about it. Is there a reason it's not just called an Item or Use Item action?
It seems really clumsy wording to me as well. Mark says it makes more sense elsewhere in the rules document. I'm having trouble imagining a context where "Operate Activation action" is better than "activation action".

Ah, that's a different question than "Why Operate Activation instead of Operate." There's an even more solid reason for why not just Activation: Not all items back in PF1 were use-activated, and neither are all items here. If you use a command word or activate an item mentally by concentrating, those are different actions.

Paizo Employee Designer

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NielsenE wrote:

I'm assuming that 'Bomb' means activation: = thrown or some such and they don't list it.

Likewise, guessing:

Activation = what it takes to use the item
Operate Activation is an action.

They don't say three actions so they can add feats/class skills/etc that let people make Operate Activations not provoke, or do two at once, etc.

Bombs are a thrown weapon, so you can just make a Strike with them; they don't have an Activation.


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April 20th is the perfect day to discuss smoke sticks.


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Stephen Radney-MacFarland wrote:
RangerWickett wrote:

I was hoping for tripwires, landmines, and stuff like that. Maybe it's my old like of 4e, where you could set up a hazard and have your buddy shove an enemy into it.

Still, this is cool.

I'm sure we will eventually get there, but for right now we are going to cover the basics. Once we have a groundwork for alchemy, we'll get to the crazy mad scientist/engineer type stuff.

OK, so how do I sew together body parts from the party's fighter, wizard, bard, and rogue and send this new being into battle? And which player has control of this hybrid PC?

Grand Lodge

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Mark Seifter wrote:
Ampersandrew wrote:
FedoraFerret wrote:
The "Operate Activation" action is actually making me angry the more I think about it. Is there a reason it's not just called an Item or Use Item action?
It seems really clumsy wording to me as well. Mark says it makes more sense elsewhere in the rules document. I'm having trouble imagining a context where "Operate Activation action" is better than "activation action".
Ah, that's a different question than "Why Operate Activation instead of Operate." There's an even more solid reason for why not just Activation: Not all items back in PF1 were use-activated, and neither are all items here. If you use a command word or activate an item mentally by concentrating, those are different actions.

Good answer. Although to be honest, now I'm wondering if this is the new use activated, what was wrong with Use Activation. i.e. 3 Use Activations.

Silver Crusade

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Mark Seifter wrote:
NielsenE wrote:
Are there any examples of different "Activation: (n) Operate Activations" that you can share? That's looking extremely wordy/cumbersome, but I assume for good reason.
It's like Somatic Casting. We initially just called it Operate, but the editors pointed out that the action is clearer this way in other contexts.

So the not-caster not-casts by using Somatic not-components :3

Liberty's Edge

Pathfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

this is looking very interesting


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Very interested to see how alchemy will distinguish itself from magic and potions in the playtest. It always seemed like it deserved to be a separate category rather than lumped together with Arcane.

While I like the idea of a category for bulk, I notice that no weights are given for these items. I'm hoping that is just because all these items appear to be negligible weight rather than bulk being a method of replacing weight.

Honestly, I just hope that bulk will help solve the discussion of, "Yes, you can technically carry X of large item with your carrying capacity. No, I'm not letting you actually hold/carry that many large items with only two hands..."

EDIT: Okay, after hearing about how bulk in Starfinder works, less enthusiastic about this idea :c


Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Pawns Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber; Starfinder Superscriber

The way bulk works in Starfinder. You have numeric bulk (1,2,3,...) and you have Light bulk (l), 10 l's equal 1 numeric bulk. You could carry 1/2 your strength score before you're encumbered.


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Really disappointed to see the return of Bulk. In Starfinder I found it to be an unnecessary abstraction that was actually more complicated than the "realistic" system it replaced.

I do like the return of the affliction system from Unchained, though. Hopefully poisoners will have good options to increase the save DCs and possibly overcome poison resistances/immunities with heavy investment, as those were the main obstacles to poison use in PF1.

Honestly can't get a good feel for most of this until we get a more detailed explanation of the resonance system. Between the new bomb stats and what we've heard of mutagens, it's really sounding like alchs took a pretty hard hit from the nerf bat (and I'm personally not a huge fan of the flavor changes but I'll get over it).

EDIT: Haha I'm dumb we already got the alchemist preview. Guess that shows how excited I was about it...


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PossibleCabbage wrote:
So Sleep Poison and smokesticks don't cost resonance since it says "no resonance cost" right there under "Activation". Is the assumption that if it doesn't say "no resonance cost" that it does require resonance?

I think that's the case, we need a blog on Resonance ASAP

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Awesome stuff. Now alchemy and the alchemist are distinctively in the realm of fantastical science rather than magic.


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Thank you so much for lowering the prices of bombs, poisons, etc. They were really excessive in PF1 for what you got!

Mutagens are specifically called out as elixirs here. I wonder if that means they aren't actually a 5th level alchemist class feature, but instead a 3rd tier elixir, hence available to learn at 5th level with all the other 3rd tier elixirs? I'd be fine with that. I still think there should be weaker mutagens available from the start though, to help enable Dr Jeckyl characters better.

Splash damage should REALLY be half damage, not 1. Non-damaging bombs like tanglefoot bag could have a splash as well, represented by a -5 penalty to your attack rolls against those adjacent squares, with a rule that you can't provoke critical failure reactions on a critical miss on a splash roll. Or heck, just use that rule for the damaging bombs as well and have it do full damage to the splash space, since the -5 means you're more likely to miss and do half damage anyway.

Not sold on potions still having specialized effects. I still think that will get confusing between potions and elixirs, and lead to people wondering what the difference is. As I've mentioned before, I'd recommend elixirs get all the unique special effects, while potions remain bottled spells to give them their own distinct flavor and mechanical space from elixirs.

Liberty's Edge

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Interesting. I like it so far, though more examples are necessary for a good understanding.

Ampersandrew wrote:
Very interesting. Of course its light on detail. Why is the 11th Level alchemists bomb doing 4d6? what is the progression?

We actually know this from the Alchemist Blog. At 3rd and every 4 levels thereafter they get to add a multiplier to bomb damage (so an 11th level Achemist multiplies it by 4).


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Quote:
Historically, alchemy was a protoscience with diverse traditions seen throughout the world. Its chemical discoveries were often explained and expanded upon using the metaphysical traditions of the practitioner's native culture. These alchemical experiments and observations were later refined by experimentation and rigor to become the modern science of chemistry.

Chemistry, and partially helped different fields of physic, advance mathematiques, medicine, etc...


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worldhopper wrote:

Really disappointed to see the return of Bulk. In Starfinder I found it to be an unnecessary abstraction that was actually more complicated than the "realistic" system it replaced.

Agreed on the bulk thing, that was a concern I was raising since we found out it was gonna be in PF2. Apparently it's not quite the same as in Starfinder (with adjustments for creature size, as well as skill checks for lifting and dragging heavy objects), so I'm willing to give it a chance if it works better. I still don't like the abstraction though. Kinda breaks immersion for me.


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*carefully takes notes*

All of this will come in very handy with...

>.>

<.<

...a special project.


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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Modules, Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

I like that there is now more separation between potions and elixirs. I can't really judge how good the changes to the poison mechanics will be from this one example, but I hope they'll be more streamlined and clearer than before.

Now that alchemy is now a major feature of the game, I can't wait to see what will be done with it. I've always found alchemy a great way to emulate science-fantasy ideas, going the route of 'mad science' as mentioned before.

One concern I've always had was that I found alchemical items to quickly become obsolete very early on as DCs and effects remain static. I had to develop some additional house rules to allow creation of alchemical items with increased effects at higher cost. The blog mentions examples of the Alchemist able to increase the effects of alchemical items, but are there any plans to keep alchemical items useful for other classes at higher levels?


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As Alchemy is an important feature in my homebrew setting I appreciate any and all Alchemy blog posts. Thus far the changes sound great.


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What is item 1 item 2 item 3 at the top of each entry?

Also not fan of the bulk system, would prefer weight.

4d6 seems pretty lack luster, is it one action to throw, so someone could throw 3 of these a round?

Are alchemical items designed to not be used by anyone besides alchemists past level 3?


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Is Elixir of Sex Shifting still a thing in PF2 or has it become a potion?


Awesome stuff! Looks like it's gonna be a ton of fun to do some alchemy, either as a full-on (Full Metal?) Alchemist or as someone who dabbles for an extra edge. Also, the idea is making me totally want to mix up some Asami Sato, a little Varric, and a dash of Doctor Frankenstein, and DO THE THING!

Also, really appreciate and dig the formatting for these items. It makes things much easier to see a standardized format when it comes to spells, items, and similar things. The individual components are also useful as widgets with which to interact. It's easy to see where a feat might extend elixir durations or the like.

When this playtest hits, I'm all for buying the devs a round of Bravo's Brew!

Liberty's Edge

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Trimalchio wrote:
What is item 1 item 2 item 3 at the top of each entry?

It's in the same place as spell level was in the Spell Blog, so I'd imagine that it's the 'spell level' of the item.

Trimalchio wrote:
Also not fan of the bulk system, would prefer weight.

Eh. Weight can get fiddly as hell. I'll wait to see the final system before passing judgment.

Trimalchio wrote:
4d6 seems pretty lack luster, is it one action to throw, so someone could throw 3 of these a round?

You could if you had them in hand. Realistically, it's gonna be more like 2.

Trimalchio wrote:
Are alchemical items designed to not be used by anyone besides alchemists past level 3?

Doesn't look like it, though Alchemists are better with them.

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