Advanced Options: Alchemists' Discoveries (PFRPG) PDF (based on
Super Genius Games
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The alchemist class represents a trope common in adventure fiction, if not fantasy fiction: the mad scientist. From Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, many of the classic works of fiction that helped build the framework from which most fantasy RPGs hang include the inventor or scholar who is clearly dabbling in matters beyond mundane science. Coupled with the more fantasy-friendly view of the medieval alchemist who seeks to use combinations of materials and formulas to bring change to the material world and a rich history of inventor-adventurers dating back to Daedalus, the alchemist class allows players to enjoy an archetype that can’t easily be represented by any other Pathfinder Roleplaying Game character class.
However, that rich tradition of mad scientists and natural philosophers obviously requires much more support than any single book has room to offer, especially since most game supplements have to appeal to a broad range of interests. The Advanced Player’s Guide lacks room to present alternative alchemist options, and logically it must focus on the most obvious and functional discoveries and bombs. But if ever there was a class that called out for quirkier possibilities, the alchemist is it.
To help in that regard, Advanced Options: Alchemists’ Discoveries presents 29 new discoveries, including 7 tied to two new forms of alchemy: spagyric devices and metamorphosis. With this broad set of new options, alchemists can make rockets, create homunculi, sniff out their foes, craft waxwork wings, and even transmute lead into gold.
This pdf is 9 pages long, 2/3 of a page front cover, 1 page editorial & SRD, leaving 7 1/3 pages of content for the new discoveries, so what do we get?
After a short discussion of the alchemist-class and the literary tradition of the trope, we are introduced to 29 new discoveries, 7 of which belong to two new sets of discovery-trees, which I’ll elaborate later. From bombs that blind, deafen and splitter bombs, explosives get a plethora of cool new options, two of which I particularly liked: Minibombs and High Explosives use half a bomb slot or two respectively, but are less/more effective than regular bombs, adding to the set of tactical options for bomb-focused alchemists. Even better, alchemists can learn to expand their range by creating rockets and expand the threat range – nice! Via essence discoveries, mutagens can be modified to add e.g. scent, greater invisibility etc. Extracts also get a cool expansion, by enabling them to heal minor amounts of damage, extracts that have a higher duration etc.
The second part of the pdf deals with alternate alchemy and introduces the concept of spagyric devices and metamorphosis, for which the alchemist must give up one of his alchemical areas of interest . The devices are particularly interesting: The field enables the alchemist to duplicate magic items with a certain GP-limit with his alchemical devices. Before you start screaming about magic inflation, let me elaborate: Apart from a very restrictive GP-limit-pool to create these devices from, they require maintenance and at best have a durability of 2 days when separated from their creator. Furthermore, they take up 2 item slots and are very fragile. 6 sample names for such devices are given and all said, I consider the field a gold-mine for roleplaying, offering players a very cool opportunity to develop their very own devices and come up with justifications for their usage. Three new discoveries for these devices are presented, one making his creations harder to break, the second enabling the alchemist to select spells not on his spell-list and create items necessitating these spells. The final one lets the alchemist create more items with his gp-limit.
The second new field of alchemical expertise is metamorphosis, which belongs to the field that seeks to create gold from lead, focusing on the transformation of both materials and persons, enabling the alchemist to duplicate polymorph-effects via the 4 discoveries. While an iconic idea and not unbalancing (turning lead to gold works, but takes forever…), mechanically, it can’t hold a candle to the cool spagyric devices.
The problem of the relative scarcity of low-cost magic items is also addressed and I’d like to add Necromancers of the Northwest’s “Into the Armory” (available for free) to the list of recommended material to expand it, SGG’s recommendation being, of course their loot 4 less-series, which I’ll hope to buy and review sometime in the future.
The pdf closes with 2 feats granting extra devices and metamorphosis.
Editing is good, though is noticed a missing “e” in the metamorphosis-section. Layout adheres to the 3-column standard. The artwork is stock art and rather often used pieces at that. The pdf has no bookmarks. The new discoveries for bombs, mutagens and extracts all rock and I had no balance concerns with regards to them. The new devices also offer a neat and easy way to play a tinkerer and showcase Owen K.C. Stephens’ mastery of concise crunch-writing. Paradoxically, I think this pdf would have been better off if it were a bit shorter (or larger, of course!), as the new metamorphosis ability, while iconic, is simply not too rewarding and seriously needs more options to become a viable choice for all but NPC-alchemists. As written, transmuters will still mop the floor with these poor chaps and there simply is not that much going for them due to lack of support material. 2 additional pages of discoveries would have been either a viable options for the new field or a nice space for more discoveries. While these gripes are there, I still consider this book to rank among the finest of the advanced options-line and due to the quality of the crunch, will settle for a final verdict of 4.5 stars, rounded down to 4 for the purpose of this platform.
Advanced Options: Alchemists Discoveries by Super Genius Games
This product is 9 pages long. It starts with a cover and intro. (1 pages)
Discoveries (2 ½ pages)
There is 22 new discoveries in this book. 10 of them are new bombs or modifiers for bombs, such as making a bomb into a air-burst rocket. 8 are mutagens, some examples are ones that give you swim bonus, scent, natural armor etc. 3 extracts, one that does minor healing in addition, another ups the caster level, and the last increases duration. The last one lets a alchemist create a homunculus.
Alternate Alchemy (4 pages)
This section introduces Spagyric Devices and Metamorphosis. To take one of these then either Bombs, Mutagens or Extracts must be given up. On a one for one basis.
Spagyric Devices are basically magic items, the Alchemist is allowed to create x amount worth of magic items at any given time. If the Alchemist wishes they can take one apart and make a different one, but this takes a great deal of time. They also take up magic item slots a character is allowed to have. They can also be broken and take effort to keep working. I love the idea of this but not sure how I feel about it. This is something I would honestly have to use in game to make up my mind about. It has 6 sample devices, some advice on making more and 3 discoveries.
Metamorphosis you can transmute one thing to another. Such as lead to gold. You can weaken things, at higher levels effect living flesh. It is not a easy way to make profit though with how the system works. There is 4 discoveries. This one makes sense and it is very alchemist like in concept. But with that said I am not a real big fan of this one. It would be of limited use to a adventuring Alchemist compared to some of the other choices in my honest opinion.
Feats (½ page)
There is only 2 new feats, ones that grant a extra Spagyric Device and one for a extra Metamorphosis.
It ends with a OGL and credits. (1 pages)
Closing thoughts. Art is ok, layout and editing is topnotch. The new discoveries where well done and worth the price of the book alone. The two new Alchemy options are interesting. Spagyric Devices might be really cool. I am honestly torn on it, I love the idea but unsure how well it will really work. In theory if it works the way the author thinks it should be a very cool option for Alchemist. Though a future support book I think is almost a much to truly make it shine. The other one Metamorphosis, I felt was very meh and just didn't impress me. The idea fits the class but not really for a adventurer. So what's my rating? I am going to give this one a 4, the discoveries are nice and I may come back and bump it up to a 4.5 after I get a chance to play around with Spagyric Devices.
Trust me, I'm a Succubus.
Bottom line: this made me want to play an alchemist.
This is my first review here; if my style seems familiar, it's because I don't have my own style yet, so I'm copying some reviewers that I found more useful than others.
Advanced Options: Alchemists' Discoveries is a 9-page PDF in landscape format.
The first page is a cover and intro. This is followed by the titular Discoveries (two pages plus art):
-Airburst Rocket: Bomb with a longer range and wider splash radius, but no direct hit.
-Amphibious Mutagen: Gives waterbreathing and a swim speed.
-Barb Bomb: Barbed shrapnel impairs movement rates.
-Blinding bomb: Self-explanatory.
-Burst Bomb: Splash damage in an adjacent cone, but no direct hit.
-Chitinous Mutagen: Adds a bonus to natural armor.
-Cliffwalking Mutagen: Gives a climb speed.
-Deafening Bomb: Self-explanatory.
-Essence of Aberration: Mutagen adds darkvision and unusual anatomy.
-Essence of the Cheetah: Mutagen adds a haste bonus to move speed.
-Essence of the Eagle: Mutagen adds low-light vision and a Perception bonus.
-Essence of the Wolf: Mutagen gives the scent ability.
-Explosive Trap: Bomb that’s what it sounds like.
-High Explosive: Bomb that deals more damage but counts as two uses.
-Homunculus: Unique among the discoveries in this section, Homunculus has nothing to do with bombs, mutagens or essences. Instead, it gives the ability to create a familiar.
-Minibomb: Opposite of High Explosive.
-Phantom Mutagen: Makes you invisible.
-Potent Extract: Higher effective caster level.
-Preserved Extract: Extended duration.
-Rocket: Bomb with a longer range.
-Vital Extract: Adds a little bit of healing to them all.
-Volatile Bomb: Widened critical threat range.
Next is an even more interesting section: Alternative Alchemy. Not including art, it spans four pages discussing two new alternate class abilities — Spagyric Devices and Metamorphosis — that may be taken in place of Mutagens, Extracts or Bombs. Each new class ability comes with 3-4 relevant new discoveries.
Almost three of those pages are devoted to the fascinating Spagyric Devices option; and rightfully so, in my opinion! Basically, the alchemist gains the ability to make improbable devices that can duplicate various magic items (depending on class level and other factors), but that are fragile and need regular maintenance by their creator to keep them functioning. Brilliant!
The other page or so of Alternative Alchemy discusses Metamorphosis, which focuses on transforming one material into another, with a sideline of polymorphing. The section ends with two new feats, Extra Devices and Extra Metamorphosis, which are as they sound.
There’s roughly one page total of art mixed in throughout the Discoveries and Alternative Alchemy, so that just leaves the last page, with the credits and OGL.
The discoveries are good, but not perfect; for example, I think that Blinding Bomb should probably have a Fortitude save instead of a Reflex save, whereas Deafening Bomb is probably available at too low of a level and should not have a permanent effect on the splash area. On the other hand, they did good by having Essences where only one can be applied to a given mutagen; going back to the first hand, some of their other mutagen discoveries (such as Amphibious and Cliffwalking) should probably be Essences too. I also think that Homunculus would need a good hard look (and then a second one) before being allowed, due to the potential for unexpected consequences. However, I consider those as normal quibbles for this kind of product, so they don't affect my score.
Spagyric Devices was my main reason for buying the supplement, and it didn’t disappoint! Mad Science is one of my favorite genres, and yet the Dr. Jekyll flavor of the Alchemist in the APG failed to pique my interest. My imagination is captured more by characters like the inventive Sparks in the steampunk webcomic Girl Genius, and it looks to me like Spagyric Devices would give that feel without being particularly under- or over-powered.
Metamorphosis underwhelmed me and I don’t care… much. It could’ve been completely omitted, and Advanced Options: Alchemists’ Discoveries would still be a great product. Still, I’m dinging a star for publishing what feels to me like a series of mechanics clustered around a concept, instead of a real cohesive whole; it's a polish issue.
That just leaves the production values: good layout, decent art, seems mostly well-edited. Overall, I give it a bonus star for taking a class from “meh” to “cool” in three dollars, so my final score is a five.