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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.