On the Science of the Potion

Work continues on the alchemy document.

I seem to have come up with quite a few items (well over 100), I may shoot for 1000.

I have a question for my readers - I've never done anything like a feedback post before, so I'd really appreciate your comments.

Have you ever used 'item creation' in your game before? If not, why not? Lack of interest? Complexity? Balance? What are the biggest hurdles to such a task?

I'm attempting to make this compatible with all old school clones, and all their different skill systems. At the least, it will be many hundreds of new magic items (focusing on potions and dusts), but I'm curious what everyone would expect to see in a supplement about potions and poisons.

I've looked at some other commercial supplements, and excepting the ancient Judge's guild Complete Alchemist, they are all pretty terrible, with bizarre and complicated systems, or a small selection of some extra gear or items.


  1. Item creation has never been a big part of my games, although I'd like it to be. The same goes for spell research.

    Part of the reason is that most of our play involves characters of too low a level.

    The other reason, I suspect, is that the systems we play (OD&D and Labyrinth Lord) don't make the process of item creation obvious and attractive for players. I've been thinking about this lately in terms of affordances provided by the rules, and that item creation (and magical research) is an area ripe for increased affordances through house rules.

    I'd certainly like to see your take on it.

  2. I don't usually play a an m-u so I haven't had much opportunity to mess with item creation as a character. In the B/X game I run, I'm leaning toward just adapting the LotFP rules which are pretty simple. Ideally I'd like to see rules make it relatively simple mechanically and reuqire time and expense more or less proportional to the item... for potions especially I'd want to see some suggestions for using monster parts or other special rare items to offset item creation costs.

    The big hurdles so far have been that the other palyers are not so big on 'down time' or else the ongoing events in the game don't allow that much down time. I wouldn't mind complexity too much as long as it can be resolved with a few rolls and not take too much game time to adjudicate. I'm not terribly worried about balance except I wouldn't want healing potions to be 10 GP a piece and have the setting overrun with cheap magic!

  3. I like the idea, but not the practice. Often it has been one player who enjoyed it, while the others wanted to get back to bashing monsters.

    Another way it have failed is when the economy of it goes wonky and somebody either starts a business and invents inflation or when it becomes a arms race between the DM and the players for dominating the world through craft skills.

    I still like the idea, though, and would love to play an alchemist in somebody else's game.

  4. I definitely have an issue with specifics - too much is campaign dependent. You can't say that the ingredient for this potion is a goblin heart, because someone's setting may not include goblins.

    My players have had some frustrations because of the late level at which it becomes available, meaning that the campaign often ends before they have any use for all these monster parts they've collected.

    The other major issue is the appropriate length of time it takes to create items. 3e has *ridiculously* long craft times, offset by the ability of the min/maxers to 'make things more difficult' to speed up the process. However. . .

  5. I do have some solutions for comments posted above.

    The economy issue is addressed by requiring certain limited items plus time. If you need a satyr horn to make the potion, then you can restrict their 'business'. The need to actually find a buyer for their product is another difficulty. In games where we've reached domain play, I have not had any issues with the economy getting too out of whack (since it takes nearly a million gold to build that keep, who cares if the alchemist can make 4000 gp a month.)

    I'm not sure what the LotFP item creation rules are.

    The low level thing is certainly an issue for our games also, but having a class based around it and the ability to select the option to gain item creation two levels early in the form of a proficiency or something is nice, and will allow it to be a larger factor in lower level games.

  6. All I can say is that you damn well better have at least a few magical mortars & pestles, special types of vials (The Atomizer??), tinctures, salves, poultices, and other words I like. And hell, why not spring-loaded wrist-vial-shooters and auto-injectors and vial-tipped arrows and shark repellent and utility belts and Vials Of Unending Blasts that are just magical rockets.

    Basically if I can't be AlchemistBatman I'm going to be disappointed.

  7. Surprisingly enough, almost all of that is already covered.

  8. XP might be a good metric to base bonuses/effects from, since that incorporates special abilities above and beyond HD. Then all you need say is that this potion requires the component from a fire breathing creature of __ XP. Every additional type of fire breathing creature represented might add to potency/make success more likely/reduce time spent. Anyway, interested to see what you come up with.

  9. I couldn't even begin to speculate on how to make the system work, but I want to say I love that you're doing it. Item creation is something I've always loved and have never seen enough done. Personally I dream of one day writing a book about the craft (inventor) skill and create a whole list of mechanical things someone could use in their game. I've had several characters who I don't think were complete because there wasn't enough ways for them to make their own creations.

  10. @Telecanter, Is XP a better metric then HD across all versions of D&D? If I require a horn from a Chaotic Outsider of 1 HD, does that not indicate an imp, while allowing for other creatures? Do HD or XP vary more between 0D&D->3E? I'm not sure of the answers to these questions.

    @Adam Meyers, as I mentioned above, devices and gadgets are a large part of what alchemists will make. I'll gladly take any suggestions you have.

  11. It's odd: I play RPGs with item creation rules all the damn time, but people seldom choose to employ them. The preference tends to be for abstractions like "bombs and healing potions may be crafted X times per day as a spell-like ability", or for finding powerful items. Part of it may be the low-level thing, part of it the plethora of abilities already existent without adding more, part of it the opportunity cost in spending XP and loot on things that aren't levelling up and buying better gear.

    Oddly, the one time I think I've seen people making items is in Mage: the Awakening, where my players tend to create signature spells and then embed them in signature items, like a pair of sunglasses for seeing ghosts with.

    Makes me want to run Ars Magica and see if that idea works as well in the medieval 'making magic items for my henchmen' context that that game seems to lend itself to...


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