Alchemy is kind of a side note in The Fantasy Trip. A couple pages for chemists and alchemists, but not really anything else–just a way for players to get Healing and Universal Antidote potions, along with the good old Universal Solvent. But alchemy could be so much more–from roleplaying to story hooks. Here are some ideas for adding flavor and depth to alchemy in your campaigns.
Alchemy in The Fantasy Trip
To me, alchemy (and it’s kissing cousin chemistry) feels like it got the short end of the stick in TFT. There are some basic rules for alchemical and chemical labs, a couple lists of potions and some rules for researching new ones. Not much else.
The biggest additions in the potion lists are Healing potions, the Universal Solvent (duh), Universal Antidote, Revival and Gunpowder. Other key potions are poisons (obviously) and things like Fireproofing, Flight and the Youth potion.
The descriptions of the various potions call out the need for “common ingredients” but some also list special ingredients, like gargoyle bladders. (And am I alone in thinking that the prices for some of the ingredients are way too low? “Excuse me, Mr. Dragon, sir… I’m just scooping up some of you poo so I can make this little powder… Never mind that I may use that powder to come back and take your heart…”)
All of this is good, but it is not enough.
Why Alchemy Could Be Much, Much More
Why is it not good enough? Alchemy could be so much more! There are a lot of parts to that puzzle, just like spells. One obvious part is the ingredients themselves. Many of the ingredients that make up the various potions might be had in local shops–but most of them should be the products of adventures in their own right. Also, aside from straight up potions like in Advanced Wizard, there are also herbal potions that may have effects–and can come from different sources, have different ingredients, etc. These may be made by chemists or alchemists, but they also may be made by hedge witches or even witch doctors and shamans.
Another part is the types of potions that can be found. There are the classical potions that you drink, or coat something with–or make into a gas. But there are also salves that you would rub into your skin, or infusions/transfusions that you transfer directly into your blood.
An even more interesting part of the puzzle is the availability of the potions. How rare are the potions? Do the ingredients alone make it rare? Or is the formula so rare that the potion itself is only a legend? (the Youth potion comes to mind…) And how does the maker become an alchemist or chemist? Is there a special school–or is finding a teacher yet another adventure?
The point is that all of these are incredible story hooks that all point to great opportunities for adventures and roleplaying. All these possibilities can be used to weave incredible ideas into your gaming plots and storylines.
Improvements for TFT
OK, so what could be done within The Fantasy Trip to improve alchemy and chemistry? For starters, fleshing out the ways the potions can be used. One additional way is to lay out rules for lotions–maybe two potions required to distill the salve for the one dose of lotion? Maybe with increased benefits? Another way is to lay out rules for infusions or serums. These would be injected directly into the bloodstream. They may have a greater, or permanent effects. These effects may also have serious drawbacks.
Another obvious way is to add some more potions. These can include herbal potions or “cures” as well as normal potions. Advanced Wizard has a grand total of 37 potions for both alchemy and chemistry. That is just not enough! Not only can more potions be added that mimic existing spells, but also ones added that do something completely different. More must be added, especially herbal ones that can be created by anyone, not just chemists or alchemists.
One less obvious way to improve the value of potions is change the cost for the formula books that are needed. Advanced Wizard calls out that the book needed to make a potion requires 5 pages per week, at $20 per page. That means the books can cost anywhere from $100 to $2,000, with most on the low end of the scale. The costs should be scaled for your world, obviously, but these books should be much more valuable and closely guarded, just like spells. For high magic worlds, that may be OK. The lower the magic level in your campaign, though, the more rare they will be–and the higher the cost.
Finally, the biggest way is to add more opportunities for adventure in finding the ingredients. Yes, there are a few sentences in the 2 pages on alchemy and chemistry that suggest using adventures to get ingredients, but most of that is left to the GM’s imagination. And yes, that is ultimately where the responsibilities rests. But a great deal of this will be in fleshing out the ingredients used in the potions and in adding in new opportunities like herbal concoctions. The more details that are fleshed out, the better we will all be.
Are any of these rules changes? Some are–like infusions and lotions, or changing the costs of formula books. But most of these are minor. The biggest changes listed above are more to just add more flavor or color to what is already there.
And that is what I will be doing. This is the first in a series of articles on alchemy and chemistry, and I will add some more details and ideas in future articles. And if you have any ideas–send them my way, or post them in the comments!
And yes, I could not resist using a reference to a classic Dire Straits CD. Sue me for showing my age!