Laboratory: Paragon Alchemy?

Welcome to the Laboratory, a series here at Rules As UNWritten solely focused on Alchemy in 4e Dungeons & Dragons. Alchemy is a cumbersome, confusing and rather unsupported subsystem in D&D, and this series aims to improve that. Check out previous posts in this series here, and as always, feel free to voice your reactions to our take on Alchemy and the new and reworked options we’re offering.

As I eagerly await the release of Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Emporium, I want to continue feeding the gaming atmosphere with little objects that are useful. This is a perfect opportunity to drop a few more items I’ve been working on in my series about alchemy. One of the things I’ve heard about the book so far however is that there is an emphasis on lower level tiered items, as well as common to even mundane things to spend your cashola on. All good things for sure, but it got me thinking more about how Alchemy is often overlooked in the higher tiers.

Paragon Options, Kinda Absent

I’m very fortunate to play a character that’s made it far enough to break the heroic/paragon plane. My character will be 11th level in a few weeks, and though I certainly won’t bore you with the details of him, I will inform you that I’m, as you might expect, going further down the alchemist rabbit hole. I’ll be taking the Alchemist Savant Paragon Path from the Eberron Player’s Guide. You can read a summary of benefits here, but mostly I want to note the Alchemical Innovator feature. Now, you don’t need this PP to learn or make items from formulas at a higher level, this feature merely gives you a few for free. So it got me thinking…what options are there at higher levels? What formulas are a cut above the formulas offered in the heroic tier?

The highest level formula I can find out there is for Deathcap Spores, a 12th level formula which, by the way, came out in Dragon 370 and has no scaling options for creating items of higher level than 12th. I fully realize I can make a 28th level Tethercord at higher levels, but that formula was available at level 3. At what point do you reach a level where the formulas themselves are more powerful? What makes learning Deathcap Spores more difficult to master than the Tethercord?

Accessing more powerful conditions and advantages, that’s what. Not only does it create a pace for all three tiers (look how rings aren’t really going to enter the game’s treasure parcels until early to mid paragon), but it keeps things interesting. An alchemical bomb is pretty interesting to you at a lower level tier, especially if you don’t have a Scorching Burst like power or powers with a damage type. Those effects become much more common at paragon, so alchemy has to up the ante. In terms of flavor, are there not alchemists in the Far Realm, the Astral Sea and the Elemental Chaos concocting deadly or bolstering items out of their rare and otherworldly chemicals and machinery? Stopping a raid from githyanki pirates or a horde or demons is certainly going to take more than a few Thunderstones, even if they have the bonuses that might actually bypass those creatures’ defenses.

Keep It Interesting

One of the things I discuss in the series quite a bit is the versatility of alchemy. For some reason, as originally written a lot of alchemical items seem like simple bombs or poisons, and the ones that were designed outside of those categories were rather dull. At higher tiers, the items can get a wee bit more interesting, allowing for options that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to access.

The versatility you have with a Beastbane item at level 4 is helpful since you most likely don’t have an option like that at that level in your regular repertoire. At higher levels though, every player at the table has a paragon path, they each have 5–8 magic items, character themes, and a host of powers and feats that make the team ready for anything. Learning formulas at higher levels still requires time and money, so in turn they should provide new options, more versatility, and more power. Alchemical items are not just bombs. When you become the hero of a kingdom and your experience begins stacking up, a fire bomb will come in handy every now and then, but it’s just not going to cut the mustard for saving a country or uniting the world. Those are paragon tasks, so you’re going to need something a bit more impressive. So I’ve devised some higher level options for you experienced alchemists out there who are looking for something other than a little Tanglefoot Bag or Lockbust Chalk to stuff your pockets.

New Items

The Suspending Mire uses an effect that I’ve never seen in the game as of yet, so to be completely honest it is not really tested. I can’t imagine it is overpowered though, just really handy in certain situations. With no damage component, and a steep cost that comes with a chance to miss, keeping a single monster busy, without stunning or dazing them, might be something up your sleeve that no other character at the table has.

As I continue playing and DMing in paragon games I am realizing how something like the Aura Shield could make a player very happy to shed all effects caused by auras even if for a single round. Auras are a key to most elites, controllers and solos, so having access to this concept too early in the span of levels might be an escape pattern you don’t want your players to have. At a late level 15, you can expect to see Aura Shields cropping up several levels thereafter in the pouches of characters who aren’t even alchemists. The reason is that there is no scaling to hit bonus, the close burst 1 zone is automatic, and at the small cost of a minor action, this little item can change an entire encounter. Game changing options should be harder to achieve and more rare in the game, hence the late level formula.

I hope you take these items, install them into your game, and let me know how they run. We’re here at Rules as UNWritten to continue pumping the blogosphere with helpful crunchy morsels you can always take with you, so steal, use, and share as much as you like!

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