Laboratory: All Consumables Should Be “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.

I’ve often noted that when a PC needs a specific thing to happen at a specific time, Alchemy can be that go-to guy. In 4e D&D, you don your Christmas tree of items with all their synergies and great versatility, but inevitably there’s going to be an instance or situation where you just need a bomb, or a way to pull that Vrock down from the sky, or a way to get the warlock back on her feet from 10 squares away. Generally speaking, consumables of all rotes actually serve these desperate instances, one, because you might want the benefit of teleporting like an eladrin, but you don’t want to play an eladrin (Fey Step Potion), and two, you might want to tip the scales of a certain skill in your favor once in a while, but don’t want to drop the coin down for a slotted item that is always active (Talent Shard). Alchemy comes with the benefit of versatility and low expense.

Alchemy Is More Than Chemistry

Potions, oils, elixirs, heck even feather tokens are all built on the premise that the magic they have is cool and helpful, but not something you want to be doing exclusively. They’re also rather inexpensive for the effects they provide. This is why I believe, as we approach the dawn of a new iteration of D&D, that “Alchemy” should be separate and defined from other forms of magic item making in that the category of crafting is limited to single-use, consumable items of all kinds. A potion should be “alchemy,” an elixir should be “alchemy,” and poisons should be “alchemy.”

With Wizards of the Coast pronouncing that they hope to eliminate a lot of the jargon in the next edition, this would be a welcomed streamlining of item crafting that would help make alchemy important and viable again. Some might feel that clumping magic item crafting into alchemy is disingenuous because alchemy is supposed to represent some form of mystical chemistry and less magical enchantment. They say that alchemy shouldn’t allow an effect that alters your form to appear like another creature (Elixir of Chameleon Power) because that is a magical effect, and something not achievable by science. They say that alchemy is rudimentary chemistry and basic science used as an interpretation of magic-like effects, only useful for things like like fire bombs and noxious gases.

I feel like you could certainly paint your own campaign in that light if you’d like, but I’d much prefer we scrap the pretense and remember that D&D is based on the premise of a magical world. How did Dr. Frankenstein raise his creation from the dead? Um, science. How did Peter Parker become the deft web-slinging hero of Spider-Man? Yup, science. I actually prefer to think that alchemy is just a refinement of magical and mundane materials in Dungeons & Dragons; you’re simply adding the right bit of this with the right bit of that, so that when you need it, it does its thing and then its gone. And, oh yeah, it’s relatively uncontrollable and can get you in some serious sticky situations.

If that’s the definition, then who cares if it is magic or not: it’s versatile, consumable and inexpensive. Alchemist’s Fire, Tanglefoot Bags, Potions of Heroism, and Flash Flower reagents should all be alchemy, and they should all be separate from enchanting a blade or shield with dedicated, permanent, and pricey magical abilities.

Covering Your Bases

All that said, I want to offer another item that follows those principles and opens yet another door to a budding master of concoctions (Severus Snape). In this case, I’ve noticed the repertoire of alchemical items out there is decidedly lacking in supportive materials. Healing, granting saving throws, increasing defenses, providing resistance…all these techniques are generally considered in the “leader” department, but most alchemical items tend to be debilitating, harmful or, like, they just stick things together. Useful, sometimes. But also useful is getting your rogue unstuck from an icy slowing effect so he can dart forward and stick his knife in the baddy, or freeing your wizard from a disorienting dazing effect so she can do more than sustain her well-placed vortex spell.

If versatility is going to be part of the definition for alchemical items (and consumable items in general), and I definitely believe it should be, then support utilities should be part of the arsenal as well. Considering the fact that one of the primary practitioners of alchemy is considered to be the artificer, a leader, some extra items to provide different auxiliary effects I think is warranted. And let’s face it, the Wound Patch is disgraceful.

So here is an offering of crunch that might help your alchemist, or any character in need of a little support option: the Analgesic Spur. I hope you enjoy this concoction, and whether you do or don’t, I’d love to hear your reactions to its design in the comments below!

This is Your Game

Who out there has ever run a pre-generated adventure to the letter? Who has played this game without adjusting one feat, power, or spell? Even if you are out there, you are definitely in the vast minority. Why? Because D&D is built on tailoring the game to your group or to your adventure. If there is one rule to Dungeons & Dragons, it is that you make the rules.

The advent of Wizards of the Coast’s announcement yesterday about a new iteration of the Dungeons & Dragons game has spurred quite a bit of discussion. At Rules as UnWritten, we’d of course like to editorialize as much as the rest of the blogosphere, but we’re here to attempt bringing crunch with every post as well. A lot of you gamers out there discussing the new edition have a lot of good ideas already, and I’m sure you’ll handle the constant buzz well, and I truly hope the community’s voice is represented in the design of the new iteration as WotC’s play test strategy promises. For me, the heart of the announcement is that the creators realize that the game is never going to be theirs, their property. It can be a difficult business for you to 1/ sell a product that encourages the user to make the product themselves, and 2/ have that product hinge on the mind’s imagination, a resource that is only as good as the user can make it.

For me, this is brilliant. I like to have a positive outlook on it all as I am a creative type as well; I believe, even if they are indeed creating ideas, sculpting them into a form that follows rules, and then selling them to me even though I will not necessarily even use them whole cloth, I am willing to appreciate and purchase their hard imaginative work. I consider what I purchase from WotC like the first baton pass in a relay race. You’ve gotten me this far, pretty fast, you’ve given me this thing I need to win the race, but the rest is up to me.

I hope Wizards takes this realization to the next level with their next iteration of the game. No matter how they want to rebuild the “sacred cows” that are classic fundamental qualities of the game, whether spells are memorized and have a set number per day or whether they exist as encounter and daily powers, in the end, the players will do what they want. The employees for Wizards of the Coast are, and sometimes I believe unfortunately, our parents: no matter how they try to raise us, no matter what kind of wisdom, money, experience they can provide, we are going to play the game that we want.

Wizards: you might as well give us the keys to the car, because we’re going out tonight either way.

In that spirit, as we have always felt at Rules as UnWritten, we’re here to offer some crunch to your blogging diet. 4th edition isn’t dead yet, and in fact it is my hope that many of the features they developed to streamline and redefine Dungeons & Dragons get represented in this new forthcoming iteration. There’s a lot of talk out there right now about what exactly are the sacred cows that define the game intrinsically (an inspired article by Arcane Springboard comes to mind), so I could think of no better way of thematically tying the big news with my strong opinion that D&D should be your game through your choices and only merely based on a structure of rules that the creators design.

With that I present to you the Sacred Cow, a wondrous lair item that can provide some help to keep your characters centralized a specific area, something given to them in thanks for completing a quest, or perhaps something that just follows them home. I also want to encourage you to home brew your own blessing in the utility power that might be more tailored to your party members—cause after all, this is your game.