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!

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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.

Common Items and Milestones

So Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Emporium was released not long ago, and with it came many a new rare item and not so many a new common item. If you have any interest how WotC is reacting to that subject, I would point you to their community board. Now that they have thrown all this material out to the masses, it would appear that they want us to figure out how it should work. Perhaps professional sports teams will soon be calling me to play for free, but still make me pay for a seat in the stands. I digress.

I have mixed feelings about the new item rarity system that was put into place with the creation of Essentials. As a DM, I love it! As a player, I hate it! I am assuming that is a general gut reaction for most people in one of the two roles. As both a player and DM, I was really hoping that WotC might print (or again redefine) some more common items. Currently it is pretty depressing if you start a game beyond level 1 and try to find anything to suit your character. Currently available (according to the Compendium) there are 3,449 magic items in D&D 4e. Of those, 161 are common items. Ouch right? It gets more upsetting when you consider that of those 161 items, 41 of them are consumables or alchemical items.

Common In Value Not In Presence

So common that they make up less than 3% of all of the items in the game? Other than this very annoying fact, I can actually get on board with item rarity. I believe it affords a DM and players the chance to make items quest worthy and certainly a little more likely to put your life on the line for an uncommon item, let alone a rare item. Indeed, I think you can even make the goal of item creation into a potential story building effort between DM and players.

That said, one thing did take an undeniable hit from the item rarity system: milestones. Don’t get me wrong. I love action points. I would gladly do some disturbing tasks for extra action points, but with unlimited daily item usage now the only way to fly, milestones look like Pan Am (the defunct airline or soon to be cancelled tv series, take your pick).

Two Birds With One Stone

My main complaint would be bad cliches, but my second biggest complaint would be that milestones are not really that milestoney any more. There are still rings to look forward to, but you will not see one of those until paragon. That is a real shame I think. If there is something I have to give kudos to, it is the designer of rings for 4e. Great design choice. And while I understand they wanted to do something unique for rings, I do not believe this particular milestone tie-in property should be exclusive to rings.

Rings are unique enough without milestones, in that they are (or should be) a little more powerful than other items of their level and their abilities should extend beyond typical “slot roles.” In slot roles I mean how waist slots often apply to fortitude and strength while head slots focus on will and mental attributes.

I do believe that common magic items could have a milestone tie-in property to make them more appealing, yet simple enough to be even handed compared to other items. Plus since the item’s true power would not yield dividends until later milestones are achieved, I think you can balance the powers relatively well and keep it a common item. Here are some that I came up with (excuse the cheesy names, also all of these were generated with power2ool.com, great program check it out):

Yuan-ti Suck

At least, the do in 4e. Yuan-ti used to put the fear of Zehir in me in previous editions though, what happened? Yuan-ti are supposed to be odious, insidious creatures that worship the god of darkness with an unhealthy obsession with enslaving and frankensteining every creature they come across. They should be loathed and feared but in 4th edition they’ve been reduced to “Generic Monster that deals ongoing poison”. Wow WotC, what a way to drain the awesomeness.

I’m thinking about it now and one of the reasons I think they were so fearsome in previous editions is because each yuan-ti defied any one role, having lots of interesting choices and features. There were no roles back then, no strikers or controllers, so the monsters pretty much had a bevy of options and what you used and the way you played them basically defined what kind of role they took in battle. In 4th edition, and to their credit, the designers have separated the tactics commonly used by the monsters into roles, denying some creatures some features in order to have them solely focus on others. This has made for a great streamlined and more variable combat setting. The 3.5 yuan-ti abomination had Produce Acid, an effect that deals damage to you when you hit them, something in the realm of a skirmisher or brute power now. But they also had Baleful Polymorph so they could turn you into a tiny useless viper, definitely something of a controller power in 4th edition. Okay, so what does the 4e yuan-ti abomination look like that WotC has written? They’re a soldier: they deal ongoing 5 poison damage and mark you as their basic melee, they can pull you and grab you as a minor and then they can bite you for poison damage and ongoing 10 poison damage when they have you grabbed. That’s it.

Simplicity is important in 4e. I get it. But the once-terrifying abomination has become nothing more than a re-skinned hook horror. There’s nothing in there at all about darkness, there’s nothing in there about their unholy zealotry, and if you knew you were going up against them and forgot to get some (relatively easy to come by) poison resistance, that’d pretty much be the only thing to get really worried about.

Enough griping. I’m changing them. I’m fixing them. And I’m posting them up here for you to bring the fear back into your players’ hearts when they find out they’re dealing with yuan-ti.

Some notes on the improvements:

  • The new Produce Acid is almost just like the babau’s aura, and this is a nasty thing on a soldier. Marking a PC and then damaging them for hitting back is mean, but so are yuan-ti; they’re insidious and cruel and this feature is perfect for them.
  • Devour Minion is going to be great for when the abomination is surrounded by his pureblood devotees (stay tuned for those); they’re going to keep the big one up and swinging because Zehir won’t let you into Samaragd if you just died without protecting one of his children. I took it, ironically, from the Tiamat’s Red Hand monster theme. Shouldn’t I have used the Snaketongue Cultist monster theme? Actually there are some nice features in that one too, but this one made more sense I felt for the imposing abomination. He is, after all, an abomination.
  • Deeper Darkness was how they got you in previous editions. It sucked to be in the dark, and that’s where the fear comes from. These creatures are born from darkness. They need darkvision, and they need to abuse those who don’t have it.

I want to throw a lot more into the abomination, but I’m going to withhold the temptation. I don’t feel like this is too complicated of a monster right now; it’s just complex enough to keep the PCs nervous, but if they come prepared they should be able to match this guy, and now, feel better about themselves for taking down a more fearsome foe.

Instead of inundating you with all my other design edits to one of the most detestable creatures in D&D, I’ll be feeding them to you piecemeal, so check back for more revolting and molting vipers later!

Traps, Hazards and Terrain: Defining Traps

I love traps. At least, I used to love them. I don’t know what it is, but for all the things I love about 4e a lot of the spirit and fun has vanished from traps in the game. Hazards and terrain however have become a bit more exciting incidentally. There are tons of great options for how to treat squares differently on the field that become challenging, put a twist in a combat, or even work to the players’ advantage. Traps however, seemed to have been left flailing since previous editions.

That is not to say that I felt like they were designed better in previous editions, don’t get me wrong. It does seem like the focus for traps in 4e is simplicity. I applaud this in many respects; a DM doesn’t have all day to understand the intricacies of where trip lines are attached to, where winches are hidden or how the gas line leads to the flame jet in an ancient temple to Zehir. Add on top of all that complexity the fact that, as a player, you’re a bloody hero, how could you not have seen that pilot light on the wall or those conspicuous holes in the ceiling conveniently spaced equidistant from each other? The defense goes up immediately by DMs, “They were magically veiled! It’s a magical world!” and oftentimes, nobody is having fun with the trap at the end of the day.

It’s just too bad. Traps have great potential. They should reward actions and reactions by the players in the game, they should incite a twist to an otherwise expected scenario, but they should also be able to put pressure on a situation, which in turn induces drama, excitement and ultimately, fun. Traps should be fun.

Just like monsters, it’s hard to support how inflicting damage upon them, incapacitating, sapping their healing surges, banishing them to the Feywild and all those offensive actions are actually fun for the players. As always, making these dangerous situations surmountable, and then watching the players actually surmount them is where the glee is. It’s where the gold is. Traps are no fun if you can’t bypass them. They are no fun if no one interacts with them except for when the DM rolls damage dice.

So how to do this? Well, WotC has evolved their designs for traps since 4e was first released. There was a long article about it in a Dungeon magazine a long time ago (I think it was Dungeon, and sorry I don’t have a correct citing because there is no way to look something like that up on their stupid website), but that article pretty much got filtered right into the Dungeon Master’s Guide 2 soon thereafter. The DCs were still skewed and the system for creating traps was still clunky. All it really did was add a few more traps, some of very high level which was in need of any support. But I believe we can do better.

If we examine our goals for traps in the game, we come up with a fundamental few properties that make them essentially different from a monster, a skill challenge or terrain. These will be our guidelines for their design:

Guidelines for Traps

  1. Traps should be a part of the environment and generally immovable. Some traps can move to an extent, but ultimately they exist only in one place, in a single dungeon “room” or encounter. They share this property with terrain, but traps can offer a bit more complexity and excitement in terms of timing and pacing in a combat.
  2. Traps are not cognizant. Entirely. Traps are not conscious and should not favor any one enemy over another. Further, they should not necessarily “aim” their attacks. Again, though I believe there could be some traps that blur this line in terms of how they detect enemies, for the most part, if you’re attempting to design something that moves and decides who to attack you’re best just making a monster.
  3. Traps must be able to be disabled. As mentioned before, this is a fundamental part of what makes a trap a trap, but furthermore, disabling it should not necessarily require standard actions. As much as I believe that traps can be fun, no character feels heroic when forced to use a standard action cutting the blue wire. There’s already the risk of not making the DC for the disable check, there’s no need to have a player pout in a corner because all they did in that battle is stuff a copper piece in a gas tube. With multiple successes required on a trap to disable it, a move action should suffice for a cost to do so.
  4. Traps must have some form of hidden quality. Traps are inherently hidden or not understood by a victim. That’s the entire point. Now, a trap’s capability to injure, capture, kill, or thwart that victim is its ultimate goal, but the method by which it accomplish this is rooted in subterfuge. It’s important to remember that this is a fundamental tactic of a trap, and otherwise it is simply a dangerous object or zone. A trap is indeed a dangerous object or zone, but it is hidden. More on that later.

Of course I’ve got some simple rules that can be woven in to your home games to make traps more rewarding, and lots of ideas for unique, deadly or otherwise interesting new traps. However, it’s worth noting, that even after The Dungeon Master’s Guide 2 reprinted material for designing traps with faulty difficulty DCs and lackluster and complicated examples, and even after many modules and splat books have printed traps that also fail to adhere to a cohesive system, the Essentials Rules Compendium worked to help correct that. The more recent RC builds a much more simple outline for traps that appear much more like monsters in the stat blocks, with easy explanations for the perception, roles, effects and countermeasures of traps. Though I’m still not convinced that traps have reached their full potential with these rules, it is refreshing to see such a streamlined and consistent system at work (despite the fact that within the even more recent Shadowfell Encounter Book they used this system for traps, but not the same coloring in the stat blocks).

Therefore, with this being the first of what I hope to be an ongoing series, I’ll provide a sample of a very simple and low level trap that adheres to the Essentials outline for traps with the hope that we can build up from there with some more insidious, crafty, and fun traps in the future—so enjoy the Wolf Trap below, and make sure to come back for more crunch here at Rules As UNWritten!

Allies, part 1

Hirelings and henchmen have been apart of the D&D game for ages. They are a solution for many hiccups in adventures and have lost their way a bit in popularity from versions of the past. I feel the same way about mounts and other oft unused features of the game, but it appears that even a character with a mount is more likely than a team with a hireling or two. Why? Probably because no one wants to play a character that’s not theirs and if there are hiccups in an adventure’s balance then the DM should be adjusting, not necessarily the players. Once upon a time it was just plain SAFER to take on an extra dude who could fire a crossbow every round, or at the very least load YOUR crossbow for you. Today, if the adventure should be “safer” with more allies at your side, then why doesn’t the DM simply adjust the danger of the quest? Makes sense, less clutter and everyone gets to play their character not wasting time with the extra personality and possible “liability” of a follower. But maybe it’s a feature that can actually add to the game’s fun, keep the stakes high, and even act as a viable boon and “toy” for the players.

Allies as Toys

I say toy because there are lots of toys in the game already. I’m primarily talking about magic items, but all powers, spells, mounts, gear, rituals and the like are just toys to play with in the end. As a player, you can use toys for different means to overcome obstacles or challenges, and that can be fun. Hirelings can be fun, they just have to meet two requirements: they don’t upset the balance (or the balance for them is adjusted), and players actually want to play with them. From there, you could have a feature that adds personality to an adventure, opens doors to interesting role playing, and can even be a springboard for fun.

Though we focus on crunch rather than flavor on this blog, hirelings seemed like a narrow feature mostly designed for a typical party’s survival in the past. Their job was to support in battle on small party excursions and hardly thought about as a component of the story. Even the options presented to us from Wizards of the Coast in the Dungeon Master’s Guide 2 for companion characters seem to reflect that same concept, and although that chapter is decent with lots of options for support on the battlefield and in the story, the design is still cumbersome, if not complex. There could be many more reasons for bringing in an extra body or two to the adventuring party, but perhaps it doesn’t have to be based on monster blocks and given random motivations. Instead of considering them “companion characters” (which admittedly is already more focused on being singular or only a few closely kept allies), the concept could be broadened to allow for more versatility in representing “more people in the adventure.” That could very well be someone that stays close to the party, has resources and hit points and is more experienced than most. But perhaps a device could be made that represents soldiers, hired hands, cowboys, elite guards, pirate allies, heavy artillery, and the list could go on. Something that brings in a supportive force without getting too involved, both in story and combat actions.

Simplicity

I believe a key to fun for the players running an additional supporter in the group, who may or may not be invested in the story of the current adventure, is simplicity. Whether your players are looking for a little support on the sidelines or the tagger-along is more like a head strong princess with a few skills in her back pocket that the king demands the party protect, allies should be put into the hands of the players without ever getting in the way of their own powers, both in crunch and flavor. You’d want this ally on the sidelines to remain on the sidelines just as much in character role playing as in tactical options.

They can still be interesting, supportive and helpful though, so let’s take a look at a quick way we’ve developed at Rules as UNWritten to streamline allies for practical use in your campaign. Many of these crunch ideas evolved from a few posts I read a long while ago published by Greg Bilsland here and here. What Greg does here is very interesting and helps keep the game running evenly. Taking it a little further, I found a load of possibilities that can be fun to play, add  dynamics to the battles and support for the heroes.

The Concept

1/ The ally often doesn’t have a full set of stats. They get a level, a role, defense scores and a speed. These help measure their support in terms of soaking attacks and maneuvering on the field.
2/ The ally does not have hit points, per se. They have “hits.” If any attack hits their defenses, they are hit. They don’t take damage on a miss like a minion, and for the most part they have very few hits available, and rarely have healing surges. If they do have healing surges, one healing surge can be spent at the end of a short rest to regain a hit. Note, I’ve colored some of the boxes red to indicate when a particularly strong ally is bloodied. If the only boxes remaining “un-hit” are red, the ally is considered bloodied.
3/ The ally rarely has attacks, per se. It should be considered that the allies are indeed attacking on the field, or at the very least, contributing. This is represented often by basic ongoing effects that support the heroes. Allies that do have attacks shouldn’t deal damage that requires rolling dice, and often their one attack comes with a rider of some sort, again, much like a monster minion.

Speaking of minions, here lies a particularly nice feature to the ally concept: a sturdy and potentially more “important” ally can be more detailed, with several hits and even healing surges to keep them in the game longer. If there is a need for there to be a sense of a troupe or even an army of allies, the stats can be streamlined and simplified, giving the supporter only a single hit before they go down.

In a current campaign that I’m running, a large battle defending a castle is immanent, and though the player characters are clearly the most experienced and heroic of the defenders, I want to represent the mass scale of the battle by giving them options to take allies. They can choose between several different kinds of allies, but if they go with the bulk soldiers or archers for instance, they won’t have attacks that those allies can make, they’ll basically receive constant or immediate action boons for having them. Some allies however are sturdier than others, with full out attacks, damage and even multiple hits and healing surges. The name of the castle is Fluron in the game, so here are what these allies look like on paper, including one where the characters can take on an ogre as an ally. I’ll cover balancing these allies in combat at a later time, but lets get a feel for the design first. Feel free to incorporate these allies and any more to come in your own game, and be sure to pipe in to shout about how you may have used hirelings, henchmen, companion characters and allies in your own games. Enjoy!

Laboratory: The Right Tool for the Job

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.

Engineers of Fantasy

The Artificer in 4e D&D has a penchant for looking like a mechanic in their traditional depictions. They can be anything you want them to be, hence the beauty of the game, but they get that persona for a reason, because their magic focuses on items, things, knick-knacks, and the manipulation of them all. Bombs, poisons, grenades, glues, tonics, solutions, gases, ointments, and machines of all kinds are loaded on their backs, belt, across their shoulders and in their boots. The Artificer is stacked. At least in depiction. But that’s because they’re also associated with Alchemy, and Alchemy involves the crafting of a variety of *things*. But what do those *things* do? Why is having all those things comparable to having a sturdy sword and shield?

The reason is that, although it is arguable that the sword is perhaps one of the most productive tools ever invented, it is still just a single tool; it’s function is limited. The many powers in D&D 4e open up the limitations of that sword, but the game does attempt to keep their functions somewhat in the spirit of the weapons and implements that we use. That’s not always true of course, there are many powers that are outside the normal purview of a class’s role (Blinding Barrage, for instance). I’m actually quite fascinated by how we can make the mechanics of the game manifest into unique action sequences or solutions to problems. I get inspired when a hero uses a tool for a purpose other than the main intent of its design. It’s when Korben Dallas saws through the cement flooring around Ruby Rhod above him with a machine gun enough to make him crash through that flooring to the lower level. It’s Luke focusing the snowspeeder tow cables around the legs of the AT-ATs to bring them tumbling down despite their impenetrable armor. I won’t get started on the master of his tools, Indiana Jones, or the master of all tools, Jackie Chan. The heroism—the intellect—isn’t in their equipment, it’s in how they use them.

Then Alchemy is Just for Filling in the Gaps?

WotC’s preliminary material for Alchemical formulae and items is mostly just a few bombs and some weak skill and healing trinkets. In those few items though, their overall purpose is highlighted: they cover and support responsibilities of a variety of roles. Bombs like Alchemist’s Fire are generally considered the duty of controllers. Woundpatch boosts the hit points gained when spending a healing surge, something that definitely fits in the leader role’s repertoire. Alchemist’s Acid is single target for acid damage and additional ongoing acid damage, and that definitely looks like a basic striker tactic. So if a party is lacking in any department, Alchemy can help support those needs.

But as time has passed, a ton more options have been released. There are many more powers, class features, magic items, feats, even henchmen have been introduced to help fill “gaps” in a party’s makeup. They’ve even retooled the constraints of racial ability scores so that characters can be more versatile. These are all good things that have evolved in my opinion, but the filling out of the role responsibilities means that filling gaps isn’t as necessary as it used to be. Alchemy becomes just another cute thing to play with instead of being a valuable resource. And those two words mean a lot to a lot of players: not only do players want to be awesome at what they do, they want to feel needed in their adventuring party. They want to be a valuable resource.

Alchemy Can Be a Valuable Resource

When Alchemy was considered a valuable resource, it was therefore also considered in demand, and thereby limited, or expensive. Alchemy doesn’t seem to be in such high demand anymore, now that there are many more options, at less cost in resources, for the player. But this blog isn’t all about griping and the recent history of 4e D&D. It’s about solutions. What can Alchemy do now since coming across a “bomb” power, or more support for healing, or an extra marking feature once here and there isn’t so hard to come by? Well, for one, we can stop thinking of Alchemy as a filler, and start considering its versatility as it’s primary asset. I don’t want to play a character that fills gaps in a group, who wants to be second-best at everything? I want to play a character who can do what all the rest of the party can do, but I can do it whenever I want. It’s expensive, and takes quite a bit of preparation, but I’ve got the right tool for any job and you’ve got yourself a jack of all trades. Now I’m a renaissance man MacGuyver who you can always look to when things in a battle start to get hairy, when everyone is out of immobilization powers, or someone needs to be sequestered from the thick of things. And being looked to, and solving those combat sticky wickets, is what will make me feel like a valuable resource.

New Formula

For this Laboratory I’m going to feature a home brewed item that doesn’t so much as fill in the gap of a lacking role, but help solve a specific kind of threat. There are a ton of threats in the game, but each of them has a weakness. Exploiting that weakness should be the touchstone of Alchemy. Alchemical items should be the right tools for the job. They’re few and far between, and expensive as hell, but if you’ve got them, you’ll be happy you did.

The threat I chose to engage is the brute monster. Now, that’s rather broad, but the brute, in general, is capable of doling out a lot of damage and taking a lot of damage. A sword is a good tool for the job, but I happen to think that this one is even better. I present, the Backbiter.