Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Open Game Content: Master Alchemist for 3.5e D&D
William Fettes Douglas [Public Domain]
At the beginning of March, I read about something called the RPG Blog Carnival over at the OSR D.R.E.A.D. blog. The idea of the Blogger Carnival is that it gives all different types of bloggers the same topic to write about, as a way to increase their visibility to each other and the community at large. 

This month's topic is Alchemy, which is perfect, because back at the beginning of the year, I had begun transcribing a lot of my old notes for a proposal I was writing for a book called the Quintessential Expert, a follow-up to the Quintessential Aristocrat, way back around 2004 or 2005. A decent part of that book was dedicated to alchemy and alchemists, because I've always liked the idea of them as a class and as a system of magic. 

While my intent had been to post two different versions of the Master Alchemist Prestige Class I created (one for the original 3.5 rules that it was based on, and then translating the core concepts and ideas into a regular class for B/X D&D), I wanted to at least get the ideas out here for the carnival before the end of the month. 

A couple months ago, I wrote another class called an "Alchemist Apprentice" for 3.5 D&D, Lamentations of the Flame Princess, and B/X - Old School Essentials. It includes a Craft Alchemy skill for LotFP (based on a general Craft skill posted at the Blood, Death, Satan & Metal blog, and also an Alchemy class skill for B/X or OSE. Each one works slightly differently. 

With that background, here's the 3.5 version of the Prestige Class I wrote for my original Quintessential Expert proposal. Note that the proposal and class write-up uses British English spelling since Mongoose Publishing is based in England (e.g., armour instead of armor). 

Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: San Pellegrino Sparkling Water
Listening: "Acknowledgement" by John Coltrane, from the album "A Love Supreme", 1965

The pursuit of perfection has driven man for centuries.  Scholars, philosophers, nobles, and priests have all sought to attain the perfect state of being.  None, however, have come as close as the master alchemist. 

The master alchemist knows that all things in the universe tend toward perfection.  He concentrates on finding ways to help items achieve their perfect state.  Many believe the alchemist’s primary goal is the transformation of base metals into gold.  This, however, does not even begin to scratch the surface of the alchemist’s true objective – the transformation of himself into a more perfect state of being. 

The master alchemist studies the interactions of various substances, chiefly metals, bases and acids, as well as gasses, liquids, solvents, and dusts, and through them learns how to create powerful potions.  Through processes of calcination, distillation, dowsing, gasification, smelting, and sublimation, he learns how to create compounds, alchemical dusts, and alchemical gases.  His experiments also expose him to the operations of the four basic elements – fire, water, earth, and air.  Finally, at the peak of his career, the master alchemist applies his total body of knowledge to achieve the ultimate perfection of his body, transforming himself into a perfect state. 

The master alchemist is not a spellcaster, and the various spellcasting classes do not continue developing their spellcasting ability if they become master alchemists.  Historically, many alchemists were monks or other religious men, who were the most likely to be literate and have access to the equipment and texts of ancient formulae in order to learn the secrets of alchemy.  In a fantasy campaign milieu, most master alchemists will come from the expert class. 

Humans and gnomes, and a few half-elves, are the most likely races to pursue the mysteries of alchemy, although dwarves sometimes take to the class as well.  Elves prefer the more traditional approach of arcane wizardry, and half-orcs generally lack the intelligence to become powerful alchemists.  Halflings are generally not very interested in sequestering themselves away in a laboratory to brew potions. 

Hit Die: d4

To qualify as an alchemist, a character must fulfil the following requirements:

Skills: Craft (alchemy) 8 Ranks, Craft (glassblowing) 5 Ranks, Heal 5 Ranks, Knowledge (religion) or Knowledge (arcana) 2 Ranks
Feats: Alchemical Familiarity
Special: Must have used the Craft (alchemy) skill to make one of each of the Alchemical Substances listed in Core Rulebook I

Class Skills
Craft (alchemy) (Int), Craft (Int), Heal (Wis), Knowledge (all skills, taken individually) (Int), Profession (Wis), Speak Language (none), Spellcraft (Int), Use Magic Device (Cha)

Skills points at each level: 4 + Int Modifier

Class Features
All the following are class features of the alchemist prestige class:

Weapon and Armour Proficiency: The alchemist gains no additional proficiencies with weapons, armour, or shields.  Note that armour check penalties for armour heavier than leather apply to the skills Balance, Climb, Escape Artist, Hide, Jump, Move Silently, Sleight of Hand and Tumble.   

Brew Alchemical Potion (Ex): The master alchemist gains the Brew Potion feat for free and can use it to make any potions listed in Core Rulebook I even if he does not have any spellcaster levels.  For purposes of using the Brew Potion class ability, the master alchemist’s caster level is equal to half his ranks in the Craft (alchemy) skill plus his number of levels in the master alchemist prestige class.  For example, upon entering the master alchemist prestige class, a character with eight ranks in Craft (alchemy) would have a caster level of five (four for half his number of ranks in Craft (alchemy) and one for his 1st level in the master alchemist prestige class).  The master alchemist does not learn how to cast the spells he uses to make his potions.  He can simply use them to create the potions listed in Core Rulebook I, assuming his effective caster level would be high enough to cast the required spell for the potion being created.  The master alchemist uses his Intelligence bonus for any spell effects that are determined by ability score modifiers, and just like any other character using the Brew Potion feat, he pays any material costs and experience point costs as necessary.  In all other aspects, this ability mimics that of a wizard using the Brew Potion feat to create potions. 

At 2nd, 4th, 6th, and 8th levels, the master alchemist learns to go beyond the boundaries that restrict others who create potions.  He is able to create potions based on spells higher than 3rd level, assuming his effective caster level (as explained above) would be high enough to cast the spell in question.  The Games Master has final say over which spells can be made into potions.  The master alchemist’s effective caster level must be equal to the spell level multiplied by two, minus one, or else he is not high enough level to cast the spell.  For example, to make a potion from the equivalent of a 4th level spell, the master alchemist must have an effective caster level of 7th (4th level spell x 2 is 8th, minus 1 is 7th). 

Even though the master alchemist is not a spellcaster, the potions he creates are considered magical spell-like items, and therefore are affected by anti-magic zones and dispel magic spells. 

Calcinatio (Ex): Calcinatio is known as the fire operation.  By studying the basic elements, the master alchemist takes his first step toward transforming his body by taking on some of the qualities of the salamander, the traditional creature associated with fire.  He gains the ability to make a special Burn attack once per day.  When making a Burn attack, the master alchemist does an additional 1d6 points of fire damage on a successful hit in combat.  Those hit by a burn attack must make a Reflex save (DC 10 + the master alchemist’s Constitution modifier + ½ the master alchemist’s class level) to avoid being burned for an additional 1d4 rounds. 

Evaporation (Ex): At 4th level, the master alchemist learns the secret of evaporating his potions to create alchemical powder.  An alchemical powder has all of the properties of a potion, except that it is in powder form instead of in a liquid state.  The powder can be flung into the air to coat one object or person within a 10’ radius from the master alchemist (a ranged touch attack is required).  An alchemical powder costs three times the normal price of the potion upon which it is based.

Create Alchemical Dusts (Ex): Also at 4th level, the master alchemist gains the equivalent of the Craft Wondrous Item feat for purposes of making any magical dusts listed in Core Rulebook II (specifically, dust of appearance, dust of disappearance, dust of dryness, dust of illusion, and dust of tracelessness).  The master alchemist is considered to know the spells required for making the dusts.  His effective caster level is the same as that for the Brew Alchemical Potion ability (half his ranks in the Craft (alchemy) skill plus his level in the master alchemist prestige class), and this effective caster level must be high enough to cast the spells required in the description for making the magical dusts.  The master alchemist pays any material and experience point costs as normal. 

Solutio (Ex): The second of the elemental procedures to be learned, solutio, is the water operation.  Mastery of this operation allows the master alchemist to transform himself by taking on the abilities of the undine, the mythical creature traditionally associated with water.  Solutio grants the master alchemist the ability to Drench, as per the water elemental special ability.  His touch immediately puts out torches, campfires, exposed lanterns, and other open flames of size Medium or smaller.  The master alchemist can also use this ability to dispel magical fire as per the dispel magic spell, with his Caster Level equaling the master alchemist’s class level. 

Brew Compounds (Ex): After much experimentation with various potions and substances, the master alchemist learns the skill of combining two potions into one powerful mixture called a compound.  Only two different spell effects, maximum, can be added to a compound, and the resulting compound mixture is 50% more expensive than the sum of each individual potion separately.  For example, a master alchemist could create a compound that provides the benefits of both a potion of bull’s strength and a potion of bear’s endurance.  Such a compound would be worth 900 gold pieces (300 gold pieces for each potion separately, plus an additional 50%). 

Coagulatio (Ex): The earth operation, coagulatio, is the third of the elemental procedures the master alchemist learns.  He takes on aspects of the “mythological” earth creature, the gnome (not the gnome race as described in Core Rulebook I, but a mythological version closer to an earth elemental).  In this case, he is able to transform his body into a sturdier state, gaining a +2 bonus to all Fortitude saves and damage reduction 1/-. 

Cavitation (Ex): Through a complex process of decreasing the static pressure in a liquid potion, the master alchemist is able to form bubbles of gas, effectively turning a potion into an alchemical vapor.  The resulting alchemical vapor acts similarly to the potion upon which it is based, except that it is typically stored in glass vials which can be thrown as a grenade-like weapon (range increment 10’).  When it lands, the vial breaks, releasing the alchemical vapor that affects everyone in a 10’ radius (saving throws apply as normal if the effects are detrimental). Creating an alchemical vapor quadruples the price of the original potion upon which the alchemical vapor is based.  The master alchemist may not make an alchemical vapor out of one of his alchemical compounds (see above).

Craft Alchemical Gas (Ex): At 8th level, the master alchemist gains the Craft Wondrous Item feat for the purpose of creating the following magic items from Core Rulebook IIbottle of air, censer of controlling air elementals, eversmoking bottle, horn of fog, and incense of meditation.  The master alchemist does not actually create the vessel for the item (such as the horn for the horn of fog) but just the contents, which are typically stored in plain glass vials with stoppers.  The effects work the same as the magic item description, however.  In addition, the master alchemist can make a magical gas that mimics the effects of the spells cloudkill, solid fog, and stinking cloud.  Magical gases based upon these spells act in the same manner as the horn of fog, except as noted in the individual spell descriptions.  In all other ways, this ability functions similarly to the Craft Alchemical Dusts ability described above, including the calculation of the master alchemist’s effective caster level. 

Sublimatio (Sp): The air operation, sublimatio, grants the master alchemist a spell-like ability based on transforming his body to take on aspects of the sylph, the fey-like creature associated with air.  Upon gaining this level, the master alchemist gains the ability to use each of the following spell-like abilities once per day: feather fall, fly, invisibility, levitate.  His caster level is equal to his master alchemist class level, and he uses his Intelligence modifier for purposes of save DCs and spell duration. 

Perfect Transformation (Ex): At this stage in his career, the master alchemist has gone beyond the mere transformation of elements to attain the ultimate transformation – that of his own body.  The master alchemist gains immunity to all diseases except supernatural and magical diseases.  He also gains Resistance 5 to Acid, Cold, Electricity, and Fire.  Lastly, the master alchemist stops aging and no longer takes penalties to his ability scores for aging and cannot be magically aged.  Any such penalties that he has already taken, however, remain in place.  Bonuses still accrue, and the master alchemist still dies of old age when his time is up. 

You were exposed to the secrets of creating alchemical items, and retained that knowledge even though you have not mastered the art of magic. 
Pre-Requisites: Intelligence 13+
Benefit: You are able to use Craft (alchemy) to craft alchemical items, even if you have no spellcaster levels.
Normal: Only characters with spellcaster levels can use Craft (alchemy) to create the alchemical items listed in Core Rulebook I.  


  1. Before anything, have 500xp for the features with names in latin. Nice touch adding flavor! I'd have loved to ask my DM to let me play this prestige class in my 3.5 days... and I may draw some inspiration for a 5e adaptation!

    1. Awesome! So glad you enjoyed it. Out of all of the Prestige Classes I created for my proposal, I did have the most fun with this one. I have a bunch more that I'll be posting eventually, so you may want to check-back occasionally to see if there's anything else you can use for your 5E game. Cheers!


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