Saturday, May 20, 2023

OSR: Advanced Alchemy

Ideas borrowed from the series that shall not be named and The Stormlight Archive.  Previous posts on this subject can be found here.  

Alchemy is an often misunderstood school of magic.  Most Wizards don't consider it a "true" school, a typical act of snobbery of the magical elite.  That being said, while alchemy is much less impressive than their incantations, it is still most definitely magic, it just happens to be something that those without the talent to cast spells unaided can aspire to.

More than Potions:

Alchemy is based on the idea that material and spirit are two sides of the same coin and with the right incentive, one can become the other and vice versa.  This is how potions are made- the physical ingredients an alchemist uses are converted into ideas, which are then recombined to make a new substance, which when imbued with mana, produces a magical effect.  But this effect can be used to do so much more. 

Material to Idea (or Idea to Material)
Base DC: 8+X
Materials Needed: Something to draw a circle with, your material to transform

Draw a circle around whatever material you intend to transform.  Infuse the circle with mana and induce the transformation.

Depending on the complexity of the material you are attempting to transmute, that will alter the difficulty.

Transmutation Modifiers:
- Add +10 to the DC if the material is something complex, made of lots of different substances, has moving parts, took a lot of work to produce
- Add +5 to the DC if the material is made of a combination of at least 3 different substances
- Add +2 to the DC if the material is made of a combination of two different substances
- Subtract -1 from the DC if the material is made entirely of one substance
- Subtract -2 from the DC if the material is an irreducible idea (it's all one thing- it can't be thought of as a combination or X+Y, it is Z = Z)
- Subtract -3 from the DC if the material is one of the Essences

Depending on the amount of Mana Dice you're willing to use, you can transmute a varying amount of material.

1 MD can transmute an item weighing less than 100 lbs or the size of a large dog or young child.
2 MD can transmute an item weighing less than 500 lbs or the size of a man or a wheelbarrow.
3 MD can transmute an item weighing less than 1200 lbs or the size of a horse or a rowboat. 
4 MD can transmute an item weighing less than 2000 lbs or the size of a cottage. 
5+ MD can transmute an itemn weighing less than 2000+(1000x) lbs, where X is the amount of MD used. 

Failed Ritualism Check:


1- Your circle leaks mana.  1d3 of the MD you dedicated to the transmutation are instead lost in a flash of light, puff of smoke, flash of static electricity or other harmless effect.
2- Your circle expands.  1 MD you dedicated to the transmutation instead blasts out and affects a random non-magical object.  That object is affected as if you were attempting to transmute it.
3- The transmutation works, but the Idea-Form slips away.  Whatever was transmuted cannot be recreated.
4- The transmutation isn't complete- one of the Essences that helped make up the item transmuted is left behind as a waste product. 
5- The transmutation isn't complete- one of the component materials is left behind in the circle.  If the material is irreducible, instead only half of it was transmuted. 
6- The circle was improperly charged, so instead of transmuting the material, it is instead infused with energy.  This causes a violent reaction which varies depending on the material: flesh and wood burns, metal melts, volatile substances explode, etc.     

Material converted to ideas become something called Idea-Forms, which are stored in a Memory Slot like a spell.  They can also be stored in scrolls or spellbooks.  Note that unless they are protected, spells will sometimes destroy them.  If you transmute a piece of meat and store it in your mind, your Fireball spell, which is an opportunistic speleovore, might decide to eat it.

Reversing this process is easy, just perform the same ritual in reverse.  By adding more MD, you can also alter the nature of whatever you're producing. 


Alice is attempting to transmute A piece of wood.  She draws a circle around it and infuses it with mana.  Since the piece of wood is no longer than her forearm and as it is Wood, it is one of the Essences, the DC to transmute is "5" and it only requires 1 MD.  She succeeds and gains the Idea-Form of that wooden stick. 

Then later on, Alice can draw another circle and transmute the idea of the stick back into a physical object.  She could also use more MD to create a larger stick.

Sidebar: The Ten Essences

Wizards organize the world generally into the Elements.  All things are a combination of the Elements- though what counts as an element varies from regions.  Wizards from Around Here generally claim there are Four Elements (Water, Earth, Fire, Air), while Magi from Foreign Parts will sometimes claim other things as elements instead. 

Alchemists generally reject these substances and instead base their model of the universe on the 10 Essences.  It is thought that all things are just created from some combination of the Essences and with some exceptions, if you break down a material enough, eventually it will yield one of the Essences. 

The Essences are also easy to produce and transmute. 

The Ten Essences:

1- Air.
2- Water.
3- Smoke.
4- Fire.
5- Wood.
6- Blood.
7- Oil.
8- Metal.
9- Stone.
10- Flesh.    

/End Sidebar

from Princess in the Frog
Creation and Destruction:

Alchemists can also produce new and unique materials and items.  These are referred to poly-materials by Alchemists.

This is done by transmuting multiple Idea-Forms simultaneously to create a new poly-material to create; to destroy a poly-material, one can perform the ritual in reverse to dismantle it into it's combination Idea-Forms. 


A Grilled Cheese Sandwich is a poly-material composed of the Idea-Forms of Fire, Cheese and Bread.  Bread and Cheese are also poly-materials and could be further broken down, if you wished.

Create or Destroy Poly-Material
DC: 8+X
Materials Needed: Something to draw a circle with, multiple Idea-Forms

To create, draw a circle and attempt to transmute multiple Idea-Forms simultaneously.  Depending on the degree of difficulty in combining the ideas, that will alter the difficulty of the ritual.  On a success, this will create a new poly-material.  The size of what you produce will be dependent on the amount of MD you infuse into the transmutation (see "Material to Idea" above).

Poly-Material Creation Modifiers:
- Add +4 to the DC if two or more of the Idea-Forms are incompatible or opposite in some way
- Add +2 Two or more of the Idea-Forms are an unusual combination that you've rarely or ever seen
- Add +1 to the DC for each Idea Form you are attempting to combine
- Subtract -1 if two or more of the Idea-Forms are a common combination
- Subtract -4 if two or more of the Idea-Forms are almost always seen together, or linked by some explicit connection
- Subtract -8 if the Alchemist is following an established Formulae or Recipe such as Fire + Bread + Cheese = Grilled Cheese Sandwich

To destroy a poly-material, place it in a circle and transmute it.  Depending on the degree of how integrated the component materials/Idea-Forms have, this will alter the difficulty of the ritual.  On a success, this will grant you a number of Idea-Forms based on what poly-material you disassembled.  The amount of material you transmute is dependent on the amount of MD you infuse into the transmutation. 

Poly-Material Destruction Modifiers:
- Add +4 to the DC if two or more of the component materials are almost always paired together
- Add +2 to the DC if two or more of the component materials are tightly integrated
- Add +1 for each component material that makes up the poly-material
- Subtract -2 if two or more component materials are loosely ingrated.
- Subtract -4 if two or more component materials are opposed to each other or otherwise antithetical.   

Failed Ritualism Check (Create Poly-Material):


1- You produce a useless grey-black sludge called Alchemical Dross.  This sludge is an alchemical waste product- it does nothing useful and is basically identical to ash.
2- You transmute one of the Idea-Forms into material.  The others remain immaterial and do not join together. 
3- You transmute one of the Essences, the closest to the Idea-Forms you are using.  If you are using one of the Essences, then it simply produces that. 
4- Your circle leaks, causing all the energy you gathered to disperse in 1d4 [1= A flash of light; 2= A puff of smoke; 3= A horrible noise; 4= A nauseating stench.]     
5- Your transmutation partially succeeds, causing the poly-material you created to spray out in all directions. 
6- Your transmutation instead produces Astral Stone, raw spirit given form.  These stones are immensely valuable to Magi and certain magical creatures and constantly emit magical energy that can be easily detected by any gifted in those Arts.  A potential boon, but not one without risk. 

(Destroy Poly-Material):


1- Only one of the component materials is removed from the poly-material.  Roll randomly to determine which one.  If the remaining poly-material makes no sense, it collapses into Alchemical Dross. 
2- The transmutation works, but one of the component materials is simply destroyed, instead of being transmuted into an Idea-Form. 
3- The transmutation works, but all of the component materials are transmuted into pure mana instead- unless someone or something can absorb it, it becomes 1d4 [1= A massive explosion, doing X d6 damage (X is the number of component materials), save for half; 2= A cloud of choking black smoke, cannot breathe within the cloud, fills 10*X' cubic feet; 3= A puddle of green slime- powerful acid that dissolves anything organic or metal to make more of itself- contains 10*X' gallons of the stuff; 4= A passing Outsider snags up that mana.  Roll here to determine the Outsider's alignment.  Regardless of the result, it becomes interested in you.]
4- The circle leaks and 1d4 rays of light blast out from it.  Creatures within 30' must save or be struck by one of these.  Any creature struck by one must save or have their body transmuted into an Idea-Form (ie Save or Die, see below).  Any rays that miss creatures strike a random object within range.
5- The circle leaks and loses some of the mana used to infuse it.  Only 1d10% of the poly-material is transmuted. 
6- The circle leaks and the circle of transmutation expands- the Alchemist must successfully save or objects within 1d10' are also transmuted.  Creatures within that range, including the Alchemist, must save or be transmuted as well (see "4" and below).

Alchemical Recipes:

Alchemists, like Wizards, jealously hoard their knowledge.  They are known to conceal their research or encode them so they resemble seemingly mundane works.  Most commonly, this is done to conceal the Alchemical Formulae, or Recipes, the Alchemist has discovered.

Alchemical Recipes are methods of creating polymaterials.  As long as they are adhered to, the Transmutation is much less likely to fail. 

If attempting to transfer something not based off a recipe, the Referee should determine if the Idea-Forms can be combined into a sensible combination.  If they can, this produces a polymatetial.  If not, it produces Dross, a useless black material that is a waste product of failed transmutations. 

A few common Recipes:

Sword = Metal (Iron) + Wood + Edge
Bread = Grain + Fire + Water + Yeast
Boat = Bowl + Wood + Arrowhead Shape
Door = Wood or Metal + Handle
Lamp = Glass or Metal + Fire + Oil
Rope = Hair or Fibers + Woven Cloth + Chain or Knotted Cord or Fabric
Coal = Fire + Stone + Wood + Flesh
Brick = Water + Earth + Straw + Fire
Clothing = Wool or Silk or Linen + Needle + Thread

Transmuting Living Flesh:

Alchemists can create the bodies of living creatures through transmutation.  These remain only bodies, however.  A soul cannot be converted to an Idea-Form.  Any creature made by an Alchemist will be a hollow shell.  This is not always a problem though- many Alchemists make a tidy living transforming waste materials or detritus into edible things.  The common folk will describe this as turning rock into meat, but the more accurate description is Dividing the Polymaterial into it's component materials and then recreating the shape but substituting whatever component materials it was made of with flesh.  Some Alchemists also use a similar method to produce grain. 

No one besides them cares about the specifics however, all they care about is that it works.  Alchemists who can do this can easily find employment with caravans traveling long-distances over hostile environments, tribes of people in arid or barren environments or armies on the march, as paying a few alchemists is much easier than dealing with extensive supply trains.

Alchemists also use this method of creating flesh to create new bodies for the dead- Alchemy is the most common method through which resurrection is accomplished. 

However, when reversed, this process is universally fatal.  If a creature is within an Alchemical circle, an Alchemist can attempt to transmute them.  The creature gets a save to resist, with a penalty equal to the Alchemist's skill.  On a failed save, their body is transmuted into an Idea-Form.  This kills them as Death (in a cosmic sense) is classified as the separation of body, mind and soul.

That being said, this is a rather cumbersome weapon and most Alchemists prefer the tried and true method of throwing flasks full of acid, poison darts or horrible potions to something so difficult to set up. 

Alchemical Skill:    

Transmuting living creatures harder than non-living materials. 

If a creature is in a magic circle, you can attempt to transmute them.  They get a save to resist, with a penalty equal to your skill as an Alchemist. 

Alchemical skill is gained by studying under different masters, reading books on Alchemy and practicing it. 

Alchemical Skill Modifiers:
I have trained under 1 Master (+1)
I have trained under multiple masters,not including the first (+X)
I have read and studied a book on Alchemy (+1)
I have written a book on Alchemy (+1)
I have taken a student and trained them in Alchemy (+1)

A Recipe I particularly like: Edward + Winry = True Love
by pupururu

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