Making Tools Useful in 5e: Alchemist's Supplies
Today we are going to go over how to bottle fame, brew glory, even put a stopper on death. That’s right, we are talking Alchemist’s Supplies and not potions with Professor Snape.
For those that don’t care about the nitty-gritty:
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Before we actually begin… I’m not sure that D&D really understands the difference between Alchemist’s Supplies and the Herbalism Kit. In the Player’s Handbook, the Alchemist’s Supplies gets one line in a chart that states it is an Artisan Tool, costs 50 gp and weighs 8 lbs. The Herbalism Kit gets a paragraph and informs the reader it is required to craft Potions of Healing. Which is something I have a problem with.
See, in the Dungeon Master’s Guide it states on page 129 that:
… a character might need alchemist's supplies to brew a particular potion.
Well, last time I checked a potion of healing is a particular potion. Though, Xanathar’s Guide to Everything on page 79 and 82 states:
[Alchemist's Supplies] Proficiency with alchemist's supplies allows you to unlock more information on Arcana checks involving potions and similar materials
[Herbalism Kit] Your knowledge of the nature and uses of herbs can add insight to your magical studies that deal with plants and your attempts to identify potions.
And further more on page 70 of XGtE it also states:
A friendly alchemist gifted you with a potion of healing or a flask of acid, as you choose.
And on page 128 of XGtE, it specifies:
[Crafting an Item] Herbalism Kit - Antitoxin, Potion of Healing
A character who has proficiency with the herbalism kit can create these potions [of healing].
Now, I’m going to take a moment here and stop citing what multiple books say as I’m pretty sure I just lost several readers. The thing is, I think the books are wrong when it comes to Potions of Healing being created by a Herbalism Kit. That should be under Alchemist’s Supplies as you are creating a potions, poisons and even smokepowder to blow away your foes.
The Herbalism Kit should be limited to what you can do when someone runs out into the forest for an hour and brings back a few berries. Alchemist’s Supplies should be limited to what you can do with several hours, chemicals and expensive equipment. Alchemist’s Supplies take time to produce their items and they should require vials, pouches and bottles to store.
Actually getting into Alchemist’s Supplies
As always, I am going to list out what Xanathar’s Guide to Everything says about Alchemist’s Supplies, and then we are going to start talking about the system for it.
Alchemist's supplies enable a character to produce useful concoctions, such as acid or alchemist's fire.
Components. Alchemist's supplies include two glass beakers, a metal frame to hold a beaker in place over an open flame, a glass stirring rod, a small mortar and pestle, and a pouch of common alchemical ingredients, including salt, powdered iron, and purified water.
Arcana. Proficiency with alchemist's supplies allows you to unlock more information on Arcana checks involving potions and similar materials.
Investigation. When you inspect an area for clues, proficiency with alchemist's supplies grants additional insight into any chemicals or other substances that might have been used in the area.
Alchemical Crafting. You can use this tool proficiency to create alchemical items. A character can spend money to collect raw materials, which weigh 1 pound for every 50 gp spent. The DM can allow a character to make a check using the indicated skill with advantage. As part of a long rest, you can use alchemist's supplies to make one dose of acid, alchemist's fire, antitoxin, oil, perfume, or soap. Subtract half the value of the created item from the total gp worth of raw materials you are carrying.
As always, I’m not really impressed with the tools in XGtE. Oh gee! I can make soap! Or perfume! My wildest dreams have been achieved! I also don’t like the wording: “The DM can allow…” which feels like a ‘mother-may-I’ and doesn’t empower the player at all… I get that it’s to get advantage on something, but still… feels a bit too wishy-washy when it comes to players understanding the rules of the game.
But let’s talk about my Alchemist’s Supplies. We have our normal equipment and not much has changed with that, but now we have different qualities that our would-be Alchemists can try and achieve, and then we have our alchemy recipes. Nothing is too groundbreaking when it comes how to craft an alchemical item if you have followed along with my other tools, it requires: Time, Gold (to buy materials) and proficiency with Alchemist’s Supplies.
To craft an item, say a Potion of Healing there are a few things that our characters will have to pay attention too. They will need 25 gp to attempt to craft the Potion of Healing, 8 hours to get the Potion of Healing procured, a little bit of attention to it, and to hit a Craft DC at the end of the 8 hours.
The gold amount needed to craft items is roughly half of the cost that appears in the Player’s Handbook and what players can expect to pay from an Alchemist’s shop. After expending the gold, they must then spend 8 hours to create the Potion of Healing and they don’t have to worry about working on the potion for that 8 hours. Because it only requires sparse attention, they can go and hang out with the party rather than being in their room all day. If it had required a constant 8 hours of attention, than they would need to stay with their concoction and tend to it and ensure nothing was going to explode. After the 8 hours, they can come back and check on their Potion of Healing and then roll a Alchemist’s Supplies check which we are going to use Intelligence plus Proficiency.
If they hit at least an 8, they get a semi-useful potion that can cure 1d4 points (minor Potion of Healing). A 10 on the check gets them a potion that can cure 2d4 (moderate Potion of Healing) and a 13 gets them a fully powered Potion of Healing that heals 2d4 + 2 points of damage (masterwork Potion of Healing). This is not a very difficult check for them, and anyone with +1 to Intelligence and +2 to proficiency should hit that DC 13 check 55% of the time. While they increase in levels, and maybe not smarts, by 5th level they’ll have a 60% chance of hitting that DC… and if by 20th level they still want a refreshing Potion of Healing the chance of hitting a DC 13 is 75%.
Alchemy Recipes are found throughout the world and I’ve only listed some of the more common ones in the tool’s document. To find more items to create recipes for, you can check out page 257 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide for different poisons or page 187 if you want to go a bit more magical with your potions! If you want to figure out the costs of creating magical potions, I suggest checking out the Sane Magical Prices and to create the magical potion would be half the cost and a DC could be created based off rarity or strength of the potion.
I’d also suggest checking out, if you are able to, the 4th edition book: Adventurer’s Vault where I took the Smokestick and Thunderstone from. They have 12+ pages on Alchemical Items! Which… is quite a bit and has some interesting ideas in its pages.
One of my favorite recipe listed is the Smokepowder recipe as it allows your players to create grenades and keg bombs. Those were inspired by the Giff in the Mordekainen’s Tome of Foes and my table has used bombs to great affect in their own campaigns. By looking at monster abilities, or even poisons of monsters, you can easily create more recipes for your table… or your players can start investigating new recipes as side quests!
I also want to give a special shout out to one of our patrons, Caleb, who gave me the idea for Detect Magic Smelling Salts! Those are pretty fun, and can be very helpful for any group that might be lacking strong magical abilities or want to try and save on their spell slots.
Up In Smokes
Alchemist’s Supplies is a pretty self-explanatory tool, but can really bring out the rogue’s roguish behavior or help your party get more access to healing. I think there has been some confusion in the books between the Herbalism Kit and Alchemist’s Supplies, and hopefully you are convinced that Potions of Healing should be under the purview of Alchemist’s Supplies and not Herablism Kits.
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