Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Druids & Alchemy

I can't imagine there's anyone out there reading who hasn't come across this yet, but I had been working on redoing my sage abilities from ages ago.  The Work blog, that hasn't gotten that much attention, has new content, mostly applied to the cleric.  I've just put up a first one for the druid, which doesn't include as much as I'd like . . . but it talks about Alchemy, which I'd like to discuss here.

Here's the reprinted Alchemy section:

Amateur: distill liquid, identify substance, prepare ingestive poisons, smelt natural metals
Authority: fabricate minor acids, ointments & salves, identify uncommon substance, isolate gas, prepare insinuative poisons
Expert: fabricate & identify major ointments, paints & potions, smelt magical metals
Sage: fabricate exceptional elements

Each of the above presumes that the druid is in possession of the necessary space, tools, furnace, materials and ingredients required to create each of the above substances. It should also be clear that, unless the druid possesses other skills that may originate elsewhere, the various metals, earths, liquids and so on that are created cannot be then manufactured into items. For example, while the expert may be able to smelt mithril, it does not follow that the individual would then be able to process that metal into a sword or armor. Such would require an artisan with those skills. Similarly, while the druid might be able to create a potion of fire resistance, it does not then follow that this ability could be installed into a suit of armor or a helmet. The druid can create the potion, not the effect as it would occur in other mediums.

Moreover, note that none of the above is created by spell or magic, but rather by hard, difficult work. Some items, such as the creation of the portable hole (which is a pure elemental substance) would be subject to danger rolls, in keeping with the DMG’s discussion of such things. The creation of these things will take time, effort and coin, along with potential loss of health.


Distilled liquids would include pure water and alcohol, along with a host of other liquids that could be obtained from their source by the druid. Identify common substance gives the name for natural earths and liquids. Ingestive poisons must be drunk to be effective. Natural metals include those which may be obtained from earthly minerals.

Minor ointments and salves include quicksilver, gripcolle, prepared aloe and healing salve. Acids include all naturally occurring destructive liquids. Uncommon substances consist of natural concoctions or preparations. Insinuative poisons can be applied to weapons or otherwise introduced through the skin.

Major ointments include Keoghtom’s ointment. Paints are those with magical effects. Potions include all those listed among magic items. Magical metals include adamantium and mithril.

Exceptional elements include the lodestone or luckstone, the aforementioned portable hole, the smoke contained in the ever-smoking bottle, along with a host of other similar magic items where the substance itself is the magic.

And here the blog continues . . .

I must admit, from the point of view of a DM, the above is terrifying.  The idea that a player could substantially make a portable hole, and indeed more than one (presumably a second one would be easier than the first, as mistakes were skipped), seems like far, far too much power for a player to have.  And yet we presume these magic items must come from somewhere - though perhaps most DMs presume the means to make them is lost, or at least that it takes a god or something to make an item that powerful.  Perhaps it does.

The sage ability only means that the druid know HOW to make the item.  It could be that instruction #122 of portable hole manufacture reads, "Having fully prepared the mithril mesh fabric, stretching it to the tension described in point 43b, have a male demi-god of necessary strength (see Appendix K) insert his index finger into the center of the fabric and give a light stir (precise amount of agitation necessary is unfortunately unknown) in order to initiate the vacuuation process . . ."

. . . and so on.

Knowledge is only part of the battle - it must be noted that while yes, knowing something is marvelous, it is only the beginning of doing.  I'm not giving players the free ride the above would seem to be giving.  Still, as the player's character grows, it probably isn't such a big deal to let them have a reasonable number of minor magic items of their own creation, as the druid spends week after week in the isolation of a well-equipped cave . . .

4 comments:

Maxwell Joslyn said...

I'm curious: suppose a player worked his druid up to the proper rank of Alchemy and elected to know how to make portable holes. What would your thought process be for figuring out how to make that "recipe," or a similar one, be a satisfying answer for the player? In my view, the player has spent a large amount of resource to gain this knowledge and the recipe shouldn't be so difficult as for the knowledge to be useless (with the world in question determining what "difficult" means, of course. On the other hand, I do agree that the way you do it here (giving knowledge, not some kind of "portable-hole EZ-maker" ability to simply be activated whenever the ingredients are gathered.)

Alexis Smolensk said...

It's a tricky question. On the one hand, you're right; if it is ridiculously difficult, the player will feel cheated and not inclined to make the thing (though making a luckstone or some such might be more tempting). But here is the point - the fact that the player has managed to become 16th level, thus getting the knowledge, is not a blank check for suddenly deserving something in return; the 16th level druid is already loaded up with a hell of a lot of magic items. Moreover, if it is TOO easy to make, would you really want four, or five, luckstones or portable holes scattered among your party? Because if you make it easy enough to make one, the player will make dozens.

Maxwell Joslyn said...

Your reasoning is sound. Another point in its favor: it's doing part of the "heavy lifting" for you. The player has now learned the recipe for making portable holes? I bet a fair few would drop everything and start working on it immediately, and more reserved players would still suddenly have a new strategic goal, something to commit resources toward. One more moving part making the game rich and complex, and all you have to do is state that they now DEFINITELY could have access to it ... if they were willing to sweat. Then you sit back and watch them run all over creation, a perfectly self-motivated group (something that is hard to come by in this day of spoon-fed "quests" and such. But that's another topic.)

It's more direct than the cliche hedging tools employed by many a DM: "there MAY be lizard-men in the Blue Mountain Forest. There are RUMORS of a vorpal sword in the Aztec temple. An OLD MAN warns you about some nasty guys he saw once." That gets stale and annoying after a while; it's a sign that the DM is loath to reveal anything about their precious world, lest the "surprise" and "shock" of the latest monster/dungeon-of-the-week be ruined. I suspect it goes along with module-based play.

Ideally it should be possible to reveal more than the players could ever make use of at once, and still have stuff in reserve (which of course requires a complicated world, but that's the point of all the stuff you work on!)

Darcy Perry said...

Leonardo da Vinci, a gifted polymath, springs to mind when I hear 'sage'. Although he experimented with making paints (with some disastrous results), he was not fond of alchemists because of their false belief that quicksilver was the basis of every metal and their invention of poisons.

Of course the main question on my mind is: How long does it take the player to get a druid character to 16th level? That's a lot of experience. I've played a druid that achieved 8th level. No mean feat. He could change shape!

Also, knowing something is often the direct result of doing something. That is to say the proof is in the pudding. Although I may be over-thinking this.