Runequest Thursday #105 - Alchemy!

Clint Staples

Below is a system for the skill and practice of Alchemy, the creation of alchemicals, their effects and a list of alchemical substances available for sale.



New Skill: Lore, Alchemy (INT + POW) (Advanced Skill option available to the following backgrounds/ careers: Civilized, Alchemist, Physician, Priest, Sorcerer, Witch)

Note: This article is intended as a fantasy alchemy system for Runequest or other D100 systems. It is not attempting to replicate actual historical alchemy. Herein, you will not find references to the Philosopher’s Stone, etc. You will find a fairly balanced system that is easy to adjudicate, flavorful to play, and that provides potions and other alchemical substances that adventurers always seem to crave.

Alchemy is the study and practice of creating potions and/or other consumables that inflict or confer magical effects. This includes things like healing and other potions, blast powder, glowsticks, grenades, flash bombs and many other concoctions that are particularly useful to adventurers. As an alchemist, you are familiar with many of them, and can identify alchemicals or their effects via experimentation and observation, even “in the field”, with a successful Alchemy check. This generally takes a full turn, may take more in certain instances, and your chance is affected by your familiarity with the alchemical involved (unmodified if you are quite familiar with the item or know the Rune associated with the item, -20% if less so, -40% or more if it is rare or unknown to you).

To create Alchemicals, you must have access to an Alchemist’s Kit, consisting of various chemical and alchemically potent ingredients, as well as pots, focusing crystals, glass alembics, etc. Such a kit costs 500 Silver, including a basic trunk in which the parts are stored. An Alchemist’s Laboratory may instead be used, if available. This is a much more significant, and safer, version of the Alchemist Kit. A Laboratory costs 2000 Silver, and requires a sizable place in which to be set up (a house, large workroom, etc.) In the creation of potions or other alchemicals, the alchemist spends the ingredient costs for his product(s) from the current Silver Piece total of the Kit or Lab. He may include other alchemical ingredients he has on hand as well. In practice, the alchemist must track of the current S ilver Piece value of the kit, reducing the value as supplies are turned into alchemicals, and replenishing them as necessary. A well-stocked kit or lab is much safer than one with few supplies. See below “Time and Cost” for details.

Alchemy and the Runes:

Gloranthan alchemy, like all other forms of magical manipulation, requires an understanding of one or more Runes.

With the Alchemy skill, you have some understanding of one rune per 20% in the skill. These are selected when the appropriate thresholds are reached (20%, 40%, etc). The first two runes, that every alchemist must know something about to create alchemicals, are Stasis and Movement. These runes allow the manipulation and transmutation of matter and magic into potent tangibles: like potions, pills, unguents, etc.

The runes known to an alchemist determine what sort of alchemicals she can create. Someone with the knowledge of the Base Runes: Stasis and Movement runes can do little beyond altering a substance from the solid state to those of liquid or gas, or vice versa. So a bottle of air, water, or poison, might be concentrated into a pill, or a block of salt or stone be alchemically transmuted to a sand-like substance that can be poured. Other effects are possible, but knowledge of other runes increases the alchemist’s command of his science considerably. For each full 20% beyond 40%, the alchemist may choose another Rune.

Each Rune allows for different alchemicals. As an example, the rune for Fire (in combination with the Base Runes) allows for things like liquid flame or solid fire. Liquid Fire could be thrown or squirted as a damaging effect, solid fire, could create a fire stone that provides light and heat for a time, or could be made into a powder that is volatile when ignited (Mostali Blast Powder, for example). Another example, the Harmony Rune allows for the creation of healing potions, fertility tablets, curatives for poison or disease, but could also include magical fertilizers of crops, etc; though these are traditionally associated more with the rune Life.

Other uses for these Runes are possible. Knowledge of each Rune should convey a considerable number of possible “recipes”. It is also possible that a similar recipe and product could be derived from more than one combination of runes. Alchemists are encouraged to be inventive.


Proficiency with the Alchemy skill allows for the creation of greater potency of alchemicals. For each full 20%, the alchemist can craft potions of 1 Rank or Level of Effect. So a skill of 80% allows the creation of up to Rank 4 alchemicals. The alchemist need not create at her maximum however, and often there may be a natural limit to potency determined by the effect desired.

If level of Effect is not readily determinable by looking at a common spell as a guide, the Base runes confer the equivalent of 2 levels of magnitude/ effect, or 1d6 for variable effects like damage. For each additional level of effect, add the equivalent of 1d6 for variable effects, or +1 for effects like Bladesharp or Strength, etc. Thus, Alchemist’s Fire would have a damage value of 2d6, while a Healing 3 Potion would heal 3 points of damage. For some effects, more than a single point is conferred with a single level of effect, like Attribute enhancement. In this case, refer to the spell as a guide, as noted above.

Determining the “powers” of an Alchemical:

Possibly the easiest way to decide what a particular potion or tablet will do is to allow alchemist players to use the Common Magic Spell list for examples. So an alchemist who wished to make Bladefire Oil, would require the Fire/Sky Rune, and the alchemical would function as a Fireblade spell. The Magnitude listed for the spell can also be used as a level of potency. So the Magnitude 3 of the spell Fireblade would mean the alchemist would need 60% in Alchemy (which is exactly when an Alchemist could learn the Fire Rune anyway).

The same alchemist could, instead, decide to produce “Alchemist’s Flame” a substance that, when thrown bursts into flame on exposure to Air or water, or both. In such a case, the Alchemist would need knowledge of these other runes as well.

Other alchemicals can be extrapolated, using existing spells as a guide for level of effect and Magnitude.

Duration of Alchemicals:

If an alchemical effect is not instantaneous, like a poison or a healing potion, its base Duration is 6 Minutes. Duration can be extended by devoting Levels of Effect during the creation process. Each Level devoted to extending the duration cannot also count toward the Potency or Magnitude of the effect.

Normal Duration = 6 Minutes

Duration +1 = 1 Hour

Duration +2 = 6 Hours, the effective maximum of extension.

Example: Bladefire Oil, with a Magnitude of 3, could have only the base Duration if crafted by an Alchemist of less than 80% in the skill. To create Fireblade Oil that lasted for 6 hours would require an Alchemist with his skill at 100%.

The Creation Process – Time and Costs

With a successful skill check and a fully stocked Alchemist Kit, 1d3 doses of a particular alchemical can be created in 1d6 hours per rank of the Alchemical. If the skill check resulted in a special, the creator may elect to have created 3 doses (instead of rolling 1d3) or to have accomplished the task in half the time. On a critical success, the creator may choose BOTH of the above effects, OR may elect instead to increase the Ranks available by 1d3 (this allows the normal limit of 1 rank per 20% of skill to be exceeded). The kit or lab must have sufficient stock to create all available doses or the amount of product is reduced accordingly.

An unsuccessful roll means that the creation process fails. All time and materials are lost, and no useful alchemical is produced.

A Fumble includes the results of an unsuccessful attempt, but much of the kit or lab is damaged or destroyed in an accident thematically appropriate to the alchemical being brewed at the time of the fumble. The cost to repair the accident is 1d8x100 Silver, and reflects replacing broken glassware, destruction of extra ingredients, the purchase of new potion bottles, and supplies. If there are insufficient ingredients in the Alchemist Kit (500 Silver if fully stocked) or Laboratory (2000 Silver if fully stocked), the damage will be done to nearby property to the extent of Silver that remains. If this occurs, there may be further cost and danger if the damage was extensive or got out of control (for example: a fire that burns down the house in which the alchemical process was attempted). Some Runes are more (ex: Fire, Disorder, Death), or less (ex: Harmony, Life), likely to cause such catastrophe. Finally, the Alchemist himself, may choose to suffer damage to reduce the amount of damage done elsewhere. For each 100S by which the damage is reduced, the alchemist suffers a 1d6 damage attack (Armor does not reduce the damage) to a random location.

Creation Cost of alchemicals is equal to total manufactured Ranks x 10 Silver. So creating 3 potions of Healing 3 would cost 90 Silver in ingredients (reducing the Supplies in the Kit or Lab by that amount). Because Alchemy is capable of exceeding the expectation of the “recipe” on special and critical successes, alchemists prefer to have well stocked kits or labs whenever possible.

Runic Requirements:

Some of the terms below correspond to the spell list from the Legend RPG, but may also be understood to correspond to concepts, or spells that are similar in function. The list below is not intended to be exhaustive. It is also possible that a particular effect might be available via more than one rune (see Bladesharp). Some runes, like Moon, might combine aspects of one or more of the Runes below, and would access some or all of the terms below.

Beast: Beast Call, Physical Attribute enhancement, Bestial enhancements (claws, fur, shapeshifting,etc.)

Chaos: Chaos features, Hand of Death,

Communication: Any effect on communication or speech, Glamour.

Darkness: Darkness causing effects, Dark Vision.

Death: Bladesharp, Poison, Hand of Death

Disorder: Acid, Disruption,

Elemental Rune: Corresponding element, Bludgeon (earth), Fireblade (fire), Mobility (water), Speedart (air)

Harmony: Healing, Cures for Poison, Disease, also Peace and Understanding.

Illusion: Babel, Glamour, Golden Tongue, Multimissile

Life: Healing, fertility enhancement of beasts, plants and people.

Luck: Fate, chance affecting

Magic: Countermagic, Dispelling Magic, etc.

Man: Poison, Attribute Affecting (Strength, etc)

Mastery: Bladesharp, Skill enhancement, Morale Affecting (Befuddle, etc)

Movement: Bladesharp, Mobility, Flight. Alteration of form to one more fluid.

Plant: Clear Path, Fertility or its reverse, rapid plant growth or destruction.

Spirit: Spirits or the Spirit World.

Stasis: Bladesharp, Bludgeon, Protection, Repair. Alteration of form to one more stable and solid.

Truth: Detect Lies, Pierce Illusion, Detect ”Any” - Life, Enemies, Undead, etc.

Rare Ingredients: Many alchemical items require, or are enhanced by, rare, costly and often dangerous to acquire ingredients. For this purpose, adventurers are sometimes contracted to procure such things as minotaur horn or hippogriff feathers. The GM determines what sort of rare ingredient is appropriate for a particular alchemical operation. When you incorporate such an item, you can choose from the following when you begin the process:

  • Negate the adverse effects of a Failure or Fumble – the rare ingredient is consumed, but other costs and damage do not occur.
  • Increase your effective Skill level by 20% per rare ingredient you include (maximum of 3). This increase allows you to exceed the normal limit to Ranks you can manage by 1 per ingredient. In this way, you can even create a Duration +3 item that lasts 6 days.
  • It is also possible that rare ingredients are required in order to make some alchemicals (see Flying Ointment). In this case, the rare ingredients do not confer any of the “bonus” effects above.


Available Alchemicals:


There are 20 Alchemicals in this table, so you can generrate random ones by rolling a d20:

  1. Air Pill: Allows the imbiber to breathe normally in areas that do not have sufficient air for the base duration. Water Pills allow the same for creatures that breathe water. Cost: 40
  2. Alchemist’s Flame: Liquid fire, generally held within a pot or glass vial. On contact with air, it erupts in flames doing 2d6 fire damage to the target location (Armor, Protection, etc, apply). In addition, the affected must roll POW x5% or be “On Fire”. Flammable targets take double damage, and automatically catch fire.
  3. Alchemist’s Flame will burn for 6 minutes, but may be doused by sand, a heavy blanket, rolling around on the ground, etc, and rolling POWx5%, or dispelled by sufficient magic (Dispel Magic 3). Cost: 60
  4. Aurochs Strength: This heavy draught, smelling of dark beer and treacle, grants Strength 2 for 1 hour. Cost: 60
  5. Bile of Chaos: This horrific draught imbues the imbiber with a random chaotic feature for the base duration. After the duration is over, the imbiber must succeed on a POW check or be tainted thereafter by chaos. This potion is rarely available and its creators would be reviled, arrested and/or killed if found out. Cost: Rarely bought or sold.
  6. Bladefire Oil: When applied to any weapon (the weapon need not have an actual blade), the weapon is affected as if by the Fireblade spell for base duration. Cost: 60
  7. Bladesharp Oil: When applied to a bladed weapon, the weapon is affected as if by Bladesharp 3 for base duration. Cost: 60
  8. Cure Disease: Immediately allows the imbiber to make a CONx5% check to be cured of each disease with which she is currently afflicted. Cost: 100
  9. Earth Eater: This acid is capable of dissolving solids, including earth and stone. It does 1d6 damage per Rank to each of the AP and HP of an item or substance. The damage takes an entire round to occur, but the duration of this effect is permanent, and Earth Eater cannot be extended. Cost: 50 per rank.
  10. Fertility Pill: This pill increases the likelihood by 20% per Rank of the imbiber becoming pregnant in current season, assuming that there is the possibility that this could occur. Cost: 30 per Rank
  11. Flash Powder: When exposed to the air, this powder bursts in an explosion of light. It does no damage, but anyone within 1 Yard per Rank must make a CON x5% or be dazzled for 1d3 rounds (-20% to all concentration, perception and physical skills, including attacks and parries). Creatures relying on Darkvision or any must succeed at CON x3%. Trolls or other creatures that rely on other senses, are largely unhindered by Flash Powder. Cost: 30 per Rank
  12. Flying Ointment: This ointment must be applied to the forehead, and feet. The recipient can then fly at a speed of 4 per Rank for the base duration. Cost: 100 per rank (Rare Ingredients Required: feather from a skybull, gryphon, giant condor, or other potent supernatural flying creature).
  13. Healing Potion: Cures 3 Points of damage to a creature’s Hit Points, affecting the most badly wounded area first. Cost: 60
  14. Interrogator’s Draught: When drunk, this potion focuses the mind and grants keen powers of observation. For 1 Hour, this grants a +20% bonus to perception checks, as well as the Ability to Detect Lies on a POW x5% success. Cost: 120
  15. Kohl of Soul Sight: This dark ointment, when applied to the eyelids, allows the person so treated to perceive spirits and the Spirit World for 1 Hour. Cost: 60
  16. Mostali Blast Powder: Each dose of blast powder provides 4 charges for a Mostali blast weapon such as a blunderbuss, blast pistol or similar. If used as a grenade, one does of blast powder does 3d6 damage to a 2 Yard radius area. Note: Only Mostali alchemists know the secret of Blast Powder. Cost: 80
  17. Negate Poison: If taken within the duration of this alchemical, the poison affecting the imbiber is negated. The longer the Duration of the Negate Poison, the longer ago the poison damage can have occurred. The vast majority of Negate Poison potions are of base duration. Cost: 100, double for each extension of Duration.
  18. Stone Salve: Stone Salve grants the effect of Protection 2 to the imbiber for the 1 Hour. Cost: 60
  19. Tree Balm: This balm, applied to the bark of a tree or plant, or missed into the earth around its base, allows the tree to grow healthily and strong for a season. If appropriate, it grows 1d6 SIZ in that time. Tree Balm may or may not increase the SIZ of an elf that ingest it, but it is certain that elves relish the stuff and make or acquire it when possible. Cost: 60
  20. Wyrm Salt: This poison appears to be rust-colored dust, but is actually a potent poison when introduced into the bloodstream. It may be kept for years in this state. When mixed, or transmuted, into liquid form, it has a shelf life of 1 hour before losing all potency. If potent, it may be applied to a weapon, or otherwise introduced into the bloodstream. It is Magnitude 4, with a 4d6 attack against the target’s CON. Note: Dragonewts and other draconic beings are immune to the damaging effects of Wyrm Salt.  (Rare Ingredient Required: One pint of wyrm blood per dose).


GMs and Players are encouraged to keep notes, develop recipes or typical descriptions of potions, etc. Possible effects of this:

  • A particular Rare Ingredient could always avert a catastrophe, for example, of always increase the duration.
  • A particular potion might always smell, appear and taste the same or similar (see “Aurochs Strength”).
  • An alchemist might gain a bonus to success (but not to effective Rank) to brew or recognize alchemicals she knows particularly well.
  • Different alchemical could take different amounts of time to apply, ingest, etc. It makes sense that Flying Ointment would take longer to apply than it takes to drink a healing potion.
  • Side Effects: If an alchemist has never created a particular alchemical before, and fails, she could create something that has a side effect or different effect from what was intended. Roll POW x5%. On a failure, the alchemical does not do what was intended, but has a side effect determined by the GM instead, which must be discovered by the alchemist. On a success, the alchemical creation was actually successful in imbuing the intended effect, BUT there is also a side effect determined by the GM.

Note: This system is intended to make Alchemists playable, and Alchemical items available in game. It is not intended to allow player characters to become full time alchemists in order to get rich. Little thought has been put into balancing this system with that in mind. If you players decide to go into the alchemy business, you will want to look at costs, risks and markets to make sure they cannot abuse things. Of course, if you have an alchemist that wants to stay home all the time, let him. The player should then relinquish control over that character and roll up one that wants to DO STUFF.

If anybody wants to use these rules to add more Alchemicals, feel free to post them in the comments below!