Thursday, August 16, 2012

Holmes & Cook: The Alchemist Class

I have been contemplating these famous words from the Holmes Basic Edition:
There are a number of other character types which are detailed in ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS. There are sub-classes of the four basic classes. They are: paladins and rangers (fighting men), illusionists and witches (magic-users), monks and druids (clerics), and assassins (thieves).
In context of my long dormant thought experiment of using the Holmes Basic Edition with the Cook Expert Edition by defaulting to Holmes whenever possible, this preview of what was to come with AD&D is enticing, especially since history has since demonstrated that monks are not clerics and witches were never an official D&D class.

I have already produced versions of both the ranger and the paladin by taking advantage of the quirks found in the way combat functions in the Holes Edition. Since both of these are fighting men, I feel obligated to at least attempt to produce something for the other classes.

It seems to me that the easiest to tackle is the witch (though I will be altering that name because of the various negative connotations associated with it — especially since the rules seem to suggest a Christian culture in which a witch would hardly be welcome). I come to this conclusion based on the fact that illusionists, monks, druids and assassins are not easily inferred by the rules as they stand.

There aren’t many spells in Holmes & Cook that are illusory in nature — what exactly would an illusionist do, then? I have already voiced my own distaste for druids as PCs, but even so, there are very few elemental and nature related spells found in Holmes & Cook. Assuming that a druid would tend more toward spell casting than the basic cleric, it follows that the monk would be more combat oriented; however, what exactly does that mean — especially since the Western monastic tradition is mostly non-violent?

If one looks at literature and popular culture, however, the witch does suggest something hinted at in Holmes. Witches normally cast their spells via concoctions made in a caldron from various weird ingredients — a witches brew. Since low-level magic-users can make scrolls, Holmes suggests there are such things as potion spells and Cook has an alchemist as a specialist henchman, it follows that the witch class can be re-skinned as an alchemist.

Rather than casting memorized spells, the alchemist prepares various potions that have spell-effects. The advantage is that an alchemist can “cast” more spells on a given day because they can carry multiple potions. In addition (as a curious by-product of not having to cast spells while on an adventure), the alchemist can wear armor. The disadvantage is that only spells that can affect someone imbibing a potion are available — sorry, no Magic Missiles or Fireballs. Thus, the alchemist specializes in utility spells — something I’ve always been a big fan of.

The number of magic formula known by the alchemist is the same as the number of spells that a magic user can memorize per day. This number can be effected by Intelligence:

  • 13-15 = +1 first level
  • 16-17 = +1 first level, +1 second level
  • 18 = +1 first level, +1 second level, +1 third level

Thus, a first level alchemist with a 14 Intelligence would know how to make two different kinds of potions.

There is no limit as to how many potions an alchemist can carry, beyond what a Referee might determine via encumbrance; however, this number can be controlled in two ways:

  • Cost — just as magic users must pay 100gp per spell level to create a scroll, so will alchemists have to spend money on ingredients to make potions. My initial thinking is 25gp per level.
  • Safety — as an alchemist advances in level, they learn how to make their potions more durable and stable. An alchemist may safely carry a number of potions equal to her BMR x her level. If the alchemist is carrying more than this, any time the alchemist gets hit, a number of potions equal to the damage taken are lost (until the safety limit is reached). In addition, the alchemist must make a save vs. spells or take an additional 1 hp per potion destroyed due to a catastrophic failure of the potions. For example: A 2nd level alchemist wearing chain mail with a heavy load (BMR of 2) could safely carry 4 potions. If she were carrying 8 potions and got hit for 5 points of damage, 4 potions would be destroyed (since she has a safety threshold of 4 potions) and she would have to save vs. spells or take an additional 4 hp of damage.

Here is a tentative spell (potion) list:

1st Level

  1. Detect Magic
  2. Protection from Evil
  3. Read Languages
  4. Read Magic
  5. Shield
  6. Ventriloquism

2nd Level

  1. Detect Evil
  2. Detect Invisible
  3. Invisibility
  4. Levitate
  5. Locate Object
  6. Mirror Image

3rd Level

  1. Clairvoyance
  2. Fly
  3. Haste
  4. Infravision
  5. Protection from Normal Missiles
  6. Water Breathing

4th Level

  1. Confusion
  2. Invisibility 10’r.
  3. Polymorph Self
  4. Protection from Evil 10’r.
  5. Remove Curse
  6. Plant Growth

5th Level

  1. Animate Dead
  2. Anti-Magic Shield
  3. Contact Higher Plane
  4. Projected Image
  5. Telekinesis
  6. Teleport

Otherwise, the alchemist functions as a magic user.


  1. I like it. Alternately, one could allow M-Us to make potions using similar rules.

    The Holmes scrolls allow for "potion spells", such as Healing, to be on scrolls that Magic-Users can read. So there should be a Magic-User/Alchemist version of "Healing", or perhaps Potions/Scrolls of Healing must be created by a Magic-User/Alchemist working in conjunction with a Cleric.

  2. Oho - I've wanted to put together a Taoist alchemist for ACKS; I think this gets me moving in the right direction. Thanks!

  3. In the campaign that I'm running now, which is set in a "17th century" sort of milieu, I folded the druid and illusionist classes into a single "naturalist" class who specializes in alchemy (potions that replicate druid spells) and optics (illusory devices that rely on smoke, mirrors, and especially prisms, Issac Newton style).