Alchemists view themselves as dealing with the most fundamental of magics, changing and rearranging the basic building blocks of the world from which all other material items are made: fire, earth, wind and water. All things partake of these basic elements, some such as ice are relatively simple mixtures, while others such as humans are surpassing complex. There is a fifth component of the world, the Spiritus Dei, which separates humans and angels from the animals, but many alchemists believe it blasphemous to dabble in such matters.

Quick Start

  • Alchemist characters begin with four starting spells.
  • Choose whether to begin with knowledge of the path of potions or material alchemy. You will receive an additional two spells in your chosen field. (Some quirks may grant more.)
  • Choose your favoured alchemical element and your character's own particular signature style.

Why Alchemy?

Alchemists are still furtive types in the popular imagination, scribbling arcane knowledge in codes known only to themselves, in between large and noisy explosions and other small and pungent explosions. In some ways it is viewed as the fusty old-fashioned cousin of invention. Add in a few retort stands and some yards of twisty glassware and it's a fair view of most small town alchemists. It doesn't have to be a good view of your character. Remember, alchemy is the school that likes to go BOOOM!

Here are some reasons you the player, or your character, might be interested in alchemy:

1. Loner Alchemists need fewer tokens than many other schools so you'll be able actually to perform a spell without as much cooperation from other players. (Note however that you are still very likely to need their help dealing with the consequences; effluvia and by-products can be very nasty if left to fester.)

2. Flashy Dealing with material things and the elements, rather than skulking demons or flighty fairies, means that you can be very obvious. Pillars of fire and stainless shining armour obvious if you like. Even your skulking can be more impressive than others' as you disappear in a flash of flame and smoke.

3. Full Metal Alchemist You've seen the anime- now play the character!

Alchemy is a broad and short choice, you'll get your powers relatively quickly though they won't be as impressive as those of the mightiest of sorcerers or theurgists.

Alchemy in the Archipelago

The practise and theory of alchemy have been relatively unaffected by the flooding of Albion. Alchemy based on the properties of water, particularly the removal of salt from it, has become more important but there has not really been much of a reduction in the importance of Earth, since alchemists seldom concerned themselves with large expanses of it.

For adventurers the ability of potion alchemists to concoct drafts which will allow them to breath water (by continuous transmutation as it enters their mouths) is useful, but most prefer other means if available since it is necessary to “drown” to use the ability. And when the potion runs out it is important to have returned to the air. The mightiest of alchemists are sometimes hired to use their powers in much more impressive ways. Although only about a half-dozen in Albion are capable of it they can part the waves to allow armies or scavengers to walk across the seabed. More permanently they can raise portions of land out of the sea or form a permanent bubble of air beneath the waves. The last of these is sometimes used in shallow waters to preserve low-lying villages or to produce ducal palaces with stunning aquatic views.


Element Material Associations Personality Characteristics
Air Motion, lightness, flexibility Courageous, amorous (Sanguine)
Earth Inertia, heaviness, solidity Despondent, sleep (Melancholic)
Fire Change, heat, dry Fury, impulsive (Choleric)
Water Cohesion, cold, wet Calm, logical (Phlegmatic)

In alchemical theory all things are made from mixtures of the four basic elements of fire, earth, water and air. Everyone is familiar with these things in their basic forms: the fire in the hearth, the earth beneath your feet, the water that you drink and the air that you breath. But fire is also the heat of the sun, and water the cool of the night. The fifth element, the Spiritus Dei, is of concern to only the most powerful of alchemists. Without tapping its secrets it is impossible to transform or transmute living things, but that is beyond the ken of all but masters of the art.

It is important to note that nothing in this world is truly pure. Even the most carefully distilled water will contain particles of earth and air dissolved within and more importantly will, as a liquid, partake of change in order to flow, and therefore of fire. Similarly steel is mostly earth, which gives it its strength, but contains more air than iron which makes it lighter and a trace of water that gives it lustre. Powerful alchemists can change the mixture of the elements within a substance, transmuting lead to gold or wine to water, by drawing in or driving out elements until the desired brew is achieved.

Alchemy also has a role in medicine, for each of the four elements plays a special role in the human body. For example air is embodied as the blood which has its origin in the liver and predisposes one towards courageous or amorous behaviour. But when ill the body becomes imbalanced and one or more humours may be deficient or surplus. For example an excess of blood is common to most fevers; the excess blood stagnates in the body storing heat which manifests as sweating and fever. An alchemist's potion can artificially inflame a passion, or aid the means to achieve it. Making a warrior brave (or foolhardy) or giving her the means and strength to smash a shieldwall single-handed.

The difficulty of an alchemical task can be hard to predict. As a general rule the simpler the mixture of elements the easier the transformation. Turning mud into pottery is barely worth describing as magic since it involves little more than driving out the water from the mixture, leaving behind mostly earth. Changing a rose into a tulip is more difficult, since the Spriritus Dei resists all change, and even dead flowers retain some of this essence.

The Spiritus Dei prevents you from making “impossible” changes to people. You can, for example, cause parts of the anatomy to swell gigantically, atrophy to almost nothing or simply fall off but you cannot change anyone into a toad. Nor do alchemists have fine control over emotions or thoughts, you can predispose someone to foolhardiness but you can’t make them believe that they can fly if they just threw themselves off a high enough building.

Alchemical Signatures

Every alchemist finds themselves to have a natural affinity with one of the four basic elements of their art. This is reflected in their works. For example an alchemist with an affinity towards water will produce a looking glass which appears to float above its pane and over which small ripples appear to pass. A fire alchemist on the other hand may produce a looking glass the edging of which seems to flicker and move and glass which seems to glow with an inner light.

More subtle than the obvious elemental affinity, which even an unskilled layman may spot, each alchemist develops a certain signature style. Just as the art lover can tell the painter with a glance at a canvass, an alchemist can often tell the work of another just by the feel or design. A distinctive flowing organic look of moulded bone or an assembly of multi-coloured faceted crystals can be as distinctive as a fingerprint. Of course like paintings, and unlike fingerprints, such signatures can be forged with care and time.

Alchemists should note their favoured element, and their own particular stylistic quirks, when creating their character. It is relatively easy to disguise style, and difficult to disguise the element to which you have an affinity.

It is a stereotype with at least a grain of truth to it that alchemists tend to reflect their characteristic element in their own personality. While opposites can attract it is often difficult for alchemists of contrasting favours to work together – calm and logical Water alchemist cooperating with hot-headed and impulsive Fire alchemist for example.

Tokens and Effluvia

Compared to the other schools of magic alchemists require relatively few tokens of potent symbolism or power. No alchemical preparation requires a fragment of the True Cross or the heart of a dragon. (This is not a hard and fast rule; alchemical potions of “vigour” for example are generally more potent when the water in them comes from a nun's tears. And while the heart of a dragon isn't much use imagine what you could do with its fire… Many alchemists spend years researching the ideal source for the water, fire, earth or air that their concoctions require.)

Instead alchemists find that the majority of their problems occur after they have crafted their spell, potion or fearsome chimera. Even the most cautious and careful of alchemists will find that not more than one in three attempts will succeed perfectly. Unfortunately the other two will often produce something very noxious or dangerous indeed. The most infamous example in the Kingdom was the bloodrabbits of the Forest of Dean. In the end four sorcerers acting together were required to summon the demons that destroyed the infestation, though every disappearance or murder in the area spreads rumours that a breeding colony might have survived.

Alchemists in the Community

Alchemists are banned from performing their arts on the Isle of Oxford. Special dispensation has been granted to Oxford University and the Invisible College to practice Alchemy on their premises. After a particularly unpleasant incident with a golem, two giant doves and a miniature forest a law was added to make Alchemists liable for all damage that they cause personally. This has led to the institutes of learning devising special buildings and quadrangles deep within their property to somehow contain the effects of Alchemy and alchemists.

Several other cities and city-isles have likewise banned the practice of alchemy within their historic centres. Selling finished wares is unaffected however.

Progression of Alchemical Skill

Alchemists tend to progress at the same rate through all of the elements, finding the going easiest in their favoured element and trickiest in its opponent. The first step along the path is to learn to purify the adulterated elements found in this world into a form more like their ideal. Turning a handful of dirt into a fleck of pure diamond, and a mess of dross, is an example of purifying earth. The next step along the path is to mix these elements to create simple potions and compounds. Most alchemists settle down with this level of expertise as journeymen and spend their days strengthening armour and creating potions of “vigour” or endurance. There is always ready money in these things and the dangers are slight.

Starting Spells

All alchemists start with the following four spells, since they are the basic requisites of the art and taught to even the least competent apprentice.

Bottled Fire

A dangerous item, but one which most apprentices can produce. Sulphur is refined until it is almost pure fire and captured in a flawless glass bubble. (The bubble must be blown around the unfueled flame, easily the hardest part of the preparation.) If the glass is broken, whether deliberately or by accident, the fire inside will burst forth. Since the fire is unnaturally pure it is hotter and harder to quench than a normal flame. Every military in Europe has experimented with bottled fire as a weapon but the difficulty and danger of transporting it to a battlefield has so far prevented any serious use.

It is a very very bad idea to bring bottled fire on-board a ship.

Earth Lance

Pure earth, whether made from the sands of Mount Ararat or the mud of Oxford's streets, can be purified to a tiny speck of diamond. But stopping the process one step short produces something that can be roughly shaped before it sets permanently. The result looks like a long thin stalactite the point of which is sharper and more deadly than the finest of steel rapiers. It is also extremely brittle, making it useless as a weapon that must be used regularly.

Sweet Water

Some alchemists, probably made strange by the strange brews with which they work, insist on drinking only purified water for their health. Such eccentric behaviour seems an occupational hazard for alchemists, but it does have a hidden benefit. Purified by alchemical magic the water and drunk the water produces a great feeling of contentment. It also seems to produce clarity of thought, with intractable problems seeming to come clear at once. The unfortunate side-effect is the lethargy which accompanies this contentment and clarity.

Vermilion Sky

Purified air has little utility except as a ingredient in further alchemical processes. But in purifying air the contaminants must be removed. A small trick known to most alchemists produces a strange effect on these bottled contaminants. When released back into the air they can be made a thousand times more effective, capable of filling a large room with a great rolling blood red cloud which causes coughing and hides all within. The cloud is not poisonous and quickly dissipates to leave only a rank smell in the air.

Potions or Enhanced Materia

Starting characters may decide to specialise in one of two fields of middle-ranking skill in alchemy, either the production of potions or the enhancement of material objects.

Potions can be brewed to enhance the humours of the body and to promote certain behaviours. Alchemical potions may produce strength or ferocity, passion and ardour, or turn a man bright blue provoking the derision of his fellows. Alchemists who specialise in brewing potions generally require apparatus, retort stands and burners and great curlicues of glassware.

Those alchemists who enhance material objects are much more like craftsmen, they require some of the same apparatus of their potion brewing colleagues, but they are much more likely to need to melt metals in a furnace than to play with trifling drops of potion. Material alchemists produce magically enhanced versions of existing objects. Not so powerful as those possessed by angels or demons, nor as intricate or powerful as those produced by inventors but powerful nonetheless. (An alchemist's enhanced sword won't all but fight for you like one possessed by a demon, but it won't trick you into killing your mother either, and it has a lovely sharp blade.)

Here is an example spells from each of the two paths:

Potion of Celerity

A complex mixture of air and water, it is relatively difficult to produce since these elements are naturally opposed. When drunk the imbiber partakes of the nature of air and becomes unnaturally fleet of foot, able to run at great speed or perform menial tasks in the blink of an eye. The water is necessary to cool the imbiber; the great haste with which every action performs can burn up an unprotected person so the water of the potion acts as a great cooling well-spring. There are two unfortunate side-effects of the potion. Firstly the drinker's appetite becomes prodigious, prolonged use may require the consumption of an ox a day! The other side-effect is socially debilitating as the imbiber sweats constantly. It is not unknown for the effects of the potion to be carried a little outside the body by this sweat and for clothes to rot to rags in hours.

Shining Sharp Sword

An alchemist may take away a sword, and with secret applications of flame and chemicals, drive out every tainting trace of fire, earth and air. This leaves behind a blade the edge of which refracts light into a rainbow. This razor edge of diamond is only at the cutting edge of the sword, leaving the properties of the rest untouched, but will allow the sword to slice through thin armour like paper.

Advanced Spells and Rumours

A master alchemist turns his attention to transmuting and transcending the substances of this world. Creating substances and creatures which could not exist without magic. Things that require magic in either their creation or to prevent them dissolving from their own impossible natures. This is a dangerous area of alchemy, in which a simple explosion may be deemed a blessed relief rather than a failure. The waste products and mistakes in transmutation are unpredictable and sometimes nightmarish.

Some master alchemists are also able to work without the paraphernalia of their less skilled fellows. It is truly exhausting work but such an alchemist may be able to conjure small amounts of pure elements from their environment or perform small transmutations with scant preparation.

Transmute Lead into Gold

This is a surprisingly difficult enterprise as gold is perfectly poised between water and fire. Even the smallest of errors will produce another metal (or a sludge which can eat glass and flesh and bone). Even skilled alchemists can generally only produce one or two pounds of gold in a month of concentrated effort.


Despite the name these beasts are not the product of sorcery. Instead the alchemist mixes together the essence and bodies of a dog and snake, to produce an animal with the loyalty and alertness of a guard-dog and the senses and patience of a serpent. The horrifying appearance and deadly venoms are generally a bonus. If successful the alchemist will have produced an animal that will loyally guard its master and home and needs feeding only once a month. If unsuccessful, if too much of the snake's will has survived in the blend, then the alchemist may well have produced a cunning and intelligent monster.


Merely a rumour, since it has more than a whiff of blasphemy, there is speculation that an alchemist might be able to take clay and bone and infuse them with sufficient Spiritus Dei to make them live. The result is a thing which appears human in every way, a homunculus. No alchemist will admit to even attempting such an act, for any listening clergyman will wax wrathful about the mere idea of playing God in such a way.

Popular tales of such creatures tend to the blood-curdling. In some the homunculus is the soulless slave of its creator, intelligent but without any conscience and so capable of any act. A popular variant is that the homunculus is created with the face of a loved one or rival and takes their place. The rumours that attach to Edward de Vreis however, that his wife was a homunculus, have given a fresh spin to the idea. Now there it has become associated with romance as well as horror, with lovers separated by death but reunited by the alchemical arts.

alchemy.txt · Last modified: 2007/10/03 22:06 by innokenti