So yesterday I blogged about a simple, unified system for imbedding magic into objects: what we term “Enchanting”. I also noted at the end, and linked to a RM Forum blog about a separate, but related system of Alchemy.

Curiously, most of the original RM Alchemist material had little to do with our common definition of “Alchemy”. Sure, Alchemists could make potions, but most of the spells related to the creation of runes, magic weapons and armor and Daily “X” items.

Anyway, after I posted my blog, I got a message asking for clarification about the differences between Alchemy, Crafting and Imbedding. So first to be clearer, these three disciplines are “Three Legs of the Stool” in creating magic items.

  1. Imbedding is the most direct approach—you just imbed certain spell effects into an object to be used “Daily”, with a set amount of charges or with a permanent effect.
  2. Crafting, while applying to a wide range of products, means creating an object out of already enchanted/magical material. The crafter doesn’t actually ADD the magic to an object, but the end result is the same. The blacksmith that forges a blade from an ingot of Eog creates a +30 sword. The carver that whittles a javelin from a Dragon bone creates an enchanted spear etc.
  3. Alchemy is the craft of mixing elements to produce a Compound material. This material can have mundane properties (like glue) or magical properties—depending on the effect and setting.

Alchemy is Chemistry—just in a fantasy world. The art is dependent on Formulas, either researched, experimented, bought or given.  In my RM Forum post, I focused more on mundane creations: fireworks, gun powder, glues, acids, smoke grenades etc. However, it’s easy to add any and all formulas that allow for spell like effects or special powers. (Hurin, I think you brought this up in a blog comment or in the Forums). I never bothered devising specific magical formulas, but it has been done by other game systems, video games and works of fiction. Really the sky is the limit, but a lot will depend on the game setting. The newest Anthony Ryan book, the Draconis Memoria is based on the idea that distilled Dragons Blood gives special powers to the imbiber based on the type of Dragon.

It’s not that I don’t embrace the idea of magical compounds produced by Alchemy, it’s just that I haven’t got around to it yet! Shadow World offers a variety if interesting creatures and materials (and already has magical plants which is basically a narrow branch of Alchemy). Dragons and Shards probably have a lot of organic parts that could be used to make interesting compounds!

So, besides the “Third Leg of the Stool” analogy, Alchemy does several things:

  1. Producing “Substrates”. Liquids for potions, paper for runes, powders, candles etc are all examples of Subtrates—Alchemists produce the BASE product that is then used to imbed magical effects.
  2. Mundane Compounds. Alchemy is used to produce Inks, Oils, Glues, Acids, Itching Powder, Gun Powder, Dyes etc.
  3. Magical Compounds. Alchemy is used to produce magical products by mixing, distilling, reducing Magical Ingredients.
  4. Enhanced Materials. This is the big one that ties into yesterday’s post. Alchemy allows for the production of Enhanced materials that are more effective for Imbedding. For instance, while normal glass has a low item strength, Alchemical Glass can be made with a much higher strength. Or an Alchemist can devise a powder of ground Dragonbone that allows for imbedding of high level spells. In other words, Alchemy allows a user to fabricate an item with a higher Item Strength than  normal.

In any event, Alchemy acts as an important “meta skill” in our Rolemaster/Shadow World game. Maybe this gives you an idea for yours!





  1. I’ve generally not been happy with how traditional physical alchemy – potion creation – is handled in any RPG I’ve come across. Pathfinder is the worst – it’s utterly boring. A skill check against a feat and simple gp cost and that’s it. That’s not even considering the fact that pretty much any settlement of hamlet size or above is going to have potions for sale – even if there isn’t anyone available to create them.

    One way of handling it that I like best is the alchemist NPC class article in Dragon 130. For one thing, this article has a list of all the potions (at that time) together with typical ingredients. So no just spending money.

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