This work opens with a discussion of what alchemy actually is - and that's far more than people trying to turn lead into gold! Funadamentally, it is a quest for perfection. The lead into gold stuff is mostly a metaphor, turning a base metal into a pure one. As far as the game is concerned, however, it is the study of ways to combine strange ingredients into marvellous (but non-magical) concoctions. These are most commonly potions - and poisons - but can be other things as well. Mechanically, that's what the Alchemy skill in the core rulebooks allow you to do, and if that satisfies you there is a whole raft of new things you can concoct later on in the book.
On the other hand, if you want to delve into alchemy as a way of life (the way real-world alchemists viewed their studies), there are plenty of resources for that as well. It all begins with a discussion about how budding alchemists get started. The core rulebook sufficies for the self-taught, the fellow who has picked up a few recipes; anyone who takes it seriously would be an NPC Expert in the background. Such an individual will have studied alchemy intensively, possibly at a school or as an apprentice to an established practitioner. Details of essential equipment are given, too, and then we get to the real meat of the matter with a discussion of some of the basic processes of the art. Now your alchemists can 'talk the talk' with an understanding of terms like calcination and distillation; and next we learn about the day-to-day activities of a practitioner. After all, they don't just sit around waiting for the party to call by their laboratory.
Chapter 2: Saragun's Alcheminary provides you with a setting and school that teaches everything from the basics to the most advanced studies... there are even three prestige classes for those who choose to take their studies to the highest level. The facilities are described in great detail, so you can incorporate it into a suitable location in your campaign world if so desired. Or it may inspire a similar facility of your own design. The place is well equipped with laboratories, classrooms and libraries, as well as residential facilities for students and staff. And, in case of accidents, an infirmary. There's plenty of detail about the faculty too, and full details of the syllabus. There's enough to provide background for a character who studied there, or to run an adventure involving the place. There are notes for running PC students of alchemy as well, along with a comparison of fantasy and historical alchemy.
But what of herbalism? you might ask. Chapter 3: Basics of Herbalism addresses that. We start again with a look at the basics from the core rulebook, and some notes about real-world herbalism. There's a rather confusing attempt to distinguish between 'pure' herbalists, apothecaries (who use plants for medicianal purposes) and naturalists/botanists, who study plants because they are interested in plants (I should know, my undergraduate degree is in botany!). Again, we have the basics of what herbalists actually do, and the equipment that they need to have. There's discussion of growing herbs and of gathering them from the wild, then how to preserve them (remember, they don't obligingly grow all year round) and creating herbal concoctions.
Chapter 4 brings us Tarasta's School of Herbalism in as much loving detail as the alchemy school discussed earlier. It's quite orientated towards the uses of herbs for healing and there's a distinct bias towards Druids - levels in Druid being required for the higher levels of study. Again there's information for PCs who wish to study herbalism. The school has extensive gardens, tended by the student body... and there's one oddity: they are trained to harvest plants in the nude, a quirk of the school's founder that is now enshrined in tradition. There are a couple of prestige classes that reflects the training and lore of a graduate of the school - one for herbalists and one for apothecaries.
Next, Chapter 5: Herbal Catalog presents a fine collection of (mostly) read-world plants with notes on where to find them and their uses in the hands of a herbalist... or a wizard, many can be used as spell components. Some might be useful to a cook as well. It's a good collection of information especially for those who don't have the advantage of a botany degree!
Then comes Chapter 6: Knowledge and Development, which discusses how many skills are common, or at least overlap, between the study of alchemy and herbalism. There's a collection of feats, many of which are available to both specialisms, and a classification system for the items that they can produce. This leads into Chapter 7: Catalog Herbala y Alchemica which provides a huge array of such items. The complexity of the classification alone shows why these specialists have to spend years in school! However, this section also contains many things (and their effects) that you can use in your game directly without any fuss. Maybe the party bought them in a store, or have an NPC friend who is an alchemist or herbalist by trade and can make them on request... or, knowing the average adventurer, they looted them in the course of their adventures. This massive collection is followed by an Appendix of relevant monsters and familiars and a table showing all the feats discussed earlier.
Many people will go straight to the catalogue of items you can make using alchemy and herbalism, as they are of the most use in the game. Resist this: read the rest, set these two areas of study in their proper context and enrich your game vastly as they become an integral part of everyday life.
Return to Alchemy and Herbalists page.
Reviewed: 27 July 2019