Alchemy

Potions may be made by any magic-user of 7th level or above, if he or she enlists the aid of an alchemist (q.v.). At levels above the 11th, such assistance is no longer mandatory, although it will reduce the amount of money and time the player character must spend making the potion by 50% of the compounding/infusing time normally required [above 11th level], as the alchemist will be so employed instead.

As my parties approach 7th level magic use, they approach the ability to create potions.  For us, most of the questions of item construction typically resolve by the party never having quite enough time to get anything done but leveling, but I still should understand the system of how that works.

Until 11th level, the PCs would need to hire an alchemist. From the DMG, hiring an alchemist as an Expert Hireling is in the context of putting one on permanent retainer, and includes the expectation of needing to build a lab for them (200 gp to 1,000 gp + 10%/month maintenance). But what if the PCs just want to hire an alchemist short-term to work with their magic-user? The alchemist’s base rate of 300 gp/month is a good place to start for the costs of an independent contractor alchemist. If the alchemist is running his own lab, then the cost of the overhead on that lab needs to be reviewed when evaluating the cost of hiring him. “In order to begin manufacture of a potion (and they may be made only one at a time), the magic-user must have a proper laboratory … Initial outlay for the creation of a workshop … would cost between 200 and 1,000 g.p. … upkeep of the laboratory requires a further monthly outlay of 10% of the total cost of the place.” An alchemist’s lab, per Player’s Option: Spells and Magic, costs 65 gp/month rental for the floor space.  The 10% maintenance (spent on fuel and supplies) averages to another 65 gp/month. Average operating costs for an alchemist are 65 gp (rental) + 65 gp (maintenance), or 130 gp /month, 22% of his hourly rate, close enough to the operating expenses of an an independent contractor.

A good modern baseline for hiring a professional is an hourly rate that is twice his normal salaried rate (where expenses are included in that rate). Our alchemist costs 300 gp /month salaried, which would be 600 gp/month as a contractor. Assuming a four-week month, and not counting potion materials, the alchemist will cost 150 gp / week or about 25 gp /day (and our average alchemist works on a weekly rate for any measurement in weeks, and a daily rate for work calculated in days).

The DMG doesn’t indicate how much it costs to attempt to determine the formula for any specific potion, but guidelines can be found in PO: S&M: d3 weeks + 1 week, at 100 gp/week in materials. If using Commune or Contact Another Plane, or having a full dose of the potion in question, the time can be reduced to one week, but unless the process is needed in a hurry, it’s cheaper to do the work the hard way than relying on divination given the cost of NPC spell casting. For an alchemist, a potion formula is therefore worth 200 to 400 gp (materials) + 150 gp/week (salary), or on average 750 gp. Note that successful creation of the formula would require a proficiency check. Under the Skills & Powers system the chance of success is 6, with a -3 penalty, or 15%. It will on average take five tries to create a formula (.85*.85*.85*.85*.85), making the average formula “value” 3,750 gp. After the formula has been developed, it would not have to be researched again (just pay for the cost and time requirements for creating each potion).

The cost of creating potions is partially defined in the DMG:

“Both the cost in gold pieces and the days of compounding and infusing are determined by use of the xp award amounts. The xp for a given potion is the amount of gold pieces the magic-user must pay in order to concoct the [initial] basic formula (default to 200 gp). Each hundred or fraction thereof indicates one full day of compounding time to manufacture the liquid, i.e., 250 xp = 250 gp. basic costs and 3 full days of time. Most important to the manufacture of a potion is the substance of its power, the special ingredient.”

While defining the basic cost of creating a potion, the DMG does not define the cost of the most important component–the special ingredient. While the obvious solution is that the adventurers gather the special ingredient(s) themselves, there’s the obvious correlation of the gold piece value of a potion and the special ingredient(s) required to construct it. There’s no ready way to figure that out with the data so far, so let’s put a pin in that cost for the moment.

The DMG does not directly indicate any chance of failure, except to suggest that perhaps a failure rate of 5%-20% results in a potion of delusion.  S&P defines the chance of success as 70% + 2% / character level, -1% for each 100 gp of the cost. The character in question creating the potion is a minimum of 7th level, and most potions average roughly 500 gp to construct, so an average 80% change of success is reasonable, which corresponds with the DMG’s 20% chance of failure plus an addition 2% chance of success for each PC level over 7th.

What happens when upon failure to create a potion? The DMG suggests that these failures could be the source of the potion of delusion, but that’s uninteresting. The Potion Miscibility Table provides some guidance, and can be readily adapted if the wording is changed a bit:

Dice Score Result

01 EXPLOSION! Those in a 10’ radius take 4-24 hit points, no save.
02-03 A poison gas cloud of 10’ diameter results, and all within it must save versus poison or die.
04-08 Mild poison which causes nausea and loss of 1 point each of strength and dexterity for 5-20 rounds, no saving throw possible.
09-15 Potion totally destroyed.
16-25 Potion ruined (potion of delusion).
26-35 Potion at 50% normal efficacy.
36-90 Ruined.
91-99 Potion has 150% normal efficacy (You must determine if both effect and duration are permissible, or if only the duration should be extended.)
100 DISCOVERY! The potion’s special formula will cause its effects will be permanent upon the imbiber with harmful side effects.

Weighting the potion experience point values and costs by frequency, the average potion in the DMG is 367 xp, with an average gp value/sale price of 924 gp. Producing that average potion will cost 367 gp (materials) + 100 gp (alchemist, 4 days), for a net average profit of 457 gp, or 49%!  However, there are a few costs as yet unaccounted for. We haven’t paid for the special ingredient yet. There’s a 20% failure rate when creating potions. We also haven’t included anything to represent the initial cost of creating the formula in the first place.

In summary so far:

  • Cost to research potion: d3+1 weeks @ 100 gp / week (materials) + 150 gp/week (alchemist), with a 15% success rate, average 3,750 gp.
  • Cost to create potion: xp value + 1 day for each 100 xp (materials) + 25 gp/day (alchemist), average 467 gp.
  • Chance of failure: 20%, modified by 2% for each level over 7th.

To figure out the value of the actual formula of the potion, I’m going to amortize the initial expense against the cost of creating the formula over a year. For our average potion, each attempt would take 4 days. Our alchemist can’t take time off in the middle of creating a potion, so if working 6 days a week in a 52-week year, our intrepid creator can only produce 1/week for 52 weeks. Taking into account the 20% failure rate, 42 successful potions would be created in a year. If we figure to amortize the cost of the formula creation over a year’s production (the life of adventurers and alchemists is short), the cost of 3,750 gp to create the formula amortized over the profits of those 42 potions available for sale is 89 gp/potion.

Assuming a 5% return on the investment, the cost formula becomes (assuming the 20% failure rate):

(Sales Price * 4) – ((Formula Cost + Material Cost + Alchemist Cost + Special Ingredient Cost) * 5) = 5% (Formula Cost + Material Cost + Alchemist Cost + Special Ingredient Cost)

OR

(924*4) – (89+367+100+Special Ingredient)*5 = .5% * (89+367+100+Special Ingredient)
3696 – (556+Special Ingredient)*5 = .05* (556+Special Ingredient)

20*3692 – 100(556+Special) = 556+Special

73840 – 100(556+Special) = 556+Special

73284 -100*(556+Special) = Special

73341 – 55600 -100Special  = Special

17684 -100Special = Special

17684  = 101Special

Special Ingredient = 175 gp

175 gp is 19% of the potion’s average sale price of 924 gp, providing an average value of the special ingredient (or ingredients) purchased in any potion created: 19% of the sale price.

In turn that can be used to determine the street value of potion components were the party to get into the business of selling potion components. Assuming a 50% markup before being purchased by a wholeseller selling alchemical components, an average potion’s raw special component(s) is worth roughly 117 gp.

Final results for creating a potion, with the help of an alchemist in his lab:

  • Cost to research potion: d3+1 weeks @ 100 gp / week (materials) + 150 gp/week (alchemist), average 3,750 gp.
  • Cost to create potion, assuming a 5% profit margin for the alchemist who created the potion: xp value in gold + 19% of the sale price of the potion (special ingredient) + 25 gp/day (alchemist). Takes 1 day / each 100 xp of potion, average cost 643 gp.
  • Chance of failure for each potion: 20%, decreased by 2% for each level over 7th level.

Other math, such as how much are the costs if the PCs create the formula, or provide their own ingredients, should be readily calculable using the above assumptions.

Appendix

It’s also worth nothing that Dragon #130 has an extended article on the Alchemist class, which divides the potions into “levels” for a different method of determining the cost of the potion formula. The article also includes other suggestions, such as: an expanded list of special ingredients for particular potions; a different Failure Table; a much higher rate of potion creation (one level of potion/day per alchemist level); and limiting the level of potion creation by the level of alchemist.

Previous versions of the Alchemist class are included in Dragon issues #2, 45, and 49. Dragon #2 (1976, D&D) also ranks the potions by level and a methodology to determining time and cost to produce. Dragon #45 suggests a detailed methodology for potion identification. Dragon #49 lists various ways failed potions could adversely affect the user. It also suggests that substituting special components is possible but increases the potential rate of failure.

Dragon #2, 1976 (D&D)
Lists potions by level of difficulty to create.
Potions require 200 gp + 1 week/level of potion to produce.
Research costs are the same as that for a MU researching spells.
40% more likely to create a potion formula with an example.
Lists potions by level, and several new potions

Dragon #45, January 1981
Specialist alchemists
Monthly salary of 30-120 gp + 10,000 gp for the lab
Potion identification costs 100-150 gp/day, identifying potions at xp/100 hours) with ~95% accuracy

Dragon #49, May 1981
Lists potions by difficulty to create
Alchemists as a spell-casting class
Substituting ingredients increases chance of failure.

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