Wednesday, June 1, 2011
Published in 1983 and written by Steven Cordovano and Stephan Michael Sechi (of Talislanta fame), The Compleat Alchemist was a slim, 46-page paperback book that presented a new class for fantasy roleplaying -- the alchemist. Like all such books of this type, it makes a weak attempt at claiming utility for any fantasy RPG, but even a cursory examination of the book's rules and terminology make it clear that it was written with D&D in mind. That only makes sense, because, in 1983, D&D was close to the peak of its popularity. And, of course, I didn't mind at all, since D&D was what I was playing and with which I hoped to use this supplement.
What appealed to me about The Compleat Alchemist was its verisimilitude. I won't say "realism," because that's both a loaded term in gaming circles and because it doesn't make much sense when you're talking about rules for a bogus science. What the book did well was present a comprehensive and plausible set of rules and systems for simulating an alchemist's ability to create elixirs, powders, venoms, devices, talismans, and the like. The book provided lots of lists of rare ingredients and the process of mixing them to create things, as well as the chance that such mixing might have adverse or unexpected effects. At each level of experience, an alchemist gained many new abilities, expanding his repertoire of creation and, while any given creation might not be particularly impressive (though many, especially at high levels, were), what impressed me most was the breadth of options available. Alchemists were every bit as flexible -- and useful -- as magic-users or clerics, making them a viable alternative character class, which very much appealed to me.
As it turned out, I never used the alchemist class in my campaigns. No one ever expressed any interest in playing one and, well done though its abilities were, I never found any need to give them even to NPCs. That was largely my experience with most new character classes beyond those presented in the Players Handbook: cool in theory but largely irrelevant in practice. It's a pity, too, because, as I said, the alchemist class was cleverly designed and not just a one-trick pony, like so many alternate character classes. Still, I liked this book well enough that I bought its two companions when I saw them (which I'll discuss in future posts), in the process breaking down my resistance to buying products other than those carrying the Official Dungeons & Dragons label on them.
Man, I was such an idiot.