An Unknown Wizard’s Guide to Potions

The author of this text has published it anonymously. If you were sold this text by a guild-sanctioned bookseller, they have done so illegally. None of the information contained within has been reviewed or approved by the alchemists’ guild, wizards’ guild, dweomer league, the crown’s council of thaumaturgists, or any other legally recognized “authority” (lack of capitalization of the aforementioned parties intentional on part of the editor). It is not clear (even to their companions) whether the Unknown Wizard is actually a wizard. Also, some of their ingredients are pretty questionable, be warned. ~your humble editor, the Unknown Rogue

There is much secrecy around the subject of dweomercraft and many potential alchemists (and artificers, but that’s a subject for another text) never get to experience this satisfying hobby, scared away by fairytales crafted by stuffy academics and power-hungry bureaucrats. It is my hope that this text can serve as a stepping stone (but not dogma!) for a new generation of hobbyist alchemists.

There is vast creativity available to the alchemist. Recipes can be useful for purposes of exact replication of effects, and some starter recipes will be provided here, but experimentation and lateral thinking are absolutely key to improving your skills. I’ve tried to provide some hints as to how some recipes may be adjusted, but it’s by no means comprehensive. Don’t be afraid to try something silly. Incremental testing is vital to progress. Start with small amounts of cheap active ingredients, test the result, and either increase your ratios or try something else. Repeat. And even if the potions you’re making aren’t particularly effective or useful, you’re learning. And having fun.
The main danger with potions is not in the production of them (usually…), it’s in what you do with finished alchemical products. More on that shortly.

So… let’s dive in.

Safety is not a boogeyman. It is an important rule that is easy to follow. If you stick to this rule every time you work with potions, you will be fine.
DO NOT mix finished alchemical products. Just don’t. This applies to potions, but also to substances which may seem like potential ingredients but are actually finished alchemical products themselves. Potions can be mixed with non-alchemicals like food and beverages, though heating can often ruin the potion. If in doubt, cast detect magic on it. If it shows up at all, it’s finished. Even mixing two identical potions is not advisable. Maybe you’ve seen someone pour multiple healing potions into a larger vessel and nothing went wrong; doesn’t matter… don’t do it!

That’s it! It’s a simple rule, and the academics may find it grossly insufficient, but if you follow it you’ll be just fine.

Equipment is a matter of much personal deliberation. There are several items required and you can spend ludicrous amounts of money on them, not to mention their restriction to guild members… but all items have a purpose. If you can fulfill that purpose with something makeshift, why not? That said, if you can afford better you should always treat yourself. This equipment is as follows:

A still. The alembic/retort is the classic option here, but a still’s a still. All you need is something that can boil liquid and drip the steam into an accompanying vessel. Better equipment can be a massive quality of life improvement, but a persistent alchemist with a high tolerance for frustration can make a tea kettle work. If you have access to a still for booze, you probably have better equipment than many alchemists.

A condenser or “sublimator”. For this one, an aludel is best practice. It’s just tapered tubes which can be affixed atop a pot, with a bulb or vessel at the top with a tiny hole. I’ve seen iron pots stacked in a column to replicate this, though it’s definitely not ideal.

A calciner or kiln. This one’s pretty easy with some fiddling about. “Proper” alchemists have advanced calciners (also sometimes called calcinators), but this is a piece of equipment you can improvise without worry. A cob, clay, or stone oven will do the trick, though you need to make sure you can easily control (including completely stopping) airflow.

A grinding tool. Most folks have a simple one of these in their home; this is just a mortar and pestle. The grinding of herbs is a frequent need for an alchemist. Cheap, expensive, this one has the least benefit from spending your silver on.

Measuring tools. In conducting alchemy, you’ll need to be able to measure mass (weight, for the hedge wizards out there), volume, and temperature. A makeshift scale is easy enough to construct, and many tankards are guild regulated in their ounceage, but temperature can be a tricky one. Even many guild-regulated alchemists go by feel, instinct, and how their ingredients are reacting to gauge temperature, but more exotic devices do exist if you have the coin.

Ingredients. These are obviously all over the spectrum in terms of availability, but there’s a handful that are useful across many potions, and there’s a few broad categories all ingredients fall into:
Foundations. Typically just distilled water. Distilling water shouldn’t be an issue if you’ve followed the above guidance. Some folks however, swear by ethanol. I would be inclined to agree if you can manage as close to 195 proof as possible. It’s a better solvent and you’ll find it smoothes out a lot of rough edges in your potions’ effects. If you can’t manage 150 proof, don’t bother. Sap works best for the base of distillation, if you can find maple syrup.
Primes. This is the money maker, and the toughest to procure. Fortunately you don’t need much if you’re just experimenting. Troll blood, brains of any kind, witch’s tit, that sort of thing. Ghost blood is a common red herring in recipes, don’t get tricked. Stock up on common herbs and you’ll be fine for just starting out.
Catalysts. Salt is common. You can play around with this. Colloidal silver, gold, or aluminum is the best, but are overkill, hard to work with, and far too pricey for anyone but lead court alchemists. The catalyst is what helps the ingredients communicate the magic amongst one another.
Binders. Helps everything mix. Potash (don’t overdo it!) is the easiest for the alchemist on a budget. If you’re using ethanol as your foundation, you probably don’t need one, though you’ll need to let it sit for a fortnight or two before activating it.

This is the good stuff, right? I’ve included some basic recipes here with some notes on how you can play around with them. The recipes given here assume the hobbyist on a budget; if you want to play with greater effects, try better primes (listed below). Some of these are only possible with rare ingredients though, they’ve been included as a taste of what’s possible. The activations of these potions are also geared towards the non-magically inclined, but again more advanced activations have been included. All of these recipes are for roughly 1 ounce potions; note that creating larger batches is a tricky affair as it requires multiple activations, which if not perfectly simultaneous means you’ll be mixing finished alchemical products. Stick to an ounce at a time for now.

GIANT SIZE. Makes you bigger, stronger, and tougher. Foundation one ounce of distilled water, Prime a chunk of fresh bone with marrow from someone bigger than you, Catalyst a half pinch of salt, Binder a half pinch of potash. Process: before the bone can dry, grind it it into fine powder, grind the catalyst into the result, and add to the solution of binder and foundation. Activation requires sublimating the prepared solution, grinding the sublimate to a fine powder, and vigorously adding all at once an ounce of beef stock to the sublimate. Don’t reverse this mixing! For a more advanced version, replace the prime and catalyst with giant’s bone and salt calcinated from a dire animal’s blood respectively. Activating this advanced version requires casting a shapechanging spell on the prepared solution.
Increases your height by one inch and increases your weight by half a pound. The more advanced version increases your size by one category.

HASTE. Gotta go fast. Good for a fight, speed chess, or when you just wanna feel amazing. Foundation one ounce of distilled water, Prime an ounce of goblin yellow bile (the yellow bile of a winning race horse has also been effective), Catalyst a half pinch of salt, Binder a half pinch of potash. Process: Sublimate the bile, calcinate the result, and mill the result with the catalyst and binder at 500 rpm with ceramic grinding media, then continually and steadily mix the result with the foundation for three hours. Activation requires shaking the solution vigorously while moving at least 45 mph . For a more advanced version, include the distilled extract of a bean from a yellow tropical fruit (the guilds haven’t named the species yet) with the bile. Activating this advance version requires casting a spell which prevents the target from sleeping on the prepared solution.
Increases speed by 3 feet for 20 seconds. The advanced version grants one extra action for ten iterations of the initiative cycle. Both versions will prevent you from sleeping the following night, though the advanced version’s sleep deprivation lasts for d4 days.

HEALING. Clutch. What you need in an emergency when your hand gets cut off. Foundation one ounce of distilled water, Prime an ounce of troll blood, Catalyst a half pinch of salt, Binder a half pinch of potash. Process: Sublimate the drop of troll’s blood, mill the result with the catalyst using blessed grinding media, and add to the solution of binder and foundation. Activation requires casting a spell on the prepared solution which ends an otherwise permanent negative physical condition.
Restores 3d6 hit points and stops all minor bleeding effects. If poured on a lost limb, stops bleeding for that wound.

INVIGORATION. The classic mainstay of every mercenary and adventurer. Doesn’t actually heal wounds, but keeps you in the fight. Gives you energy and clears the mind to help avoid killing blows. Foundation one ounce of distilled water, Prime a pinch of ground juniper berry, Catalyst a half pinch of salt, Binder a half pinch of potash. Process: Mix all ingredients. Activation requires the touch of a cleric. For a more advanced version, activate the potion by casting a spell on it which restores hit points.
Restores 1 hit point. The advanced version restores d4 hit points and provides advantage on the next action you take within one minute.

REVIVE. Someone’s just died! Maybe this’ll help? Foundation one ounce of holy water, Prime an ounce of unicorn urine, Catalyst a half pinch of dwarven-ground silver, Binder a half pinch of potash. Process: calcinate the unicorn piss, and mix the result with all other ingredients at high noon on hallowed ground. Activation requires successful divine intervention by a cleric of a healing deity.
If poured down the throat (DC 10 DEX check in stressful environments to not chip a tooth) of someone who’s died in the last minute, they awake with 1 hit point coughing and sputtering, unable to take actions for 12 seconds.

What if you want to get fancy? Well, the easiest improvement you can make across the board is replacing water with ethanol. Just know that anyone drinking the potion is doing a shot of high proof alcohol. You can also substitute salt for a more magically conductive substance, as long as it’s easily mixable in your solution.

Have fun experimenting!