Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Best Alchemical Items For Your Pathfinder Party

Alchemical items are one of the most overlooked tools available to adventurers in Pathfinder. These unusual creations may seem quaint, even quirky, but they can be the difference between character death and snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.
Below is a list of some of the more useful items and groups of items that players will run into. In the descriptions you'll find the upsides, the downsides, and the appropriate levels to use these items at. Some of them are only good for starting parties, while others can be used all the way through epic level. It just depends on where your game is at.

Grenade Weapons

Athos, Porthos, and Inflammable
Everyone knows these items: alchemist fire, acid flasks, and holy water. Found on page 160 of the Core Rulebook they're the three musketeers of lower-level dirty tricks. Alchemist fire does 1d6 of fire damage to the main target, automatically setting it on fire and splashing out to do 1 point of fire damage to all adjacent squares. Acid also does 1d6 with splash to all adjacent squares, but no recurring damage. Holy water does 2d4 damage to an undead or evil creature, and can be poured out over incorporeal creatures which makes it a handy weapon at lower levels against ghosts and evil there-not-there enemies.
That said, none of these items are really much use past level 5, and most players dispense with them by level 3 or so. The reason is simple: not enough bang for the buck. They're great against swarms, who take double damage from grenade weapons, and they're a lovely touch attack against enemies with really high armor classes, but they take a move action to draw and a standard action to throw. Even Quick Draw can't solve this problem. As such players tend to stop carrying any of these except for emergency situations, or because they just plain forgot they had a grenade left over in the bottoms of their backpacks.

Smokesticks and Thunderstones

Ninja Vanish!
These two items are very undervalued for their strategic capabilities in a fight. Thunderstones have a range of 20 feet, a radius of 10 feet from the point of impact, and they require a DC 15 Fortitude save to avoid being deafened for an hour. That's a -4 to Initiative, a 20 percent miscast chance on spells, and a field day for rogues who only have to worry about keeping out of sight instead of being heard creeping up. This is a big boon, but the problem is that it comes with a relatively low save. A 15 is a terrifying proposition at lower levels, with even fighters and barbarians being at a 50/50 shot to avoid being deafened. As the threat levels increase and creatures get bigger, badder, and have Fortitude saves that would make PCs cry if they could see them, these stones may seem pretty useless. On the other hand, spellcasters are squishy at nearly any level, and the potential to lose spells makes one round spent to chuck a thunderstone seem like a pretty worthy endeavor when it could save you from a fireball or a flamestrike.
The thunderstone's companion, also found on page 160 of the Core Rulebook, is the humble smokestick. It creates a 10-foot cube of smoke as per the fog cloud spell, and unless the smoke is blown away by a strong wind (not common in dungeon settings) the cloud provides concealment. Said concealment works both ways sadly, but for those players who need to hide from archers, who need a distraction to make a stealth check, or who need a ninja-vanish for a retreat, smokesticks are a great way to Batman in or out of a fight.

Sticky Situations

Why am I dripping with goo?
Tanglefoot bags have become a phobia for several DMs, and for good reason. While players rarely use these items they are a great way to debuff a villain regardless of the thrower's class or combat capabilities. On a direct hit it requires a DC 15 Reflex save, or the creature is stuck to the floor. If the creature was flying the results on a failure mean that it crashes. Even if the target makes the save though, it's entangled for 2d4 rounds. That's half movement speed, -2 on attack rolls, -4 on Dexterity related checks, and a concentration check of 15+spell level any time it tries to cast a spell. While it doesn't work on anything bigger than Large size, a tanglefoot bag can be a huge pain in the butt for any enemy of the appropriate size.
Tanglefoot bags come in other flavors though! The tangleshot arrow (found in Elves of Golarion) is still a touch attack, but it has the ability to be drawn and fired like any other arrow complete with range (well, half the range anyway) and rate of fire. The trade off is that it's only a DC 10 Reflex save not to be stuck to the floor, and the concentration check is only DC 10+spell level. On the other hand, a barrage of these arrows can very quickly stick your enemies in their tracks. Also, for those who prefer the flavor of the friendly neighborhood web slinger, there's Spider Sac (found in the Advanced Race Guide). Spider Sac is, more or less, a 10 foot web-shooter that can be used when climbing, swinging through the air, falling, or it can be used as a lasso when a touch attack is made against an opponent. This leaves the opponent entangled, and at the end of your rope.

Weapon Blanches

Apply With Caution
Weapon blanch comes in a variety of shapes and styles. When applied to a blade it gives that blade the ability to overcome different kinds of damage reduction, or in the case of ghost salts the ability to hit incorporeal creatures. These items are typically considered useful until the players can start buying magic weapons, but it never hurts to keep blanch on hand for fighting creatures whose DR isn't going to be pierced by the weapon you've got.

An Ounce of Prevention, And A Pound of Cure

Because sometimes the cleric is the first to go down.
One of the most overlooked items that players can use are Antitoxins and Antiplague (the former in the Core Rulebook, the latter in the Advanced Player's Guide). These things give a +5 bonus to poison and disease saves respectively for an hour once ingested. They're great to keep on hand in case plague-born undead start reaching out from the streets for you, or in case an assassin with a trademarked poison has marked a party for death. They need to be used carefully, but a +5 bonus is nothing to sneeze at when it comes to staying healthy. Soothe Syrup (found in the Advanced Player's Guide as well) has a similar effect on sickened and nauseated characters. Lastly, for those who want to be prepared when battle breaks out, it's a good idea to take a draught of Troll Oil. This disgusting brew automatically stabilizes characters that have drunk it (for one hour), and it has a 50% chance to end any bleed effects.
Alchemical items can also fix you right up even if you don't take them before getting hurt. Bloodblock (from the Advanced Player's Guide) ends any bleed effect instantly, and provides a +5 bonus on Heal checks as if the person had used a healer's kit. Smelling Salts (from the Advanced Player's Guide) give players who are rendered unconscious or staggered by a spell effect a new save, and they automatically revive a dying character to consciousness. A handy trick if the fighter needs to drink a healing potion or the cleric needs to channel energy, but they're currently at negative hit points. For those who don't have access to magical healing, or for those occasions where the healer is dying, a dose of Troll Styptic (Seekers of Secrets) is a great field dressing. It automatically ends all bleeding effects and ongoing damage, granting the recipient 2d4 rounds of fast healing 2. It does require a Fortitude save of 15 to not be sickened while the dressing does its work, but being a troll is far from pleasant.

Miscellaneous Alchemical Items You Should Keep Around

Like a Canadian armory, you never know what you might need.
Sometimes it isn't worth stocking up on a certain alchemical item, but it's still nice to have in a pinch. Some of these include:
Ward Gel:
Made for particular elements, this gel acts as protection from energy 5 up to 20 points of damage for one hour. Great for raiding dragons and frost giants alike!

Bachelor's Snuff: Golarion birth control, this snuff renders male humanoids sterile for 2-3 days or so.
Smoke Pellets: The original ninja-vanish, these items are great for quick distractions that confuse enemies and allow for fast escapes (or assaults).
Everburning Torch and Sunrods: With so many characters that can't see in the dark, don't you want to have a few of these handy?
Clear Ear: It provides a +2 alchemical bonus on Perception and Knowledge checks, but a -2 on Charisma. Cranky rogues anyone?
Barbarian Chew: Side effects may include ugly red teeth, and an extra round of Rage if a barbarian enters it in the next hour after chewing.

Carrying it All

One of the biggest downsides of alchemical items is that they tend to ride in a backpack, or buried at the bottom of a bag of holding. For those who want to have them close to hand, along with wands and other useful items, it's a good idea to check out the bandolier, the adventurer's sash, and other great items listed right here in my guide to non-magical equipment.

You know you want one.

Why Bother?

It's true that the bonuses and usefulness provided by alchemical items can easily be provided, or exceeded by, magic. That's why few players bother with alchemical items past level 5 or 7. However, alchemical bonuses are one more category of bonus to add to a player's array, and what's even better is that they can't be dismissed or dispelled. They're great backup weapons, and they get around all those nasty immunities and resistances that many creatures have. They're also great holdouts for well-prepared rogues and combat characters who need to have a trick or two up their sleeves to make an impact on the big bads.

That's all for this re-print. I hope folks enjoyed it, and remember, you can support Improved Initiative over at The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page. And, to stay up-to-date on all my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter as well.


  1. Thanks, you just made my next fight so much easier.

  2. Have you taken a look at Twitch Tonic from Ultimate Equipment? It gives a +2 bonus on saves vs Paralysis and I cannot remember anything else that ups your resistance to paralysis.

  3. Also Vermin Repellent is always helpful for those nasty swarms

  4. This is great stuff. Thanks again!