Alchemy In RuneQuest

Send comments and/or criticism to Simon E. Phipp
Created On 13 June 1999
Last Updated On 13 June 1999
Copyright (c) Simon E. Phipp 1989, 1991, 1999

The Alchemist Guild
Alchemical Skills
Use of Skills
Potion Ingredients
The Alchemist Character Type
Magic in Alchemy
Alchemical Potions


One of the things about Third Edition RuneQuest which disappointed me was the complete absence of an alchemical system. This is a shame considering the fairly well developed system in RQ2. I hope that these thought goes some way towards rectifying this omission.

Alchemy, as the forerunner of modern chemistry, was involved in the transformation of physical substances by mundane or arcane means. In this article, I use the term to mean a primitive form of Chemistry. This article does not address the spiritual ideas of Alchemy, those of transforming the Soul by a series of rebirths - that is the province of philosophers and mystics.

An alchemist was one who practised alchemy. Here, I use the term "alchemist" to mean anyone who can alter substances by either chemical or magical means - it includes wise women, tribal shamans, healers, thieves, assassins, sages, mostali, sorcerers and adventurers. All these people need to brew potions of some kind, although their ingredients, methods and final products will differ considerably. For instance, an Aranea Shaman will produce Spider Venom Antidote in a different way to a Lhankor My Alchemist in his laboratory. One thing that alchemists have in common is an almost fanatical secrecy - they will almost never reveal their secrets to those outside their group.

The Alchemist Guild

The RuneQuest 2 rules had this as the cornerstone of Gloranthan Alchemy and implied that it was a global institution that controlled every function of alchemy. However, I feel that this is a gross oversimplification. If I had my way, I would abolish the idea of the Alchemist Guild completely, but that is not going to happen.

A more reasonable approach to this is to say that each large town or city in well-developed areas would have an Alchemist Guild where Guilds have been established. This Guild would be made up of the local Sages, Healers and Wise Women, maybe even sorcerers, thieves and assassins. In dwarven areas, there may be one or two mostali in the Guild, but this is rare. Because thieves and assassins have a need for secrecy, they usually only have a token presence on the Guild. Except for areas where developed and primitive/barbarian areas meet, shamans will not be present in the Guild.

Each urban area would have its own Alchemist Guild which would have membership drawn from locals. Anyone from a different area would have to join the local Guild, normally by providing letters of reference, proof of his skills and a substantial fee. Once the local Guild has been joined, the new member is treated as any other member. Alchemists rarely travel to strange places, but others belonging to the Guild could easily do so. The Alchemist Guild regulates the practice of Alchemy in its own area. It doers this by operating a closed shop and price-fixing cartel - the only people allowed to practice Alchemy are Guild members and the costs of their services is closely regulated and are usually high. Alchemical potions can only be bought from registered Guild members and anyone trying to undercut them is likely to suffer the consequences for which there is seldomly an antidote.

Seekers after wisdom in rural, barbarian or primitive areas must actively find the local practitioners for their skills as these areas do not have an established Alchemist Guild. Such practitioners will generally sell potions but are notoriously secretive and possessive of their skills, so it is very difficult to learn from them how to brew potions.

Alchemical Skills

It is very difficult to describe all the different methods of collecting ingredients, blending and processing them to produce the final potions and, to be honest, it would be totally pointless. The RuneQuest system is a skill-based one which is fundamentally very simple, so I have tried to boil down the principles of Alchemy into a few generic skills and techniques. I feel that the following skills offer a simple, quick and flexible approach to RuneQuest Alchemy.

All Alchemical skills have a base chance of 00%, are increased only through training or research, never by experience, and are, with the exception of Taste Analysis, Knowledge skills. Since they have a base chance of 00%, they must be taught in order to be known - nobody can teach themselves Alchemy from scratch.

Alchemical Lore (Knowledge, Base 00%)

This skill is sometimes simply known as Alchemy and describes the knowledge of general Alchemical techniques applicable to all fields of Alchemy. It can be used to decide what equipment might be needed for a particular process. Usually it is used to boost the chance of success of producing a potion or to carry out research. In all cases, the correct Alchemical equipment must be available in order to use Alchemical Lore, so in the wastes of Prax with a few blades of grass the skill is useless.

Poison Lore (Knowledge Base 00%)

This relates to the knowledge of all types of poisons and their antidotes. It allows the user to identify the source of a poison, to choose the correct poison for a given job or to identify a poison. It is a very rare Lore and is normally only taught by assassins and similar folk. Even shamans of Aranea or Bagog will have no Poison Lore as they are concerned only with their own poisons and antidotes, not with the general study.

Taste Analysis (Perception Base 00%)

This skill is used to identify alchemical potions and other substances by means of tasting or smelling a very small, harmless amount of the sample.

1. It cannot be increased through experience, it must be taught or researched.
2. The user can only identify substances that he has previously encountered, otherwise he can only hazard an educated guess at what the substance is. If he succeeds in the skill and has not met the substance before the GM must tell him that it is probably a particular substance, but he is not sure. It is up to the GM or to other PCs, if they are doing the training, to determine what substances have been encountered. Most training will cover standard potions, poisons and substances as those are the most frequently encountered.
3. The user can only identify the potency of the substance within a certain range, giving an idea of the strength of the potion. I play that a normal success gives ranges of very strong, strong, normal, weak, very weak etc., special success gives potency in the ranges of 1-5, 6-10, 11-15, 16-20 and so on, a critical success gives the exact potency.
4.A fumble with the skill means that the user is affected by the potion - he swallowed the Hydra Venom or the Impotency Potion.
Make (Object) (Knowledge Base 00%)

This skill is used to create a particular object, so there are skills of Make Flask, Make Flare, Make Grenade, Make Violin, Make Bagpipes, Make Table and so on. Although this is not a skill restricted to Alchemists, it is useful for making particular intricate objects. It covers the manufacture of the object, the mix of substances within it and the method of using the object. Some people may want to use the Craft skills instead, but I prefer the idea that knowing how to make a table does not allow you to make a boat, whereas Craft (Wood) allows this. Obviously, having a relevant Craft skill will increase the chance of making the object as stated below.

Brew (Substance) (Knowledge Base 00%)

This is the generic Alchemical skill. Alchemists learn to make different types of potion with this skill. Each type of potion is covered by one skill, but each skill may be used to make more than one kind of potion. For instance the Brew Animal Venom Antidote skill may be used to prepare Spider Venom Antidotes, Scorpion Venom Antidotes and Snake Venom Antidotes.

Use of Skills

The following is a rough and ready guide to the mechanics of the Alchemy Skills. It covers all the alchemical skills and so does not include those rules which are specific to only a few skills. Those will be included in a later section.

General Method

An alchemist's Brew (Substance) skill represents his base chance to brew that substance. It does not relate to the strength of the substance to be made, nor to the time taken to make the substance.

An alchemist can improve his chance of success in any alchemical process by including related Lores to his chance of success. He can add half of the best applicable Lore and one quarter of any other applicable Lore. So, a Sage with Brew Herbal Poison 49% ,Poison Lore 40%, Plant Lore 30% and Alchemical Lore 13% would have a chance of success of 49 + 20 + 10 + 8 + 4 = 91% inside the laboratory and 49 + 20 + 10 + 8 = 87% outside the laboratory. Of course, this means that someone knowing a good number of Lores would always have a good chance of success - one of the advantages of study.

Different Lores affect different areas of alchemy:

Alchemical Lore - all alchemical processes, given a certain standard of equipment
Poison Lore - All poisons and antidotes
Animal Lore - the brewing of Spider, Scorpion, Insect, Avian and similar poisons and antidotes, processes which use raw materials from creatures as raw ingredients
Plant Lore - the brewing of herbal poisons and antidotes and any process involving healing plants and other plants, including fungi
Mineral Lore - the brewing of any mineral poisons and antidotes, acids, alkalis, flaremaking, gunpowder manufacture etc.
Disease Lore - Disease Curing Potions, Disease Curing Potions

Success in the modified Brew (Potion) skill means that the potion was created and will work as intended. Normally, there is no benefit for a special, critical or critical special roll, except that where the potion is designed to be difficult to detect by particular means, the skill required to detect the potion must match or exceed the Brew (Potion) roll. So, if an alchemist made Systemic Poison designed to dissolve in wine and rolled a Special success, any Taste Analysis roll needs to be a special to identify the poison. Obviously, such potions can be sold at a premium.

A fumble means that the potion was ruined and cannot be used. Some people may wish to produce a fumble table to produce various effects, but I feel that this over-complicates things.

A failure can mean several things, depending on which area of the creation failed. If the problem lies with the Base or the Binding Agents then the potion may still work but may have a distinctive odour, taste or appearance. If the failure was in the Active Ingredients then it may be of reduced potency. It is up to the GM to determine how the Brewing process failed and what effects that would have.

Potency of Potions

The maximum strength, or potency (POT), of a potion brewable is solely determined by the ingredients available to the alchemist. He may normally only make potions of equal potency to his raw materials. So, an alchemist using the leaves of the Joy of Arroin plant to make a healing potion is limited to the POT of the leaves - he cannot make a POT 12 potion from POT 7 leaves.

However, it may be possible to make potions of higher potency than normal by breaking down and wasting a great deal of the natural ingredients, at the GM's discretion. This works by halving the POT of all ingredients used, rounding fractions up, and summing them to gain the new POT. Thus, the above alchemist could use POT 10, 12 and 15 fruit of the Arroin's Tears bush to make a high potency Cure Shakes potion, its POT would be 10/2 + 12/2 + 15/2 = 19 POT, wasting 18 POT points but gaining a more effective potion. This process is useful when preparing potions where a single high potency potion is more useful than a number of low potency potions. The GM needs to decide how difficult it is to do this and what the skill penalties would be. This generally increases the time taken to create the potion, normally the time taken is the sum of the times that it would normally take, so the above example would take 3 times as long as the potion would normally take, but once again this should be determined by the GM. Some potions cannot be increased in potency in this way, once again up to the GM.

Since mundane potions have a potency representing their purity, the rules covering their manufacture are slightly different. Their base potency depends on the ingredients used - soap made from beeswax collected by Great Hives of Gorakiki by Virgin Acolytes would be purer than that made from tallow. However, the final potency of the product depends on the Brew (Substance) roll: A fumble produces an unusable potion, POT 0; a failed roll means the POT is spoiled, POT is reduced by 1D4; a normal success means that POT is unchanged; a special success indicates a fine potion + 1D3 POT; a critical roll means an excellent product + 2D3 POT; a Critical Special success means a superb product of + 3D3 POT. High potency mundane potions will sell for more than low potency ones - POT 12 mead will sell for more than POT 3 mead and will probably knock your socks off.

Processing Times

It is very difficult to give a general idea of the time taken to produce substances in alchemy, but a rough guide of between 1 hour and several days should suffice for most substances. This will differ depending on the potion being produced, after all a herbal tea should only take 10 minutes to prepare and infuse whereas a fine malt whiskey takes years to mature. It is possible to have many batches on the go at the same time, at the GM's discretion. Also, a well-equipped alchemical laboratory may reduce the time taken to produce potions.

Forms of Potions

In this article, I have used the term "Potion" to encompass many forms such as pills, biscuits, wafers, salves, ointments, drinks, powders, gas canisters or sprays. These all have similar effects but are carried, stored and used differently. To create a potion in a different form, the Alchemist needs to know the formula for the different form, so he needs a formula for "Spider Venom Antidote Salve" and "Spider Venom Antidote Pill" to create the different types, both of which are produced using the Brew Animal Venom Antidote skill.


These are small, solid and concentrated potions which must be swallowed to take effect. They generally have the same weight as gems, so 100 Pills = 1 ENC in RQ3. Pills are expensive, being the most convenient potion form, and have a Cost Factor of 4 (4 times the cost of a normal potion). Since pills are hard to label, most alchemists make them brightly coloured to ensure speedy identification - beware colour-blind alchemists. Often pills are coated in pleasant-tasting syrup or chocolate - see Miracle Max in the film "The Princess Bride".

Wafers and Biscuits

These are solid potions which must be chewed and swallowed to take effect. They generally have the same weight as Wheels, so 25 biscuits = 1 ENC and are a little expensive, having a cost factor of 2. Often, alchemists add nice flavouring to biscuits and wafers, but wise-women and doctors make them bitter "so you know they are doing you good".

Salves and Ointments

These are semi-solid potions which must be rubbed on the affected area to take effect. They are usually stored in small containers, each dose weighing the same as 10 Lunars, so 5 salves = 1 ENC. They are also fairly expensive, having a Cost Factor of 3.


These are liquid potions which must be swallowed to take effect. They are stored in vials or bottles which weigh the same as 10 Lunars, so 5 vials = 1 ENC and have a Cost Factor of 1.


These are fine powders and must be dissolved in liquids and drunk in order to have an effect. They are normally stored in sachets with 50 sachets = 1 ENC and have a Cost Factor of 2.

Dust Packets

These are extremely fine powders which must be scattered in a cloud to be effective, usually they are thrown at a target. The dust is stored in an easily burst packet with 25 packets = 1 ENC. Dust Clouds are expensive, having a Cost Factor of 10.

Blade Pastes

These are semi-liquid, viscous pastes which are smeared on a blade or needle and take effect when the blade damages a target. They normally are wiped off after a hit which causes no damage or after 3 parried hits. They are stored in small pots with 5 pots = 1 ENC and are expensive, having a Cost Factor of 5.

Gaseous Potions

These are stored in vials which when broken or opened produce a gas which must be breathed in to have an effect. Sometimes, simple being exposed to the Gas causes it to be absorbed through the skin at half POT, at the GM's discretion. Gas vials are 5 vials = 1 ENC and have a Cost factor of 10.

Contact Potions

These are semi-liquid pastes which are applied to a surface where they dry out so as to be almost indetectible. When a target touches the potion with bare flesh the potion is absorbed and takes effect. Needless to say, spells such as Protection and Shield offer no protection against contact poisons. They are stored in vials with 5 vials = 1 ENC and have a Cost Factor of 15.


These are made using the Make Spray skill and are liquids which are applied using a fine spray. They are stored in bottles, so 5 bottles = 1 ENC, but each bottle may contain up to 20 doses. They have a Cost factor of 10 and are fairly rare, although the Xiola Umbar Priestess Ral-Gex was famed for their use at Trollball matches.

Potion FormNumber of Potions
In 1 ENC
Cost Factor
Soluble Powders502
Blade Pastes55
Dust Packets2510
Gaseous Potions510
Contact Potions515


The average cost of a potion is calculated as follows: The price per POT is the training cost for the 26-50 bracket divided by 10. If the substance is of constant strength, treat it as having POT 20. The price of the potion is (Price per POT) x (POT) x (Cost Factor).

So, a Healing Pill will cost 800L per POT, a Healing Salve would cost 600L per POT.

Of course, local circumstances will affect the cost of the potion as will availability of ingredients, the number of alchemists in the area, prevailing political climate and a host of other factors. "If you don't want to pay 10,000L for a dose of Cockatrice venom Antidote, then I'll gladly buy your statue on your return."

The following table contains a list of the Alchemical Skills, the training costs in RQ2 format, cost of ingredients and potions. The costs are unchanged from the RQ2 version, but training costs are different as the training structure is different.

Skill 00-25 26-50 51-75 76-00
Alchemical Lore 800 1600 3200 6400
Poison Lore 800 1600 3200 6400
Brew (Substance) 00-25 26-50 51-75 76-00 Cost per POT
Price per POT
Animal Venom2004008001600440
Animal Venom Antidote2004008001600440
Herbal Poison2004008001600440
Herbal Poison Antidote2004008001600440
Mineral Poison2004008001600440
Mineral Poison Antidote2004008001600440
Healing Potion100020004000800020200
Cure Disease Potion100020004000800020200
Power Restoring Potion100020004000800020200
Power Blasting Potion100020004000800020200
Sleep Potion500100020004000100300
Brew (Substance) 00-25 26-50 51-75 76-00 Cost per POT
Price per POT
Cause Disease Potion40080016003200100-
Thunderlung Dust250500100020001001000
Visibility Dust12525050010001501500
Visibility Dust12525050010001501500
Scent-Stop Dust125250500100050500
Stink Dust125250500100050500
Smoke Powder250500100020001001000
Make (Object) 00-25 26-50 51-75 76-00 Cost (Ingredients) Item Price
Smoke Globe250500100020005003000-

Potion Ingredients

This is a quick sketch of the ingredients a potion contains. I have included it for completeness, but I rarely use it except to determine the results of failure. However, you may wish to keep note of al ingredients for any particular potion.

All alchemical substances need three kinds of ingredients - the Base, Active Ingredients and Binding Agents.


This is what the main part of the product consists of. The base is usually wine, beer, fat, powdered stones, plant extracts, biscuit and so on. Depending on what form the potion will take, the base will differ, so potions need bases of milk, water, wine, beer etc.; salves use animal fats; pills use a mixture of fats and powdered plant material; powders often use ground rock or dried, ground pastes.

Active Ingredients

These are what gives the potion its special abilities. They are normally derived from animals, plants or minerals.

Binding Agents

These are used to ensure that the active ingredients and base combine and blend well, do not react with each other and do not separate. A good binding agent will mean that the potion will last for a long time and will taste or look well. It is no good having a Healing Potion POT 20 which looks and tastes like diarrhoea.

Most alchemists will have a number of bases which they use for all their potions. The problem they have is to find the correct Active Ingredients and Binding Agents to make a good potion. Most people know that the leaves of Arroin's Tongue cure Soul Waste if brewed up into a herbal tea, but don't know what needs to be added to it in order that the brew do not become useless after a day or that the leaves do not dry up and become useless.

The particular combination of Base, Active Ingredients, Binding Agents and instructions is called a Formula, although people often call it a Recipe. Each alchemist will know a number of formulae which will enable him to make different kinds of potions. If the potion is to be made in several forms, the alchemist must know a formula for each form,, so that he may know Healing Potion, Healing Salve, Healing Pill and so on. It is up to the GM to decide how detailed these formulae are, although I would suggest that they would need at least the Active Ingredients. Some GMs would need a list of ingredients so that the alchemist may only brew those potions that he has the ingredients for.

Most alchemists have a steady supply of base and binding agents and only need to collect the active ingredients. Most of these are fairly easily obtained, whether by collecting plants and minerals from local fields, forests or caves, or by taking parts of animals, or by buying the ingredients from local suppliers. Many alchemists grow plants in herb gardens, in particular the Chalana Arroy temples have gardens with many varieties of common, rare, local and exotic herbs - these are the Healing Plants of legend. Some potions need more exotic ingredients and the alchemist must quest for them or have others quest for them. This can affect the time taken to create a potion - the alchemist may have "eye of newt" in stock but where can he get some hydra's kidneys? Once again, it is up to the GM to decide whether a potion is in stock and, if not, how long it will take to brew.

The cost of the potion depends on the cost of the ingredients. Typically, the Base accounts for 10% of the cost, the Active Ingredients 40% and the Binding Agents 50% of the cost. Of course, if a high quality product is required then the base cost will rise - good wine costs more than plonk, for instance. If the Active Ingredients are rare then their costs will rise accordingly. Usually the cost of the Binding Agent stays fairly constant unless the Base is radically altered.

An alchemist may learn new formulae by various means. He may be taught the formula from a fellow alchemist or spirit, he may find a formula written down or he may research a new formula. To simply determine the research process, each week of research the alchemist must make a Brew (Potion) roll - if the roll is a critical then he has found a new formula, if a fumble then the formula produces a different result to that expected. The alchemist may modify his chances by adding one half his Alchemy Lore if using a full lab, and one quarter of any other relevant lores to his base Brew (Potion) skill.

Each player alchemist must keep a note of which formulae he has, including ingredient costs, brewing times etc.

The Alchemist Character Type

I do not recommend the Alchemist as a player character type as they are a funny sort of bunch, always secretive and hunched over their equipment, rather like Programmers or Accountants in the real world. However, other character types can use alchemy, so the following skills should be included in standard character generation prior experience.

Assistant Shaman (All Cultures) - Brew (Potion) x 6, Taste Analysis x 2, 2 formulae.
Shaman (All Cultures) - Brew (Potion) x 4, Taste Analysis x 1, 1 formulae.
Barbarian Herbalist - Brew (Potion) x 4, Taste Analysis x 1, 1 formula.
Civilised Apprentice Sorcerer - Brew (Potion) x 6, Taste Analysis x 2, Alchemical Lore x 2, 2 formulae.
Civilised Adept Sorcerer - Brew (Potion) x 4, Taste Analysis x 1, Alchemical Lore x 1, 1 formula.
Civilised Healer - Brew (Potion) x 8, Taste Analysis x 2, Alchemical Lore x 2, 2 formulae.
Civilised Scribe - Brew (Potion) x 4, Alchemical Lore x 1, 1 formula (inks etc.).
Civilised Herbalist - Brew (Potion) x 6, Taste Analysis x 2, Alchemical Lore x 1, 1 formula.

Civilised Alchemist

Throw x 1, Fats Talk x 2, Speak Own Language x 1, Craft x 3, Evaluate x 3, Human Lore x 1, One of (Plant Lore, Animal Lore or Mineral Lore) x 2, Conceal x 1, Devise x 4, Scan x 1, Search x 1, Fist Attack x 2, Dagger Attack x 1, 2H Spear Attack x 1 and Parry x 1, Brew (Substance) x 10, Alchemical Lore x 2, Taste Analysis x 3, Make (Object) x 1, 4 formulae.

Equipment: Basic alchemical equipment worth 50P, potions worth 50P, 20 pennies in coin, linen and wool clothing, spear, knife, sack, firemaker.

Anyone using alchemical skills must tailor them to the character involved - Chalana Arroy cultists would not know how to brew poisons and an Aranea Shaman would know how to make Spider Poisons and antidotes of various forms.

Members of particular cults or organisations may get skills such as Poison Lore or Make (Object), initiates of Sage Cults such as Lhankor Mhy, Irripi Ontor or Flintnail would also be able to obtain alchemical skills as would Assassins and Thieves.

These are only guidelines and the final decisions should, as always, be with the GM.

Converting Characters

RQ2 Characters

Only RQ2 characters with alchemy skills should have them in RQ3, characters without alchemy skills will remain ignorant.

Most skills are easily converted. If a character has a skill in brewing a potion, then his RQ3 skill in the relevant Brew (Potion) is the POT x 5%. If a character can brew more than one potion of a similar type, then their skill is based on the highest applicable potency. So, a character who can brew POT 20 Manticore Venom Antidote, POT 15 Spider Venom Antidote, POT 3 Spider Venom Antidote and POT 10 Poison Gas would have skills of Brew (Animal Venom Antidote) 100%, Brew (Animal Venom) 15%, Brew (Poison Gas) 50% and would know the formulae for making Manticore Venom Antidote, Spider Venom Antidote, Spider Venom and Poison Gas.

The character may know at least one formula for each of the potions he can brew and, at the GM's discretion, may know more, so the above Sage may know how to brew Manticore Venom Antidote in pill, potion and injected form.

I would strongly advise GMs to limit the number of formulae known by characters who convert from RQ2 - that way characters can be prevented from carrying around bags full of pills to cure everything under the sun. It really slows characters down if they have to carry medicine cabinets full of bottles.

Characters who have the General Knowledge skill above basic may know Alchemical Lore at the General Knowledge skill, at the GM's discretion. This is only true for people who are full members of the Alchemist Guild in civilised areas.

Assassins with an above basic General Knowledge will possibly know Poison Lore at their General Knowledge skill. An assassin is one who belongs to the cults of Black Fang, Blue Moon, Krarsht or similar cults, or a member of the Assassin's Guild if you are running a non-Gloranthan or Western Kingdoms campaign.

Some work needs to be done when deciding the types of formulae known. For instance, what Active Ingredients are used to make Healing Potions or Antidotes? Does the character know how to make antidotes from poisons or from other materials? What forms do the finished potions take?

When converting from RQ2 it is necessary to use a lot of common sense, although the conversion process is actually very straightforward. Above all, consult with he GM as his word must always be final.

RQ3 Characters

Existing RQ3 characters may gain alchemical skills if the GM decides it is OK. It would seem fair that healers and some sages should get some alchemical skills if there was no alchemy system in the campaign. As a rule of thumb, simply allocate them a number of years prior experience according to their skill level. That would give them Brew (Potion), Taste Analysis and a number off formulae without much difficulty.

Magic in Alchemy

In real alchemy, magic or the belief in magic played an integral part. Most medieval alchemists were magicians of some sort - even Sir Isaac Newton believed in the connection between magic and alchemy. Why, then, is magic never used in alchemy? The answer to this is simple - it is!

There are many cults that grant spells relevant to alchemy: Chalana Arroy Priests use the Preserve Herbs and Refine Medicine spells to manipulate Healing Plants; Bagogi Shamans use Venom Boosting to strengthen their venom; Shamans of Hsunchen cults use spells to increase the venom of their totem animals; Talons of Cacodemon can use Vomit Acid to produce a strong, if foul smelling acid, Krarsht Teeth can use Sweat Acid, priestesses of the Mother Bey cult in Thieves World can refine their blood into magical potions; the cults of Moorgaki and Mee Vorala may use Divine Magic to produce alchemical secretions.

Since Glorantha is, with the exception of the God Learners, Mostali and Western Kingdoms, at the technological equivalent of the Bronze Age or Iron Age, the alchemical skills are very primitive and the alchemical spells are equally as primitive and under-developed. I am sure that in the medieval period of Alternate Earth, for instance, such spells are well-developed and sophisticated, if not freely available.

Mostali Magic

The most sophisticated users of alchemical magic in Glorantha are, of course, the Mostali, in particular those of the QuickSilver and Silver Castes. They have access to common sorcerous alchemical spells such as Venom or Phantom (Sense) and to their own speciality spells - the Stabilise (Property) spells.

Stabilise (Property) Ritual Enchant, Temporal

These spells are only nominally enchantments since they are temporal spells whereas enchantments are permanent. They may also be used with the Multispell skill, unlike normal enchantments.

The spell must be cast on an alchemical potion. Each point of intensity allows it to affect 10 doses of potion, each dose must be of the same type but not necessarily of the same potency. When the spell ends, the effects also end, but while the spell is in effect it cannot be dispelled.

Each time the ritual is used, the spell caster must expend 1 POW in addition to the magic points used in the spell. If the spell is part of a Multispell with other Stabilise spells, only 1 POW is expended, no matter how many Stabilise spells are used.

The different Stabilise spells are as follows:

Stabilise Blend

For the duration of the spell, the affected potion will act as if its base, active ingredients and binding agents were compatible. This would keep the potion stable for the duration of the spell and would remove any strong taste, distinctive sheen or any other problems from a poorly made potion.

Stabilise Quantity

This must be combined with the other Stabilise spells in a Multispell. For the duration of the spell, each point of Intensity allows a further 10 doses of potion to be affected.

Stabilise Potion

For the duration of the spell, the affected potion remains fresh and unspoiled, regardless of the vicissitudes of time, temperature and weather. This spell originally appeared in Gods of Glorantha.

Stabilise Strength

For the duration of the spell, this adds the spare points of intensity to the POT of the potion. So an Intensity 12 Stabilise Strength cast on 20 doses of POT 8 Acid would result in 20 doses of POT 18 Acid.

Alchemical Potions

These are the different types of Alchemical Potions. Some are taken from the RuneQuest 2 rules, some from RuneQuest 3, some are new. Each description will contain the properties and use of the potion together with a cost of the potion and ingredients. Obviously, there are other potions which can be made and Players and GMs should try to think of more interesting potions during game play.

Acids and Alkalis

Personally, I am wary of allowing player characters to brew these potions, after all, bottles of POT 20+ corrosive liquids make devastating weapons when thrown or slung. Still, acids were included in RQ2 alchemy so here goes.

Acids and alkalis are brewed using the Brew (Acid) and Brew (Alkali) skills. A well-equipped laboratory is normally essential for the production of effective acids and alkalis - don't expect shamans to throw flasks of acid.

If acids come into contact with flesh or metal they will destroy said flesh/metal, doing their POT in damage. Weapons struck by acid will take damage direct to their armour points - APs do not protect against acid damage. Armour and weapons damaged by acid can only be repaired using Craft Armouring or Craft Weapon making , weapons or armour destroyed by acid cannot be repaired. Flesh damaged by acid can be normally healed unless the location is totally destroyed in which case the location must be regrown. Any acid damage is likely to produce scarring - attempt a Luck Roll to see if scarring occurs with facial scarring possibly resulting in a loss of APP.

Alkalis act in a similar way to acids except that they do not attack metal. It is up to the GM to decide whether metal armour actually protects against alkali attacks. Leather or linen will be eaten away as normal as will armour straps unless a Luck Roll is made. Alkalis have the same effect on flesh as do acids.

Since such corrosive liquids are so deadly, I would tend to allow the players a Luck Roll to enable them to cut away any armour hit by acids before they eat through to the skin.

Acids and alkalis counter each others effects. If an alkali or acid is applied to the location struck in the same round that the opposing agent struck, the POT of the larger is reduced by the POT of the smaller, leaving the residue to eat away as normal. Thus, if a character is hit by POT 16 acid, he may pour POT 10 alkali onto he location to end up with POT 6 acid. Of course, this involves some preparation and a little risk - is the broo spitting acid or alkali at me?

Although acids and alkalis are normally liquid, it is possible for them to have different forms, powder, solid or even gaseous forms, although few players would appreciate their characters being enveloped in POT 20 acid clouds.

Acids and alkalis are usually made from mineral sources, although it is possible to obtain the active ingredients from gorps, spitting chaos creatures or even hydras. There is, in fact, a well-known recipe for acid brewing that begins "First, catch a Hydra .....".

Acids and alkalis are fairly expensive, being difficult to produce, and requiring a high level of alchemical skill. Thus they typically cost 100L/POT to make and sell for 500L/POT.

Spell Potions

I never liked these and do not use them in my campaign. However, as they were in RQ2, they should be included here, I suppose.

Spirit Magic Spell Potions

Spirit Magic Spell Potions store a Spirit Magic Spell and allow the consumer to cast the Spirit Magic Spell stored in the potion at no magic point cost and without actually knowing the spell. Typically, a Battle Magic Spell Potion can be made to hold any Spirit Magic Spell and only becomes set when the Spirit Magic Spell is cast into the potion, so there is only a Brew Battle Magic Spell Potion skill. When the potion is made, the alchemist must cast the spell into the potion together with an equivalent number of magic points, so to make a Bladesharp 6 potion would cost 12 magic points, all of which must come from the alchemist not from POW spirits, POW crystals and such like.

Divine Spell Potions

These act in the same way as Spirit Magic Spell Potions except that the alchemist who creates the potion cannot reuse the spell until it has been cast from the potion and must expend twice the strength of the spell in magic points when the potion is created. So, to create a Shield 3 potion, the alchemist must cast Shield 3 into the potion and must expend 12 Magic Points.

Sorcery Spell Potions These act in a similar way tot he other potions, except that the person using the potion need not make a sorcery skill roll to cast the spell and cannot manipulate the spell further. So, a sorcerer making a Venom 6 spell potion would cast Venom 8 expending 16 Magic Points which would allow the user of the potion to cast Venom 6 without making a roll. If the alchemist used Multispell and other manipulations on the spell then those manipulations would become part of the potion, so a Multispelled Enhance STR 4 Enhance CON 4 spell would allow the drinker of the potion to cast the two multispelled spells at the same time, but he could not split the spells.

Disease causing Potions

Disease Causing Potions are generally used by initiates of Mallia, but others may have them. There are two types of potion, those with a POT and those without. These act in different ways.

Disease causing Potions without a POT merely expose the user to the disease as per the normal rules. Those with a POT must match their POT against the user's CON as normal. If the roll is fumbled the user is immune to the disease for the POT in hours. Once infected by the disease, the disease will progress according to the normal disease rules.

Disease Causing Potions are almost always made from the blood of carriers or infected creatures, although some plants may be used, for instance Spirit Moss can be used to make a Cause Soul Waste potion. Disease causing potions are disease-specific, so a Cause Soul Waste potion would not cause the Shakes. Some formulae may be a little more generic than normal, so it may be possible to take the blood of a carrier and to create a potion for the particular disease that he carries without that formula being disease-specific. So, an alchemist may be able to make Cause Soul Waste potions from the blood of a Soul Waste carrier and cause Creeping Chills potion from the blood of a Creeping Chills carrier. This is contrary to the normal rules and is a special case for Disease Causing potions.

As with poisons, Disease Causing Potions are designed to blend in to become undetectable by normal means except Taste Analysis or Identify Disease (Disease Lore). As above, if the Brew (Disease Potion) rolls a special or critical then the identifying roll must also be a special or critical.. Some disease potions are merely designed to infect an area and the maker does not care about taste etc., these are fairly easy to spot and are designed to cause terror.

Disease Causing Potions are rarely sold as they are produced by the Mallia cult for its own purposes, but where they are sold they cost 100L per POT point, although the extremely rare Cause Plague Potion costs around 10 times the normal price. Ingredients for these potions cost 10L/POT or 100L for a potion without a potency.

Disease Curing Potions

Normally, these can cure one dose of a particular disease in a patient, although there may be potions which may cure one dose of any disease or one doses of all diseases or all doses of all diseases.

Disease Curing Potions have a POT and have an effectiveness rating of the POT multiplied by the severity of the disease with terminal diseases having a rating of 1 and mild diseases having a rating of 4. If the potion is given to a patient then it will cure the disease on a roll of the Effectiveness. If the roll is normal the disease is halted, if a critical then the effects of the disease are reversed, if the rolls fumbled the disease becomes one stage worse with critical patients dying. If the potion is given at the same time as a Treat Disease attempt, the potion adds its Effectiveness Factor to the Treat Disease chance and to the victim's Recovery Roll. If the treat disease or Recovery roll is a critical then the effects of the disease are reversed.

So, a healer with Treat Disease 32% applies a Cure Brain Fever potion POT 10 to a terminally ill patient with a CON of 15. The potion's effectiveness rating is 10 x 1 = 10%, increasing the Treat Disease roll to 42% and the recovery roll to 85% if the Treat Disease roll is failed or 170% if the Treat Disease roll is made. Had the disease only been mild, the effectiveness rating would have been 40%, the Treat Disease chance 72%, recovery rate on failure 115% on failure and 190% if the Treat Disease roll is made.

As with Healing Potions, most Disease Curing Potions are made from Healing Plants, although other ingredients may be used - a powdered unicorn's horn will act against all diseases in a single patient with a POT equal to the Unicorn's POW when the horn was removed. The blood of a unicorn may also be used, giving a potion of 1 POT per point of STR lost, curing one instance of any disease in the patient.

Disease Curing Potions have a cost to make of 50L per POT and sell for 500L per POT. Exotic potions to cure rare diseases cost more depending on the diseases to be cured.

Fertility Potions

These are used to increase the fertility of people. Each POT point increases the fertility of the user by 5%, increasing the chance of conception. The effectiveness will be reduced by 1 POT per hour after taking the potion. So, a couple with a 5% chance of conceiving takes a POT 12 Fertility Potion and increases the chance of conception to 65%, they try again two hours afterwards, this time having a 55% chance of conception, the third time is after a further 3 hours and has a 40% chance of conception.

Some fertility potions affect potency or desire rather than fertility, these are called Lust Potions or Love potions and are sold by wise-women in shady little corners frequented by nervous-looking men.

Fertility Potions normally cost 50L/POT to make and sell for 500L per POT.

Healing Potions

Healing Potions simply heal damage, although they generally do not restore general hit point damage or characteristic point loss. A healing potion has slightly different effects depending on the method of application.

In salve, spray or ointment form, a healing potion will cure damage only to the location the potion is applied to. It will cure damage up to its POT with any excess POT wasted.

Pills, biscuits and potions which must be consumed will heal damage in the worst affected location, then the next worst and so o until all the POT is used up, with any excess POT wasted. Gaseous potions will heal damage to the chest first then will act as ingested potions at half remaining POT until used up.

Injected healing potions heal the location into which they were injected then will heal the worse damaged location, then the next worse and so on.

Healing potions are usually made from healing plants, magical animals or magical minerals. For instance, powdered unicorn horn will produce enough raw material for the unicorn's SIZ x 10 in doses at a POT equal to its POW.

Since an alchemist must learn the formulae for all his healing potions, he must note down the specific ingredients used in the potions. So, a healer who can brew Healing Potions from the Arroin's Finger plant cannot use the fruit of the Arroin's Tears bush in her potion unless she learns the correct formula. This implies that healers need large gardens of Healing Plants, either that or a herd of unicorns, good stealth skills and a sharp saw.

Assuming that the ingredients are common and easily found, healing potions will have a price of around 200L/POT, costing 20L/POT to make. They are the most standard and possibly the commonest of all magical potions.

Immortality Potions

Alchemists throughout the ages have searched for the elixir of life - immortality. I have thus included a description of an Immortality Potion, even though such potions are incredibly rare and are often the result of HeroQuest.

Immortality Potions must be consumed to be effective. They act as an Immortality Spell with a duration equal to the Potion's POT, preventing ageing during that time. So, a mage drinking an Immortality Potion POT 21 will not age for 40 years.

Immortality Potions are made from exotic and rare ingredients - powdered Truestone, the blood of Immortals, the Waters of the Styx, the heart of a virgin or whatever. Nobody could buy the ingredients at a local shop, they must be quested for.

An Immortality Potion is virtually priceless, selling for at least 100,000 L /POT.The chances of buying one on the open market are impossibly slim.

Pain Killing Potions These are used when extreme pain is experienced, for instance if possessed by a Pain Spirit, being about to undergo a Trial by Ordeal or when needing to ignore functional incapacitation. They work by blocking the effects of pain.

Pain Killing Potions subtract their POT from the effective POW of Pain Spirits, so a POW 15 Pain Spirit would only act as if it had POW 10 if a POT 5 potion was used. Pain Killing Potions also add their POT to the effective CON when resisting pain, so a CON 15 character drinking a POT 10 Pain Killing Potion would resists normal pain as if he had a CON of 25, being Heroic on 25%, ignoring minor pain at 125%. Pain Killing potions also subtract from damage done when determining whether a person is incapacitated, so someone with 4 hit points in an arm would normally be incapacitated if he takes 8 points of damage to the arm, but if he had taken a POT 4 Pain-Killing potion then he would need to take 12 points of damage in the arm to be functionally incapacitated.

Pain Killing Potions normally cost 5L/POT to make and sell for 50L/POT.

Pick-Me-Ups Pick-Me-Ups are potions which relieve tiredness and fatigue. They act by adding their POT to the user's fatigue points, as if they were an Endurance spell. So, a POT 15 Pick-Me-Up would act as an Endurance 15 spell. They are especially useful after a long march or fierce fight.

Pick-Me-Ups generally cost 5 L/POT to make and sell for 50L/POT.


Poisons are harmful substances usually produced by plants or animals as a defensive or offensive weapon, but there are poisonous minerals.

All poisons have a potency and work by matching the POT against the target's CON on the Resistance Table. A successful roll means that the target was affected by the poison and takes some damage. For a normal poison, the damage is equal to the poison's POT, but other damage is equally possible - Spider Venom will paralyse the victim for the POT-CON days and Cockatrice Venom turns the victim into stone. If the roll is failed, the damage is normally halved or has reduced effect. A fumble means immunity to the poison for CON in hours.

The original RQ2 system had a number of poisons, all of which could be counteracted by a small number of antidotes. This holds true in some cases, but not in as wide an effect as in RQ2. Each poison belongs to a Poison Category and any antidote to the Poison Category will counteract the effects of any poison of that category. Whereas in RQ2, all herbal poisons were counteracted by a single antidote, I would say that each plant would belong to a certain Poison Category and would not be treated by a generic Herbal Poison Antidote.

This has several game effects. Firstly, player characters cannot take a small number of antidotes safe in the knowledge that they can ignore most poisons, making them far more careful around poisons. Secondly, player alchemists need to learn how to make antidotes for many more poisons, costing time and money. Thirdly, player characters are likely to learn general poison cures rather than relying on antidotes. Fourth, alchemy will develop a more local flavour with alchemists knowing how to brew antidotes for the local flora and fauna but not those hundreds of miles away.

Giant Ant
Ghoul Venom
Grampus Gas
Insect Swarm
Scorpion Venom
Spider Venom
Dragon Gas
Stoorworm Gas
Dream Dragon Gas
Waltapus Gas
Most poisons are made from raw materials derived from plants or animals, the POT of the raw materials will decay until the raw material is useless. That is why potions are used - to keep the potency stable by mixing and processing the raw materials.

It is fairly obvious that poison is brewed for the express purpose of trying to harm somebody. If brewed correctly, the poison is difficult to spot, needing a successful Taste Analysis or Search roll to spot. If the potion is brewed with a special or critical roll then the detection roll also needs to be a special or critical roll. Successful brewing means that the poison will blend into whatever medium has been chosen for transmission.

Poisons normally cost between 3L and 4L / POT to make and 30-40L/POT to buy but special poisons will be more expensive, whether they have exotic effects or are difficult to detect or have no known antidote.

Poison Antidotes

These act to counteract the effects of poison. They must be taken after the poison has been applied and before the poison has taken effect or within the victim's CON in rounds of the poison's effect. They counteract poisons by subtracting the antidote's POT from the poison's POT. Compatible antidotes have a cumulative effect, adding their POT, incompatible antidotes may have unpredictable effects. For instance, Shergar Sunhoof, centaur extraordinaire, is hit by a Scorpionman Queen and is injected with POT 40 Scorpion Venom. By good planning, he had two doses of POT 15 Scorpion Venom Antidote and manages to quaff them both after disposing of the miscreant. Each vial reduces the POT of the poison by 15, leaving a paltry POT 10 to ravage his system.

Poison Antidotes are generally of two types, those derived from the poison to be counteracted and those derived from other sources.

For instance, the juice of Jaldon's Bladder is known to be effective against Walktapus Gas and a powdered Unicorn Horn will counter all poisons. However, such antidotes are very difficult to find, taking many years of research and costing the lives of countless prisoners, slaves and trollkin as they eat the fruits of plants after being affected by poison. Spoiled antidotes of this type will be ineffective.

Antidotes derived from the poison to be counteracted are made by removing the harmful effects of the poison and turning the harmless poison into a purge which will counteract the poison's effects. This is a tried and tested method which works for all poisons, although finding the correct ingredients and formula is difficult and time-consuming,. Spoiled antidotes of this type are likely to be poisonous.

Some antidotes are partially-effective against other poison types in addition to the normal poison type.

Wyvern Venom is countered by Snake Antidote
Scorpion Venom is countered by Spider Antidote
Dragon Gas is countered by Wyvern Antidote

Antidotes not derived from the poison to be countered costs between 30L and 50L per POT and are made for one tenth of the price assuming that the ingredients are close to harm and fairly common. Antidotes derived from the poison to be countered are more expensive unless they are easily available. After all, who in their right mind would go looking for Scorpionman Venom? These antidotes cost up to 1000L /POT and are sometimes unobtainable. Antidotes for more exotic poisons will be sold for a higher price, alchemists will quite cheerfully overcharge adventurers going on a quest against a hydra for without hydra venom antidote they would not stand a chance.

Power Blasting Potions

These drain the victim of the POT in Magic Points, so a person drinking POT 12 Power Blasting Potion will lose 12 Magic Points. Any excess POT are wasted. If the person reaches 0 MP, they fall unconscious.

Power Blasting Potions are made from powdered crystals, healing plants and similar substances and cost 200L / POT to buy and 20L/POT to make.

Power Restoring Potions

This is actually a misnomer as they restore Magic Points, not Power. If consumed, these restore lost Magic Points up to the maximum of the POW of the user, if the user has a POW. The alchemist must expend twice the POT in magic points when making the potion, these must come from personal magic points, so he is limited by his own POW as to the POT of the potion he can make. Power Restoring Potions are normally made from the blood of the alchemist.

They normally cost 20L per POT and are not sold as they only work for the maker.

Sleeping Potions

Sleeping Potions are often used by thieves, slavers, kidnappers, adventurers and healers. They come in many forms,. ranging from pills to drinks to gas, to injections. Sleeping Potions work by matching their POT against the victim's CON. Success means the victim will fall asleep for POT - CON hours, with a minimum of 1 hour. Failure reduces the victim's DEX and fatigue for POT- CON minutes with a minimum of 1 round. A fumble means that the potion has no effect.

Most Sleeping Potions are made from narcotic plants, although a few are derived from animals and minerals.

The price of a Sleeping Potion is typically 300L/POT with ingredients costing 100L / POT.

Mundane Potions

Most alchemists only rarely sell antidotes, poisons, healing potions and so on, usually they have to make do with selling more mundane potions such as oils, inks, soap, perfumes, dyes, glues, paint and cosmetics. These all have a potency which indicates their quality and purity - a POT 1 lamp oil will produce a dirty, smelly flame whereas a POT 20 one would burn cleanly and have a pleasant smell.

Each type of mundane potion has its own skill to make, so there are Brew Perfume, Brew Beer, Brew Paint skills. Most alchemists will know many formulae for mundane potions, if only to make perfumes with different scents, inks of different colours or cosmetics of different styles. In fact, most alchemists will know more mundane formulae than exotic ones.

Mundane potions cost less than magical or special ones. After all, one cannot expect a peasant to pay hundreds of pennies for a vial of perfume, although one could expect it of noblewomen and adventurers. High purity mundane potions will cost more than low purity ones, often in a non-liner way, so very pure soap will cost a lot, lot more than low purity soap. The cost per POT point rises as the POT rises. Of course, process vary on local factors - an alchemist selling wares to Balazaring peasants will sell for less than to an Esrolian noblewoman.

To many alchemists, these are their bread and butter wares - there are always tradesman, scribes and rich women to buy their wares but only occasionally does a foolish adventurer come along ready to part with vast amounts of money for a single potion.


Alchemy is such a large subject that is difficult to do it justice.

There are many more types of potion and types of poison that could be described but I hope I have covered the major ones. It is very simple to write up new potions and their effects and is worthwhile if you need exotic effects for your campaign.

Using alchemy in a campaign makes it a little richer and a little more exotic, so I would say give it a go and see how you like it.