Alternative Alchemy for Gurps (Part 1 of 2)

I’m not a fan of the Alchemy rules in Gurps Magic. If you look at the list of sample recipes, they’re mostly ways to get an advantage temporarily by drinking the potion. I think that’s great, but recognizing that’s what it is, it would be much better to have, instead of a list of recipes, a set of rules for designing your own. (Better? Gurpsier, anyway.) So, here are what started out as some quick notes on how such a system might look, and swelled up into what I think is a pretty nifty look at a particular fantasy niche. I’ve split this post into two parts: this first one deals with elixirs mostly from the buyer’s point of view, and includes the rules for designing an elixir, setting its cost, and using it. The second one is more focused on the alchemist’s perspective, and includes information on how to brew elixirs and other alchemical substances.

Advantage-Based Alchemical Elixirs

An elixir grants an advantage. Each advantage is a separate recipe; for leveled advantages, the concoction grants 1d levels. Bonuses to attributes and secondary characteristics work like leveled advantages. Not all advantages are suitable to be made into elixirs, and the GM has the final say, but the following guidelines are a start:

  • Go easy on the modifiers: Enhancements and limitations that affect the advantages scope of applications, like Accessibility, Aspected, and Universal, are fine, as are those that affect the way an advantage is used, like Active or Reflexive. Anything that imposes costs, like Costs FP or Temporary Disadvantage, are inappropriate (but see Impurities, below).
  • No attacks: Afflictions and Innate Attacks are outside the alchemical niche. Advantages that help attacks, like Striking Strength or Weapon Master, are fine. A passive attack, like Spines or acid blood (see Aura, Powers, p. 100), or an attack that comes as part of an Alternate Form, is fine.
  • No social traits: Obviously, an elixir that grants Status or a Reputation is nonsensical. Personal advantages that give bonuses to reaction rolls and social skill rolls are fine, though: e.g. Charisma and Appearance (Beautiful) make perfect sense.
  • Short-term advantages only: An elixir only affects you for about an hour. Advantages such as Reduced Consumption or Doesn’t Sleep, which work on a longer time scale, are inappropriate.
  • Combinations: A single elixir can provide two or more advantages, as long as they are used together and thematically linked. Flight and Enhanced Move (Air), for example, or Animal Empathy and the Animal Friend talent, are excellent combinations. Invisibility and Obscure takes a bit of explaining, but might pass. Clinging and Damage Resistance would probably not qualify. If the advantages require an action to activate, they should usually have the Link enhancement.


The elixir’s effect lasts 3d × 5 minutes in Normal Mana, and cannot be ended prematurely by the user. If the user enters a No Mana zone, the effect ends permanently. In a Low Mana zone, the user must roll 3d upon entering the zone or taking the elixir, and every 10 minutes hence; on 16+ the effect ends permanently, while on 13-15 it is suppressed for as long as the user remains in Low Mana. In a High Mana zone, the duration is doubled; In a Wild or Very High Mana zone anything might happen.


An elixir costs $40 per character point of the advantage, or $160 × point cost per level for leveled advantages. The following modifiers apply to cost:

  • The normal cost is for a potion, powder, or ointment; a single pastille can affect many targets, and its cost is increased by 500%.
  • Magical advantages cost 25% extra. These include Energy Reserve (Magic), Magery, Magic Resistance, Mana Damper and Mana Generator. Magic Resistance and Mana Damper disable the user’s Magery for the duration, but mages get a HT + Magery roll to resist the effect.
  • Impure elixirs are available for a 25% discount, and very impure ones for a 50% discount. Roll on the Impurity table when using the elixir, to find what negative effect accompanies the intended one.


Elixirs are typically brewed to order, but alchemists will keep common items in stock. In small towns, there typically are no alchemists, but one merchant or another will have some stock, and an alchemist partner in a nearby city to whom he or she can pass on orders (at a small delay and +20% extra cost).

To see if a given elixir is available, the player rolls 3d; this is equivalent to the appearance roll for Allies, Contacts, and Patrons. On a miss by 1, an impure version is available. The GM should sets the elixirs base availability, reflecting general demand for the item in question. Some guidelines:

  • Available on 12 or less: Elixirs that are broadly applicable, always in demand, and cost no more than $1,000. Examples: Charisma, Serendipity, Very Fit.
  • Available on 9 or less: Elixirs that serve a clear but infrequent purpose, like Combat Reflexes or Immunity to Poison.
  • Available on 6 or less: Niche products, like Speak Underwater or Tunneling.

Roll at no modifier for a typical alchemist’s shop, at +2 for a master’s establishment, and at -2 for a resale merchant. If the prospective buyer is knocking about all alchemists in a city or large town, divide the town’s population by 1,000, rounding down, and look up the result in the “linear measurement” column of the Size and Speed/Range Table on p. B550. Add the corresponding size bonus to the availability roll.

Legality Class

Some elixirs are likely to be contrrolled or banned outright. If the GM wishes to apply LC to alchemical products, the following guidelines should be considered:

  • LC 0: Possibly some elixirs with the possibility for large-scale effects, like Jumper, or particularly destructive Alternate Forms (like dragons); alernatively, all elixirs are LC 1 at worst.
  • Lc 1: Elixirs that empower the user to dramatically resist or subvert authority, and are very dangerous in the hands of criminals: Insubstantiality, Invisibility, Mind Control, Permeation, Warp.
  • LC 2:
    • Elixirs that enable fraud, impersonation, spying, and other subtle crimes: Elastic Skin, Illusion, Mind Probe, Mind Reading, Morph, or Penetrating Vision;
    • Elixirs that have significant applicability to violent crime or escape from pursuit: Alternate Form, Damage Resistance, Flight, Weapon Master.
  • LC 3: Generally harmless elixirs: Attribute bonuses, Charisma, Fit, Serendipity.
  • LC 4: Setting-specific; usually elixirs that play an irreplaceable role in the local economy or culture.


For an impure elixir, roll 1d  on this table when the concoction takes effect; the advantage granted suffers the specified limitation (worth -10%).

  1. Aftermath (Power-Ups 8: Limitations, p. 11); roll 1d:
    1. Bad Back (Mild) and Unfit
    2. Cold-Blooded (65°) and Very Unfit
    3. Deafness
    4. Ham-Fisted 1 and Total Klutz
    5. Neurological Disorder (Mild) and Klutz
    6. Numb
  2. Backlash (Power-Ups 8: Limitations, p. 11), resistible; roll 1d:
    1. -(1d+1) ST
    2. -1d/2 DX (Round down, i.e. roll 1-2 becomes -1, 3-4 becomes -2, and 5-6 becomes -3.)
    3. -1d/2 IQ (Round as above.)
    4. Coughing
    5. Drunk
    6. Moderate Pain
  3. Cardiac Stress (Power-Ups 8: Limitations, p. 12), roll once.
  4. Requires HT Roll (Powers, p. 112).
  5. Temporary Disadvantage (p. B115); roll 1d:
    1. Amnesia (Mild)
    2. Bad Smell
    3. Fearfulness 5
    4. Hard of Hearing
    5. Low Pain Threshold
    6. Magic Susceptibility 3 and Weakness (Nearby magic; 1d per 30 minutes; Fatigue only, -50%; Variable, protective spells, -40%)
  6. Unreliable (p. B116), 14 or less.

For a very impure elixir, roll 1d on the table below (these are worth -20% each):

  1. Aftermath (Power-Ups 8: Limitations, p. 11); roll 1d:
    1. Bad Back (Severe) and Very Unfit
    2. Bad Sight (roll 1d: on 1-3, Nearsighted; on 4-6, Farsighted), Klutz, and Night Blindness
    3. Cold-Blooded (90°), Very Unfit, and Vulnerability (Cold; ×2)
    4. Deafness and Numb
    5. Ham-Fisted 2, Neurological Disorder (Mild), and Total Klutz
    6. Lame (Paraplegic) and Weak Arms (1/4 ST)
  2. Backlash (Power-Ups 8: Limitations, p. 11), resistible; roll 1d:
    1. -(2d+1) ST
    2. -(1d+1) DX
    3. -(1d+1) IQ
    4. Coughing and Drunk
    5. Nauseated and Tipsy
    6. Severe Pain
  3. Cardiac Stress (Power-Ups 8: Limitations, p. 12), roll every 10 minutes.
  4. Fickle (Power-Ups 8: Limitations, p. 12).
  5. Temporary Disadvantage (p. B115); roll 1d:
    1. Amnesia (Mild) and Confused (Self-Control 12)
    2. Bad Smell and Odious Personal Habit 2 (Foul emissions)
    3. Cowardice (Self-Control 12) and Fearfulness 5
    4. Deafness
    5. Chronic Pain (Severe, 1 hour, 12 or less) and Low Pain Threshold
    6. Magic Susceptibility 5 and Weakness (Nearby magic; 1d per 5 minutes; Fatigue only, -50%)
  6. Roll twice on the previous table; reroll once if you get the same result twice.

Design Notes

The central question here was: how to price a temporary advantage in Gurps dollars? I don’t think there is a canonical ruling on this, but my reasoning went something along the following lines:

  • Firstly, while there are different exchange rates between character points and money depending on the advantage in question, the most profitable such trait (in terms of most money for a given number of points) is Signature Gear (p. B85). Well, not exactly true, since Wealth gives you more $ per point starting from Very Wealthy (p. B25), but that’s a huge initial investment; and Signature Gear grants you equipment, not money. Anyway, I picked Signature Gear as my for the exchange rate: half the campaign starting wealth per character point. Flipping that around, in a TL 3 campaign, each character point in temporary advantages is worth $500.
  • Secondly, a social advantage that only works once and is then lost is worth 1/5 of the full cost for an equivalent permanent advantage, per Favor (p. B55). We’ll extend that to the advantages granted by elixirs.
  • Thirdly, a potion (the usual option for elixirs), is not exactly a gadget with all kinds of limitations – but that’s close. So, what limitations would an elixir-like advantage have?
    •  A potion is typically kept in a small but tough vial, comparable to a gadget with Breakable, DR 3, -15%; SM -8, -5%; and Can Be Stolen, Requires Trickery, -20%.
    • The duration of potions is a little under an hour usually, which is worth -10%.
    • They’re Mana-Sensitive with a couple of related special effects, for -10%.
    • That’s -60% in all.

So, all in all the formula I arrived at was: 1 CP = $500 / 5 × (100% – 60%), or 1 CP = $40.

The cost modifiers follow directly from the -60% approximation: each impurity is either a -10% or -20% limitation, so they reduce the final cost by 1/4 or 1/2, respectively. Magical advantages don’t take the Mana-Sensitive modifier, so they cost an extra 1/4. Pastilles came out very expensive, because they combine a number of enhancements: Affects Others, +50%; Area Effect, +50%; and Persistent, +40%, with Extended Duration, +60%. That brings the total value from -60% to +140%, a sixfold increase in final cost. I didn’t bother with cost modifiers for powders and ointments, even though they certainly would not have come out at -60% exactly; there’s a limit to how much detail I want to include.

Now, if the advantage has additional enhancements and limitations, we end up with a slight inconsistency in the pricing: the point cost is adjusted for specific modifiers first, then converted into a $ price, which is further modified by impurities etc. I just think it’s easier to do this way.

The impurity tables were quite a bit of work: there actually aren’t that many disadvantages at -10 and -20 points, whereas -15’s are quite frequent! At least, that’s what it felt like when I was assembling these. I think they worked out quite well, anyway.

2 thoughts on “Alternative Alchemy for Gurps (Part 1 of 2)

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