Pathfinder - The Alchemist Handbook
Last Updated: October 15, 2018
I support a limited subset of Pathfinder's rules content. If you would like help with Pathfinder player options not covered here, please email me and I am happy to provide additional assistance.
I will use the color coding scheme which has become common among Pathfinder build handbooks. Also note that many colored items are also links to the Paizo SRD.
- Red: Bad, useless options, or options which are extremely situational.
- Orange: OK options, or useful options that only apply in rare circumstances
- Green: Good options.
- Blue: Fantastic options, often essential to the function of your character.
The vanilla Alchemist is a weird class. The Alchemist has the ability to fill a variety of roles: blaster, healer, striker, and support. The Alchemist's most iconic abilities are Bombs and Mutagen, but without some serious work neither of these abilities are particularly useful to the Alchemist.
Alchemists notably gain access to all of the same polymorph spells which Sorcerers and Wizards get (up to 6th-level, that is), which is an exciting option when combined with Mutagen. Be sure to read my Practical Guide to Polymorph if you plan to make use of Polymorph spells.
Alchemist Class Features
Hit Points: d8 hit points is good for a primarily magical character, but not great if you spend a lot of time in close combat.
Base Attack Bonus: 2/3 BAB.
Saves: Good Fortitude and Reflex saves, but Will saves will be a problem, especially if you use your Mutagen to boost your Dexterity.
Proficiencies: Simple weapons and light armor. Barely better than a Wizard.
Skills: 4+ skill ranks, and Craft (Alchemy) is basically required. The Alchemist is Intelligence-based, so they should have plenty of bonus skill ranks to pick up the few good skills available to the Alchemist, and you might consider picking up additional class skills using traits.
Alchemy (Su): The Alchemist works a bit like a 2/3 prepared caster, but they drink all of their spells. Be sure to pick up the Infusion Discovery so that you can share your Extracts with the party.
Bomb (Su): An excellent blast at first level, the Bomb's damage drops off quickly compared to spells. If you plan to use bombs, be sure to invest some Discoveries to improve Bomb. Also consider "Bomb Admixture" spells which supplement the effects of your bombs.
Brew Potion (Ex): Potions aren't fantastic in terms of item crafting, but it never hurts to hand out cheap healing potions to the party.
Mutagen (Su): 10 minutes per level will last a reasonably long time. The bonuses to your abilities are fantastic, and stack with enhancement bonuses. Be careful of which ability you choose to increase: improving Strength will improve damage with thrown weapons, but will handicap your Bombs and Extracts. Dexterity will improve AC, attack rolls with ranged weapons, and Reflex saves, but will handicap your already low Will saves.
Throw Anything (Ex): The Throw Anything feat won't really help much unless you like throwing garbage or non-ranged weapons, but the bonus damage with splash weapons dramatically improves the damage of alchemical weapons like Acid. Note that this bonus damage doesn't get added to the Alchemist's Bomb damage because Bomb already adds the Alchemist's intelligence bonus to damage.
Discovery (Su): Alchemist Discoveries are powerful and unique ways to customize your alchemist, and a class dip into Alchemist is a common choice for many builds (especially those that need an extra arm to reload weapons). For help selecting Alchemist Discoveries, see my Alchemist Discovery Breakdown.
Poison Resistance (Ex): Situational, but poison becomes common at high levels where your bonus is substantial.
Poison Use (ex): The Alchemist isn't a big weapon user, so it's difficult for them to find a way to make use of poison. However, if you have someone in the party who doesn't mind using poison you can poison their weapons for them and send them into combat.
Swift Alchemy (Ex): Crafting alchemical items more quickly further improves your access to alchemical items like Acid which you will expend quickly. Poisoning weapons as a move action is nice in combat, but the Alchemist still isn't combative enough to be notably scary with poison on their own weapons.
Swift Poisoning (Ex): Poison weapons even faster! Of course you probably still need to pass them to someone who's good enough with weapons for it to matter.
Persistent Mutagen (Su): The Mutagen's biggest limitation is its duration, and multiplying the duration by 6 is a huge improvement.
Instant Alchemy (Ex): It's pretty rare that you need to whip up an item in the middle of combat, and the only reason to poison a weapon as an immediate action is to use it for an attack of opportunity.
Grand Discovery (Su): Grand Discoveries are amazing. For help selecting Alchemist Discoveries, see my Alchemist Discovery Breakdown.
The vanilla Alchemist is a ranged character with 2/3 Intelligence-based spellcasting. Focus on Dexterity and Intelligence. If you want to use polymorph, or plan to go into melee combat, you may instead want to focus on Strength.
Str: Only important if you plan to use conventional thrown weapons.
Dex: The Alchemist is primarily a ranged character.
Con: Hit points are always important.
Int: Required for the Alchemist's Extracts, but not quite as crucial as it is for a full spellcaster. You can get away with starting with 16 if you want to emphasize other abilities.
Wis: Only required for Will saves, but don't dump it.
Cha: The Alchemist has no social skills, and no abilities that depend on Charisma, so dump it to 7.
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Bonuses to Intelligence are great, but not essential.
Dwarf: The Dwarf could make for an interesting melee Alchemist, especially with the racial favored class bonus contributing to the Mutagen natural armor bonus. However, a conventional alchemist will have trouble making use of the Dwarf's abilities.
Elf: Bonuses to both of the Alchemist's primary abilities, and the other Elven racial abilities provide some interesting bonuses. The Elf favored class bonus gets you some extra formulae known, but you can purchase extra formulae.
Gnome: Despite lacking useful ability bonuses, the Gnome's Knack with Poison alternate racial trait and the Gnome racial favored class bonus can make for a decent Alchemist. Small size is also helpful.
Half-Elf: The Half-Elf is an interesting option, and the Alchemist can actually justify making use of Adaptability. The Half-Elf favored class bonus improves the relatively poor range of alchemical weapons, but Long Shot will be more effective (though the two stack nicely), and with ranged touch attacks you should rarely have problems hitting even with a few range increment penalties.
Half-Orc: Beyond the flexible ability bonus, the Half-Orc has very little to offer the Alchemist. The Half-Orc favored class bonus adds a little bit of extra damage to your bombs, but it's not enough to make the Half-Orc a particularly good option.
Halfling: A bonus to Dexterity and small size make the Halfling great at throwing alchemical weapons, but the Halfling doesn't add anything else particularly useful for the Alchemist.
Human: Always a good option, the human works for any Alchemist build. The Human favored class bonus is the same as the Elf, and should be largely ignored.
- Accelerated Drinker (Combat): It's unclear wether or not this works with extracts. My personal opinion is that it does not, but discuss it with your GM. It's also important to note that the potion must be in your hand at the start of your turn, so you need to retrieve the potion ahead of time. If you're fine walking around with a potion in one hand in case you get attacked, it shouldn't be a problem. Once you get into combat, you'll need to retrieve a potion as move action on one turn and use Accelerated Drinker on the following turn. This leaves your standard action free to throw a bomb, drink an extract, etc. (the Alchemist's Alchemy feature specifically says "An alchemist can draw and drink an extract as a standard action."). Non-alchemists need to use a move action to retrieve a potion and a second move action to drink it, making this trait massively situational for them.
- Alchemical Adept (Magic): This could save you a lot of money if you plan to craft a lot of alchemical items.
- Alchemical Intuition (Magic): Charisma is a dump stat for Alchemists.
- Cross-Knowledge (Magic): Many Formulae are also on the Wizard spell list, but 1 extra caster level won't make a huge difference.
- Enduring Mutagen (Magic): Tempting at low level, but once you have Persistent Mutagen it won't matter.
- Focused Burn (Magic): Locks you into fire damage if you want the benefits, and the damage is really small. You won't see a single point until 3rd level. Unless you're playing a campaign that you expect to last into high levels, I wouldn't bother with this.
- Hedge Magician (Magic): 5% may not seem like a lot, but it adds up very quickly if you like to craft a lot of potions.
- Pragmatic Activator (Magic): UMD is a fantastic skill, and Alchemists have the Intelligence to make Pragmatic Activator work, but you don't get it as a class skill, and I can't think of many options that you would need from wands or scrolls that you couldn't get from the Alchemist's spell list. UMD is a way for arcane casters to use divine spells, divine spellcasters to arcane spells, and non-spellcasters to cast spells. You get a mix of arcane spells and spells normally limited to divine spellcasters, so there's little reason to invest in UMD.
- Unstable Mutagen (Magic): Too Random, and once you get Enduring Mutagen one of the 3 good outcomes becomes a bad outcome.
- Appraise (Int): Too situational.
- Craft (Alchemy) (Int): Essential to the function of the class.
- Disable Device (Dex): Fantastic if you don't have someone in the party with Trapfinding.
- Fly (Dex): Never more than one rank, and even then not until fairly high level when you can fly.
- Heal (Wis): An excellent supplement to magical healing, but not terribly effective without a lot of Wisdom.
- Knowledge (arcana) (Int): One of the most important Knowledge skills in the game.
- Knowledge (nature) (Int): One of the most important Knowledge skills in the game.
- Perception (Wis): The most rolled skill in the game.
- Sleight of Hand (Dex): Too situational.
- Spellcraft (Int): Situational, and the Alchemist relies on Craft (Alchemy) for creating potions.
- Survival (Wis): Situational.
- Use Magic Device (Cha): Charisma is a dump stat, and the Alchemist already gets access to a wide variety of both arcane and divine magic.
- Close-Quarters Thrower: Just take a 5 foot step away.
- Die for Your Master: If you have a tumor familiar, this could save your life.
- Extra Bombs: Only two extra bombs per day. If you want to throw a ton of Bombs, play a Gnome.
- Extra Discovery: Alchemist Discoveries are fantastic, and many of them will help you more than a feat.
- Implant Bomb: Ridiculously situational, and expensive.
- Improved Familiar: This appears to work with Tumor Familiar, opening up a huge number of useful familiar options. See my Practical Guide to Familiars for additional guidance on familiars.
- Master Alchemist: Create multiple poisons at once, and craft alchemical items (including poison) 10 times as fast. If you really like to create a lot of alchemical items and poison, this can save you quite a bit of time.
- Planar Preservationist: If you take the Preservationist archetype, this is a massive improvement.
- Shield Proficiency: The alchemist doesn't have to worry about arcane spell failure, so picking up a shield can be a considerable improvement to the Alchemist's AC. However, masterwork bucklers, light shields, and Darkwood Shields have no armor check penalty. Proficiency is essentially pointless.
- Dagger: Excellent for a variety of purposes, including stabbing people and throwing.
- Crossbow, Light: Considerably better range than Bomb, but the damage is poor. A nice backup weapon at low level.
- Javelin: An excellent way to apply your Mutagen-enhanced Strength bonus to damage.
- Longspear: The alchemist's only option for a reach weapon, and mutagen-enhanced strength can make it passably dangerous.
Alchemists don't care about Arcane Spell Failure since they don't cast spells, so wear the heaviest armor that you're proficient with.
- Studded Leather: Your starting gear.
- Chain Shirt: Your long-term armor. Even if you choose to use Mutagen to enhance your Dexterity, the only upgrade is Haramaki, and that won't be better than a Mithral Shirt until you have a +10 dex bonus.
- Masterwork Buckler: A masterwork buckler is one of the cheapest and easiest AC bonuses available, and comes at absolutely no penalty to the Alchemist.
- Darkwood Shield: With no ACP, a Darkwood Shield is a cheap +2 bonus to AC at less than 500gp. You only need one hand to make and use extracts and bombs, so this is an easy choice to make unless you're using a two-handed weapon like a crossbow or a longspear.
This section won't address every spell on your spell list, but it will point out some especially notable options.
- Adhesive Spittle: Tanglefoot bags are fantastic, but their fixed DC means that stop being effective as you gain levels. As long as you keep increasing your Intelligence, you can keep this effective several levels longer. It also saves you th 50gp cost of actually buying a tanglefoot bag.
- Ablative Barrier: hours/level duration means that this will last all day. The armor bonus won't stack with real armor, but it will still work while polymorphed. The real draw is the damage conversion effect. Nonlethal damage means that you're more likely to be knocked unconcious and ignored than actually killed. In additon, healing restores an equal amount of regular and nonlethal damage so healing you becomes twice as effective. This is an excellent option if you're working in melee.
- Alchemical Allocation: Despite the obvious hygienic issues, this makes potions and elixers reusable, potentially making 3rd-level potions worth their exorbitant cost. This means that by using thist extract you can spend 900gp to add any potion-compatible spell of 3rd-level or lower to your spell list. The more potions you acquire, the more useful this gets. Consider the huger list of options: fly, greater magic fang, cure critical wounds, Beast Shape I, etc.. The only real limitation is that you need to be the one to consume the potion or elixer, so you're limited to effects which affect you. In the absolute worst usage scenario, this allows you to use Cure Critical Wounds as a 2nd-level extract instead of a 3rd-level extract.
- Skinsend: A poor man's version of Twin Form. Compression can be occasionally useful, and construct traits are nice becuase of the immunities you get, but this is really risky to use in combat. At only half of your normal hit points, you're much more likely to die in your skin form.
- Mutagenic Touch: It's hard to know when this will work well. If you have another party member who's a combat monster (fighter, etc.) they might really enjoy this. Of course, combat monsters typically have poor mental ability scores, so the penalty from the mutagen might incapacitate them if you have discoveries which improve your mutagen.
- False Life, Greater: Temporary hit poitns with hours/level duration. Always good on a class with relatively few hit points. It's really weird that Alchemists don't get regular False Life.
- Delayed Consumptiom: Turn any extract into an imemdiate action. Resist Energy is a great example; activate it when you're about to take energy damage you've solved the biggest problem with Resist Energy: guessing what to resist.
- Resurgent Transformation: A fantastic way to keep yourself alive, but the 100gp material component cost will add up quickly if you use it every day.
- Twin Form: Unique to Alchemists (and Ingestigators because they share a spell list), twin form lets you get away with some serious shenanigans. Create a twin and send it to scout ahead, set off traps, or distract a monster. Send your twin into a dangerous combat, let it die, then run into the fight after the twin dies at full health and ready to win the day. The rounds/level duration doesn't let you do a lot, but that's probably for the best.
- Celestial Armor (22,400 gp): Unless you have heavy armor proficiency and a Dexterity modifier of at most +5, Celestial Armor is the best armor in the game if all you need from your armor is AC. For more, check out my Practical Guide to Celestial Armor.
- Clawhand Shield (8,158 gp): This is a weird item. It's a bit more expensive than your typical +2 shield, so it may not be worth the cost compared to a mithral buckler. However, it allows you to perform somatic components with the hand holding the shield, which means that you can hold a weapon in your other hand without issue, and because it has no armor check penalty or arcane spell failure anyone can use it without issue. The ability to automatically damage enemies while in a grapple is a helpful deterrent for small or physical weak characters, but ion't go looking for excuses to use it.
- Protection: If you want to go into melee, you need all of the AC you can get.
- Wizardy: Since alchemists are only 2/3 casters, rings of wizardry are proportionately more effective for them than they are for full casters. Personally, I like Wizard 2 because Alchemical Allocation is so amazing. It's not totally clear if Rings of Wizardry work for Alchemists, but Boro Beads are functionally identical to Pearls of Power, so it seems reasonable that a comparable ring would work.
- Admixture Vile: A bit pricey for one use per day, but you can combine two third-level extracts, which is amazing for short-duration buffs which you want to set up at the start of a fight. Displacement and Haste are a good combination.
- Amulet of Natural Armor: If you want to go into melee, you need all of the AC you can get. The bonus is am enhancement bonus to natural armor, so it will stack with natural armor bonuses like the ones from Mutagen and from Polymorph spells.
- Belt of incredible dexterity / Belt of Physical Perfection: If you stay out of melee, all your need is Dexterity. If you go into melee, you want a belt of physical perfection.
- Boro Bead: Pearls of power for alchemists. Excellent for 2nd-level slots so that you can use Alchemical Allocation more.
- Cloak of Resistance: Too crucial to forego.
- Formula Alembic: Rarely useful enough to justify buying it. If you want to add more spells to your formulae book it's cheaper to pay for the extra pages than to buy a potion of the same spell.
- Headband of vast intelligence / Headband of Mental Prowess: Intelligence is crucial, but investing in Wisdom will provide a useful boost to your Will saves and will offset the penalties from your Mutagen.
- Poisoner's Gloves: Put two infusions (you'll need the Infusion discover) into the gloves. Put the gloves on a hired NPC, and have him buff you. If you don't want to lug a level 1 commoner into combat, get a Tumor Familiar shaped like a monkey or something else with hands, and have it wear the gloves instead. It can pat you down, then re-attach itself while you're busy fighting stuff.
- Vest of Stable Mutagen: The penalty to physical ability scores from your mutagen can be serious problem if you're not built to gracefully handle the penalties. For 20,000 gp you can remove the penalties entirely.
Multiclassing and Prestige Classes
- Fighter (Mutation Warrior): If you're building a melee-focuses alchemist, a single level of Fighter will get you heavy armor, martial weapons, and a feat. A second level gets you another feat, and a third will get you Mutagen from Mutation Warrior, which should stack with your Alchemist levels. Personally I wouldn't take more than one level because you'll lose too much of your alchemist extract abilities, but a one level dip could be a great way to boost your capabilities in melee.
- Master Chymist: The Master Chymist gives up some of the Alchemist's ability to create Extracts in order to focus on using the Mutagen to become an alchemically-infused melee monster.