’Tripping on Drugs

Potions, especially healing potions, have been part of The Fantasy Trip since the early days when they made their appearance in Death Test. The presence of potions required the existence of elixir mixologists, who formally arrived on the scene with the release of In the Labyrinth through its inclusion of the Alchemist talent and rules for brewing potions.

Just as I did with the rules for spellbooks, I recently cast a creatively critical eye toward how alchemy harmonizes with the essence of TFT’s magic system as suggested in the core rules found in Wizard. To summarize my take on TFT’s magic system that I described in earlier posts, magic is similar to psionics; through significant mental effort, the wizard alters reality to conform to their will, if only briefly. This effort is physically taxing, and may require somatic gestures or vocalizations to help shape the wizard’s mind to the proper pattern for a given magical effect. But this conception of magic is more than a little at odds with the rules for alchemy which suggest that mundane substances have magical associations, resonances, and correspondences that allow them to be combined in careful preparations to create new, magical substances. The rules even go as far as to say that “the alchemist is a magician.” This begs the question as to how does one keep alchemy, but allow it to not just work with a psionics-ish model of magic, but actively support it? It isn’t as difficult as one might think, and it only changes the rules slightly.

To find the solution, we can take a cue from real world drugs, such as caffeine and alcohol, which can have a profound effect on how the mind works. We are all familiar that these drugs can be simply derived from plants, as is the case with tea leaves, or synthesized from careful concoctions of uncommon ingredients. Drugs can have effects ranging from modest to profound that trail off as our bodies excrete or metabolize the drugs, typically within a few to several hours. Using examples of real world drugs as a springboard to launch us into reconceptualizing how alchemical products works in TFT, alchemical elixirs, ointments, powders, and pastilles are are powerful preparations that unlock latent magical potential in the mind of the user, letting them cast a specific spell easily and without any wizardly training, with little or no ST cost and/or with longer lasting effect than most spells. In short, they are mundane preparations that are thaumagenic (from the Greek words for “miracle” and “producing”) and which can be imbibed, snorted, ingested, rubbed on, or smoked.

Importantly, because potions and such are not magical themselves, it takes the expertise of an Alchemist to be able to recognize a preparation with thaumagenic properties and identify its effect; no longer can a wizard with Detect or Analyze Magic be relied upon to do this, which elevates (pleasingly, I think) the importance of alchemists in the game.

But, if alchemical potions are mundane instead of being magical, what’s the difference between an Alchemist and a Chemist and between the products they respectively make? Chemists make substances that have mundane effects while alchemists specialize in those that have magical effects. It’s that simple. Thus, we turn alchemists into thaumapharmocologists (adding to thaumat, the Greek roots pharmakos and logy meaning “drug” and “study of”, respectively). These are the people skilled at researching, developing, and preparing alchemical products. Departing from the description in In the Labyrinth, alchemists are not magicians by default.

To summarize, there are not many changes to the rules needed to make alchemy work this way in TFT. First, alchemical potions are not magical, and the Alchemist talent does not confer wizard status. That’s it!

As we know from the real world, drugs can have their drawbacks. For instance, side effects of drugs commonly include things like impaired dexterity and drowsiness. Those who use drugs might find themselves addicted to them, or experiencing debilitating withdrawal symptoms. All of these can make the alchemist’s wares a double-edged sword, and dilemmas create precisely the kind of tension that can turn a ho-hum adventure into something more memorable. With that in mind here’s a new alchemical compound that you might find fun in your games:

Mage is a powerful substance that temporarily aids in casting spells by boosting DX (for spellcasting only!) and giving a small mana reserve. It is prepared by binding calcium carbonate to the properly fermented leaves of the witchberry bush which grows in the rainforests of the tropical regions of Myriangia’s east coast.

Mage used by snorting or smoking is fast-acting, powerful, and short-lived, kicking in in 1d-3 turns and lasting 2d minutes, whereas that rubbed on in ointment form or ingested takes longer to take effect (2d minutes) and has a longer-lasting (1d6 hours) but generally milder effect.

Mage is also addictive; every time someone uses it, roll 3/ST, with a failure resulting in their becoming addicted. If, after applying any modifiers (described later), the result of the roll is 17+, they ALSO fall into a coma for 3d minutes and then suffer the worse of the side effects described below. Those addicted to Mage must roll 3/ST when coming down off the drug, suffering -1 IQ and DX for 1d hours if they succeed and doubling all amounts on a failure, and a critical failure on this roll makes the side effects last until another dose of Mage is taken. Similarly, anyone suffering withdrawal symptoms can make them go away by taking another dose of Mage; the side effects disappear when the drug kicks in. If one becomes addicted, they must refrain from using Mage for a month to recover.

Mage made for smoking or snorting generally gives +1 DX and 4 mana, and Mage made for ingestion or topical application gives +0 DX and 2 mana. Stronger formulations are possible in +1 DX +2 mana increments, but each step up adds 1 to the addiction saving roll (so, for a dose of +1 IQ/+4 mana ointment, a saving of 16 results in 17—oh no!). The effects of Mage are cumulative, but, for reasons not understood, taking one strong dose is safer than multiple weaker ones; taking each additional dose requires a 3/ST saving roll to avoid immediately suffering withdrawal effects.

Those who use Mage excrete the drug’s telltale musky scent for several hours after dosing. Mage costs at least $1,000/dose for the weakest preparations and possibly much more if a supplier suspects the buyer is addicted (or maybe far less if a supplier wants to get someone addicted!).

The material presented here are my house rules intended for use with the The Fantasy Trip system from Steve Jackson Games. This material is not official and is not endorsed by Steve Jackson Games. The Fantasy Trip is a registered trademark of Steve Jackson Games. All rights are reserved by SJ Games. This material is used here in accordance with the SJ Games online policy.

Published by antoshos

I'm just a guy who likes uilleann pipes, games, hard science fiction, Lovecraftian horror, the outdoors, astronomy, and cats. I studied painting and drawing, which, miraculously, somehow provided me with the skills from which to eek out a living as a museum curator.

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