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Old 01-24-2020, 09:38 AM   #1
maximara
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Default Alchemy in a no mana world

I was getting Sir Isaac Newton ready for the 4e conversion process for his GURPS wiki entry when I realized something not represented in his Who's Who write up - he was also an alchemist.

Assuming that our Earth is No Mana (a safe assumption) just what is this in GURPS terms?

Is this "Alchemy" actually Chemistry (Alchemic)? If so how does that compare to Alchemy proper and general Chemistry?
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Old 01-24-2020, 10:20 AM   #2
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Default Re: Alchemy in a no mana world

I'd say it's kind of like the difference between Breaking Blow, in a world where chi skills truly work, and Breaking Blow with Unusual Training, in a world where you can set things up to get those effects under special conditions. You can do some alchemical processes, in cases where real chemistry supports them. But you can't turn copper into gold, or make healing potions, or create homunculi.

The GM gets to decide if there's a realistic trick for producing "alchemical" results. If so, you roll vs. Alchemy. See The Arcanum, for example, for the history of efforts to create porcelain in Europe. If there's no trick, you just can't do it.

But I'd also say that Chemistry defaults to Alchemy-3 in many cases. You can do really simply things like extractive chemistry with an unmodified roll; for analytical or synthetic chemistry, you get the penalty, because you have no valid theory to guide your procedures. And again, the GM can just say no: You can't make sulfa drugs, or aniline dyes, or identify vitamins as food constituents.

I think the point where you go from Alchemy to Chemistry is the overthrow of the phlogistonic theory and its replacement with oxygen-based consumption. I could see a case, though, for the development of the chemical balance as the key step, as it took "chemical" procedures from qualitative to quantitative.
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Old 01-24-2020, 10:26 AM   #3
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Default Re: Alchemy in a no mana world

Chemistry is a TL skill. So just call it Chemistry/TL4. I'd save "Alchemy" for the skill of manipulating substances that "really" do have magical properties. As the book puts it, "This is the study of magical transformations and transmutations." No magic, no (functioning) Alchemy.

If you want to use the word "alchemy" in game for setting flavor, feel free. But in this case, it just means "Chemistry/TL4".
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Old 01-24-2020, 10:31 AM   #4
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Default Re: Alchemy in a no mana world

Quote:
Originally Posted by maximara View Post
Assuming that our Earth is No Mana (a safe assumption) just what is this in GURPS terms?
A feature of studying chemistry at low TLs, or perhaps a quirk. As noted in the article linked, Newton wasn't the only guy trying to turn lead into gold. Therefore, it's hardly a disadvantage to think that you actually can turn lead into gold, many other learned people would agree it's possible.
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Old 01-24-2020, 10:50 AM   #5
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Default Re: Alchemy in a no mana world

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Originally Posted by maximara View Post
Is this "Alchemy" actually Chemistry (Alchemic)? If so how does that compare to Alchemy proper and general Chemistry?
I would list Chemistry/TL, ~Metallurgy/TL~, Occultism, and Philosophy or Theology as the key skills for a historical alchemist; a scholarly language like Arabic, Greek, or Latin is mandatory. His GURPS 3e writeup should have most of those already.

Craft Secret perks are plausible, alchemists did not believe in open publication in clear language.

Alchemists who are not professors and mint-masters may have Fast-Talk, Fortune Telling, and Sleight of Hand and buy up various swindle-friendly Techniques.
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Last edited by Polydamas; 01-24-2020 at 10:55 AM.
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Old 01-24-2020, 02:18 PM   #6
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Default Re: Alchemy in a no mana world

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Originally Posted by Polydamas View Post
I would list Chemistry/TL, ~Metallurgy/TL~, Occultism, and Philosophy or Theology as the key skills for a historical alchemist; a scholarly language like Arabic, Greek, or Latin is mandatory. His GURPS 3e writeup should have most of those already.
He has (Languages are per GURPS Update):
Language (Aramaic, native)
Language (Classical Greek, native)
Language (Hebrew Greek, native)
Language (Latin, native)

Chemistry-18
(grants Metallurgy-13; though it is not listed as an "official" skill he has)
Occultism-18
Theology-19
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Old 01-24-2020, 10:50 AM   #7
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Default Re: Alchemy in a no mana world

(Disclaimer: I don't have the old write-up, so I don't know what's on there in 3e.)

My suggestions for 4e:

Newton was at TL4, helping develop what would become TL5. So a lot of his original training would be the Expert Skill of Natural Philosophy (Basic Set p194), which substitutes for a lot of basic science at TL1-4.

But he was inventing Astronomy/TL5, Mathematics/TL5, and Physics/TL5. (Possibly reflected with some Cutting-Edge Training Perks?)

It wasn't his main focus, but he had a little Chemistry/TL5, too. He also had practical TL4 knowledge through his later work with the Royal Mint: it seems to me assaying would be an IQ/A skill, with writing it up as Chemistry (Assaying)/TL4, Metallurgy (Assaying)/TL4, or Professional Skill: Assayer/TL4 being largely a matter of taste. Plus Counterfeiting/TL4, to combat it.

The more philosophic and esoteric aspects of European Hermetic alchemy -- and the ones which Newton was really obsessed about -- would probably be a Philosophy or Theology specialty, e.g. Theology (Hermetic Alchemy). (Or, if your game doesn't go into that level of detail, simply Occultism.) He also was trained in Theology (Church of England), though he personally rejected some of the beliefs.

"Alchemy" at the time referred to the entire package: what we now separate into chemistry, physics, and religious mysticism was considered a whole system.
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Old 01-24-2020, 01:05 PM   #8
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Default Re: Alchemy in a no mana world

Newton was trying to use alchemy for metaphysical purposes, as he believed in the existence of magic. As an aside, there are a few ways for alchemy to work in a no mana setting, as alchemy does not necessarily use mana. For example, spiritual systems of magic do not depend on mana necessarily, so magic (and alchemy) could work just fine on a no mana world.

If you did have spiritual magic working on a no mana world, then you would have to determine rarity and secrecy. If people with Magery 0+ (Spiritual) make up 0.1% of the population, then magic will be easily hidden. Likewise, if useful knowledge concerning magic is monopolized by secret societies, then magic will be easily hidden.

RPM possesses an interesting potion system that could be used in such a setting. If you have potions being a separate pool of conditional rituals, then practitioners could maintain (Alchemy plus Magery) potions. Since they take a long time anyway, you could even get away with not possessing Ritual Adept. You could even have that sort of Alchemy being the only type of magic, with Paths being based off Alchemy rather than Thaumotology.

Last edited by AlexanderHowl; 01-24-2020 at 01:11 PM.
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Old 01-24-2020, 02:45 PM   #9
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Default Re: Alchemy in a no mana world

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Originally Posted by AlexanderHowl View Post
Newton was trying to use alchemy for metaphysical purposes, as he believed in the existence of magic.
This part. He has Alchemy because he studied it, but having a skill does not mean it actually works or even has a practical use.
I do agree it would allow some basic Chemistry uses, likely at a penalty. However I would not give him Chemistry as his methodology and foundational knowledge is different.
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Old 01-24-2020, 02:59 PM   #10
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Default Re: Alchemy in a no mana world

I would still say that alchemy is just low tech chemistry. Strange incorrect beliefs and bad technique are a side effect of being low TL.
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