In 5th edition DnD there are items, like Alchemists Supplies, that have limited uses and rules as written. An alchemist’s kit sounds like it would be everything you need to brew your own potions, but the rules seem to be lacking in that regard. So what’s even the point of an alchemist’s kit and why would a player want one? Let’s look at what Alchemists supplies are, what can actually be done with them, their basic rules, and how you as a DM can extend those rules to make the items more useful and fun!
What are Alchemist’s Supplies?
Alchemist’s Supplies, as noted in the PHB and XGE, are a collection of tools that allow users to craft certain items or produce specific effects.
The kit is actually fairly simple: its 8lb weight includes glassware, beaker frames, mortar and pestle, and common alchemical ingredients like salt, iron, and water. For 50gp it’s rather sparse, but the glassware is likely the bulk of the price given the fantasy setting.
While we’d like to say that the alchemist’s supplies are primarily a crafting tool, that’s not the case. Their main benefit comes from the bonus granted to individuals who are proficient with these tools. Someone who is proficient with alchemist’s supplies can gain additional insights into potions when examining them through an Arcana check. You can also get additional information when investigating areas with relevant substances or chemicals.
The totality of their rule set is quite limited, but you can typically do one of the following things with them:
- Create an effect like a puff of smoke or start a fire
- Identify potions, poisons, materials, or substances
- Craft materials such as acid, alchemist’s fire, antitoxin, oil, perfume, or soap
- Neutralize an acid
On its own these options don’t appear to cover much. Looking a little closer though, some of these options can be very useful in the right situation.
Using Alchemists Supplies to Identify Substances
Where alchemist’s tools really shine is in campaigns where DMs plan for their use. The average run of the mill game doesn’t have a lot of need to identify potions or substances, but a good DM can see the value in this and make every potion found in a dungeon be unknown to start with. This is even better if you’re running a mystery session where players will need to do some forensics to figure out what happened at the scene of a crime.
For example, finding a dead body next to a nearly empty vial would have the players assume it’s poison, but with an alchemist’s kit you can learn more. Perhaps the vial is an antidote that was not drank in time, or it could be anything else entirely. You get a lot of narrative flexibility when you players have the opportunity to look deeper into these types of mysteries.
While these identification tasks can be useful and fun, the DM has to knowingly add them to the game. On top of this, you’ll want to go a step further and make sure you have a backup plan when your players inevitably don’t use the alchemist’s supplies on the thing you intended them to. Similarly, your players may fail in their attempts to examine a substance and could get the wrong idea about what they’re investigating.
Using Alchemists Supplies to Create Sensory Effects
Going back to the ability to create a puff of smoke or starting a fire, these are fine things for kit to be used for, but they’re limited to harmless sensory effects. To make these really useful you’ll have to allow players to get creative. That’s the only way they will ever be even close to as useful as a basic cantrip, since any caster with Prestidigitation can produce more elaborate sensory effects faster at lower cost.
Crafting with Alchemists Supplies
Crafting with alchemists supplies is still the most valuable thing that any player can do, but the rules for what can be crafted are extremely limited. Using a kit you can craft acid, alchemist’s fire, antitoxin, oil, perfume, or soap during a long rest for half of the item’s value worth of materials needed to create the item. What are those material components necessary? You’ll have to make that up, because it’s not specified anywhere in the books.
If you get players who like to outline specific items and ingredients then you’ll have to put in some legwork to make that fun for them. Really your players can make anything they have a recipe for, but alchemical recipes are not something included in the core rules, and the only mentions of them state that they are necessary for the crafting of potions or magical items.
The crafting system is where we really recommend you dip into homebrew for alchemists supplies. We have our own outline for crafting potions in D&D as a spell-based method, but you could just as easily allow casters to create potions from spells using an alchemist’s kit and material components instead of an item creation spell. Doing so would give an alchemist’s kit a lot more value. Check out our other articles on potions for more specifics and details.
Other Potion Brewing Articles:
- How to Brew Potions in D&D
- Homebrew Spell for Creating Potions
- How to Create Potions from any Spell
- Crafting Healing Potions
If you’re not a big fan of our systems or want to handle things differently, don’t let us stop you! One of the beautiful things about homebrewing around items like this is that they are vague enough in their descriptions that you can fit crunchy rules right over top of the kit without any fussing about tweaking the core system. It might take a bit of trial an error to get things right, but we really recommend you try it out for yourself.
Alchemists Supplies are as Useful as You Make Them
While the alchemists supplies are not the most useful thing in a game world full of magic and monsters, they do find their uses in investigation, arcana, and other similar checks involved in mysteries. Half cost items on the road is also potentially a life saver in niche situations, but that really depends on your DMing style. The real power for alchemists supplies comes from your flexibility in their use. If you let your players push into the fuzzy boundaries of the rules as written you often find the 8lb kit is worth it for your players to lug around.