Something which I greatly respect about Pathfinder is the way in which Paizo has avoided system bloat. D&D 3.5’s run produced some truly terrible books, each of which came with a handful of new classes, dozens of new prestige classes, and mountains of new spells. And while Paizo has published books containing all of these, they’ve usually done so with a measured hand. The non-core, base classes are well considered and fit nicely with the 11 core classes. They’ve also been released under the OGL, which Wizards of the Coast did not do with their supplemental material.
So while I’ve completed my analysis of the core classes, I see no reason to stop looking at the rest of them.
Core Concept: While it may seem contrary to my statement above, I hate the Alchemist. In my mind, the existence of an alchemist class which gains access to impossible new heights of alchemical mastery invalidates every wizard who ever made time to focus on brewing potions. In the core rules alchemy is made out to be a great feat–not so for alchemists! They can brew potions in a minute flat!
Hit Die: 1d8 seems quite high, doesn’t it? What makes the alchemist deserve a larger hit die than the wizard? I suppose it might be argued, based on the class description, that “using his own body as experimental stock” has toughened up the otherwise squishy character. But I think 1d6 might be more appropriate.
Alchemy: As mentioned above, my least favorite aspect of this class is the way in which I feel it devalues alchemy. Creating concoctions in a single minute, and being able to create so many in a single day, makes run-of-the-mill alchemy look silly.
Once upon a time I was working on a class (never settled on a name for it, though I did have the working title of “Alchemical Surgeon”). It was primarily a healing class, and while it did receive some bonuses, it largely had to craft potions using the same process as any other class. The primary difference was that the surgeon was much more adept at using the potions, delivering them via needle prick, and allowing a single dose to be used multiple times rather that only once.
I think this would have been a much more interesting route to go than the one the Alchemist’s designers chose. Not only does it avoid the problem of devaluing non-alchemist alchemy, but it avoids another problem as well. The Pathfinder alchemist’s concoctions only work when being held by the alchemist. Something about the alchemist’s aura makes them work, blah blah blah, bullshit. It’s the kind of explanation people come up with when they need to implement a rule for game reasons, and can’t think of sufficient justification for why that rule would exist in the game world, so they just say “magic.”
My surgeon, on the other hand, was able to make concoctions more potent because he or she possessed knowledge of anatomy and knew where & how to inject the patient. That’s a much better explanation in my book.
I will say one positive thing about alchemist alchemy: I like the idea of a caster who can save spell slots to prepare later in the day with a minimal investment of time. That’s something I would like to see implemented better with another class.
Bomb: Bombs are pretty cool, I essentially covered my only issue with them above: they become inert when held by anyone but the alchemist. Which begs the question: what if the target of a thrown bomb catches it? Shouldn’t they be given a chance to do this since the bomb will become inert as soon as they posses it?
Brew Potion: Kinda obvious that this would be a bonus feat at first level.
Mutagen / Persistent Mutagen: This is actually a pretty damned cool idea, and works a mite better than the other two types of Alchemist alchemy (bombs and extracts). A better explanation for why it only works for the alchemist who created it might be that every mutagen must be tailored to the person who will use it, and they are so complex that it’s not really possible to understand another person’s physiology well enough to create a mutagen for them.
One thing I would have liked to see was more flavor. Functionally this is just an alternate form of the Barbarian’s rage ability. I think it would have been cool to have a handful of special monsters which the Alchemist could turn into at different levels.
Throw Anything: I like the Throw Anything feat. It was a clever addition to this class which I don’t know that I would have thought of myself.
Discovery: Perhaps this is just because I’ve been getting more old-school lately, but does anyone else think this would be much more interesting as a random roll rather than a choice the player must make? The impression I get of the alchemist is that they do a lot of random mixing “just to see what will happen,” so random discoveries would be appropriate.
Regardless of how they are chosen, however, I like how this ability is implemented.
Poison Resistance: I think it would be better if Alchemists simply gained immunity to poison at level 2, rather than receiving a resistance which slowly grows until it becomes immunity at level 10. But that’s a pretty consistent difference between Paizo’s design philosophies and my own.
Poison Use: Impossible to poison one’s self while using poisons. Straightforward and logical. I always thought this ability ought to be a feat.
Swift Poisoning: Unlike performing alchemy quickly, applying poisons more quickly is pretty mundane and makes good sense to me. Though now that this ability exists, it ought to be an assassin ability as well.
Grand Discovery: This is among the cooler capstone abilities. Again it feels like it should be random, but that’s a pretty small complaint all things considered.
Alchemist Formulae: While I have no comment on the content of the Alchemist’s spell list, I like that the maximum spell level available is 6. There are several “partial casters” like the paladin who are primarily focused on their non-spellcasting abilities, but they normally max out at 4th level spells. The Alchemist leans in the other direction, with a heavier investment in magic. I’d prefer to see more classes like that, I think.