Four Horsemen Present: Hybrid Class – The Psychemist
This hybrid class clocks in at 16 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 13 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
So, the psychemist would be a hybrid of alchemist and medium and chassis-wise, gets d8 HD, 4 + Int skills per level, proficiency with simple weapons and light and medium armor, but not shields. The class gets a ¾ BAB-progression as well as good Will-saves.
The psychemist is defined by using occult alchemy, which theme-wise, is based on the harnessing of spirits and their energy. Psychemists may use spell-trigger items if they are included on the class’s list, but not spell-completion items The extract-equivalent of the class would be pnumea, beginning play with two + Charisma modifier 1st level pnumea, and each new level provides +1 pnumea of his choice of any level he can distill. As with extracts, the psychemist learns to distill up to 6th level pnumea. As a minor complaint – the vials containing them are called canopic vials most of the time, but also canopic jars once, which can be a tad bit confusing. On a plus-side, their costs (as arrows) are concisely defined.
2nd level yields a bonus equal to +1/2 class level to avoid being surprised and to detect invisible or incorporeal creatures as well as detect psychic significance at will as an SP. 3rd level yields throw anything and changes significantly how the class operates – you see, the psychemist can throw canopic vials (which deal very minor damage, sans Strength modifier) and unleash the spell stored within. Starting at 7th level, the vials may be used in conjunction with slings, at a penalty and decreased range, with 12th and 17th level improving this ability.
Starting at 3rd level, he may also prepare a pnumea as a so-called pseudo-haunt, which uses a spell level of 1 level higher than usual, generating a psychic haunt that only lasts for 24 hours, triggering whenever a living target enters the square. Thankfully, only one such psychic haunt may be maintained at once – still, a very, very potent ability. Problematic: The Pnumea per day table lacks the level-column…and if it had been included, one may have noticed that 2nd level pnumea are gained at 4th level, which means that, at 3rd level, this does pretty much…nothing. It’s just one level, but still.
The perhaps most defining and important class feature of the class would be spectral mutagen, available from the get-go. This behaves mostly like a regular mutagen, but is also defined by spirit archetypes – the class begins play with the knowledge to capture the essences of two spirits and one mutagen per day, adding another daily use and spirit known at 5th level and every 5 levels thereafter. At the same time, upon gaining an upgrade thus, existing spirit bonuses increase in potency by +2.
Imbibing a spirit mutagen yields a +4 bonus to saves vs. possession, +2 versus mind-affecting effects, but also imposes a -2 penalty to initiative (minor complaint: Reference to Cha instead of Charisma in the duration formula.) The spirits provided are based on the traditional 6 mythic paths, parallel to the spirits of the medium, with each sporting a spirit bonus: The archmage, for example, yields a +2 bonus on concentration checks, Intelligence checks and Intelligence-based skill-checks, while the champion yields a morale bonus to atk, non-spell damage rolls, Strength checks, Strength-based skill checks and Fortitude saves. Weird: Channeling the Marshall nets you and your allies a base movement speed increase of +10 ft. – I don’t have a beef with this, I do like it…but at the same time, the lack of cap or range means that, with enough psychemist followers (or in a military environment), you can generate ridiculous amounts of affected allies – this should have a cap of affected beings and a range.
In addition to the spirit bonus, each spirit provides access to a total of 3 special spectral powers – as part of the action attempted to use the powers, the psychemist performs a Diplomacy check, with the DCs being 20, 25 and 30, respectively. These may be used any number of times, provided you meet the skill check, though the DC increases by 5 every time beyond the first use.
On a failure of one such check, the psychemist takes the influence penalty associated with the spirit and doubles the initiative penalty of the spectral mutagen. Problem here: I have no idea whether the spectral power still takes place on such a failed check – I assume no, but the ability lacks the failure clause. Failing more than two Diplomacy checks thus, causes the spirit to abandon the psychemist, incurring a -4 penalty to influence other spirit archetypes for 24 hours. Slightly odd – this would RAW allow you to choose to fail such a check to deliberately prematurely end a spirit mutagen to get rid of influence penalties. Not sure if that was intended. Anyways, non-psychemists cannot benefit from these and in fact are shaken on a failed save when consuming them. Additionally, I am not 100% clear whether you can consume another spectral mutagen associated with the spirit that abandoned the psychemist after the spirit abandoning him, or whether that aspect is tied to a rest-cool-down: “He cannot access that archetype’s powers and suffers a -4 penalty to Diplomacy checks to influence other archetypes for 24 hours.” Could be read as the 24 hours applying to only the penalty or both the lock-out and the penalty; the latter would make more sense for me, but yeah.
Anyways, why would you want to prematurely end the mutagen’s effects? Well, from -2 to Strength and Constitution checks, Strength-based skill checks and damage/atk-rolls to being forced to fight and cast defensively (as well as -2 damage), the influence penalties are fitting, but yeah….hence the observations above that you may want to fail such a check in certain circumstances. Problematic RAW: The defensive casting mentioned does not really come into play unless multiclassing – after all, the psychemist does not have spells. Not sure if that is intended or not.
Now, regarding the respective powers mentioned before: Guardians can yield, for the duration of the spectral mutagen, DR/- and resistance to the classic energy types + sonic equal to the maximum pnumea you can cast, minimum +1. The more potent options include immediate action concealment – and if a foe misses you, you’ll get an AoO against the target; considering that some abilities allow for non-melee AoOs, a caveat to make that melee-only would have made sense, but that is me being very nitpicky. The highest-powered ability of the guardian allows you to remove a negative condition from a nearby ally. The hierophant provides channel energy (and spontaneous pnumea-conversion into cure/inflict for highest level pnumea rounds – this is pretty potent, considering the potency of ranged healing, but I’m good with this doe to the quickly-escalating DCs.
As a minor complaint: The reference to haste in the additional attack section of the champion has not been properly italicized and while it stacks with that spell’s effects, it thankfully doesn’t stack with other attack-granting options. Where I get a bit cranky would be the champion’s DC 30 attack – for a full-round action AND a swift action, you get to move up to full speed and make a full attack – while it doesn’t combine with sudden attack, it still is an unreliable form of pounce sans a proper minimum level – for the base class, that’s perhaps not too bad, but I still think that simply adding level requirements to spectral powers would have probably made the balancing of the class much smoother; you know, just putting the 2nd and 3rd ability behind a minimum level? RAW, the champion thus would make for a very dippable and potent option…
At 12th level, the psychemist may 1/day when he fails a Diplomacy check versus a spirit “choose to make a second save” to rid himself of the spirit penalty, ending the spectral mutagen on a success. Wait. What? Save? RAW, the psychemist doesn’t get a save against the penalty of a failed Diplomacy check! I don’t get it. 14th level extends the duration of the spectral mutagen to 1 hour per level, or until a new mutagen is imbibed.
But what about bombs? Well, considering that the pnumea behave somewhat akin to them, you won’t be surprised to hear that they are gained a bit later: 4th level yields access to so-called spectral grenades. These are governed by Charisma and…I have no idea how much damage they inflict, what damage type they have…the pdf simply doesn’t tell. Due to the delayed gaining of the ability, there also is no easy means to default to the alchemist: -4 levels? Full levels? No idea. You see, I rattled my brain over this for quite a while, and I came to the conclusion that, perhaps, these bombs are supposed to behave like canopic vials when thrown, with the respective grenade effects added…but that is guessing on my part, since the ability states “Similar to an alchemist’s bomb” and nowhere states that this is the case.
A psychemist can have one spectral grenade in effect at any given time, with 1 minute of preparation required to make a new one. A psychemist may create one spectral grenade per day, +1 for every 4 levels beyond 4th. Two feats enhance these– one for +2 spectral grenades per day, but still with only one prepared at any given time The second feat nets bonus negative energy damage for them…which doesn’t help, since I have no idea on how much damage they inflict. (There is, btw., also a feat for +4 Diplomacy versus a spirit, starting at 10th level +1spirit bonus, just for completion’s sake.) Spectral grenades are tied to the spirits – each spirit has an associated spectral grenade and the psychemist knows the spectral grenades from the two spirits granted by spectral mutagen.
It should be noted that spirits unlocked later do not automatically net you their spectral grenades, btw.! In addition to the two known for the 1st level spirits, there also are spectral grenade effects regardless of spirits – these are potent: Like cold damage plus paralysis, reduced to staggered on a successful save and negative conditions. There also are some cool tricks to make incorporeal creatures visible and known (type + alignment) or rendering targets corporeal. The more potent effects are hidden behind a level-requirement. Hierophant grenades hamper healing, Trickster grenades impose the influence penalty on the target. Okay…what happens if you target another psychemist who is currently suffering from the trickster’s influence penalty? 8th level and every 2 levels thereafter yield another spectral grenade effect.
6th level provides the haunt siphon ability to always act in a surprise round against haunts before they manifest and may use an available pnumea-slot or a prepared pnumea of the highest pnumea level available, the latter of which may be spontaneously expended to attempt to siphon a haunt, with, once again, a Diplomacy check, trapping it for 24 hours. This allows the psychemist to use the haunt as a pseudo haunt…which is very, very potent if not handled with care by the GM. That being said, you won’t want to risk using this ability to stock up on high-powered haunts – on a failure, you get no save versus its effects!! Yeah, OUCH!
7th level provides location siphon, which allows for the expenditure of a 3rd level pnumea slot to siphon a spirit at a location to duplicate a variant of call spirit – at 11th level, an ally’s familiarity may be substituted for that of the psychemist. 17th level yields the ability to craft a special vial for a target – a willing individual that then perishes has the soul stored inside, facilitating return from the dead. Only one such vessel may be held and the character’s soul may be used to make intelligent magical items. (Wanna try out the horsemen’s amazing Living Objects? There ya go.) 19th level yields spirit blend: “When distilling a spirit blend spectral mutagen, the psychemist gains the spirit bonus and spectral grenade effect from his most powerful spirit archetype, but can choose 2 specific powers from any of the other spirit archetypes he can siphon…” – in addition to those the spirit has anyway. Sounds simple, righty? It’s not. It has a big issue. What is “the most powerful spirit archetype”?? One of the starting ones? Should we judge their power? What if you took the Spirit Focus feat on a spirit gained later?
The capstone is pretty cool, allowing for a variant of capture the soul and even steal abilities! Yeah, pretty cool. The pdf also introduces etched vials as a magic item class, basically the enchantable weaponry of the psychemist.
Editing and formatting on a formal level are very good, with only a few minor hiccups. On a rules-language level, though, the pdf sports very unpleasant instances of imprecision that are both uncharacteristic for the author and rogue Genius Games. Layout adheres to a nice two-column full-color standard and the pdf sports solid stock art and comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.
I don’t get it. Tim Hitchcock’s psychemist is per se a class I enjoy. It is innovative in its tweaks; it feels different from both medium and alchemist; it has great ideas and attempts high-difficulty rules-operations. It is also a deeply flawed class, unfortunately. It is pretty evident that the class has gone through at least one major revision, which may account for several of the puzzling inconsistencies within. At one point, saves, the proper damage notes for spectral grenades, etc. may have made sense – but there are a lot of components that got confused/lost in translation. This is basically a highly complex, well-crafted class…that is one consistency check away from being a very good example of a hybrid class.
Now here’s the thing – I want to like this class. It is much more creative than the pretty vanilla blending of themes would make you believe; it attempts fun things…but it also sports serious quirks and glitches in crucial parts of its abilities. And try as I might, I can’t let that pass. My final verdict will hence clock in at 2.5 stars – though, considering the difficulty and how, upon fixing, we have an interesting hybrid on our hands, I will round up for the purpose of this platform; you can fix this and it’d be cool then…but fixing this WILL require work.
You can get this class here on OBS!