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A field guide to alchemy (First chapters)


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I decided to turn this suggestion into an ingame lore book. This is the beginning of a big alchemy system.

A field guide to alchemy.
By Anonymous 

As many scholars have observed in the past, our world is driven by forces we can not explain.
What many pretend to be magic is actually explained in the field of natural philosophy.
This misunderstanding of natural philosophy has lead to the death of many scholars. If you use the
knowledge of this book in the public, you might learn that death by fire is a very unpleasant way to die.
The church has the habit of forbidding everything they don't understand, trying to fix our worlds problems
by burning them who really try to fix them.
Be aware, utilizing the power of the devil is magic, unlike natural philosophy, 
which is a more advanced way of manipulating our world.
There are many fields of natural philosophy, but for this guide I will focus on the field of alchemy.

Alchemy is the art of changing and utilizing the properties of things to fit your liking.
Well knows examples of alchemy are transmutation and herblore, but also things as simple as brewing.
I advice readers to do their research in hiding, for obvious reasons.

About the properties of things

Knowing the properties of things is useless on its own. The important part about most properties
is the effect on the human, and sometimes inhumane, body.

Luckily for us, there is an easy, but not always very safe, way of discovering the effects of things,
other than reading old books: taste.

My studies found that most things have up to four effects, often less, but never more.
The strongest effects seem to be the easiest to taste, but also the one one will experience
on them, when tasting the ingredient. While one can always taste the strongest effect,
it may require alchemists to taste things multiple times, discovering the weakest of effects
has alchemists tasting the same thing on average eight times.

An introduction to herblore

Your newly gained knowledge can be utilized very easily. Just eat things to gain their strongest effect
for a short time. The strongest effect is always the easiest to utilize.
But many have found a simple way to also use the second strongest effect: creating a paste.
Creating a paste is very easy, you just mash your ingredient with a mortar and pestle.
The resulting paste can be also eaten and will apply the strongest and second strongest effect
for a short period of time.

But how does one extend the duration of the effect? The answer is very simple: By using a bandage.
The bandage has to be occupied by the ingredient or paste, whose effect you want to extend.
The bandage can then be wrapped around a wound and its effect will last for a long time, usually a
whole day, sunrise to sunset, although the effects are a bit weaker compared to consuming them directly.
It may be necessary to cause a wound yourself, but a small cut is enough.

About the potency of beer and wine

You may have noticed, that beer and wine change people in a similar way. In small amounts they lighten
the mood, in medium amounts they make us dizzy, in great amounts they harm us.
The cause of these effects is a liquid named alkohest, which beer and wine only contain small amounts of.

Alkohest however has other uses than making people drunk, it's a irreplaceable part of alchemy.
Any ingredients that are contacted with alkohest dissolve their effect in it. Because of this,
any drinks containing alkohest, like beer or wine, carry one effect. This is well known,
as beer often makes men tougher.

But your drinks can hold even more potential if stored in a barrel with an ingredient for some time.
The three strongest effects of that ingredient will then be dissolved in the alkohest of the drink,
the effect will last longer, the longer the drink matures in the barrel.

But be aware, alkohest has noticeable side effects, don't drink many brews in rapid fashion
or you might succumb to drunkenness.

The distillation of alkohest

Distilleries are expensive devices, but very useful for any alchemist.
They can be used to extract the alkohest from drinks. This is of particular use, when knowing
that the natural effects of drinks weaken the potential for adding effects.

The extraction progress is simple, just fill the distillery with the drink you want to extract alkohest from,
Then heat the distillery. The temperature is really important, it has to be high enough for the
alkohest to vaporise, but low enough to keep the other liquids liquid. When having the right temperature,
the alkohest in the distillery will evaporate and rise into the condenser. In the condenser it will
liquefy again.

 One could alternatively use a glass alembic for distillation.

Pure alkohest can be used to amplify fire and light whole villages with ease, so be careful when
experimenting with it.

Neutralization of effects

Alkohest has the biggest potential to carry effects and it thus used for making potions.
But be aware, pure alkohest potions are almost deadly to men, the alkohest has to be neutralized
first. This can be done with salt.

Salt is a common neutralizer and will destroy all alchemical effects. This also explains its function
for conserving food, as the alchemical rotting effect is stopped. Salt can also be used to survive
poisons, if applied at the poisoned wound with a bandage shortly after the poisoning.

When mixing salt with alkohest, detoxified alkohest is produced. But do not mix potions with
detoxified alkohest right away, as there is still salt in it.

Therefore all potions created would be without effects. One has to boil the detoxified alkohest
and catch the vapour. When all alkohest has been boild away, only the salt will remain.
The vapor will liquefy into detoxified, saltless alkohest, which can be used for creating potions.

Edited by Erik
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As there is currently no "spritual system" defined (although the story excerpt mentioned "a god"), you could maybe use another word for "magic" to be more compatible with the system that might come. Maybe use "mana" or better "essence". This would leave open if the nature of the power is divine, daemonic or just natural. For the same reason I would recommend to replace "the church" with "the authorities" and "the devil" with "the principalities of evil".

Edited by skol
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1 hour ago, skol said:

As there is currently no "spritual system" defined (although the story excerpt mentioned "a god"), you could maybe use another word for "magic" to be more compatible with the system that might come. Maybe use "mana" or better "essence". This would leave open if the nature of the power is divine, daemonic or just natural. For the same reason I would recommend to replace "the church" with "the authorities" and "the devil" with "the principalities of evil".

Well, I read the lore texts (VintageStory/assets/lore) and have taken inspiration from them. The text was written before the "event" that caused drifters and stuff. As Tyron stated, VS is placed in an alternate version of our history, up to the late middle ages, but then took a drastic turn. The text is therefore written to reflect medieval society, the magic he describes isn't actually real magic, but just science that is explained as magic. I may rewrite the text to replace magic with natural philosophy, when the VS team decides on an exact date for the "event".

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Don't get me wrong, I like your text about alchemy. And it was of course my intention to find a wording that fits in a medieval setup to avoiding a rewrite when the text grows (and the growing will happen, as I hope :D).

To get inspiration from early authors one could check for example how Hildegard of Bingen, Albertus Magnus or Meister Eckhart would have written. For later authors one could check for example how Paracelsus would have written. But I think that wouldn't make a huge difference regarding the crucial points.

All those authors were clerics or had studied theology. Therefore they would use phrases taken from the bible or symbols from established greek authors like Aristotle to circumscribe the "delicate" parts.

Even If they would really believe in supernatural powers behind their scientific subject (which I think was not the case for the majority of medieval scholars, because they were not such stupid as one might think) they would have phrased it in a way that is compatible with the bible. I think with this in mind it should be possible the complete the the alchemy lore without exact date for the "event" and without need for a late rewrite.

Burning of witches was a massive problem after the great plaque in the 15th, 16th and 17th century, driven by the superstition and fear of the "simple" population. The current version of the text reflects the spirit of this extremly late (not medieval) setup. In the middle ages one get burned to death for being a relapsing heretic. This could happen even to scholars. Therefore they were maybe a bit overconscientious in being compatible with the bible and other "accepted" authorities.

Edited by skol
rephrasing the "growing text" sentence to avoid misunderstanding
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9 hours ago, skol said:


I changed the whole magic part to be about natural philosophy, but kept the part about the burning of witches, because it fits the timeframe and I want my author be be skeptical of the church because of this. The intend of the author was to bring his knowledge to the simple population and because of this he didn't use complicated latin or greek phrases, but because of his critique of the church, he didn't note himself as the author. 

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I'd say the line between science and magic was a lot more blurred in the Middle Ages. Considering something like alchemy, sure, it could easily be called a magical pursuit, but it also formed the basis of modern chemistry in the centuries to come. Even someone like Isaac Newton was strongly invested in occult studies, although that's a little bit past our current timeframe. I think natural philosophy does a decent job of covering both bases.

Anyway, nice page, Erik. I'd love to see more stuff like this going forward. I hope you enjoyed the lore pages, too.

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Now it sounds kinda cool! But beware, phrasing crititcs directly against "the church" is exactly  the thing that a medieval author would never do so bluntly. Especially if he want to share his knowledge with ordinary people. But maybe this author did this (and suffered) and his scrolls were banned as heresy and even the possession of the scroll would expel you as a heretic. This means nobody would copy the scroll (as only monks were skilled in doing so) and the scroll is completely rare. If this is your intention, you did it the right way.

If you want to have the scroll widely spread in the middle ages so that there is a fair chance to find an old copy, then the text must sound pious or at least completely harmless.

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On 1.2.2018 at 1:43 PM, Erik said:

Be aware, utilizing the power of the devil is magic, unlike natural philosophy, 
which is a more advanced way of manipulating our world.

After reading the new version carefully I want to highlight that this sentence reveals that the (fictional) author is a totally heretic. Why? Lets ask a well known contemporary who wrote a similar lecture but with a different intro:

About the nature of medicine.
By Brother Helias the wandering healer

Listen, my children! The order of our world is made by the graceful almighty GOD as a manifestation of HIS omnipotent will. Trying to manipulate the holy order of the creation means acting against the manifold wisdom of HIS merciful will. So try the principalities and powers of darkness which every upright man must resist and fight, as the scripture says in Ephesians 6:12. Beware of the spiritual wickedness in high places which try to hide their dark power behind the "philosophy" they are teaching to the rulers of this world. They might claim their new "philosophy" being more advanced as their old "magic" and there are right as it comes to the confusion they cause about the nature of good and evil.

You must understand that the most important lesson is to get the awareness of the graceful will of GOD and the awareness of the wicked powers working against HIS will. For example: It is not the will of GOD when a good man is struck down by a painful sickness and suffers. You might think of the sickness as a unclean spirit or you might call it a "miasma" as the philosophers do, but is it your holy duty to remove this curse from the good man. But what if a poor sinner is struck down by an injury or a common disease. Then it is HIS will that you act as GOD's instrument and lead this poor sinner to the right path to save his immortal soul. And if he is regretful (which is probable as GOD sent the suffering to make him regretful) you have the mandate to loose his burden as the scripture says in Matthew 18:18. This includes the holy duty of removing any injury or disease and do everything that is possible to help him like the good Samartian as written in Luke 10:25.

As a labourer in the vineyard of GOD you not only have the power of GOD's word which is written in the holy scriptures. There is also the power of GOD's creation available, as GOD in his manifold wisdom provides us a cure against each and every disease. But the mortal world is just a parable for eternal laws and this powerful knowledge is hidden by HIS wise will to the sinful mankind. They seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand, as written in Matthew 13:13.

If you are called by the spirit of GOD to follow this path, be warned to reveal this sacred knowledge to the profanity. And resist to use your knowledge to gain riches and worldly goods as the physicians and apothecaries would became jealous and blame you. Beware that Lawyers and Pharisees have the habit in prohibiting everything they do not understand. And they confuse good an evil because they do not know the ways of GOD in their heart. Be humble and upright and always prepared to rely on the gospel, otherwise your path may end in dying a martyr.

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Added a new chapter. As for the historic context of the text itself, I've come up with a small fitting backstory. The text was created by Jegor Arvo, a young member of the landed gentry with an immense curiosity in nature philosophy. His father lord Vladimir Arvo had three children, Jegor being the youngest. While the oldest son, only by a minute, was taught in swordplay and other matters of chivalry, as he would be the heir of house arvo, Dmetri was thought in theology and natural philosophy. While his father wanted Jegor to be a squire of a noble knight, Jegor was fascinated by the knowledge of his older brother Dmetri, who became a member of the Caydehill University. So against the wish of his father, he went to become a member of the University himself, but as he later discovered, the things that fascinated him so much, like natural philosophy, where much less prevalent in the University. The university focused on the teachings of the bible, natural philosophy was researched, but the gained knowledge never used. Displeased by this, Jogor left the university and continued research in hiding. He wrote about many things, but most notably about alchemy. He copied his book "A field guide to alchemy", which only consisted of seven pages, over four hundred times and then went to sent the copies to various lords in Great Britain. While the church had forbidden the book shortly after its publication, the knowledge contained was interesting to many lords, as the ability to fabricate poisons had proven to be a great advantage, so private copies where made and many copies where sold on the black market.

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I really want this field guide :x, and working out the background story is a really good approach to fit this into the medieval society.

So I learned that Jegor dedicated his whole life spreading the knowledge and he wanted the book to be available and he did know how he could have written such a book to make it easier to reach his audience.

But instead he chose an intro style which must offend the majority of his audience and his former peers as well as the administration. This means he was either not so clever or full of hatred against the church. The first option I want to eliminate, because he must be not even clever but rather brilliant to push the applied knowledge to a new level.

So his background story should contain a believable clarification how he came in conflict with the church, why he refused to make concessions, even if there were old friends who tried to mediate and to come to a reasonable compromise for both sides (and this kind for compromise was fairly common as I wrote, one could say this compromise was in the genes of every scholar of this time). But not every character is able to accept compromises, so it would be cool to know from the background why Jegor became so obstinate that he rather accepted a serious risk for his life than changing his mind. What was his vision that gave him this power?

But this should also lead to a rework of the intro as soon as the exact time of "the event" is known, because if Jegor is willing to dare his life for his position, he would make his audience understand the nature of his ideological conflict with the church and explain why he is right and the church is wrong. And he would do this in words that his audience could understand (which may be the very few literate landlords of the middle ages which were interested in knowledge but were enemies of the church). This would also mean that he would not publish as "Anonymous" but under a pseudonym to hide his real identity.

This leads to some other points in the background story to flesh out.

  • Did he knew the 400+ recipients for this book personally? (Because he had to be really sure that they are not illiterate and pass every written piece to a scribe or a monk to read aloud.) And how to check if they are trustworthy an won't betray him and hand over to the church? Maybe using a fictional arcane guild that fits in this time which could have their specific initiation rituals to ensure this trust? Hard to believe because their arcane discipline would strongly   inhibit the wide spread of this book that you have in mind. Afaik there is no arcane guild of the middle ages verifiable. But we might assume that such organisations must have existed, but they left no traces that could make one wary. Maybe they were integrated in the fraternities of the church or in the guilds of the artisans and behaved completely harmless. Means: They did not spread books. But maybe there is another construct possible that could help in distributing the forbidden field guide.
  • How did he manage the delivery of the books to the right person? He must travel the whole time or using a secret network of completely loyal fellows which risk their lives too in running errands for their master. I think this subversive secret network would make Jegor to Britains most wanted public enemy.
  • How to consider the production of the book? For a professional scribe (which spends his full time in writing) with optional conditions (residing in a scriptorium where all the necessary supply is available) one could estimate that crafting such a small booklet consisting of 7 pages (folios) would take about a week to write (see https://thescribeunbound.wordpress.com/2015/10/28/clever-sluggards-how-fast-did-medieval-scribes-work/).
    But how to get the proper writing conditions when you have to hide and to flee. The disruption and managing the conditions would lengthen the time, the travel time comes on top. And how to manage food and the supply to survive and write? The time to manage the supply also comes on top. So lets assume about 3 weeks per booklet and about 17 booklets per year. This would mean Jegor dedicated 25 years of his life only to the publication of this single book. Maybe he did this after the years of study at the end of his life when he consumed the wealth and reputation he earned in the years before (means before he revealed that in actual fact he is an enemy of the church).

I think all this can be fit into the medieval world, but this would mean that Jegor is really a though guy, even harder than Paracelsus (1493 - 1541) who travelled through Europe to gain knowledge, became famous and had a faithful fellowship that supported his ideas. And whenever he found some sponsors and some spare time (which were also cloisters), he started to write (or dictate) a book. But it was never against the church and therefore it were not always the same seven pages before there were reasons to leave his host. But even if the time of Paracelsus was not middle age anymore (which ended around 1450) and he had no serious trouble with the church, there were enough enemies that made his life tough, because this new knowledge was in conflict with the establishment of physicians and apothecaries.

Knowing this, it is hard to imagine that Jegor could succeed in the middle ages, not only fighting the establishment of scholars, physicians and apothecaries but also the church. The background story needs to make this plausible. This would make the background story really fun and Jegor a really interesting personality. So I'm looking forward to learn more about the life of famous Jegor.

But honestly, it would be easier to explain the existence of such a field guide by orienting on a historical example like Paracelsus (easier but less fun :D).

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@skol Thanks for the feedback. I'll rework the backstory sometime, when I have finished the whole lore book. Some ideas to fix the problems: printing, which was fairly common in the 16th century, carrier pigeons and the tragic loss of a friend, who has been accursed of being a witch and then burned.

I have also added a new chapter focused on salt.

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Interesting to watch proceed.  Are other solvents eventually going to be incorporated?  Also - and I wouldn't normally say this but you guys have a pretty keen awareness of historical timelines in this subject - hypodermic needles weren't really a thing until very recently.  So the part about injecting salt to counter poison, maybe more appropriate as a poultice?

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Hi Erik, just read your answer and the new chapter. I have not much time to go into details:

Printing (invented 1450): Is exactly the line that terminates the middle ages. No printing in the middle ages.

Salt (whatever salt is meant): There was no real concept of chemical elements or pure substances in that time. The alchemist elements were a mixture of fundamental physical and philosophical concepts. The concept of Salt was introduced by Paracelsus as the third priciple of matter beside Sulphur (related to the process oxidation) and Quicksilver (related to the transition between solid and liquid aggregate). And this was also a great progress to overcome the middle ages and is sometimes considered as the beginning for natural sciences.

Injection: as RedRam stated

Detoxification: What I have understood from the writing (I studied 5 semesters Chemistry and have a diploma in Biology) sounds like pure fiction, in reality you would most probably die in trying this. Means: not convincing for me.

Beside my recommendation of using historical material as a guideline there is not very much what I can do to help you at this point in time. Maybe doing a full review when the text is finished.

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I imagine this book has been written in the 16th century, which would be in the renaissance, because it would fit the overall topic best and is in line with the current lore (natural philosophy is a thing starting in the renaissance).

The alchemy itself is, by design, not realistic. I thought of a pseudo-realistic way of "neutralizing" alkohol (called alkohest in the text), ethanol to ethen, but it involved way to many substances, which would need to be manufactured in their own realistic way and was generally to complicated and still didn't really fix the problem, because ethen is still not drinkable...

I think this is a strong case of gameplay over realism, but while it's not realistic I want it to be somewhat believable and cohesive.

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6 hours ago, Erik said:

I think this is a strong case of gameplay over realism, but while it's not realistic I want it to be somewhat believable and cohesive.

Ya, absolutely this.  There is no way the game can realistically simulate chemistry without going down a huge rabbit hole of material, and none of it will really make for good advancement or tiering.  I think abstraction would be of great benefit to the system.  But, it does make for a fun story to use real elements.  So there's a conflict there.

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