Monday, November 23, 2015

Zenith's Guide to the Alchemist, Part II: Discoveries

Zenith's Guide to the Alchemist
Part II: Discoveries

Part I: Introduction, Attributes & Races
Part II: Discoveries
Part III: Feats & Traits
Part IV: Extracts
Part V: Equipment, Multi-Classing & Builds

Discoveries are what distinguishes one alchemist from another. They are gained at every even level, and are usually augments to bombs or mutagens, with a few more novel discoveries thrown in for good measure. There's a lot of really good discoveries in here, so do your best to pick wisely. And discoveries are, by and large, better than feats, so feel free to pick up "Extra Discovery" whenever you feel compelled (which should be often).

There's a few things to consider when picking discoveries:

First, Elemental Alternatives: You want one, possibly two types of damage that you can deal besides fire for those fire resistant enemies. Frost bomb is great from the get go, and force bombs are great upon hitting level 8. Note that most elemental alternatives are debuffs in addition to just dealing different damage.

Second, Bomb Debuffs: You want two to four types of debuffs that you can inflict on enemies. When you are throwing bombs, you never want to hit the same enemy with the same debuff twice. If the enemy is already nauseous, knock him down. If he's already nauseous and knocked down, entangle him. If a single enemy already has all the debuffs you can give him, move onto the next.  It's also worth noting that you should try and pick up a debuff for each save:  One for Fortitude, one for reflex, and one for will.  That way, you can more easily target an enemy's weaknesses.

Third, Splash Directors: You need a way of avoiding your allies with splash damage, as you will be targeting enemies they are adjacent to. There are three main bombs to do this: Precise Bombs, Strafe Bombs, and Directed Bombs. Make sure you have at least one. Precise bombs is the most straightforward option, but Directed Bombs is another great bet.

Fourth, Everything Else: You can only stack one modifier on a bomb at a time (in general). So while variety is good, once you have a critical mass of bomb modifiers (1-2 element alternatives, 2-4 bomb debuffs, and 1 splash director, ), grab some other discoveries. Consider what you want your sub role to be and focus on that. The Simulacrum tree is interesting if you are in to that kind of thing, but improvements to your mutagen are always going to be helpful. Cognatogens, on the other hand, are not worth your time.

Elemental Alternatives

Boneshard Bomb (****): You deal lessened piercing damage and bleed, but any enemy killed immediately raises from the dead under your control with the skeleton template. Lovely for turning the tide of battle. (Alchemical Zombie)

Frost Bomb (****): Frost bombs are available from level 1. Cold damage is a good alternative to Fire damage, and staggered is a great debuff. Best yet, you don't suffer any damage penalties for using it!

Void Bomb (****): If you are a Drow, then you want void bombs, no question. Void bombs change the damage type of the bomb while knocking the enemy prone and slowing all enemies in splash. This is a great choice, though not as uniformly useful as some other elemental alternatives. (Drow, 6th Level)

Force Bomb (****): If you can wait this long, force bombs should be your alternate damage type. Nothing is resistant to force damage and incorporeal enemies take full damage. Furthermore, the debuff, knocking the enemy prone, is as good as any other debuff you can get at this level. Well worth the damage hit. (8th Level)

Acid Bomb (***): Variety in your bomb damage type is good, and the additional 1d6 points of damage per bomb (1 round later) isn't too bad. If you just care about damage, this could be your damage type alternative.

Shock Bomb (**): Electricity damage is decent, but dazzled is very lame. Choose another energy alternative.

Concussive Bomb (**): Sonic damage is nice, but deafened isn't the strongest debuff. Useful against spell casters, useless against everybody else. (6th Level)

Holy/Anarchic Bomb/Axiomatic/Profane (*): How often do you attack a certain alignment of creature? The good news is that it's a damage type change and a debuff in one. Your milage will vary depending on the campaign, but you're likely better off grabbing some other damage type bomb. (8th Level)

Bomb Debuffs

Tanglefoot Bomb (****): A beautiful low level debuff that's potentially your very first discovery. Deceptively powerful, entangled is useful from level 1 to 20.

Blinding Bomb (****): Blinding is one of the better debuffs out there. A worthy addition to your repetoire. (8th Level)

Confusion Bomb (****): Ah, the good old confusion bomb. Originally the discovery did not require a save, but the developers realized this was incredibly broken. It's now just a very good debuff available at level 8. The hit in damage is well worth the effects. (8th Level)

Cursed Bomb (****): Bestow curse is another fantastic debuff, either causing the target to suffer a -4 penalty on everything or simply do nothing for half of its turns. This could easily be your go to bomb upon hitting level 12. Another bonus: you can hit the same enemy with this bomb again and choose another curse. (12th Level)

Explosive Bomb (***): Explosive bomb is a nice, simple bomb buff available from the get go. It extends your splash radius and lights creatures directly hit on fire for extra damage. Just make sure you have precise bomb to go along with it.

Healing Bomb (***): It takes a bomb and a potion or extract to use, but you can now throw healing potions at people. If you've invested in potion making, or prepare healing extracts a lot, then this is a good bet for healing at range. Of course, clerics can do it better, so maybe you should stick with what you know?

Grease Bomb (***): You can cause a whole bunch of people to maybe fall down - if they fail an acrobatics check and then a reflex save. Nice for area denial, but usually not as handy as some other debuffs. (6th Level)

Sunlight Bomb (***): Normally I don't recommend enemy specific bombs, but this one is hard to pass up. +2 damage die per die and staggered against a wide variety of enemies is really quite excellent. You have better options for these levels, but it's something I would definitely consider by level 14 or 16. (10th Level, Blinding Bomb)

Blackstar Bomb (**): The effects of a void bomb, and all enemies within 5 feet of the target get bull rushed away. It's cool, but I struggle to think of the actual combat applications. (Drow, Void Bomb)

Ectoplasmic Bomb (**): Nice for damaging incorporeal creatures, with a bonus to seeing invisible undead. While it's great against incorporeal, you likely aren't going to see enough of them to justify a valuable discovery slot.

Dispelling Bomb (**): Dispelling is great, but you lose all damage when using it. That's a tough sell, particularly when you can debuff in other ways while still dealing damage. (6th Level)

Madness Bombs (**): 1d4 points of Wisdom damage is alright, but reducing the bomb damage by 2d6 is unnecessary and there are much better options at this level and earlier. Curse or Confuse the enemy instead (ideally both) (12th Level)

Immolation Bombs (*): Want to deal your damage slowly, instead of all at once? No? Good. Skip this discovery. (3rd Level)

Psychoactive Bomb (*): Big eh. A very measly bonus to a few DC types against the target. You're better off with madness bombs or something stronger. (6th Level)

Lingering Plague (*): Diseases generally are fairly underpowered compared to the other ailments you can inflict. Stick with other debuffs. (8th Level)

Smoke Bomb Tree

Inferno Bomb (****): For when you just want to damage a lot of enemies. The key here is that Inferno bombs first deal normal bomb and splash damage, and then deals 6d6 fire damage to all creatures within double splash radius. So essentially, it's a simple way of pouring an extra 21 damage onto all of your bombs. Is it as good as a debuff? Maybe not. But it's really great against groups of enemies. (16th Level, Smoke Bomb)

Stink Bomb (****): Nauseated is one of the best debuffs in the game, and imposing it on a large area makes it that much better. There's no damage involved, true, but you can end combats before they have even begun with this discovery. Here's the reason to take Smoke Bomb. (Smoke Bomb)

Plague Bomb (**): The onset time is immediate, but it's not as strong as other debuffs of this level. Diseases, by and large, aren't as strong as your alternatives, though they will pick up a larger space. (8th Level, Smoke Bomb)

Poison Bomb (**): While satisfying (and classic), any creature with 6 or fewer HD at this level simply isn't going to be a threat. The 1d4 Constitution damage is nice for real threats, but pales in comparison to the normal damage and debuffs you can do with bombs (12th Level, Smoke Bomb)

Smoke Bomb (**): Smoke bomb in and of itself isn't too hot, but it does lead to some fun discoveries. You probably will use this once or twice for the novelty, but never again.

Greater Plague Bomb (*): Diseases rarely have debilitating effects. Even as an area effect, this is one of the weaker debuffs you can manage, particularly for level 16. (16th Level, Plague Bomb, Smoke Bomb)

Plague Vector (*): This is great if you love the flavor of infecting whole areas. From a combat to combat perspective, and for 99% of campaigns, there's simply no need. (14th Level, Plague Bomb)

Splash Directors

Directed Bomb (****): This is certainly useful - instead of a 5 foot radius burst around the bomb, your splash damage becomes a 15 foot cone. It can also be combined with other bomb enhancers, and it's a good alternative to Precise bombs.

Precise Bombs (****): Precise bombs is the most straightforward splash exclusion discovery. If you don't feel comfortable with directed bombs, then grab this one.

Strafe Bomb (**): It's more likely that enemies are going to be grouped together than in a line, and it's also reasonably likely that a line will contain an ally or two in combat. Of the three bomb directors, this is probably the hardest to use, and easiest to misuse. Still definitely better than nothing, and it could be a fun challenge for an experienced player.

Bomb Stackables
Bomb Stackables are discoveries that you can add to bombs in addition to the standard one discovery per bomb limit. As a result, they are slightly more valuable than alternatives in theory, though in practice there are a bunch of duds.

Fast Bombs (*****): See rant on first page. Everybody should get Fast Bombs, it's an incredible jump in power. Despite all the competition, this is your level 8 discovery. (8th Level)

Scrap Bomb (***): It's not terribly powerful, but you can stack it with everything else. For that reason alone it's a good pick when you get the chance. (Goblin)

Sticky Bomb (***): Sticky bombs deal extra damage, but do not take up the "one discovery per bomb" slot. They are a nice way to add a bit of power to your attacks, but the damage isn't enough for an automatic blue. (10th Level)

Rocket Bomb (**/**): Your bombs go farther and have a greater splash radius, but cannot target individual enemies. As a result, you can't use most debuffs. HOWEVER, if you are planning on using a bunch of smoke based bombs, then this is excellent due to the increased radius. (6th Level, Goblin)

Syringe Stirge (**): This is an interesting ability on a number of levels. It allows you the pre-load a bomb or two before combat begins, and it can provide a distraction and flanking against enemies. On the flip side, it burns through bombs and can potentially waste them. If you've got bombs to spare this is a really fun choice, but probably a less optimal way to use them than fast bombs. Unfortunately it gets outclassed pretty quickly at higher levels as the stirges stats don't increase. (6th Level)

Defoliant Bomb (*): This bomb deals more damage to plants. Unless you have a vendetta against foliage, you really don't need this.

Inspired Bomb (*): Two uses of inspiration for a measly 1d6 points of damage? Inspiration might be a little weak, but it's certainly worth more than this.

Underwater Demolition (*): Just grit your teeth and bear those one or two underwater combats in your campaign.

Delayed Bomb (*): Flavorful, but not terribly optimal. (8th Level)

Explosive Missile (*): You can basically increase your range by losing out on interatives and losing touch. Losing touch is the big misstep here. You're usually better off attacking at several range increments away rather than attacking normal AC. Don't bother. (4th Level)


Feral Mutagen (****): If you want to embrace your secondary function as a melee tank, check out Feral Mutagen. It gives you two claw attacks and a bite attack while in mutagen. With your 3/4 BAB, three attacks at full attack bonus is likely to be better than any weapon you could wield.

Greater Mutagen (****): Simple buffs to ability scores and AC, a nice way to stay relevant in melee and alive at all times. (12th Level)

Grand Mutagen (****): It kind of sucks taking the -2 penalty to Intelligence, but the bonuses are incredible. +6 AC, +8 Dex, +6 Constitution, +4 Strength (or some other variation). You can embrace your tank side with this discovery, improve your bomb throwing capacity, and not worry about getting killed anytime soon. (16th Level, Greater Mutagen)

Mutagen (***): This discovery is for those archetypes that give up Mutagen. I like mutagen, but if you are giving up mutagen for something else, you should probably focus on that.

Elemental Mutagen (*): If you could choose a different resistance each time, then this might be a worthy addition to mutagen. As is, it's probably not worth the discovery.

Infuse Mutagen (*): Mutagens take an hour to brew, so it's you'll often find yourself without one. A second mutagen to carry around would be great, but it costs 1,000p and 2 points of Int damage. Not worth it.


Collective Memory (**): A hefty bonus to all Knowlege skill checks doesn't outweigh the pain of the cognatogen. (Cognatogen)

Greater Cognatogen (**): A slightly better cognatogen with 4 points of ability score damage this time. Additionally, you now need to hurt either Dexterity or Constitution when drinking these, both of which are useful in combat. The Intelligence boost could make this worth it, but only if you didn't have to invest a discovery in getting it. (12th Level, Cognatogen)

Grand Cognatogen (**): The bonuses are really nice (+4 damage per bomb and +4 DC per bomb), but 2 points of ability damage to each physical ability score is really obnoxious. If you could get this without climbing the whole tree it would be something worth considering, but it's not worth the steps. (16th Level, Cognatogen)

Inspiring Cognatogen (*): Eh. If you didn't have to give up a discovery for this, then it might be an interesting choice for the off time that you really need it. As is, you want to focus on discoveries that will certainly be useful frequently. (Cognatogen)

Intuitive Understanding (*): Another ability based off the cognatogens, and one that gives you a small bonus to caster level and augury. Leave this type of stuff to the wizards. We have bombs to brew. (4th Level, Cognatogen)

Greater Inspiring Cognatogen (*): Flavorful, but not worth a discovery. (12th Level, Inspiring Cognatogen)

Grand Inspiring Cognatogen (*): Flavorful, but ultimately there's much better options at this level. (16th Level, Greater Inspiring Cognatogen)

Simulacrum & Summons

Alchemical Simulacrum (****): Access to a Level 7 sorcerer spell at level 8 is nothing to sneeze at, but you have to judge if this is the path you want to go down. It's fun for some people to track doubles, and a pain for others. Optimization wise, it's very good. (8th Level)

Greater Alchemical Simulacrum (****): This is the pinnacle of the simulacrum tree, and it comes in at only 14th level. A simulacrum for 1/5 the standard cost. If you like managing this type of thing, then ti's all yours. (14th Level, Alchemical Simulacrum)

Promethean Disciple (***): If you want to craft constructs, this is for you. If you don't want to deal with it, then skip it. (6th Level)

Alchemical Zombie (***): Similar to the Simulacrum tree, your milage will vary. If you like tracking followers, then having a zombie follower is great. (8th Level)

Doppelganger Simulacrum (**): More simulacrum goodness, but this time a bit too pricey. (10th Level, Alchemical Simulacrum)

Bottled Ooze (*): Summon an ooze! Summons are always good. But you can only summon a maximum 6th level ooze. Low level oozes are bad. Really bad. (6th Level)

Pickled Quasit (*): A 4th level extract to summon a CR 2 demon that you don't control? Definitely not. (10th Level)


Poison Conversions (****): This is a must-have if you are a poison connoisseur. You can transform injested poison into inhaled or contact to make them combat actually relevant. Combine this with malignant poison and you can do some damage with poisons. (6th Level)

Malignant Poison (****): This is an incredible buff to poison, and an absolute necessity if you are going this route. It changes poison from a bad option to a very reasonable option. If you like poison, this discovery keeps it relevant at higher levels. (10th Level)

Concentrate Poisons (***): If you absolutely must use poisons, then this helps out your poisoning abilities quite a lot. However, you need to use the poison within one hour of creation, so brew before a dungeon crawl and hurry through.

Sticky Poison (***): Another must have if you are using poisons. You are significantly increasing your chances of poisoning an enemy if the poison stays on the weapon past the first swing, and with several attacks a turn you have a good chance of poisoning the enemy. (6th Level)

Deadly Excretions (**): If you are a grippli, then this is a fairly good improvement to your poison. However, it might not merit an entire Discovery. (8th Level)

Celestial Poisons (*): Your poisons can affect undead and evil outsiders that are normally immune. Too specific. No thanks.  Only take this if you suspect you'll be fighting a ton of these enemies. (8th Level)

Everything Else

Infusion (****): Infusion can be the crux of your secondary role. This very handy discovery allows you to use your extracts on others. You'll never be as good as normal spell casters in the buffing others department, but it helps.

Tumor Familiar (****): The tumor familiar is essentially a more powerful familiar with fast healing 5 and the ability to attach and reattach itself at will. Thinking about taking improved initiative? Instead, just take extra discovery and tumor familiar, and grab a familiar which increases your initiative.
The Protector Familiar Archetype is an incredible, somewhat game breaking choice.  Given the tumor's fast healing 5, splitting damage with him at level 5 and beyond is a no brainer. If your GM lets you take it, take it.

Elixir of Life (****): Okay, not only do you get true resurrection, but you also get the ability to drink it and have it automatically activate if you die within a few days. Awesome. (16th Level)

Mummification (****): Excellent, excellent permanent defensive bonuses. Immunity to cold and nonlethal is excellent enough, but you also get immunity from paralysis and sleep. These are absolutely incredible, and for only one discovery it's amazing. (10th Level, Preserve Organs)

Spontaneous Healing (***): It's not a huge amount of healing, but it's a free action and it activates once you are down. Due to the ease of use, this is similar to an extra 2.5 hp per level. It's a powerful defensive discovery that has nice synergy with lingering spirit.

Healing Touch (***): Sharing your healing with others is fine, but the real bonus is that it ups your Spontaneous Healing to an extra 5 hp per level. If you have discoveries to spare, this is an excellent way of staying alive. (6th Level, Spontaneous Healing)

Eternal Potion (***): A potion you drink becomes permanent. The downside is you can only make one potion permanent at a time, and at level 16 you can probably get enough buffs in other ways. Not quite worth the other discovery needed to get it (extend potion). (16th Level, Extend Potion)

Chameleon (**): +4 to Stealth which enhances to +8 at 10th level. The bonus is nothing to sneeze at, but don't forget you can just make yourself invisible with an extract.

Enhance Potion (**): If you really dig potions, then making them stronger is good. But I'd shy away from them if I had the choice. Which I do.

Lingering Spirit (**): 10 extra hp before death is fine, but the extra 5 constitution drain or damage is something fairly unique in all of Pathfinder. Used in conjunction with Spontaneous Healing and your tanking abilities just got that much better.

Preserve Organs (**): A chance to avoid sneak attack and critical hits is a relatively weak defensive option for a discovery. However, it's well worth taking to qualify for mummification.

Breath Weapon Bomb (**): This transforms your bombs into a 15 foot cone, hitting everybody within the cone. There's a few aspects that make this not worth your while. First, it is a standard action, so it has no synergy with fast bombs. Second, you can't apply any lovely debuffs to your bombs when using this. Third, the range is likely less than what you want, and it won't actually be that useful in combat. (6th Level)

Wings (**): Lazy enough that gaining the fly extract at 7th level isn't good enough? Just like the flavor? It's not optimal, but don't feel too bad about taking it. (6th Level)

Combine Extracts (**): It saves some action economy, but costs a extract slot two levels higher. You are probably going to want to stick with the normal, high level extracts. (8th Level)

Dilution (**): You get more potions! Not for free, but once a day you get one for 1/4th the cost. If you absolutely love using multiple of the same potions then go for it, but I'm not a fan of them in general. (12th Level)

Vestigial Arm (**): There's very little purpose to these unless you want to wield either a shield or scizore for the AC bonus. Even then it may not be worth a whole discovery.

Extend Potion (*): Potions last twice as long. While this might be useful at the first few levels, potions with CL 5+ almost always last for as long as you want them to, and doubling that amount won't help.

Fire Brand (*): You want to keep your bombs for other purposes. Like throwing.

Material Mastery (*): This is super situational and rare for a moderate bonus for a skill you should be passing anyway.

Parasitic Twin (*): This is essentially a weaker, flavorful version of Improved Iron Will that takes two discoveries to unlock and another to take. There's absolutely no reason to take except for the flavor. (Vestigial Arms)

Psychokinetic Tincture (*): Incredibly flavorful, but it's all too likely that your deflection bonus is already going to be covered.

Rag Doll Mutagen (*): Goblins only, and mostly funny, flavorful bonuses. Nothing actually useful. (Goblin)

Ranged Baptism (*): I'm not a fan of alchemist weapons, though holy water is fine as these things go. Instead, just grab something to improve your bombs and grab the extra bombs feat. It will assuredly be better.

Sandstone (*): Hmm. There's really no circumstance where this would be a the best option.

Spell Knowledge (*): The variety is nice, but you only get up to 6th level extracts and casting a spell two levels below that isn't going to be relevant in most cases.  This could possibly give you access to Arcane Strike, if your GM allows it.

Tainted Infusion (*): Really awesome that one time per campaign that you get to use it. Useless otherwise. (Delayed Bomb, Infusion)

Tentacle (*): Grab is nice, but you can't throw bombs from within it. It might make sense for a vivisectionist, but not for us.

Demolition Charge (*): Or you could just attack an object normally. This discovery does next to nothing. (8th Level)

Phantom Limb (*): The only benefit to this is it's a touch attack. Otherwise, it's just an extremely weak melee attack that can't be added to an attack routine. (8th Level)

Change Alignment (*): Funny and fun, but I have a difficult time thinking of a real use. (12th Level, Infusion)

Nauseating Flesh (*): What? This is so absurdly specific it's hilarious. There's no reason to take this, particularly at 12th level. (12th Level)

Siege Bomb (*): Boy is this going to be fun for the one combat per campaign where you use it. But you'll never use it again. (12th Level, Explosive Bombs)

Grand Discoveries

Awakened Intelligence (****): Awakened Intelligence is probably the least interesting, most straightforward grand discovery, but that does not necessarily mean it's the worst. In fact, it's probably the best grand discovery for most alchemists. +2 Intelligence increases bomb damage and splash damage, bomb DC's, extracts number, and extract DC's all by +1. At level 20, you also get 20 extra skill points and a +1 bonus to all Int based skills.

Philosopher's Stone (***): Money and true resurrection? Lovely lovely. Not as generally useful as Awakened Intelligence, but a fun, flavorful option.

True Mutagen (***): Your top pick if you are a tanker, and a very decent pick even if you aren't. +8 to Natural Armor in addition to +8 Dex (+4 AC, CMD, Init, Reflex, Bomb Attack), Con (+80 hp, +Fort), and Strength (+4 CMB & CMD), is really a superb option. It does lower your Int by 2 though (and your Wis and Cha), which makes it not quite a full blue.

Fast Healing (**): At the rocket tag levels of 20+, fast healing 5 is unlikely to make a huge difference. If it were regeneration 5, then we'd be talking. But it isn't. A decent choice if you really love tanking though (or if you are going vivisectionist).

Change Alignment, Greater (*): By level 20, people important enough that you would want to do this to will probably have access to wish and miracle to undo the effects. It also plays with the wonky alignment mechanics, so you probably want to avoid it in any case.

Eternal Youth (*): For most campaigns, aging never becomes relevant. If your campaign is ending here, and you like the flavor, then perhaps this is what you have been working to this whole time. I really can't recommend it from an optimizing perspective though.

Poison Touch (*): Mimicking a 4th level spell isn't my idea of a capstone, even if it is permanent.

Zenith's Guide to the Alchemist
Part I: Introduction, Attributes, Races & Archetypes
Part II: Discoveries
Part III: Feats & Traits
Part IV: Extracts
Part V: Equipment, Multi-Classing & Builds


  1. Eternal Potion + Elixir of Life basically = one free extra life that you can replenish the next time you rest, for 25k gold a time. Not to be scoffed at!

    1. The argument I guess is that it's the same price as true resurrection and costs three discoveries, but A, it happens instantly and will keep you in combat effectively only skipping one turn and B, you don't have to go and find someone to cast true resurrection on you if you don't have a cleric/oracle (and most NPCs won't do this for cost price), and even if you do have a cleric or oracle they can't do it in combat.

  2. Oh and you forgot to mention the monkey familiar with the decoy archetype. Just give it any and all wands and you have another mage in the party xD

  3. Great site! I love the Alchemist, so it's always great to see someone's advice and perspective on it! Do you think vestigial arm gains any ground if you put a scizore in doesn't take an action or proficiency to use defensively and you have the option of using it in melee,as a last ditch, without having to retrieve it...

    1. Maybe! And I guess you could use a shield with it too. I'll bump it up to orange.

  4. I know i am way late to the game here. I am trying to put together a ratfolk alchemist for possible PFS play. How to you get Frost Bombs at Lvl 1?

    1. Hmm, you are right. You would need to wait for your first discovery at level 2.