Pathfinder’s new alchemist class, published in the recently-released Advanced Player’s Guide, is something of an odd duck. It’s part spellcaster, part bombardier, and part Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde. That’s not necessarily a bad combination, but there’s still quite a few hats for it to wear. Inevitably, some of them don’t quite seem to fit as well as they could.
It’s with that thought in mind, I’m guessing, that Advanced Feats: Secrets of the Alchemist was written.
Published by Open Design, Secrets of the Alchemist is a short PDF, being only a dozen pages long. It’s fairly light on some of the more technical aspects of a PDF release as well; there are no bookmarks, and notwithstanding the cover, there are no illustrations here either – though, to be entirely accurate, the pages are all given a parchment-style background.
So what does such a short, spartan PDF really bring to your game table? Well, as it turns out, quite a lot. The author of the book, Sigfriend Trent, is the driving force behind the Netbook of Feats, which gives him a lot of insight into feat design and development, and he brings that out in full force here. In fact, the real secret of Secrets of the Alchemist is that a lot of these feats aren’t really alchemist-specific, but can be used by almost anyone. In my Pathfinder group, the alchemist is using this book (having taken the Craft Anywhere feat) and so it the barbarian (taking Lighten Weapon). Don’t misunderstand, a number of these feats can only be used by your alchemist, but far more are fit for several different character archetypes.
Perhaps the best part of this book, however, is the way in which the author invites you behind the proverbial curtain to explain why he made the decisions he did. Almost all of the feats here have a commentary section, usually no more than two or three sentences, explaining the feat’s significance. Being told how Organized Inventory works in conjunction with Quick Draw to let you draw any stored items as a free action is good, but noting how well it works with drinking potions really drives the point home.
The book ends with three specific builds for your alchemist. These are basically optimized character progressions explaining what race you should be and what feats, class abilities, ability scores, (and even a suggested list of formulae) etc. you should take to maximize the effectiveness of that particular build. These builds basically specialize in using your bombs, using mutagens, and crafting. As with the feats, there’s some explanation given for the why’s and how’s of these builds, which is all but essential when you’re giving advice for building a character out to 20th level.
Ultimately, Secrets of the Alchemist is an excellent book whose only real problem is that its name may make people think that its applicability is narrower than it actually is. Presuming you don’t want to play an alchemist, you can still put 75% or so of this book to good use – ignoring the builds and alchemist-specific feats still leaves a goodly chunk of excellent feats on the table, whether you’re a melee fighter, spellcaster, or skill monkey. This book’s advanced feats have the formula for success no matter what your class is.