When the alchemist class was introduced to Pathfinder in the Advanced Player’s Guide, it captured the imagination of many players. Able to adapt to nearly any situation, the alchemist could fill practically any role in a party due to the arcane potions, mutagens, and the versatile items he can create and use—and, of course, the massive, wanton destruction that an alchemist can wreak with his bomb class feature. It is, in fact, the capacity to destroy swarms and reduce mobs of enemies to smoking craters almost from level 1 that has made the alchemist so popular.
That said, if you really want to get the biggest bang there is, you have to watch your build very, very carefully.
The key abilities for a carpet-bombing alchemist are going to be Intelligence and Dexterity, in that order. Alchemists add their Intelligence modifier to all splash weapon damage, and Dexterity will make it more likely that you will hit what you’re aiming at. Bombs that miss can present a party danger.
If it absolutely, positively needs to be destroyed overnight, then you have two races from which to pick: gnomes and half-orcs. The racial favored class options (pages 10–23, Advanced Player’s Guide) list two options that are of use to bombers.
For gnomes you can take pyromaniac, which treats you as one level higher when determining the effect of bombs that deal fire damage. This option replaces the gnome magic and illusion resistance you would normally receive. You can also take, at every alchemist level (as long as it’s your favored class), a +1/2 bump in the number of bombs you can create in a day. So for every two levels, you can make an extra bomb.
For half-orcs, you have an alternative favored class bonus that gives you +1/2 point to bomb damage per level. It might not sound like much, but that one extra point of damage every two levels (to bombs and the splash damage of those bombs) adds up over ten levels or so. Particularly when you’re throwing multiple bombs.
As an alchemist, you receive Throw Anything as a bonus feat. The following list of feats can also help you out.
– Point Blank Shot (page 131, Core Rulebook), Precise Shot (page 131, Core Rulebook): Bonus to hit and lets you ignore the –4 penalty for throwing into melee.
– Two-Weapon Fighting (page 136, Core Rulebook), Improved Two-Weapon Fighting (page 128, Core Rulebook), Greater Two-Weapon Fighting (page 126, Core Rulebook): This allows you to throw weapons with both hands, albeit at negatives. Quick Draw (page 131, Core Rulebook) is also a good investment, but not technically necessary for following combinations.
– Rapid Shot (page 132, Core Rulebook): Allows you to take an additional shot with a ranged attack, applying a –2 penalty to all of your shots.
Alchemist Ability Combinations
It is, above all else, the combination of the proper formulae, discoveries and class abilities of the alchemist that will make your bombs more deadly.
Mutagen or Cognatogen?
The cognatogen (page 15, Ultimate Magic) works like a mutagen for the mind. So you could increase your Intelligence by 4 points (and add 2 damage to your bombs) at the expense of a –2 penalty to your Strength. As with mutagens there is also the greater and grand versions of the cognatogen, which might give you a penalty to all your physical scores, but which will continue to add points to your Intelligence, and thus to your damage.
Alternatively you can use traditional mutagens to increase your Dexterity, at the cost of your Wisdom, to make sure that you hit more often. This is true of any ranged attack, but particularly with your bombs.
Formulae such as cat’s grace (for your Dexterity) and fox’s cunning (for Intelligence) are the best formulae you can have. It also should be mentioned that these spells provide an enhancement bonus, while a mutagen or cognatogen provide an alchemical bonus, meaning that you can, indeed, use both. And that can be devastating, particularly when you are flinging multiple bombs (see below).
The best discovery you can take if you want to embarrass a wizard convinced that fireball is superior is fast bombs. This requires you to be level 8, but what it does is, essentially, allows you to throw your bombs as if you were using any kind of ranged attack. This means that you can throw one bomb for every 5 points of your BAB, but you can also throw one extra bomb for Two-Weapon Fighting, and another one for Improved Two-Weapon Fighting, and a third for Greater Two-Weapon Fighting. You could also, as part of a full attack action, throw another bomb for Rapid Shot. See where that’s going?
Additional discoveries that can enhance your bombs are explosive bomb, which automatically sets targets of direct hits on fire. Shock bombs deal electricity damage and automatically dazzle direct hits for 1d4 rounds without a save. Improving your cognatogen or mutagen through discoveries should also be a requirement.
A Note on Multiclassing
As with any casting class, the alchemist is most deadly when taken straight up, rather than with a twist. It’s not just the number of bombs that you’re throwing (though when you have Intelligence modifier + class level of bombs per day, that’s a lot of boom), but it’s that their damage goes up the more alchemist levels you have.
On the other hand, switching out a few levels for a class such as fighter, ranger, or gunslinger for better BAB, good saving throws, bonus feats, or just for the gunsmithing abilities does have its appeal. Before multiclassing, look at the feats you have, what you can get, and what you’re delaying by not taking more levels of alchemist (remember your favored class bonus!).