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A Guide to the Vivisectionist Alchemist (Pathfinder)

Kevin has been playing tabletop games for almost as long as he can remember and currently edits for Jon Brazer Enterprises.

Though perhaps not as cruel as a vivisectionist, Hank McCoy's a great character you can use as inspiration for an alchemist character.

Though perhaps not as cruel as a vivisectionist, Hank McCoy's a great character you can use as inspiration for an alchemist character.


Though the vivisectionist (Ultimate Magic) gives up one of the alchemist’s most identifiable features, it’s easily one of the most popular archetypes for mutagen- and melee-focused alchemists. Fond of anatomical experimentation, vivisectionists care little for explosions and instead approach battle with surgical precision. Though not quite the opposite of the mindchemist, the vivisectionist’s dabbling in rogue talents makes him a deadly combatant (that also combines well with other alchemist archetypes, like the beastmorph alchemist). Because of its damage potential and ability to stack with other archetypes, the vivisectionist is arguably one of Pathfinder’s true power plays, not unlike the synthesist.

1st Level Abilities

At 1st level, the vivisectionist trades his bomb class ability for the sneak attack ability, which works exactly like its rogue counterpart. Though this causes the alchemist to lose some of his versatility, he gains a lot of raw damage potential anytime he can trigger this extra damage.

By focusing on natural attacks (through the feral mutagen discovery, for instance), the vivisectionist will often have higher attack bonuses and more attacks than a rogue of equal level, and that’s without factoring in extracts like enlarge person that can push his damage potential even higher. This ultimately makes the vivisectionist a fantastic choice for any alchemist who wants to focus on melee combat.

2nd Level Abilities

Cruel anatomist, gained at 2nd level, lets the vivisectionist use his Knowledge (nature) bonus instead of his Heal modifier on Heal checks. This isn’t a huge boon, but it does reduce the breadth of skills he may need, and it comes at no cost to him.

Higher Level Abilities

At 2nd and 7th level, the vivisectionist gains some additional extracts through his torturer’s eye and torturous transformation class features. Torturer’s eye lets him add deathwatch to his formulae book, and torturous transformation gives him another three extracts as he gains levels:

  • anthropomorphic animal (7th)
  • awaken (9th)
  • baleful polymorph (9th)
  • regenerate (5th)

Anthropomorphic animal, awaken, and baleful polymorph have special rules for the vivisectionist that allow them to apply them to others through special surgical procedures. These won’t often find use in a typical dungeon crawl, but they’re also given to the vivisectionist free of charge, so they’re a flavorful bonus. Deathwatch and regenerate add to the vivisectionist’s healing capabilities, which are already varied, especially if he takes the infusion discovery. The chirurgeon archetype, which can stack with vivisectionist, will find this ability especially useful.

To complement his sneak attack, the vivisectionist can also take the bleeding attack rogue talent in place of a discovery, and beginning at 10th level, the crippling strike advanced talent in place of a discovery as well. Since the vivisectionist has absolutely no use for the various bomb discoveries, having a few extra options are very welcome. Crippling strike, in particular, can result in a lot of ability damage over time, so it’s a great choice.

Most Powerful Discoveries

When it comes to discoveries generally, the vivisectionist’s most powerful choices are those that grant him extra attacks. The feral mutagen gives the alchemist a bite and two claw attacks via his mutagen, all of which are primary weapons. While the vestigial arms discovery doesn’t directly grant the alchemist extra attacks, it can hold weapons for use with Two-Weapon Fighting, which allows him to use his bite and claws from feral mutagen as secondary weapons.

A 6th level alchemist, for instance, could have a total of five attacks (though at some hefty penalties) with both the feral mutagen and two instances of vestigial arm. However, this requires an additional ability score for the vivisectionist (Dexterity), so it’s only recommended for games with high point buys or players with lucky ability score rolls.

Other important discoveries are those that modify his mutagen in some way, including greater and grand mutagen (for a higher Strength bonus) and also infuse mutagen, which allows the vivisectionist to keep a backup mutagen for longer adventuring days. Any alchemist with the infusion discovery will get a lot more mileage out of his extracts, as well, and the vivisectionist is no exception.

Sample Build

In many ways, the vivisectionist is straightforward when it comes to feats, like many melee, but he does suffer somewhat from multi-ability dependency. Every vivisectionist will want a good Strength score, a good Constitution, and a good Intelligence score. Wisdom is also helpful for the alchemist’s low Will save (and those ever-important Perception checks), and those vivisectionist’s shooting for Two-Weapon Fighting will also want a decent Dexterity score.

This sample build, which uses 15-point buy as a baseline, doesn’t go for Two-Weapon Fighting and instead elects to keep it simple, relying on high Strength and feral mutagen for damage (with a quarterstaff or other two-handed simple weapon for times when the mutagen’s not available).

Human Vivisectionist Alchemist 5
Ability Scores (15-Point Buy):
Str 15, Dex 12,Con 14, Int 16, Wis 10, Cha 7
1 Combat Reflexes
Feral Mutagen
Power Attack
Iron Will

Because of his average base attack bonus, the vivisectionist can’t get Power Attack right away, but Combat Reflexes does give him more opportunities for attacks (even with only a moderate Dexterity at lower levels). Feral mutagen provides extra, accurate attacks that he can add his sneak attack damage to, but at lower levels, he won’t be able to make use of it all the time. Even so, those extra attacks will be important in difficult encounters, so this vivisectionist wants feral mutagen early.

Infusion is the alchemist’s standard, to let him get the most out of his formulae, and Iron Will helps patch up a big weakness in the alchemist’s low Will Save. As time goes on, you can consider bleeding attack and crippling strike, but don’t forget about greater mutagen at 12th level. Extend potion and, eventually, eternal potion, are good ways to keep up buffs that will help in combat. Don’t forget about extracts like beast shape that you can use to gain some natural attacks when your mutagen isn’t available, as well.

As mentioned before, the vivisectionist also combines well with a number of other alchemist archetypes. The chirurgeon has a similar “anatomical” flavor and results in a decent secondary healer, while the beastmorph alchemist gives mutagen a number of great enhancements via beast shape, eventually unlocking major melee abilities like pounce. The base vivisectionist is still quite capable, though, and the archetype’s a fantastic choice for any melee alchemist.