Screencap from The Shaggy Dog (1959, dir. Charles Barton)

So, Transmutations. The “kewl powerz” of the Promethean set. Let’s talk about them.

In Promethean‘s first edition, Transmutations worked more or less like the powers in other White Wolf games; they had a linear progression (though you could buy them out of sequence for an additional experience cost), and they covered a lot of the bases: aura sight, some mild shapeshifting, combat power here, stealth power there. Most of the powers worked pretty well in-theme, with a few weird outliers, not that I’m ever going to complain about something weird in Promethean.

For the second edition, though, we wanted to mix things up a bit. We wanted to earn the name “Transmutation.” As such, here are my notes from the outline:

Principles of Transmutations

  • Transmutations are all about change. They change the Promethean’s mind, soul, body, Azoth, whatever or they change the world around her. If you’re changing a living thing, you’re pumping it full of Azoth. If that changes its body, it should run the risk of doing lethal damage if you get it wrong. If that changes its mind, it should run the risk of creating or worsening Disquiet, or causing a breaking point.
  • Prometheans don’t have much in the way of mental manipulation powers, and what they do have should center on Disquiet. A lot of the Mesmerism Transmutations can get rethought; I don’t want Prometheans to have mind control in any fine-control way. The best they can do is get someone to take brief, understandable and in-character action. Ignore you and leave you alone? Sure. Show a momentary act of kindness? Probably. Post-hypnotic suggestion? No.
  • Nothing that requires long, drawn out rolls or extended actions. For one thing, they eat words, but I also don’t think they’re in-theme.
  • Everything requires Pyros expenditure, and all Transmutations get more impressive as you pump more Pyros into them.

So with all that in mind, my authors came up with a system for Transmutations that I think is pretty cool, but is pretty different from the way the powers in Chronicles of Darkness games generally work. Check it out.

Every Refinement has two Transmutations. Each Transmutation is broken down into four Alembics. Each Alembic is broken down into four Distillations. With me so far?

When you adopt a new Refinement, your Transmutations change. So lets say I’m on the Refinement of Gold (a good starting place); my Transmutations are Deception and Mesmerism. I choose one Alembic from each one. I can use any Distillation from those Alembics; Distillations aren’t learned, you just activate them by spending Pyros. Distillations are roughly broken down into a persistent effect (doesn’t require any Pyros expenditure, it’s just always on) and three abilities that cost 1, 2, or 3 Pyros to “charge” for the scene.

When I change Refinements, let’s say to Stannum (I had a bad time on Aurum), my Refinements change from Deception and Mesmerism to Electrification and Disquietism. I pick new Alembics (one from each Transmutation), and on I go.

Ah, you say, there must be more to it than that. Yes! If you master a Role, you add an Alembic from each Transmutation while you’re on that Refinement. Since each Transmutation only has four Alembics, once you’ve mastered three Roles, you have access to the entire Transmutation…while you’re in that Refinement.

But suppose I’m playing my character (on Stannum, remember) and I decide that the Weaponize Alembic is just too useful to give up (I apparently had a really bad time on Aurum). I can expend Vitriol to calcify the Alembic, making it a permanent part of my alchemical makeup. Now, that Alembic doesn’t count toward my total; when I change Refinements again, I get to pick the appropriate number Alembics (one from each Transmutation plus one from each Transmutation per Role I’ve mastered in that Refinement – if the Refinement is entirely new to me I just get one from each Transmutation), plus I keep Weaponize.

I’m sure you’d love an example, so here’s the first Alembic of the Metamorphosis Transmutation:


Prometheans who follow the Refinement of Cuprum believe that their bodies are not unlike clay, waiting to be shaped into something more useful. They learn the secrets of Metamorphosis in order to change their appearance or even bodily shape. Some make the attempt to shift in just the right manner to make the body fit what the world demands. Others simply relish the opportunity to learn tricks that make survival just that much easier.

Charging a Metamorphosis Distillation without flaring disfigurements imposes the Atavistic Condition (p. XX).

Metamorphosis is divided into four Alembics. Those Alembics are: Aptare (the ability to adapt to the environment), Bestiae Facies (changing into animal-like forms), Tegere (the ability to create armor due to shapeshifting), and Verto (the ability to change appearance).


Pariahs often live in remote, inhospitable places. While the Promethean body can take far more punishment than a human, it is neither invulnerable nor immune to the need for basic necessities such as food and water. With some practice, the Pariah forces her body to adapt to go without or to function in ways it was never intended.

Persistent: The Pariah ignores the effects of one Environmental Tilt per scene. She chooses which Tilt to ignore, her body adapting to the circumstances. She may only ignore Tilts that have environmental consequences — extremes of heat or cold, heavy rains, flooding, earthquakes, and so on. The Pariah cannot breathe water or survive in a vacuum without charging the Alembic, however.

Blessing of Tethys

The Promethean changes her physiology to breathe water instead of air. She suffers no outward signs of this alteration. Instead, the lining in her lungs changes to filter oxygen from water instead of air.

Cost: 1 Pyros

Dice Pool: None

Action: Instant

Once this power is activated, the character’s lungs change to breathe water. This effect persists until the Promethean spends 1 Pyros to reverse the effect. During this exchange, any residual air or water in the character’s lungs is instantly and effortlessly expelled, so the character is in no danger of drowning.

Scuttling Spider

Sometimes a Promethean needs to scale a cliff, tree, or other vertical surface. This could be to acquire food, to escape from enemies, predators, or natural disasters, or to find shelter. Her hands and feet grow tiny hooks, suckers, or similar miniature adhesive adaptations. Her bones become hollow, enabling her to climb vertical surfaces without tearing pieces of that surface off.

Cost: 2 Pyros

Action: Reflexive

Dice Pool: None

The Pariah adapts her body as described. For the remainder of the scene, she may scale vertical obstructions effortlessly, moving as her usual Speed. Particularly slick surfaces may require a Strength + Athletics roll to make headway (a Climbing Specialty certainly applies). Even slick surfaces are no barrier, as she may climb them as she would any other barrier. In addition, she may move upside-down across ceilings and similar surfaces with a successful Strength + Athletics roll.

Procrustean Shape

With full control over her own body, the Promethean can adapt to any number of situations. This power allows her to change her own proportions for a variety of effects.

Cost: 3 Pyros

Dice Pool: Resolve + Medicine + Azoth

Action: Instant

Roll Results

Dramatic Failure: The Pariah attempts to alter some aspect of her body and fails utterly. She suffers from the Stunned Tilt, as the pain makes her temporarily unable to act.

Failure: The Promethean fails to adapt her body.

Success: The Pariah successfully alters her body, adopting one facet from the list below.

Exceptional Success: The character may select two alterations from the list below.


The following list is provided to act as examples of alterations possible with this Distillation. Similar abilities may be available at the Storyteller’s discretion.

Long Arms: The Promethean’s arms extend, gaining a +1 to Defense while in close combat as his reach gives him an advantage. Alternatively, the character may extend only one arm up to two feet per success to reach something out of his reach, but suffers a –1 penalty to all actions while in combat.

Long Legs: The character’s legs lengthen, lengthening her stride. She gains a +1 to Speed per success.

Malleable Skeleton: The Pariah makes his bones like rubber, enabling him to twist and squeeze his body through any opening at least one foot in diameter. While moving through the opening, the character may move at half of her Speed, but loses Defense. If used in conjunction with Long Arms or Long Legs, the limbs are pliable, able to bend around corners and perform similar feats.

Altered Body: The character’s body alters as desired. He can make his body rubbery and pliant, or harden it like rock. Regardless of the method, the character gains armor equal to the activation successes as his body simply absorbs or deflects impacts.

39 thoughts on “[Promethean]Transmutations”

  1. That. Is. So. COOL! Now I understand what happened in the Anthology and why it said that he had shed the transmutations.

    Quick question, is Procrustean Shape a scene-long power? I couldn’t find the answer, but for 3 Pyros I’d guess that it is.

    I just can’t wait to see the final product.

  2. Interesting! It’s a cool system, seems like less faff than the other one and will make changing Refinement quite dramatic. I take it the passive effect is one of the four then?

  3. Exciting stuff! I’m a fan of “kewl powers” and Transmutations look very thematic now.

    Question: I assume that the Persistent effect is a distinct Distillation? Since there are only three other Distillations listed, I assume that’s the case. EDIT: Yep, reread it a little more carefully.

    So each Distillation lasts for the scene by default? That’s cool.

  4. Tying Transmutations to your Refinement and having them change as /you do/ is an awesome innovation. The ability to alchemically fix Alembics makes a lot of sense as a natural extension of the Created, well, transmuting themselves as they develop.

    Altogether, it seems to tie in very interestingly to the Promethean’s progression on the pilgrimage, and I’m enthused to see everything work together in play.

    • Meaning that their capacity to learn new powers is tied to where they’re at – in terms of direction rather than progress – in learning about humanity. And their retention of powers is tied to what they’ve learned (and presumably also milestones). That’s brilliant.

  5. I love you Matt. I already liked Transmutations in the past, but this system looks really cool and flavorful – something common to all CoD games and second editions, imo. Can’t wait to devour the whole book when it comes out *throws money at the screen*

  6. I’ll be honest, Promethean has never been my favorite line. In fact, out of all of the 1st ed CofD lines, this was the only one I never actually picked up the mainline book for.

    That said, I have really enjoyed the teasers so far and look forward to seeing the finished product. Thank you for taking the time to help give me a second chance with this book.

  7. If you change Refinement, then return to that Refinement later, do you gain the same Alembics that you had before, or do you choose like it was your first time switching to that Refinement?

    • There IS information on this sort of question in the text of the Transmutations, don’t worry, and it’s presented with a tad more detail than Matt gives, above… But *I* won’t give details ‘coz I’m just a playtester? Something like that. 😉

  8. I really love how in Chronicles of Darkness each line’s powers wirk differently and make the best out of the themes and focus of the game. Kudos to the dev and writers.

  9. Was this done before Beast’s Atavisms or did Beast’s Atavisms go on to inspire the new take on Transmutations? They share a certain visceral, physicality in their narrative descriptions.

  10. I really like the structure. I do sort of wish that the Distillations either followed a clear progression, with each “higher” distillation being an enhanced form of those previous, or alternatively that the Pyros costs weren’t locked in at 0 > 1 > 2 > 3. As it stands it feels like it’s supposed to be more Pyros = more potent effect, but instead it’s more Pyros = different effect, with no clear correlation between which effects are cheaper and which are more expensive. Why does superior climbing cost more Pyros than water breathing? If it’s just because one of them had to cost more for it to fit the structure, then maybe the structure is too rigid.

    I mean, I know it’s probably too late to change at this point, but I figured it might be useful feedback anyway. Overall I love the way this looks, and I’ll enjoy the hell out of it as written.

  11. Are Alembic locked at four distillation or is it possible to create more? Same for transmutations, will future suplements add to them?

  12. Altered Body seems insane. I guess this gives us a taste of just how tanky a promethean can actually be. I assume this would stack with normal armor as well? Incoming promethean with 10+ general armor.

  13. If you have mastered all of the Roles of one Refinement, and then change to a Refinement that favors one of the same Transmutations, do you drop back down to one Alembic in that Transmutation?

    I must say, I am really liking what I’ve seen of these so far. I can’t wait to get my hands on the book.

      • I understand that mastering the Roles gives the character access to all four Alembics. What I was trying to ask was whether the character would lose access to them by switching to another Refinement that favored the same Transmutation. For example, if a character was on the Refinement of Plumbum and mastered all three roles, would he still have all of the Disquietism Alembics if he switched to Stannum for the first time, or would he drop down to only one Alembic in Disquietism until he either mastered a Role for Stannum or switched back to Plumbum?

        • When you master three Roles (be they from the Refinement you’re on, or one from three different Refinement), you get access to both of the full Transmutations associated with any Refinement you switch to. So let’s so you’re on Plumbum, master it (all three Roles, go you). You’ve got access to all four Alembics in both Disquietism and Electrification.

          Then you decide you want to get freaky with it, so you switch to Argentum. Now you’ve got access to all four Alembics in Spiritus and Sensorium. It doesn’t matter what Refinement you go to; once you’ve mastered three Roles, you have access to all the powers in that Refinement.

          But that alone won’t make you human. 🙂

          • Oh, wow. That’s quite impressive. I had misread the “you have access to the entire Transmutation… while you’re in that Refinement” section as meaning that you would lose the ability to access four Alembics of a Transmutation if you changed Refinements, rather than simply being unable to access that particular Transmutation. Thanks for clarifying, and letting us know.

    • Roles? Yes. Transmutations? Not as such, though certainly using the Distillations can help you along your Pilgrimage, done carefully.

      (Note: Historically, Prometheans kind of suck at being careful.)

  14. Are there tradeoffs for calcifying Alembics? For example, if a Pariah calcified his Aptare, should he expect his altered alchemy to pervert his Azoth in any way? Or other benefits, like his mortal body being resistant to environmental tilts?

    Ooh, are there Merits keyed to this new system?

      • I could see calcification of an Alembic meaning it takes more Pyros to use another from the same Refinement (unless you calcify that one too, in which case you’ll need still more for the others). A tradeoff between a steady state and endless reactivity.

    • ^ This is what I thought! I’m not sure how it came about, but the various bits and bobs of the Promethean experience – Lineage, Refinement, Role, Transmutations, all very well defined in the book – come together to allow for mutable, personal experiences for players in the game. The way Transmutations are given to us is the part that my playtest troupe found straight mind-blowing in the BEST possible way! I’m so glad Matt shared this here ‘coz I’ve been bouncing around like a mad person waiting to say how chuffed I am for this new mechanic!

  15. Ohh yes, Body horror combined with a almost hopeful ‘try everything once’ attitude of a little kid. Promethean was already one of the strongest and most unique concepts of the CoD but now it will have systems to show it.

  16. I’m not a fan of powers asking for both a roll and a resource expenditure, but apart from that, it looks nice.

  17. What s the progession with the distillations ? do you get access to all four when you select the alambic or do you get the first and must unlock the strongest with xp or other mean.

  18. Something from a playtest perspective to add is that this mechanic is a BIG change from First Edition, and it comes with some heavy-looking complications on paper when you see it all presented in text. However, my troupe discovered through the PLAYING of Transmutations that the mechanics make sense in practice, especially the progression of distillations, the relationships of Alembics to Roles, and the way Refinements work with Transmutations.

    Without giving away details, know that we found that this set of mechanics allowed for a wonderful amount of personalisation of Refinement experiences within the confines of the rules as written… And that is a neat experience since Promethean IS such a personal game for us.

  19. It also makes me wonder about Centimani. It doesn’t seem like they’d be interested in Roles – quite the reverse – so they’d likely be weaker in these Transmutations than regular Prometheans. Is there another way to get access to them? Can Centimani get another sort of power (and if so can regular Prometheans use it, with a hit to their Pilgrimmage?). Or are Centimani simply weaker?


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