Quick Look: Alchemy
Alchemy allows you to create beneficial potions and harmful poisons. Its main use is to create Fortify Enchanting and Fortify Smithing Potions. It's also a good source of income. Level it by creating poison and potions - the more valuable the product, the faster your Alchemy skill will level.
Ah, Alchemy, that old bit of fantasy logic where if you find some crap lying on a ground, or an interesting party of some beast, you should mix it up and consume it for some effect or another. In reality, you'd think that almost all such experiments would have a.. decidedly negative effect, and would at least taste like ass. But in Skyrim mixing most anything you find will have results, being it a poison you can use to inflict suffering upon your foes, or a potion to heal yourself, cure diseases or poisons, or otherwise give you some sort of beneficial buff.
This has obvious benefits, of course, but for most buffs (especially healing) you're probably better off just investing in Restoration. One thing Alchemy has going for it that it's readily apparent, however, is that it can be used to generate huge amounts of cash. Various recipes (a few of which will be included below) can turn relatively common and cheap components into incredibly valuable potions.
As far as power-gaming is concerned, though, the most important thing Alchemy does - and it's important enough to warrant everybody investing in it - is that it allows you to create potions that increase your Smithing and Enchanting skills, which allows you to create absurdly powerful weapons and armor. This, more than any skill investment or perk selection (aside from those required to create such equipment, of course) will make a character that is frankly broken.
The primary function of Alchemy is to boost your Smithing and Enchanting abilities... which really requires you to become an expert at enhancing the beneficial aspects of potions. All in all, it's a fairly large investment of perks to get the best results and make the most powerful Fortify Smithing and Fortify Enchanting potions possible (+147% and +37%, respectively). Whereas poisons are something that can be largely neglected.
To that end, improving the base potency of your potions is a good thing, so all five ranks of Alchemist are a worthwhile investment. Improving your skills is a beneficial effect, so the Benefactor perk should also be purchased, while Physician is just a necessary step along the way. None of the other perks are strictly necessary, but getting Snake Blood will get you a heft 50% resistance to poison. Poison itself is rather rare, but if you're wanting to play on higher difficulties and make a nearly impervious character, it's a hole in your defense you can plug.
As for perks that aren't necessary for the Smithing/Enchanting grind, but are still nice to have for various reasons, Purity will help you make more money off your potions. If you plan to turn Alchemy legendary or just make potions and poisons for cash, Green Thumb is a worthy investment, although it requires you to expend two perks along the way. Then again, if you want poisons to be a viable addition to your repertoire, you're going to want Poisoner and Concentrated Poison, anyways. As an added benefit, many useful poisons can be made which consist of easy to obtain ingredients, which will expedite your leveling process.
The best way to level up Alchemy is through creating potions - the more expensive the potion created, the more experience gained from the brewing. On that note, purchasing relevent perks while leveling up Alchemy will increase the speed at which you level, and also serve to line your purse. The only problem with Alchemy is that to level it, you'll need hundreds of ingredients, the harvesting of which is a comparably slow process, making Alchemy a rather poor grinding skill.
To get get these ingredients you have two options; you can go around the world buying ingredients from merchants (this will negatively affect your purse, and isn't all that fast) or you can roam about, picking flowers and killing beasties... you know, the stuff that you'd presumably prefer to be going, rather than sitting around grinding all day? To that end, just be vigilant for things to pick on your travels, and explore the map. You'll find locations (which will make questing easier, when you get around to it) and will undoubtably stumble across a good bit of ingredients. Of course, that's a rather simplistic explanation, it's a good rule of thumb to practice as you play - the more you pick, the easier the eventual Alchemy grind will be.
Of course, all products of Alchemy aren't created equal; certain components are rarer than others, and some potions/poisons are better than others. Given how Alchemy levels, then, a more focused strategy than simply running drunkenly around the map in search of alchemical components would be to venture to places with high concentrations of valuable ingredients, right? First up, let's go over some of the more lucrative alchemical concoctions, which will reveal the ingredients you want to go after... then it'll be time to talk geography.
First, anything with "regen" in it does well. Whether it's damaging the regeneration rate of something, or boosting it. Ingredients that cause status effects are also very good, like Fear, Invisibility, Frenzy and Paralysis. Also, the more effects you put into something, the better its market value. Note that these combos typically only include the best combinations that can be made with common ingredients. It's not really helpful to your leveling if you have trouble finding a dozen of a certain ingredient. The giant exception? Giant's Toes. They drastically improve the value of potions they're in to such an extent that if you can find/buy/harvest even a few dozen, you've done yourself a great service.
Poison of Damage Magicka Regen
Ingredients: Bear Claw, Blue Butterfly Wing, Blue Mountain Flower, Hanging Moss, Nightshade
An insanely easy to make poison with good value, Blue Mountain Flowers, Hanging Moss and Nightshade are all easy to obtain in abundance. Bear Claws and Blue Butterfly Wings aren't uncommon, but the former shouldn't be combined with Blue Mountain Flowers (as they share the Fortify Health property, which will neuter the concotion's effectiveness without the Purity perk) and the latter is arguably better saved for a more valuable concoction.
Potion of Fortify Health
Ingredients: Bear Claws, Blue Mountain Flower, Giant's Toe, Glowing Mushroom, Hanging Moss, Wheat
This one consists of some common components, but the Giant's Toe is what makes this valuable. Just combining the lesser components (sans Giant's Toe) will get you a potion with an effect of at best 60 seconds, as compared to the Giant's Toe's 500 second duration... which also makes it worth only 10% of what the Giant's Toe variant is worth. Note that Creep Clusters and Giant's Toes share the "Fortify Carry Weight" property, so throwing a Creep Cluster into any Fortify Health mix will get you an even more valuable concoction - a good deal, considering Creep Clusters are fairly common (see Fortify Carry Weight, below).
Fortify Carry Weight
Ingredients: Creep Cluster, Giant's Toe, Hawk Beak, River Betty, Scaly Pholiato, Wisp Wrappings
You can safely ignore most of the ingredients in this concotion save the Creep Cluster, which is by far the most common ingredient. While valuable enough on its own, this scarcity makes the mixture relatively insignificant for grinding up Alchemy. On the other hand, the Giant's Toe is a bridge between this potion and the more valuable Fortify Health potion, above. Any time you're mixing a Fortify Health potion with a Giant's Toe in it, you might as well throw in a Creep Cluster.
Poison of Slow
Ingredients: Deathbell, Large Antlers, River Betty, Salt Pile
Another valuable poison made with common ingredients, the main focus here should be on Deathbells and Salt Piles. The latter can be found in the various barrels throughout Riften in passable numbers, while Deathbells grow in abundance in the swamp north of Morthal.
Potion of Regenerate Magicka
Ingredients: Dwarven Oil, Fire Salts, Garlic, Jazbay Grapes, Moon Sugar, Salt Pile, Taproot
Jazbay Grapes can be found in great numbers in the hotsprings south of Windhelm, while Salt Piles are stored throughout barrels in Riften. Not a hugely valuable potion, it's still a passable mix, and if you throw in a Red Mountain Flower (which can be found throughout Skyrim) you'll add the Fortify Magick property, increasing the potion's value by around 50%. Not bad.
Potion of Fortify Two-Handed
Ingredients: Dragon's Tongue, Fly Amanita
More of a niche potion, really, but you're likely to find hundreds of Dragon's Tongue plants if you plunder the hot springs south of Windhelm, so disposing of some of those might just be appealing. Fly Amanita isn't nearly as common as Dragon's Tongue, so your ability to brew this concoction will likely be limited. Still, the two plants share two properties, both Fortify Two-Handed and Resist Fire, and together make for a passable potion.
Note: The values listed above are more accurately the value potential of each concoction, as they're what you'd get with an Alchemy skill of 100 and all relevant perks. As you level up Alchemy your values will be lower, but the values given should provide a fair demonstration of their relative values.
Those potions and poisons should go a long way towards maxing your Alchemy skill, but where do you get all these lovely components? Well, there are three places where you'll get most of them, but first, let's discuss the ones that fall outside these three locations.
Blue Mountain Flowers:
Mountain flowers can be found throughout Skyrim and take no special effort to get - as you wander across Skyrim, just pick the flowers that commonly grow alongside the roads and you'll end up with a grand stockpile.
Blue Butterfly Wings
Blue Butterfly Wings can be obtained by plucking the wings off Blue Butteflies. They exist in static locations throughout Skyrim, often in groups of three, mixed in with Monarch Butterflies. Just be sure to grab them whenever you see them.
Creep Cluster/Dragon's Tongue/Jazbay Grapes:
South of Windhelm is an expansive stretch of hot springs where you'll find these three plants. It's not for the faint of heart, however, as there are two Giant camps and a Dragon's nest in the area. Still, the treasure-trove of valuable components makes it a must-scour area.
North of (and surrounding) Morthal is a swamp where you'll find Deathbells. While this is the most valuable component in the area, you can also harvest Giant Lichen and Swamp Fungal Pods.
Giant's Toes are sold by alchemists at the various towns, but mostly you'll get them from Giants. They're not easy prey, but with decent gear (and perhaps the difficulty turned down to Novice) you can defeat them... especially with sneak attack criticals with a bow.
Hanging Moss/Juniper Berriers:
Hanging Moss and Juniper Berries can be found around Markarth, the former of which is the more valuable of the two. Hanging Moss can be found hanging off trees and on rocky ledges, while Juniper Berries can be found on Juniper trees.
Riften is a thriving fishing city, and when you need to preserve meat, you need salt. Search the barrels lying around Riften to find plenty of Salt Piles.
Note: Harvested plants, looted containers and slain enemies will respawn, given enough time and provided you don't visit the area for the duration of said time. In the former case, however, the time it takes for harvested plants to respawn is... pretty lengthy, and even when they do respawn, don't expect full replenishment.
|Lami||Adept (Lv. 15 - 50)||Morthal, Thaumaturgist's Hut|
|Arcadia||Expert (Lv. 51 - 75)||Whiterun, Arcadia's Cauldron|
|Babette||Master (Lv. 76 - 90)||Dark Brotherhood Sanctuary|