This is the famous stone
That turneth all to gold:
For that which God doth touch and own
Cannot for lesse be told.
(from) The Elixir George Herbert
The Philosopher's Stone was one of the great works of Alchemy, traditionally associated with the element of earth and a key stage in the production of the elixir vitae. The stone was primarily a sort of alchemical catalyst, best known for its ability to transform base metals into gold, but generally capable of any transformation. It may be assumed that the magnum opus which created the philosopher's stone would be one of the earliest - not least because earth was the most mundane of the classical elements, and the transformative properties that it provided would be of great use in the later works. Some sources attribute the life extending powers of the elixir to the stone, but it would be safe to assume that this is a form of mythopoetic syndoche: the stone is not sufficient in and of itself, but is a necessary part of the process of brewing the elixir.
Alchemists being what they are, the stone was never formally described - and, indeed, as a partly mystical creation, may vary depending on the nature of its creator … and one alchemist's stone may not work for another.
More metaphorically - and based on the idea of alchemy as a form of gnosis rather than an actual attempt to perform physical acts of creation - the philosopher's stone can be seen as a metaphor for personal transformation. This imagery was also not infrequently used by Christians, especially those of a more mystical nature (as per the flavour text).
Game and Story Use
- Potentially treasure or a mcguffin.
- Potentially a campaign killer in the hands of someone prepared to make infinite gold with it.
- Of course, this too has plot potential - and might explain the incredibly low value of gold in most fRPGs.
- Mechanically, this can either be an uber item, or just something that gives a bonus to any appropriate alchemy skills.
- Darklands style, a philsopher's stone may also be upgradable.
- Developing the stone may be a campaign goal in its own right for a PC alchemist
- Or an NPC patron.
- Or an antagonist - even without Fullmetal Alchemist-style prices involved in making the Stone, something that can create gold and make people immortal can be incredibly useful to a villain.