The Arcane background from the fantasy companion states that the Alchemist needs at least a small lab that might fit in a trunk. Does this mean that the Alchemist needs a $1000 item to function?
First, let's take a look at the relevant section of Arcane Background (Alchemy):
To create a potion, the alchemist needs access to at least a small lab (such as might be carried in a trunk) and one hour per spell Rank (a Novice spell takes one hour to imbue into a potion).
The key phrase is "needs access to". This doesn't necessarily mean that they have to own it, just that they must be permitted to use one. Purchasing the alchemist's trunk is one way to do it (and possibly the only viable option if going on long treks in the wilderness), but they could also get access to a lab in any of the following ways:
- Rent a laboratory for a small fee
- Ask to borrow one from a senior alchemist in town
- Join the local Mage's Guild and use one available to all guild members (as is done in The Elder Scrolls video games)
- Save a few pieces of gold by getting a set that isn't designed for compactness, which will be left at home
Indeed, the end of the Arcane Background description mentions some of these alternatives:
Labs: Most alchemists have a portable lab, allowing them to create potions as and when needed. Access to a laboratory grants a +2 bonus to Alchemy rolls, whereas access to an alchemic guildhouse or similar workshop grants a +4 bonus.
As it says, most alchemists purchase the alchemist's trunk or something similar, but others choose to rely on alchemy labs owned by other people or a guildhouse. You can be an Alchemist without owning an alchemist's trunk.
Keep in mind that this restriction is part of the tradeoff for Arcane Background (Alchemy). It's a very reliable form of magic since you are required to have a lab and you get a +2 bonus (or +4 bonus) to rolls to prepare your potions. Then during combat you are always successful because you don't need to roll. Having to purchase an alchemy trunk, or work out access to some other lab, is the price for that reliability.
Update: Pinnacle staff member Clint Black has since made a ruling that the phrase "most alchemists have a portable lab" indicates that characters with Arcane Background (Alchemy) begin play with an alchemist's trunk, unless there are extenuating circumstances such as the Poverty Hindrance or the GM adds a setting rule that they don't. Still, in the event that the alchemist's trunk is lost or destroyed, the other options listed above are available and the alchemist isn't required to purchase a new trunk (and even if they do have a trunk, they may still want to use a guild lab because of the +4 bonus to Alchemy rolls).