This is an all-too-frequent hazard faced by player characters. Bites, stings,
deadly potions, drugged wines, and bad food all await characters at the hands
of malevolent wizards, evil assassins, hideous monsters, and incompetent
innkeepers. Spiders, snakes, centipedes, scorpions, wyverns, and some giant frogs all
have poisons deadly to characters. Wise heroes quickly learn to respect and
fear such creatures.
The strength of different poisons varies wildly and is frequently
overestimated. The bite of the greatly feared black widow spider kills a victim in the
United States once every other year. Only about 2% of all rattlesnake bites prove
At the other extreme, there are natural poisons of intense lethality.
Fortunately, such poisons tend to be exotic and rare--the golden arrow-poison frog, the
western taipan snake, and the stone fish all produce highly deadly poisons.
Further, the effect of a poison depends on how it is delivered. Most
frequently, it must be injected into the bloodstream by bite or sting. Other poisons are
effective only if swallowed; assassins favor these for doctoring food. By far
the most deadly variety, however, is contact poison, which need only touch the
Table 51 rates poisons for three different factors--method, onset, and strength. Those
poisons which commonly appear in the game, such as that delivered by the sting
of a giant centipede, are given a specific rating for convenience. Poisons are
not listed by name here, since this is neither a scientific text nor a primer
on the deadly nature of many plants and animals.
Method: The method is the new way in which the poison must normally be used to have
full effect. Injected and ingested have no effect on contact. Contact poisons
have full effect even if swallowed or injected, since both are forms of contact.
Injected or ingested poisons have half their normal effect if administered in
the opposite manner, resulting in the save damage being applied if the saving
throw is failed and no damage occurring if the saving throw is successful.
Onset: Most poisons require time to work their way through the system to reach the
areas they affect. Onset is the time that elapses before the poison's effect is
felt. The effect of immediate poisons is felt at the instant the poison is
Strength: The number before the slash lists the hit points of damage suffered if the
saving throw is failed. The number after the slash lists the damage taken (if any)
if the saving throw is successful. Where "death" is listed, all hit points are
immediately lost, killing the victim. Note that in some cases a character may
roll a successful saving throw and still die from the hit point loss.
Not all poisons need cause damage. Two other common effects of poison are to
paralyze or debilitate a victim.
Paralytic poisons leave the character unable to move for 2d6 hours. His body
is limp, making it difficult for others to move him. The character suffers no
other ill effects from the poison, but his condition can lead to quite a few
problems for his companions.
Debilitating poisons weaken the character for 1d3 days. All of the character's
ability scores are reduced by half during this time. All appropriate
adjustments to attack rolls, damage, Armor Class, etc., from the lowered ability scores
are applied during the course of the illness. In addition, the character moves
at one-half his normal movement rate. Finally, the character cannot heal by
normal or magical means until the poison is neutralized or the duration of the
debilitation is elapsed.
Treating Poison Victims
Fortunately, there are many ways a character can be treated for poison.
Several spells exist that either slow the onset time, enabling the character the
chance to get further treatment, or negate the poison entirely.
However, cure spells (including heal) do not negate the progress of a poison, and the neutralize poison spell doesn't recover hit points already lost to the effects of poison. In
addition, characters with the herbalism proficiency can take steps to reduce the
danger poison presents to player characters.
Creating New Poisons
Using the three basic characteristics--method, onset, and strength--and
bearing in mind the debilitating and paralyzing effects of some poisons, it is
possible to create new varieties.
However, always introduce poisons and poisonous creatures with great care,
especially when dealing with low-level characters. Unlike most other ways a
character can be hurt, the life or death of a poisoned character often depends on a
single die roll. It is essential that characters be treated fairly, or their
players will quickly lose interest in the game.
Table of Contents