Poison

When a character takes damage from an attack with a poisoned weapon, touches an item smeared with contact poison, consumes poisoned food or drink, or is otherwise poisoned, he must make a Fortitude save. If he fails, he takes the poison's initial damage (usually ability damage). Even if he succeeds, must make one or more additional successful Fortitude saves, depending on the poison's strength (see below). The Fortitude save DC against a creature's natural poison attack is given in the creature's descriptive text.

One dose of poison smeared on a weapon or some other object affects just a single target. A poisoned weapon or object retains its efficacy until the weapon scores a hit or the object is touched (unless the poison is wiped off before a target comes in contact with it). Any poison smeared on an object or exposed to the elements in any way remains potent until it is touched or used.

Although supernatural and spell-like poisons are possible, poisonous effects are almost always extraordinary.

Poisons can be divided into four basic types according to the method by which their effect is delivered, as follows.

Contact: Merely touching this type of poison necessitates a save. It can be actively delivered via a weapon or a touch attack. Even if a creature has sufficient damage reduction to avoid taking any damage from the attack, the poison can still affect it. A chest or other object can be smeared with contact poison as part of a trap.

Ingested: Ingested poisons are virtually impossible to utilize in a combat situation. A poisoner could administer a potion to an unconscious creature or attempt to dupe someone into drinking or eating something poisoned. Assassins and other characters tend to use ingested poisons outside of combat.

Inhaled: Inhaled poisons are usually contained in fragile vials or eggshells. They can be thrown as a ranged attack with a range increment of 10 feet. When it strikes a hard surface (or is struck hard), the container releases its poison. One dose spreads to fill the volume of a 10-foot cube. Each creature within the area must make a saving throw. (Holding one's breath is ineffective against inhaled poisons; they affect the nasal membranes, tear ducts, and other parts of the body.)

Injury: This poison must be delivered through a wound. If a creature has sufficient damage reduction to avoid taking any damage from the attack, the poison does not affect it. Traps that cause damage from weapons, needles, and the like sometimes contain injury poisons.

The characteristics of poisons are summarized on the table below. Terms on the table are defined below.

Type: The poison's method of delivery (contact, ingested, inhaled, or via an injury) and the Fortitude save DC to avoid the poison's damage.

Strength: Poisons are rated as Mild, Moderate, Strong, Deadly, and Legendary.

Mild poisons are usually found in common creatures – small snakes, large insects, some plants, etc. They are rarely lethal and usually have little effect on the average adventurer – a few points of ability damage or mild sickness at most.

Moderate poisons are found in less common creatures, like (normal-sized) cobras, poisonous insects/arachnids (black widows or Small spiders), or less supernatural/weaker creatures from the Monster Manual like ettercaps and imps. It can be lethal to common folk (and even the occasional unlucky adventurer); effects vary - mild to serious ability damage, moderate paralysis (lasts several minutes to a few hours), or incapacitation.

Strong poisons are fairly rare in nature – they belong to a small set of normal animals and some of the more fantastic creatures like weaker nagas, mid-level demons/devils, and couatl. Their poison is often lethal, either from its effects alone or from victims failing enough saves before they successfully recover.

Deadly poisons are the most powerful type found in nature. Most creatures with deadly poison aren't natural at all – powerful demons/devils or other outsiders, supernatural beings like nightcrawlers, or extremely large creatures like purple worms. Natural creatures with deadly poison should be rare in the extreme, but they can exist (one real-world example is the golden dart frog: 1 gram of its poison can kill up to 15,000 humans).

Legendary poisons are never found in nature – only gods, demon lords, archdevils, and beings of similar status produce poison of this magnitude.

Type: Poisons are divided into several broad categories: debilitating (reduces all ability scores by a set amount); hallucinogenic (more commonly referred to as mind-altering substances); incapacitating (deal Str and/or Dex damage by weakening the victim); neurotoxins (deal Con damage and usually result in death); paralytic; and soporific (sleep poisons).

Debilitating poisons weaken a victim for a period of time depending on strength (from hours to days). All physical ability scores are reduced by the appropriate modifier (see Damage and Other Effects, below) during this time. This result occurs as a secondary effect. The primary effect is the penalty for a poison one level lower, which lasts until the victim shakes off the effects or fails the requisite number of saves. For example, a moderate debilitating poison incurs a -2 penalty as a primary effect. They can be of any strength.

Hallucinogenic poisons are always artificial, though some types can be distilled from plants. They induce hallucinations, visions, and/or nightmares (either waking visions, or they place the victim into a nightmare-filled sleep or coma).

Incapacitating poisons are designed to cripple, but not necessarily kill, the victim, much like paralytics. Stronger incapacitating poisons often have lasting damage (noted as ability drain) even if the victim recovers.

Neurotoxins affect the nervous system, causing spasms, loss of coordination, partial paralysis, convulsions, coma, and death. They are almost always lethal, and never less than Moderate strength. Common neurotoxins include snake venom, frog poison, and marine life venoms (tetrodotoxin, like that produced by the pufferfish and the blue ring octopus, is a form of neurotoxin).

Paralytic poisons leave a victim unable to move for a period of time. The victim suffers no other ill effects from the poison, but their condition can lead to quite a few problems for any companions. The primary effect of a paralytic poison is that the victim is slowed. Total paralysis occurs as a secondary effect. Paralytics can be of any strength; the stronger the poison, the longer the effect lasts.

Soporific poisons induce waves of weakness and lassitude. Victims move at half speed and suffer a -2 penalty to AC and attack rolls the round after being struck, which lasts until they are cured, fight off the effects, or succumb to the poison. A good example of a soporific is drow sleep poison. Soporifics are generally mild to moderate in strength; as with paralytics, stronger poisons have longer-lasting effects.

Save DCs: A victim who has been poisoned must make a Fort save at a given DC (noted below). If he fails that save, he must succeed at a certain number of saves (not consecutive) before he fails a certain number (also noted below). If the victim reaches the number of failures first, he suffers the secondary effect.


Strength DC Saves
Mild Up to 13 2/5
Moderate 14-18 3/6
Strong 19-25 3/5
Deadly 26-34 4/5
Legendary 35+ 5/5

As noted above for strength ratings, the DCs are rough guidelines - feel free to adjust natural poison DCs by 1-2 points in either direction - or even reduce the number of successful saves required - if you think the PCs might have too easy or hard a time making their saves. Real world poisons don't always have the same effect, even from the same creature and the same target – the creature's bite or sting could be less than fully effective, or it could inject more or less poison each time. Between different victims, you also have resistances and simple luck playing factors.

For artificial poisons, you can adjust the DC by up to 4 points in either direction – this simulates the poisoner delivering a larger or smaller dose, or the target ingesting, inhaling, etc. a larger or smaller dose.

Onset time: Venoms or poisons produced by creatures generally have a short onset time. Artificial poisons can be variable.

Immediate poisons, despite the title, activate up to 1 minute after the poison is applied. Most monster poisons fall into this category. Generally, the onset time depends on the strength: Mild 1d8 rounds; Moderate 1d6 rounds; Strong 1d4 rounds; Deadly 1d2 rounds; Legendary 1 round.

Delayed poisons activate after 2d6-1 minutes. Most plant poisons fall into this category.

Slow poisons activate after 2d6-1 hours.

Dormant poisons activate after 2d6-1 days.

Binary and trinary poisons activate only after the subsequent introduction of a triggering agent, and often have a delayed onset time to allay suspicion (e.g., the first part is in the sweetmeats shared by everyone except the poisoner, the second part is in the wine shared by the victims and their poisoner. Separately the parts are harmless, but together…).

Check: As with saves, the check interval (the amount of time between saves) is based on the poison's strength – Mild: 5d6 minutes; Moderate: 3d6 minutes; Strong: 4d10 rounds; Deadly: 3d6 rounds; Legendary: 1d4 rounds.

As with save DCs, you can adjust the onset time upwards or downwards as you feel necessary, either to give the victim's companions time to heal him, or to ratchet up the suspense. At no time before they start to show symptoms, however, should PCs know that they have been poisoned – they should never know the results of their save unless it's a natural 20 or a natural 1.

Effect: Poisons can have a number of effects, based on their type. Incapacitating poisons, neurotoxins, and hallucinogens deal ability damage/drain, as noted on the table below (in general, incapacitating poisons deal Strength and/or Dex damage, neurotoxins deal Con damage, and hallucinogens deal Wis or Cha damage).

Other effects are noted on the table below.


Type Mild Moderate Strong Deadly Legendary
Ability damage1 1-3 3-6 6-10 10-12 12+
Debilitating -2, 2d6 hours -4, 4d6 hours -6, 1d4 days -8, 2d4 days -10, 3d6 days
Paralytic 1d4 hours 2d6 hours 4d6 hours 6d6 hours 1d3 days
Soporific 1d4 hours 1d6 hours 2d4 hours 3d6 hours 4d10 hours

1 Average damage per failed save. This encompasses all poisons that deal ability damage, including hallucinogens, incapacitating poisons, and neurotoxins. These usually have secondary effects which are stronger than the primary effects:


Type Mild Moderate Strong Deadly Legendary
Hallucinogenic 1-2 3-5 6-8 Coma1 Coma1
Incapacitating 1-3 4-6 7-10 Reduce to 02 Reduce to 02
Neurotoxin 1-6 7-12 Death Death

1 The victim's Wis or Cha score (whichever the poison affects) is reduced to 0, and the victim drops into a coma.

2 The victim's Str or Dex score is reduced to 0.

One point of ability drain is treated as three points of ability damage.

Natural poisons (those produced by plants and creatures) almost always have a primary effect that's one lower than the save DC (it can be the same as the DC), and a secondary effect that's the same as the DC (one higher than the primary effect). For example, a couatl's poison deals 2d4 primary Strength damage (average 5 points), and 4d4 secondary damage (average 10 points).

Artificial poisons, however, don't always follow the above guidelines - someone can create a poison that's very hard to resist, but only does a small amount of damage over time, or vice versa. The save and effects cannot be more than two categories apart, however – for example, a poison could have a Mild DC and do Strong damage.

Price: The price for a single dose of poison. Take the base price (25 gp) and add all the appropriate modifiers, as noted on the table below.

Table 1: Poison Pricing

Criterion Price Modifier
Save
Per point of the DC over 10 +10 gp
Damage
Per point of average damage (primary)1 +20 gp (x5 for ability drain)2
Per point of average damage (secondary)1 +10 gp (x5 for ability drain)2
Poison deals 0 primary ability damage1 -20 gp
Poison deals 0 secondary damage1 -10 gp
Poison reduces ability score to 0 (secondary effect only) +500 gp
Poison has "death" as a secondary effect +1,000 gp
Type
Hallucinogenic +(25 gp x strength rating)3
Debilitating +(30 gp x strength rating)3
Incapacitating +(40 gp x strength rating)3
Soporific +(50 gp x strength rating)3
Neurotoxin +(60 gp x strength rating)3
Paralytic +(75 gp x strength rating)3
Delivery
Contact Multiply entire cost by 3
Ingested Multiply entire cost by 1.5
Inhaled Multiply entire cost by 5
Injury Multiply entire cost by 1
Rarity
Common (arsenic, cyanide) Multiply entire cost by 1/2
Uncommon (stonefish poison, belladonna) Multiply entire cost by 1
Rare (blue ring octopus venom) Multiply entire cost by 1.5
Very Rare (unique poisons) Multiply entire cost by 2

1 Apply only to hallucinogens, incapacitating poisons, and neurotoxins.

2 This is counted separately. For example, dragon bile deals 2d6 Str damage + 1 Str drain; the cost would be (3.5 * 10) + (1 * 50) = 120 gp.

3 Strength rating is 1 (Mild), 2 (Moderate), 3 (Strong), 4 (Deadly).

For example: Arsenic is a mild neurotoxin (+60 gp). Its save DC is 13 (+30 gp); it deals 1 point of primary damage (+20 gp) and 4.5 average secondary damage (+45 gp), for a subtotal of 180 gp. It's ingested, so multiply that by 1.5 for a grand total of 232.5 gp/dose (round down to 230). Don't forget to apply the rarity multiplier! In this case, arsenic is fairly common, so you can divide the price by half (115 gp).




Crafting Poisons

Characters can craft poisons via the Craft (alchemy) skill. Generally speaking, a poison's base crafting time is 1 day; all poisons are treated as Small items. To determine a poison's Craft DC, use the following rules.

A poison's base Craft DC is based its strength rating, and modified by the following:

  • Save modifier (+1/5 points of the save DC)
  • Onset delay
  • Effect modifiers
  • Construction

The base DC for each strength rating is as follows:

  • Mild: 8
  • Moderate: 12
  • Strong: 16
  • Deadly: 20
  • Legendary: 24

A poison's onset delay modifies the Craft DC as noted below:

  • Immediate: +0
  • Delayed: +2
  • Dormant: +4
  • Binary: +5
  • Trinary: +10

If a poison's primary and secondary effects are different from the poison's overall strength rating, this has an effect on how easy it is to make the poison. For each level of difference higher or lower between a poison's primary and secondary effect, add or subtract 3, respectively. For example: Id moss is a moderate hallucinogenic; it deals 1d6 Int damage (Moderate) and 2d6 Int damage (Strong), so it has a +3 modifier. Ability drain, or ability damage to two stats, always adds a +3 modifier.

Some poison types go well together, like ingested hallucinogens or contact paralytics, whereas some are more difficult to create. Table 2 shows Craft DC modifiers for various combinations.

Table 2: Poison Craft DC Modifiers

Poison Type Contact Inhaled Ingested Injury
Hallucinogenic +6 +0 +2 +6
Debilitating +6 +0 +0 +3
Incapacitating +5 +2 +2 +2
Soporific +3 +0 +1 +2
Neurotoxin +4 +4 +2 +0
Paralytic +2 +2 +3 +0

The list of poisons has Craft DCs for each poison.

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