The Red Hand of Doom
One of the things I greatly enjoy about 3.5 is how carefully the creators worked to keep things consistent throughout. Most spells work very similarly, monster types and subtypes tend to be consistent throughout.
In contrast, poisons seem to be very inconsistent in their effects, in their pricing, in their acquisition. They are relegated to an obscure corner of the DMG, and only cursorily discussed. In order to cover up these issues, the rules strongly discourage their use by non-evil PCs, declaring their general illegality, and expressly banning paladins from using such items.
I think that poisons have a place in the game, and I don’t think it is a place limited to assassins. Poisons in real-life are devastating substances that, if they don’t kill you, often debilitate you for the rest of your days. In D&D, such substances would be game-breaking and should be handled as an inflicted disease rather than an alchemical effect.
But D&D poisons are not toxic in the same way as real-life arsenic and cyanide. D&D poisons work like spell-like effects, and thus should be scaled and priced accordingly. With this in mind, I present my variant rules on poisons, which have been play-tested in my campaign and appear to be quite balanced, even in campaign worlds where poisons are considered legal and are widely used. A version of this was previously presented on the What’s a DM to Do Board here.
Wrecan’s Variant Poison Rules CONDITIONS Poisons impose Conditions on the victim who fails a Fortitude save. The Conditions that can be imposed upon a victim include Ability damaged, Ability drained, Blinded, Confused, Cowering, Dazed, Dazzled, Dead, Deafened, Energy drained, Exhausted, Fascinated, Fatigued, Frightened, Nauseated, Panicked, Paralyzed, Shaken, Sickened, Stunned or Unconscious. A poison may also impose a new Condition on a victim: Asleep and Distracted, detailed below. These Conditions are prioritized into eleven separate condition levels. The higher the condition level, the more the poison will cost.
1. Ability damage (non-Constitution), each point of mean damage 2. Dazzled, Distracted 3. Ability damage (Constitution), each point of mean damage 4. Dazed, Fatigued or Shaken 5. Ability drain (non-Constitution), each point of maximum damage 6. Blinded, Cowering, Deafened, Fascinated or Sickened 7. Ability drain (Constitution), each point of maximum damage 8. Confused, Exhausted, Frightened, Nauseated or Stunned 9. Energy drain, each negative level inflicted at maximum 10. Asleep, Panicked, Paralyzed or Unconscious 11. Dead (is only ever a secondary effect)
NEW CONDITIONS Asleep: Asleep creatures are helpless. Slapping or wounding awakens an affected creature, but normal noise does not. Awakening a creature is a standard action (an application of the aid another action). Creatures that do not sleep (elves, constructs, etc.) cannot be afflicted with the Asleep Condition.
Distracted: A distracted character must make an appropriate Concentration check of the higher of DC 15 or DC 10+spell level (if trying to cast a spell), whenever she attempts to take an action that would provoke an Attack of Opportunity if such action were taken while standing in another character’s threatened area. This check occurs even if the character is not in someone’s threatened area. If the check fails, the action fails. One may never take 10 on any skill check while distracted. PHASES Poisons impose their effects in two phases: initial and terminal. The initial phase occurs upon the victim’s first encounter with the poison. Unless the victim has been treated with a delay poison or neutralize poison spell, the terminal phase occurs one minute after the initial exposure. If the victim saves against the initial phase, they must still save against the terminal phase. If the victim saves against the terminal phase, and non-instantaneous effects inflicted at the initial phase terminate. POTENCY The DC for the Fortitude Save of the poison is called its “potency”. High potency poisons are more expensive then lower potency poisons. A poison’s potency reduces by one for every week after the poison’s manufacture (or retrieval if milked from a venomous creature). When a poison’s potency reaches ten, it is generally considered inert and harmless.
It should be noted that antitoxin and the successful application of the Heal skill can affect the saving throw. Note that the two actions (antitoxin and Heal) can be used together and the benefits stack if the antitoxin is applied by the person using the Heal skill (i.e., the use of antitoxin grants a +5 circumstance bonus to the Heal check as well as to the Fortitude check). Creatures also apply their Size modifiers to grappling to any saving throws, as the dosages listed are made for Medium-sized creatures. DURATION Abilities lost to ability damage are regained, and negative levels gained through energy drain are lost, at the rate of one point per hour. Other effects, except confusion, expire one hour per point of difference between the poison’s potency and the victim’s (unsuccessful) terminal Fortitude save roll. Confusion lasts one round per point of difference between the poison’s potency and the victim’s (unsuccessful) terminal Fortitude save roll. Ability drain is permanent until the victim receives a restoration spell. DELIVERY Poisons are divided into four classes, based on the means of their delivery: fixatives, inhalants, toxins and venoms.
Fixatives: These can be applied to any surface that might come into contact with the skin, or can be applied to weapons. Fixatives delivered by weapons need only make a successful touch attack to affect the victim and does not concern itself with the victim’s damage resistance, if any. Poisons affixed to weapons are expended immediately upon a successful touch attack.
Inhalant: These must be inhaled to take affect. There are two methods of inhaling an item. First, an inhalant may be manufactured in a substance that burns, such as a candle, torch, brazier or even an innocuous-seeming log. This item must be manufactured separately and must be of masterwork quality. Inhalants will affect all people occupying the five foot square of the item when it is ignited. Second, an inhalant can be applied to a rag, which can then be forced over an opponent’s mouth. Doing this requires the poisoner to first successfully grapple the victim and then to apply the rag.
Toxins: These must be applied to food and only affect victims who eat or drink the toxic substance. Purify food and drink spells render any poisons within food or drink inert.
Venoms: These must be applied to a weapon, which must make a successful attack against the victim and bypass any damage resistance in order to take effect. The venom of a weapon is expended once a successful attack is made.
It should be noted that anybody who does not have the Poison Use ability (such as members of the assassin Prestige Class) has a 5% chance of exposing himself to a poison whenever he applies it to a weapon or otherwise readies it for use. Additionally, a character who does not have Poison Use and who rolls a natural 1 on an attack roll with a poisoned weapon must make a DC 15 Reflex save or accidentally poison himself with the weapon. Characters with more than five ranks in Craft (poison) will never expose themselves to a poison when applying it to a weapon, readying it for use, or attacking with a poisoned weapon. OTHER QUALITIES In addition to the qualities referenced above, there are two additional qualities a poison might have: unbalanced and undetectable.
Unbalanced: Generally, the effect that occurs if the victim fails the initial saving throw is the same effect that occurs if the victim fails the terminal saving throw. However, some poisons have differing, either in condition or amount of damage between the initial and terminal effects. Such poisons are considered unbalanced. Unbalanced poisons cost twice as much as balanced poisons.
Undetectable: Some poisons are odorless and invisible, making their detection much more difficult. Regular poisons on a weapon, inhalant, food or drink can be detected if the individual makes a successful Search, Knowledge (nature) or Craft (alchemy) roll, whichever is higher, against the poison’s DC. Creatures with the Scent ability have a +10 racial bonus to this roll. The individual may take 10 or even 20 to detect a poison. Poisons that are undetectable are ten times as expensive as their noticeable counterparts but add 10 to the DC of the detection check. Even odorless poisons, however, may be detected with a detect poison spell.
Miscellaneous: The DM can devise poisons with unique effects or qualities and should alter the price accordingly. PRICING Poisons may be permissible to all characters, but they are not affordable by all characters. Poisons can be very expensive. The manufacture of poisons is time-consuming, requiring significant levels of Craft (poisons). The pricing of poisons depends on a formula set by the type of delivery for that poison:
Fixative: 5 × (DC-10) × (Initial CL + Terminal CL) × Other Qualities Inhalant/Toxin: 5 × (DC-10) × (½ Initial CL + Terminal CL) × Other Qualities Venom: 5 × (DC-10) × (Initial CL + ½ Terminal CL) × Other Qualities REVISED POISONS LIST Following are most of the poisons listed in the SRD, modified with the new pricing. Note that those poisons that would be extracted from monsters are not listed as they are now governed by the rules for harvested venoms. Black adder venom is now considered medium monstrous viper venom. Moreover, sassone leaf residue is unavailable as it inflicts hp damage, an effect no longer available to poisons: Code:
Poison Type DC Effect New Price Malyss root paste Fixative 16 1/2d4 Dex 360 Terinav root Fixative 16 1d6/2d6 Dex 630 Nitharit Fixative 13 0/3d6 Con 650 Dragon bile Fixative 26 3d6/0 Str 1,680 Black lotus extract Fixative 20 3d6 Con 3,150 Ungol dust Inhalant 15 1/1d6+11 Cha 262½ Insanity mist Inhalant 15 1d4/2d6 Wis 300 Burnt othur fumes Inhalant 18 11/3d6 Con 2,940 Striped toadstool Toxin 11 1 Wis/2d6 Wis + 1d4 Int 57½ Id moss Toxin 14 1d4/2d6 Int 240 Oil of taggit Toxin 15 0/Unconsciousness 250 Arsenic Toxin 13 1/1d8 Con 292½ Lich dust Toxin 17 2d6/1d6 Str 612½ Dark reaver powder Toxin 18 2d6 Con/1d6 Con+1d6 Str 2,240 Greenblood oil Venom 13 1/1d2 Con 180 Bloodroot Venom 12 0/1d4 Con + 1d3 Wis 190 Drow poison Venom 13 Unconsciousness 225 Blue whinnies Venom 14 1 Con/Unconsciousness 460 Shadow essence Venom 17 11/2d6 Str 665 Deathblade Venom 20 1d6/2d6 Con 2,625
1This damage is ability drain, not ability damage. HARVESTING VENOM Most poisons are manufactured from herbs and other rare ingredients found in nature. However, there are many creatures that are naturally venomous. Expert poisoners and apothecarists know the art of retrieving poisons from these creatures. Such poisons are then sold on the open market for a nice profit. All venoms are considered to be ability poisons with an injection delivery. Poisons with a DC of 10 or less cannot be harvested, as they are rendered inert as soon as they are exposed to air.
Harvesting a poison from a creature requires a Craft (poisons) check equal to the poison’s potency. If the creature is alive it must be rendered helpless before poison can be harvested (or “milked”). A creature contains no more doses of poison than its CR. A living creature regenerates one dose every month. A living creature that has been thoroughly milked cannot use its poison ability until it has regenerated at least one full dose.
A creature with a poison attack is immune to its own poison and the poison of others of its kind.
Following are the harvestable poisons that can be found on the open market based on the creatures in the SRD. To the extent the venom’s description below differs from the description in the SRD, use the description below. Some creatures’ venom cannot be extracted, either because the venom is too weak (medium and smaller monstrous centipedes) or the venom works specifically with the monster’s other abilities (the vargouille’s venom only works with its bite). Don’t forget to treat a creature’s harvestable venom as treasure. Code:
Creature Effect DC Price Large monstrous centipede 1d4 Dex 11 18¾ Medium monstrous spider 1d4 Dex 12 37½ Tiny monstrous scorpion 1 Con 12 45 Giant bee 1d4 Con 11 56¼ Small monstrous scorpion 1d2 Con 12 67½ Large monstrous spider 1d6 Dex 13 78¾ Medium/large monstrous viper 1d6 Con 11 78¾ Formian warrior 1d6 Str 14 105 Giant monstrous wasp or huge monstrous centipede 1d6 Dex 14 105 Formian taskmaster 1d6 Str 15 131¼ Homunculus Asleep 13 135 Medium monstrous scorpion 1d3 Con 13 135 Violet fungus 1d4 Str and Con 14 150 Drider 1d6 Str 16 157½ Huge monstrous spider 1d8 Dex 16 202½ Imp or Quasit 1d4/2d4 Dex 13 217½ Large monstrous scorpion 1d4 Con 14 225 Gargantuan monstrous centipede 1d8 Dex 17 236¼ Aranea 1d6/2d6 Str 13 262½ Pseudodragon Asleep 14 300 Huge monstrous viper 1d6 Con 14 315 Medusa 1d6/2d6 Str 14 350 Spider eater 0/Paralysis 17 350 Ettercap 1d6/2d6 Dex 15 437½ Dark naga Asleep 16 450 Formian myrmach 2d6 Str 20 525 Gargantuan monstrous spider 2d6 Dex 20 525 Huge monstrous scorpion 1d6 Con 18 630 Nightcrawler 2d6 Str 22 630 Colossal monstrous centipede 2d6 Dex 23 682½ Phase spider or water naga 1d8 Con 17 708¾ Couatl 2d4/4d4 Str 16 750 Spirit naga 1d8 Con 18 810 Bone devil 1d6/2d6 Str 20 875 Athach 1d6/2d6 Str 22 1,050 Wyvern 2d6 Con 17 1,102½ Guardian naga 1d10 Con 19 1,113¾ Colossal monstrous spider 2d8 Dex 28 1,215 Purple worm 1d6/2d6 Str 25 1,312½ Gargantuan monstrous scorpion 1d8 Con 23 1,316¼ Colossal monstrous scorpion 1d10 Con 33 2,846¼ Bebilith 1d6/2d6 Con 24 3,675 Pit fiend 1d6/10d6 Con 27 29,835
The following venoms are available from creatures found in the variant rules in the SRD: Code:
Creature SRD Effect DC Price Gray Glutton (inhalant) Psionic 1d4/3d4 Power Points 18 500 Ha-Naga Epic 2d8 Con 31 4,252½ Vemiurge Epic 1d6/2d6 Con 44 4,462½ Neh-Thalggu Epic ½ current/remaining Con 32 6,930 Devastation centipede Epic 2d12 Dex 83 7,117½ Tayellah Epic 2d10 Con 39 7,177½ Devastation scorpion Epic 2d12 Str 85 7,312½ Devastation spider Epic 2d12 Con 84 21,645