Poisons, Variant (3.5e Variant Rule)

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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.


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, Asleep, Blinded, Confused, Cowering, Dazed, Dazzled, Dead, Deafened, Distracted, Energy drained, Exhausted, Fascinated, Fatigued, Frightened, Nauseated, Panicked, Paralyzed, Shaken, Sickened, Stunned or Unconscious. 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)


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, any non-instantaneous effects inflicted at the initial phase terminate.


The DC for the Fortitude Save of the poison is called its “potency”. High potency poisons are more expensive then lower potency poisons. 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).


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.


Poisons are divided into four classes, based on the means of their delivery: fixatives, inhalants, toxins and venoms.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Other Qualities[edit]

In addition to the qualities referenced above, there are three additional qualities a poison might have: lingering, unbalanced and undetectable.


Some poisons are so potent that they can cause lesser conditions even with a successful save. If a character successfully saves against the initial effect of a lingering poison by less than 10 more than needed, a lesser related condition will be imposed. This condition will terminate at the end of the minute. If a character successfully saves against the terminal effect of a lingering poison by less than 10 more than needed, the lesser relate condition will be imposed for a duration, treating the poison's DC as 10 higher. If a character fails against the terminal effect, then the lesser related effect will be imposed on the character upon the expiration of the lingering effect, and will last as long as the lingering effect lasted (if the lesser related effect is Ability Damage, the effect will last for one hour per point damaged). Lingering poisons cost 50% more than their non-lingering counterparts. The lingering poison effects and their lesser related conditions are:

Lingering Effect (CL)Lesser Related Condition (CL)
Ability Drain (non-Con) (5)Ability Damage (same Ability and amount) (1)
Fascinated (6)Dazzled (2)
Ability Drain (Con) (7)Ability Damage (Con, same amount) (3)
Exhausted (8)Fatigued (4)
Frightened (8)Shaken (4)
Stunned (8)Dazed (4)
Panicked (10)Cowering (6)


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. Unbalance poisons cost twice as much as balanced poisons.


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. Undetectable poisons cost ten times as much as detectable poisons.


The DM can devise poisons with unique effects or qualities and should alter the price accordingly.


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 (alchemy). 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 or Toxin: 5 × (DC-10) × (Initial CL + ½ Terminal CL) × Other Qualities
Venom: 5 × (DC-10) × (½ Initial CL + Terminal CL) × Other Qualities

Revised SRD Poison List[edit]

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:

PoisonTypeDCEffectNew Price (in gp)
Malyss root pasteFixative161/2d4 Dex360
Terinav rootFixative161d6/2d6 Dex630
NitharitFixative130/3d6 Con945
Dragon bileFixative263d6/0 Str1,680
Black lotus extractFixative203d6 Con3,150
Ungol dustInhalant151/1d6+11 Cha262½
Insanity mistInhalant151d4/2d6 Wis300
Burnt othur fumesInhalant1811/3d6 Con1,820
Striped toadstoolToxin111 Wis/2d6 Wis + 1d4 Int57½
Id mossToxin141d4/2d6 Int240
Oil of taggitToxin150/Unconsciousness250
ArsenicToxin131/1d8 Con292½
Lich dustToxin172d6/1d6 Str612½
Dark reaver powderToxin182d6 Con/1d6 Con + 1d6 Str2,240
Greenblood oilVenom131/1d2 Con180
BloodrootVenom120/1d4 Con + 1d3 Wis190
Drow poisonVenom13Unconsciousness225
Blue whinniesVenom141 Con/Unconsciousness460
Shadow essenceVenom1711/2d6 Str665
DeathbladeVenom201d6/2d6 Con2,625

1 This damage is ability drain, not ability damage.

Harvesting Venom[edit]

Most poisons are manufactured from herbs and other rare ingredients found in nature. However, there are many creatures that are naturally venomous. 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.

From the Standard SRD[edit]

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):

CreatureEffectDCPrice (in gp)
Large monstrous centipede1d4 Dex1118¾
Medium monstrous spider1d4 Dex1237½
Tiny monstrous scorpion1 Con1245
Giant bee1d4 Con1156¼
Small monstrous scorpion1d2 Con1267½
Large monstrous spider1d6 Dex1378¾
Medium/large monstrous viper1d6 Con1178¾
Formian warrior1d6 Str14105
Giant monstrous wasp or huge monstrous centipede1d6 Dex14105
Formian taskmaster1d6 Str15131¼
Medium monstrous scorpion1d3 Con13135
Violet fungus1d4 Str and Con14150
Drider1d6 Str16157½
Huge monstrous spider1d8 Dex16202½
Imp or Quasit1d4/2d4 Dex13217½
Large monstrous scorpion1d4 Con14225
Gargantuan monstrous centipede1d8 Dex17236¼
Aranea1d6/2d6 Str13262½
Huge monstrous viper1d6 Con14315
Medusa1d6/2d6 Str14350
Spider eater0/Paralysis17350
Ettercap1d6/2d6 Dex15437½
Dark nagaAsleep16450
Formian myrmach2d6 Str20525
Gargantuan monstrous spider2d6 Dex20525
Huge monstrous scorpion1d6 Con18630
Nightcrawler2d6 Str22630
Colossal monstrous centipede2d6 Dex23682½
Phase spider or water naga1d8 Con17708¾
Couatl2d4/4d4 Str16750
Spirit naga1d8 Con18810
Bone devil1d6/2d6 Str20875
Athach1d6/2d6 Str221,050
Wyvern2d6 Con171,102½
Guardian naga1d10 Con191,113¾
Colossal monstrous spider2d8 Dex281,215
Purple worm1d6/2d6 Str251,312½
Gargantuan monstrous scorpion1d8 Con231,316¼
Colossal monstrous scorpion1d10 Con332,846¼
Bebilith1d6/2d6 Con243,675
Pit fiend1d6/10d6 Con2729,835

From the Variant SRD[edit]

The following venoms are available to be harvested from creatures found in the variant rules in the SRD:

CreatureSRD SectionEffectDCPrice (in gp)
Gray Glutton (inhalant)Psionic1d4/3d4 Power Points18500
Ha-NagaEpic2d8 Con314,252½
VemiurgeEpic1d6/2d6 Con444,462½
Neh-ThalgguEpic½ current/remaining Con326,930
Devastation centipedeEpic2d12 Dex837,117½
TayellahEpic2d10 Con397,177½
Devastation scorpionEpic2d12 Str857,312½
Devastation spiderEpic2d12 Con8421,645

Homebrew Poisons[edit]

The following new poisons of my devise are also available:

PoisonTypeDCEffectPrice (in gp)
Diminutive poisonous frogFixative121d3 Con120
Tiny poisonous frogFixative121d4 Con150
Small poisonous frogFixative121d6 Con210
Mayhem pouchFixative15Confusion400
Medium poisonous frogFixative131d8 Con405
Large poisonous frogFixative162d6 Con630
Huge poisonous frogFixative183d6 Con2,520
Gargantuan poisonous frogFixative204d6 Con4,200
Colossal poisonous frogFixative225d6 Con6,300
Cullen’s sandInhalant18Unconscious600
Taughta’s draughtsToxin16Asleep450
Crimson maedras venomVenom131d8 Cha101¼
Emerald maedras venomVenom131d8 Int101¼
Gold maedras venomVenom131d8 Wis101¼
Whiteblade poisonVenom17Distracted105
Jellyfish venomVenom132d4 Dex112½
Lethal jellyfish venomVenom132d4 Con337½

New Conditions[edit]


Sleeping 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). Any creature that requires sleep and does not get six hours sleep in a 24-hour period is considered fatigued.


Distracted creatures must make a Concentrate check in order to take any action that would provoke an attack of opportunity were the character in a threatened square. This Concentrate check is required whether or not the character is in a combat situation or even if the character is not in somebody’s threatened square. The DC of the check depends on the situation that placed the character into the distracted state.

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