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.
- Ability damage (non-Constitution), each point of mean damage
- Dazzled, Distracted
- Ability damage (Constitution), each point of mean damage
- Dazed, Fatigued or Shaken
- Ability drain (non-Constitution), each point of maximum damage
- Blinded, Cowering, Deafened, Fascinated or Sickened
- Ability drain (Constitution), each point of maximum damage
- Confused, Exhausted, Frightened, Nauseated or Stunned
- Energy drain, each negative level inflicted at maximum
- Asleep, Panicked, Paralyzed or Unconscious
- 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.
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
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:
|Poison||Type||DC||Effect||New Price (in gp)|
|Malyss root paste||Fixative||16||1/2d4 Dex||360|
|Terinav root||Fixative||16||1d6/2d6 Dex||630|
|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||1,820|
|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|
|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|
|Blue whinnies||Venom||14||1 Con/Unconsciousness||460|
|Shadow essence||Venom||17||11/2d6 Str||665|
1 This damage is ability drain, not ability damage.
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
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):
|Creature||Effect||DC||Price (in gp)|
|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|
|Medium monstrous scorpion||1d3 Con||13||135|
|Violet fungus||1d4 Str and Con||14||150|
|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|
|Huge monstrous viper||1d6 Con||14||315|
|Formian myrmach||2d6 Str||20||525|
|Gargantuan monstrous spider||2d6 Dex||20||525|
|Huge monstrous scorpion||1d6 Con||18||630|
|Colossal monstrous centipede||2d6 Dex||23||682½|
|Phase spider or water naga||1d8 Con||17||708¾|
|Spirit naga||1d8 Con||18||810|
|Bone devil||1d6/2d6 Str||20||875|
|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|
|Pit fiend||1d6/10d6 Con||27||29,835|
From the Variant SRD
The following venoms are available to be harvested from creatures found in the variant rules in the SRD:
|Creature||SRD Section||Effect||DC||Price (in gp)|
|Gray Glutton (inhalant)||Psionic||1d4/3d4 Power Points||18||500|
|Neh-Thalggu||Epic||½ current/remaining Con||32||6,930|
|Devastation centipede||Epic||2d12 Dex||83||7,117½|
|Devastation scorpion||Epic||2d12 Str||85||7,312½|
|Devastation spider||Epic||2d12 Con||84||21,645|
The following new poisons of my devise are also available:
|Poison||Type||DC||Effect||Price (in gp)|
|Diminutive poisonous frog||Fixative||12||1d3 Con||120|
|Tiny poisonous frog||Fixative||12||1d4 Con||150|
|Small poisonous frog||Fixative||12||1d6 Con||210|
|Medium poisonous frog||Fixative||13||1d8 Con||405|
|Large poisonous frog||Fixative||16||2d6 Con||630|
|Huge poisonous frog||Fixative||18||3d6 Con||2,520|
|Gargantuan poisonous frog||Fixative||20||4d6 Con||4,200|
|Colossal poisonous frog||Fixative||22||5d6 Con||6,300|
|Crimson maedras venom||Venom||13||1d8 Cha||101¼|
|Emerald maedras venom||Venom||13||1d8 Int||101¼|
|Gold maedras venom||Venom||13||1d8 Wis||101¼|
|Jellyfish venom||Venom||13||2d4 Dex||112½|
|Lethal jellyfish venom||Venom||13||2d4 Con||337½|
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.