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 fatal.
At the other extreme, there are natural poisons of intense lethality. Fortunately, such poisons tend to be exotic and rarethe 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 skin.
Table 51 rates poisons for three different factorsmethod, 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 applied.
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 characteristicsmethod, onset, and strengthand 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.