The purpose of this document is to provide the DM with a system for handling poisons that can be as complicated or as simple as desired. Different ways of handling poisons range from instant death (as found in the Dungeons and Dragons game) and the simple 1 point of damage per round (as found in video games like the Ultima series). These are both very simple, but not realistic ways of handling ALL poisons. Some games have cumbersome charts that still have their limitations. And even with a chart, poisons shouldn’t be completely random. So hopefully this document will help the DM come up with a satisfactory method of handling poisons. This is by no means a scientific analysis of poison or any attempt for reality. This is merely for game play.
Properties of Poison
The first step is to simplify the whole poison system. The effects of poisons seem to be random at best. But this is not really the case. When you think about it, poisons have 4 or 5 properties at the most. (Numbers 4 and 5 could be considered the same thing.) So here poison is divided into 5 major categories:
- Saving Throw: Adjustment to saving throw is generally an indicator of the poison’s strength. (Suggested range: +4 to -4.)
- Incubation Period: The time before poison takes effect can also be determined by how powerful you think the poison should be, or how fast it reaches the bloodstream (breathing, ingestion, injection, etc.) (Typical ranges: 1 day to instantaneous)
- Duration: This is the time the poison takes to run its course, after the incubation period.
- Effect: The effect of the poison can be damage, penalties to rolls, and any other quantifiable modification to game play. Effects should be used with the next optional category “appearance” for the best game play.
- Appearance: This is how the poison affects the non-quantifiable modification to game play. This is somewhat optional, but can include things like sores, vomiting, or anything else which can be part of the story, but doesn’t really affect the numbers of game play.
DM: You step on a block that depresses; a dart shoots out of a crack in the wall and hits you. Make a saving throw vs poison. Player: I rolled a 10. DM: You can't feel any effects. game hours later... DM: The ogre misses you. Suddenly your arms feel strange and are becoming numb. All your muscles are getting slower. Player: Hide in the shadows around the corner in the hallway. DM: You try to get out as quickly as possible, leaving to the protection of the corridor. You become paralyzed. You hear the ogre coming towards you and hope that you hid well...
As you can see from this example, the player wasn’t sure he had been poisoned, and the effects did not occur until later. This kind of situation could be very interesting and fun with other players to help out, but may be considered somewhat “mean” of the DM if the character is alone. This gives characters a chance to be cautious and makes antidotes and spells like neutralize poison more important.
The DM in this situation can easily create a poison ahead of time, or on the spot. The DM may want to make some charts for quick reference such as the ones below:
This chart is a simple chart that contains weak, moderate, and strong poisons that do damage. This is particularly good for a DM who wants to give the players a chance to use their antidotes once the poison sets in.
Save Bonus Incubation Duration Damage ----------- --------------- ------------- ------------- Weak: +1d4 1d6 hours 1d8 hours 1d4 per turn Moderate: 0 1d4 turns 1d6 turns 1d2 per round Strong: -1d4 instant 1d10 turns 1d20 per round
This is a chart for the kind of DM who wants to give poison more “flavor.” Yum. You can use the chart above to supplement the results, or determine the missing pieces on your own.
1d6 Incubation 1d12 Effect Appearance --- ------------- ---- -------------------- --------------- 1 instantaneous 1 -1 to combat rolls pain 2 1d8 rounds 2 -1 to hit, +2 to AC numbness 3 1d6 turns 3 partial paralysis paralysis 4 1d4 hours 4 -1 to hit, 1/2 CHA sores 5 2d12 hours 5 1/2 STR, +2 AC weakness 6 1d6 days 6 -1 hit rolls, saves mild sickness 7 1/2 move, no actions violent sickness 8 comatose sleep sleep 9 1 dmg per round poisoned 10 1d4 dmg per turn poisoned/sick 11 1d10 dmg per hour mildly sick 12 5d6 dmg per round death