Monday, August 10, 2009

Rerun: The Alchemist's Locked Cupboard

DM: “Black Dougal gasps ‘Poison!’ and falls to the floor. He looks dead”

With the construction of the Dungeon Not Yet Named™ moving along, I’ve had to do a lot of thinking about the various traps waiting within. Thoughts of traps naturally lead to thoughts of poisoned needles, envenomed darts, hidden gas traps and the like. Poison-based traps are one of the oldest tropes of the dungeon crawl and any dungeon that didn’t include them would be missing a vital part of what makes D&D the game it is.

In the wild and woolly days of OD&D, poison was pretty straightforward: you saved or died. The effects of lesser poisons, such as the venom of a giant centipede, were pretty vague. The description of the poison of a giant centipede states that it is rarely lethal and a bonus of +4 is applied to the roll. Now does that mean it’s rarely lethal because it has such a large bonus to the saving throw or that even if the save is failed it doesn’t kill the victim? Like in many cases, the answer is ultimately up to the DM.

While I don’t mind setting potentially lethal traps for the players – that’s all part of the old-school tradition, which is what I’m going for – it’s nice to have something other than a “save or die” option when poison is encountered. With this in mind, I went to the DMG to see what I could mine from there, as well as going through the Dragon Magazine Archive to see what people have done before me. From the information found in the DMG on p. 20 and the articles “Poisons from AA to XX” in The Dragon #32 and “The Poisons of Cerilon” in Dragon #59, I sat down and created a plethora of poisons. Ranging from the more common and weaker toxins to the deadliest exotics, I now have a full range of potentially deadly substances to coat the blades of my traps.

The list that follows is of the insinuative type of poison, meaning they work by being introduced to the victim’s bloodstream by way of an incision in the skin. I have a similar list of contact and gas-based poisons, but since this list is long enough – and Blogger seems to be incapable of managing a simple table-based format without a Herculean effort on my part – I’ll leave those to another post if people express any interest in seeing them.

The format used in the entries below is the poison’s name followed by brackets. The information within the brackets is laid out with damage being represented by two values separated by a slash. Values preceding the slash is the damage taken if a save against poison is failed. The value after the slash is damage taken if the save is successful. After damage, an onset time is listed. This is the amount of time that passes before the victim begins to feel the effects of the poison. This type of information comes in handy when determining how long the party’s cleric has to drop a neutralize or slow poison spell on the victim. After the onset times are any special notes regarding the toxin. A description of the poison follows the bracketed information and contains details on appearance, ingredients and general flavor text appropriate to my game setting. Hopefully others might get some use out of this stuff. Enjoy!

Insinuative Poisons: Types AA – Types XX including Debilitative Poisons

Type AA Poison: Type AA poisons are the weakest of the various poisons available. Commonly used in the eradication of vermin and pests, type AA inflicts little damage and has a high bonus to saving throws against poison. Type AA poisons do 1 h.p. of damage/round until the total damage inflicted by the poison is reached.

Generic Type AA [Damage: 5 hp/0 hp. Onset time: 2-20 rounds. +5 to save against poison] – A typical minor poison, commonly available from even a novice alchemist.

Nuluim [Damage: 1d3 hp/0 hp. Onset time: 6-15 rounds. -1 to save against poison] – Nuluim is a common form of hunting poison employed by primitive tribes of humans and humanoids. This purple gel substance is created from mildly toxic vegetation.

Rat Death [Damage: 1d4 hp/0 h.p. Onset time: 1-10 rounds] – This brown oil is commonly used by granaries and sailors to help control the rat population. It can be purchased from traders who serve those professions, as well as from members of the rat-catchers guild, usually at a slightly higher mark-up.

Vermin Pox [Damage: 1d6/0 h.p. Onset time: 2-12 rounds. +2 to save against poison] – Appearing as a grayish-green liquid, vermin pox is used against larger pests, such as weasels, foxes and the like. Vermin pox may be purchased from trading posts serving agricultural communities. Kobolds, goblins and other small humanoid species have been known to steal traps coated with this substance and use it in traps of their own design.

Type A Poisons: A slightly more potent version of commonly used toxins, type A poisons are often used by novice assassins, thieves, pit-fighters and barroom brawlers of evil bent. Type A poisons do 5 hp of damage/round until the total damage inflicted by the poison is achieved.

Generic Type A [Damage: 15 hp/0 hp. Onset time: 2-5 rounds. +4 to save against poison] – A common form of the poison, often found in use by low-level assassins and on simple lock traps.

Buhlu [Damage: 1d8+2 hp/1d4 hp. Onset time: 2-5 rounds] – This clear fluid is created and used by the desert tribes of Pharoosh. It is created from the venom of desert asps collected by the boys of the tribes as part of their rites of manhood. Contests for control of the tribes are settled with duels conducted with buhlu-coated knives.

Cave Scum [Damage: 1d6 hp/0 hp. Onset time: 1 round] – Created from poisonous lichens, mosses and fungi found growing underground, cave scum is the common name for this white paste used by intelligent subterranean humanoids on their weapons and traps.

Serpentspit [Damage: 2d8+1 hp/ 0 hp. Onset time: 1-4 rounds] – Named for its green color, this syrupy poison is actually created from the sap of certain vines found growing in temperate climates. It leaves a green stain when used to coat iron; a fact that anyone who has survived an attack by the barbaric Tribe of the Catamount can confirm.

Type B Poisons: The weakest of the “trap poisons,” type B poisons have been responsible for the deaths of more beginning adventurers, tomb robbers and antiquarians than could possibly be counted. While being of a lesser toxicity than some poisons, type B poisons are notorious for maintaining their potency longer than any other alchemist-made venom. Type B poisons do 10 hp of damage/round until the total damage inflicted by the poison is reached.

Generic Type B [Damage: 25 hp/0 hp. Onset time: 1-3 rounds. +3 to save against poison] – Any one of the ubiquitous poisons found coating needle, blade, dart or spear traps on upper-level dungeons through the multiverse.

Bloodfire [Damage: 3d10 hp/1d10 hp. Onset time: 2-3 rounds] – Named for the burning pain that accompanies this toxin’s journey through the victim’s bloodstream; bloodfire appears as a scarlet gel. It is very difficult to remove once applied to metal, imposing a -10% penalty to a thief’s Remove Traps roll.

Chen-chen [Damage: 5d6 hp/0 hp. Onset time: 1-6 rounds. -1 to save against poison] – Hailing from Xiang-Zhum, located far to the east across the Frothing Sea, chen-chen is a sticky orange ooze created by the monks who dwell in mountaintop monasteries of that land. While chen-chen is highly poisonous to most, it is rumored that the monks who create it employ it as a narcotic, so travelers to the lands of Xian-Zhum are warned not to partake of an offered pipe while seeking refuge amongst those mountain monasteries.

Kumdev [Damage: 3d8+3 hp/ ½ damage. Onset time: 2 rounds] – This brown paste was created by Duke Stazhluv IV’s Minister of Poisons and first used within the treasury houses of the Krim Duchies. Since that time, kumdev has become popular amongst alchemists serving the trap-makers of many lands, prompting the adventurer’s adage: “Touch the brown and you’re six feet down.”

Lockslick [Damage: 4d6 hp/ ½ damage. Onset time: 2-5 rounds. -2 to save against poison] – This silver oil is not only toxic, but the slippery nature of the oil imposes a -15% penalty to all attempts to Open Locks as it tends to seep into the inner mechanical workings of the lock, making it difficult for a thief’s picks to find purchase.

Type C Poisons: These are the middle tier of toxic substances, being lethal enough to kill most victims their used against, yet still remaining affordable enough to be within the reach of well-to-do merchants and minor nobility. Type C poisons do 15 points of damage/round until the total damage caused by the poison is achieved.

Generic Type C [Damage: 35 hp/0 hp. Onset time: 1 round. +2 to save against poison] – Upset a wealthy merchant with a vindictive streak and this is the poison most likely to be found on the blade of his hired assassin.

Drake Snot [Damage: 6d8 hp/ ½ damage. Onset time: 1-6 rounds] – Appearing as a sticky green syrup, drake snot is made from the drake wing plant, which grows in abundance in the Great Grey Marsh. Due to the marsh’s close distance to Xultvar, the City Resilient, drake snot is commonly found in the Night Market of that city and the lesser Witches’ Markets of many larger cities throughout the Eastern Reaches.

Quarra [Damage: 5d10 hp/ ½ damage. Onset time: 4-7 rounds. -1 to save against poison] – Quarra is a rust-colored oil usually used by mid-level assassins. Created from the venom of a harmless looking fish found in the Ring Sea, quarra has a faint fishy odor to it. By the time the victim smells it, however, it is usually much too late.

Throat Tight [Damage: 8d6 hp/6d4 hp. Onset time: 1-10 rounds] – This chunky black paste affects the victim’s respiratory system, causing their lungs to fail and their esophagus to swell, thereby asphyxiating the victim. It has the added bonus of effectively silencing the victim as he dies, making it very popular amongst assassins and murders looking to kill their victim without alerting any nearby guards.

Yellow Lotus [Damage: 2d20+5 hp/0 hp. Onset time 1-4 rounds. -2 to save] – This yellow sap-like poison is made from the pollen of fabled yellow lotus flower, which is found in both Xiang-Zhum and Zarabe Zyria. Like chen-chen, it is rumored to possess narcotic properties to those peoples, but it a violent poison to others.

Type D Poisons: Outside of the truly exotic poisons, Type D venoms are the deadliest toxins available from alchemists. Those alchemists with the skill to create these poisons usually do so with an agreement with the local assassins’ guild. Alchemists who create and sell such substances without the permission of the guild have been known to vanish abruptly and permanently. Type D poisons do 20 points of damage/round until the total damage caused by the poison is reached.

Generic Type D [Damage: Death/0 hp. Onset time: immediate. +1 to save against poison] – Used by high-level assassins and on the deadliest of traps, this poison is usually only outclassed by the truly exotic toxins and the naturally produced venom of beasts.

Assassin’s Boon [Damage: 4d20+20 hp/ ½ damage. Onset time: 2-3 rounds] – This poison is extremely deadly, not only for its high mortality rate, but for the fact that it is a clear gel. Once applied to a blade it is nearly impossible to spot and its viscous nature keeps it from being easily rubbed off, even when sheathed.

Grey Zoba [Damage: 11d8 hp/0 hp. Onset time: 1-10 rounds. -4 to save against poison] – This grey fluid was created by the first Grandfather of Assassins. Since that time, the method of it creation and its ingredients remain a closely guarded secret of the Assassins’ Guild. Only the most trusted of alchemists are allowed access to this dire recipe and only then if the Guild holds some form of added leverage over the alchemist to ensure his loyalty.

Stillheart [Damage: 8d10 hp/ ½ damage. Onset time: 1 round. -2 to save against poison] – Made from a rare mushroom found in the Strigas Woods, stillheart causes sudden cardiac arrest in its victim. The spastic convulsions that accompany this attack are humorously referred to by assassins as “drumming oneself to death”

True Wyvern [Damage: 16d6/ ½ damage. Onset time 1-4 rounds] – True wyvern is a blue-green paste that somewhat resembles the venom created by its reptilian namesake. There is a legend amongst assassins that true wyvern, when applied to an arrow or bolt, actually improves the flight and accuracy of the missile. Optionally, DMs may apply a +1 bonus to hit with an arrow or bolt coated with true wyvern and reduce the penalty for distance by half.

Type XX Poisons: These are the most exotic and deadly toxins artificially manufactured, often costing tens of thousands of gold pieces for even a single dose. Their ingredients are incredibly difficult to find and many assassins find their deaths attempting to procure these rare substances. No one outside of the Assassin’s Guild may manufacture these poisons. Should an outsider learn the method of producing them and the Guild learns of it, that person’s lifespan remaining should be measured in mere hours. The Guild will spare no expense or risk to kill the bearer of such knowledge. Unlike other poisons, type XX poisons have no set damage inflicted each round.

Generic XX [Damage: Death/ 75 hp. Onset time: immediate] – While there is no true generic form of this poison, DMs wishing a quick version of an exotic and deadly toxin may use this to represent it.

Kwu Noz Hrab [Damage: Death/ Lose 1d4+1 levels. Onset time: 1-4 rounds] – The effects of this poison are so destructive that even if the victim survives the toxin, he will find himself incredibly weakened by the after effects. Kwu noz hrab is a emerald-colored sap from Zarabe Zyria, rumored to be made by and from the undead that dwell within the Nameless City.

Mindburn [Damage: Intelligence reduced to zero/Lose 1d10 points of Intelligence. Onset time 2-20 rounds] – This blue oil affects the mind of the victim and leaves the body untouched. Those who suffer the full effects of this poison are reduced to a vegetative state, incapable of even the most basic of actions. Without care, these victims will die from dehydration and malnutrition. Even those lucky enough to avoid the full effects of the poison find their mental capacities greatly reduced.

Sorcha’s Kiss [Damage: 10 hp of damage each round until the victim is dead/15d6 hp of damage. Onset time: 1-6 rounds] – Named for the goddess of murder and strife, this reddish-black paste is so potent that a neutralize poison spell has only a 50% chance of being effective. Strangely, the victim experiences a blissful euphoria as he lies dying, only to suffer excruciating pain during the last few moments of his life.

Debilitative Poisons: Not all poisons are potentially lethal to their victims. Some toxins incapacitate the victim instead. These are the debilitative poisons and are used by a variety of professions for their versatility. Like type XX poisons, debilitative poisons have no preset duration based on damage.

Distillate of Sculuxpendi giganti [Damage: Paralysis for 2-12 hours/no effect. Onset time: 1-3 rounds. +2 to save against poison] – Created from the venom of giant centipedes, this yellow-green paste produces a similar paralyzing effect with a greater chance of success. Some adventurers supplement their income by providing alchemists with fresh samples of giant centipedes, although most alchemists prefer to use live specimens whenever possible.

Dormorum’s Tears [Damage: Sleep for 1d6+1 rounds/no effect. Onset time: 1-3 rounds. Elves immune] – This blue paint-like toxin gets its name from the god of sleep and dreams and the effects of it on the victim. While a poison such as press gang punch (see below) is more effective, the higher cost of that toxin makes Dormorum’s Tears a cheaper alternative for the money-poor merchant seeking to protect his wares.

Ghoul Sweat [Damage: Paralysis for 1d6+2 rounds/no effect. Onset time: immediate. Elves immune] – This brownish-grey ooze is created from certain subterranean fungi, rather than produced by its undead namesake. Despite the subterranean source of the toxin, it mimics the effects of a ghoul’s touch quite well.

Magus Bane [Damage: feebleminded until poison is neutralized/no effect. Onset time: 1d6 rounds] –Feared by magic-users, this clear oil replicates the effects of a feeblemind spell. Like the spell, this toxin only affects spell-casters. Unlike the spell, a neutralize poison is all that is required to lift the effects of the toxin.

Nox Slap [Damage: Blindness for 1-10 rounds/no effect. Onset time: 1d6 rounds] – Named for the god of night, this black gel causes the victim to be struck blind, his vision slowly dimming as the poison works its way through his body. While only temporary, the effect can be terrifying to even the bravest warrior, especially as it sets in during a pitched combat.

Press Gang Punch [Damage: Slumber for 1-6 turns/no effect. Onset time: 1 round. Affects elves] – This orange oil is prized by the press gangs that prowl the piers of ports throughout the civilized lands. Quick and effective, even against the elven-blooded, press gang punch makes the chore of kidnapping unwilling sailors much quicker and easier than the traditional ale and blackjack technique.

Thief Sap [Damage: Convulsions for 1-20 rounds/no effect. Onset time: immediate] – Popularly used to trap locks when a thief is wanted alive, this sticky purple sap causes the victim to go into violent convulsions. The victim falls to the ground and foams at the mouth, his limbs twitch uncontrollably. Usually this creates enough racket to alert nearby guards, who then arrive to apprehend the thief while in this incapacitated state.


Timeshadows said...

Ooh, I do love an article on poisons. :D
--Looking forward to more. :)

Pukako said...

Having issues signing in here...

Anyway, if this actually posts, excellent work - frequently RPG poisons are either all fluff and background, with painfully basic effect mechanics, or a wonderful and reasoned barrage of effects with no description or context, but your work combines both the mechanism, and the actual poison very nicely.

More would be very nice...

Rick Marshall said...

Dear Mike,

Please do post follow-up articles. Poisons can and should be interesting, and you're doing a lovely job of making some that are.

Yours truly,

Michael Curtis said...

I wasn't going to rerun the sequel post, but your wishes are my commands.

Look for part II tomorrow.

Tacoma said...

Oh man. I've always loved adding interesting plants and substances into my D&D games, and the Druids and Rangers love it. This post kicks supplementary amounts of wild ass.

CAPTCHA: Mating. That's right.