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Chapter 4 - Saving Throws


There are many types of poison that various creatures use to subdue their prey. Most of these attacks give a Saving Throw to see if the poison affects a character. This saving throw may be delayed if the poison has a delayed onset time. The effects of the save go into effect at the end of the onset time.

Poison is an all-too frequent hazard faced by 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 certain giant frogs all have poisons deadly to characters. Wise characters quickly learn to respect and fear such creatures. The use of poison is restricted to neutral or evil characters. No one who holds himself as good may use poison, no matter how chaotic he may be. This restriction applies only to the use of poison on human or humanoid types; characters are not restricted in the use of poison upon non-human monster types but must still be careful of how it is used.

As Gandalf said in Lord of the Rings, "A treacherous weapon is ever a danger to the hand." This should be applied to those using poisoned blades. Until it has been washed completely clean of all traces of poison, the weapon that has been coated is dangerous to the user. Each time the weapon is drawn or returned to the scabbard, the wielder must save by rolling his dexterity or less (+1 to the roll for water soluble or +3 for contact poison) or take full poison damage. The user of a poisoned weapon must also roll his dexterity or less in every other round (for water soluble), or every round (for contact poison), that the poisoned weapon is used. If a number higher than the character's dexterity is generated, a nick or touch has occurred and the full effect of the poison is taken. Even though two hits may have been made with a weapon and no more poison damage can be given to victims when a hit occurs, unless the blade is washed the user will be unlucky enough to be struck by a part of the poisoned blade where toxin still lingers. Weapons once poisoned, therefore, must be washed, put away or abandoned after use, or they are more dangerous to the user than the victim.

Poison may be applied only to ordinary Iron or steel non-magical weapons. Silver will not hold poison; the magic radiating from such weapons will burn it off. Non-magic alloys of metal that are iron-based but are well made and have an advantage not associated with magic may be poison-treated. The process of treating metal with poison gives a dark discoloration to the blade. Any character seeing and recognizing this change in appearance, whatever his alignment, will join the fight against the user(s) of poison. Because of the limitations above. those monsters affected only by silver or magic weapons will be bothered only by contact or gas poison, unless they can be convinced to drink the ingested type.

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 only effective if swallowed; assassins favor these for doctoring food. By far the most deadly variety, however, is contact poison, which need only touch the skin to be effective.

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. Furthermore, 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.

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.

The table below rates poisons for three different factors--method, onset, and strength. Those poisons which commonly appear, such as that delivered by the sting of a giant centipede, are given a specific rating for convenience.

AInjected10-30 minutes15/0
BInjected2-12 minutes20/1-3
CInjected2-5 minutes25/2-8
DInjected1-2 minutes30/2-12
GIngested2-12 hours20/10
HIngested1-4 hours20/10
IIngested2-12 minutes30/15
JIngested1-4 minutesDeath/20
KContact2-8 minutes5/0
LContact2-8 minutes10/0
MContact1-4 minutes20/5
NContact1 minuteDeath/25
OInjected2-24 minutesParalytic
PInjected1-3 hoursDebilitative

Method: The method is the 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 neutralize poison doesn't recover hit points already lost to the effects of poison. In addition, characters with herbalism proficiency can take steps to reduce the danger poison presents to characters.

Dragon Magazine article to look over and add in gradually

DEC. 1979: #32 From AA to XX

There are three classes which may freely trade for or buy poisons with few restrictions. Alchemists alone can distill and manufacture poisons. Any magic-user, thief, or even assassin who is found to be manufacturing poisons is told once to cease and desist if he fails to do so, he will receive a visitor who will see to it that he stops permanently. Alchemists learn to make poison at one strength per level of experience up to the fifth, beginning with level 0, strength AA. At sixth level an alchemist can make strength S (sleep) poison that may be sold to any class or type. After sixth level he learns one poison strength for each two experience levels, through strength J at level 16. Type X poison may be manufactured only by an alchemist of 20th level and type XX only by an alchemist of 25th (or higher) level. Alchemists through 4th level may make only ingested poisons; through 8th level they may make ingested plus water-soluble poisons; and through 16th level they may also produce contact-type poisons, including poison gas.

Assassins are the main customers for the alchemist's toxins. These are powerful and dangerous men, powerful enough to dictate to alchemists and society at large who may obtain or use poisons. They will be able to obtain (at a price) the type and strength of poison they desire. Assassins do not have the skill, training, or inclination to spend hours developing poisons, and even if one should desire to learn the craft of poison development, it is forbidden by the Guild. Locksmiths are the ones who put poison needles and killer gases in chests and doors as traps. They received the blessing of the Assassins Guild so that the rich gentry could have their goods protected.

There are a few exceptions to this rule of thumb. All classes may use strength S sleep poison in all types in which this is available. Thieves may, upon payment of 500 gp per experience level to the Assassins GUild, purchase poisons of strength AA (up to 60 vials per game-year), A (up to 30 vials per year). or B (up to 15 vials per year). Magic-users who desire a more potent missile weapon may, after gaining permission of the Guildmaster of Assassins and paying the Guild 1.000gp per experience level, coat darts or daggers with strength AA (30 vials per year) or A (15 vials per year) poisons.

Thieves and magic-users may purchase poisons according to the strengths they are allowed: One strength B poison costs as much as two strength A or four strength AA poisons. These poisons are rigidly controlled by the Assassins Guild; the thief or magic-user must go to a clerk at the Guildhall of Assassins and tell him what strength of poison he desires to purchase.

The clerk checks the records, and if the character is allowed to purchase this strength, the clerk will give him what amounts to a prescription for the type and amount. This is given to an alchemist, who provides the poison. Any alchemist found to be selling higher-strength poisons to thieves or magic-users than they are permitted, or selling anything besides S strength sleep poison to other classes, will receive an ominous visit from a high-level member of the Assassins Guild.

Specific prices listed for various poison types later in this article are given in terms of price (in gp) for each hit point of damage possible, up to the maximum for the specific poison. Thus, a water soluble strength A poison that does 1-10 points of damage will be priced at 750gp per vial (75gp per point up to the maximum of 10), and a similar poison that does only 1-8 damage will cost 600gp - even though either one (or both) might only actually do one point of damage when it is used. The base price given is the selling price; 75% of this price is the cost to the alchemist for material, components, and helpers.

If the party discovers vials of poison in the dungeon and recognizes them as poisons, they may use them on monsters, give them away freely, or coat their weapons. But if they sell the poison at any price or to any class, even only to assassins, they will be the objects of a "hit" financed by the alchemists. The alchemists decide what poisons or types they wish to make, except for special jobs for a particular assassin (which they will do but charge double for). In this way, the alchemists control the manufacture and assassins control the distribution of poison.

Poison is sold in small vials. One vial of poison is enough to coat six arrowheads, or eight darts, or twelve needles, or one dagger or spear point. Two vials will coat twice as many small weapons as one or, if preferred, a short sword. Three vials will coat a longsword or broadsword, four will coat a bastard sword. five a two-handed sword. Each coating of poison lasts for two successful hits on targets and the maximum coats allowable per blade at one time is five. When swallowed, one vial acts as one dose.

Orcs, goblinoids, and other semi-intelligent types which use sharp weapons may use poison. but they should use only strength AA. or at most A. They produce this from fungi or plants which they encounter, but they do not have the skills to distill a more powerful toxin. If such a creature is in the employ of a powerful higher-level character who is evil, there is a chance for more powerful poisons up to C or 0 in strength.

Damage from poison is taken gradually, at a constant rate of "x" points of damage per round, where x is the minimum damage figure for that poison. This damage is taken each melee round until the accumulated damage equals the number originally rolled on the damage die (or dice). For example, strength J poison that does 5-100 points of damage would deliver 5 points of damage per round until the damage rolled is reached or death occurs. If a saving throw is made against poison of strength AA through J, the victim takes half the rolled damage, accumulating at the same rate as normal. A successful save against strength Xor XX poison causes the victim to take damage equal to half of his original (fully healed and rested) hit points. Thus, a victim can save against these poisons and still die, if he was down to less than half of his hit points to begin with. A save '15. S sleep poison acts as a slow spell for three rounds. Undead cannot be affected by strength S poison except to be slowed in this fashion, and if they make a save they will not be affected by the poison. Creatures that are naturally immune to sleep will also not be affected by sleep poison.

Poison strengths and types

AA: This type of poison does less than six points of damage. Suggested potencies are 1-3 points (dBKlh); 1-4 (dBxl,J,); 15 (d10Ky'!).
A6-10 points maximum damage. Suggested: 1-6 (dB);1-8 (dB); 1-10 (d10).
B11-20 points maximum damage. Suggested: 2.12 (2dB); 2-1B (2dB); 3-1B (3dB); 2-20 (2d10); 120 (d2O).
C21-30 points maximum. Suggested: 3-24 (3d8); 4-24 (4d6); 3-30 (3dl0); 5-30 (506).
D31-40 points maximum. Suggested: 4-32 (4d8); 6-36 (6d6); 4-40 (4d10); 5-40 (5d8); 2-40 (2d20).
E41-50 points maximum. Suggested: 7-42 (7d6); 6-48 (6dB); 6-48 (806); 5-50 (5010).
F55-60 points maximum. Suggested: 9-54 (9d6); 7-56 (7d8); 6-60 (80'0); ~ (3d2O).
G61-70 points maximum. Suggested: 8-64 (ad8); 11-66 (11d6); 7-70 (7d10).
H72-80 points maximum. Suggested: 9-72 (9d8); 12-72 ('2d6); '3-78 (13d6); 8-80 (8010); 4-&J (4d2O); 1O-&J ('Od8).
I81-90 points maximum. Suggested: 14-84 (14d6); 11-88 (11d8); 9-90 (9dl0); 1S.90 (15d6).
J91-100 points maximum. Suggested: 12~96 (12d8); 16-96 ('806); '0-'00 (lOd'O); 5-'00 (5020).

No alchemist will have for sale every type or strength of poison. If a certain poison is carried by an alchemist, he will carry only one poison of that type; for instance, an alchemist who had strength AA poison available might have either the 1-3 type or the 1-4 type, but not both.

Special poisons

XDelivers 10 points of damage per round until death occurs.
XXInstant death. This poison may be used only by a Master Locksmith, or by assassins with the Guildmaster's permission.
SSleep poison. Two rounds after being used, this acts as a Sleep spell on those creatures which are susceptible to sleep. No damage is taken.

If a Neutralize Poison or Slow Poison spell is cast after contact with the above special poisons, any effects already suffered cannot be reversed.


Antidotes are always ingested. They come in strengths AA through X, plus a sleep antidote. Antidotes are more stable than poisons, delivering a set number of points of poison protection per dose. Strength AA antidote neutralizes 5 points of poison damage, strength A 10 points, B 20 points, C 30 points, etc., up to 100 points for strength J antidote. Strength S antidote affects only sleep poison but also gives a +3 bonus on saves vs. sleep spells for the next four turns. The effects of sleep poison can also be neutralized by the consumption of an antidote of strength C or greater. Strength X antidote acts as a Neutralize Poison spell. Strength XX poison is also affected by strength X antidote, but in order to work the antidote must be taken no sooner than one round before and no later than one round after the XX poison is encountered.

The strength of the antidote taken is subtracted from the amount rolled for damage of the poison. If the resulting number is zero or less, the victim will suffer no adverse effects. The effects of an antidote last for four rounds after consumption.

For example: A victim is struck by a sword coated with strength C poison doing 5-30 points damage. and a 15 is rolled for damage. The victim drinks a type A antidote in the next round, and ends up taking 5 points damage from the poison (for the round before the antidote was consumed) while the other 10 points of damage is neutralized. Two rounds later the same victim is hit once more by the poison blade and 25 points of damage is rolled; 10 more points of damage are neutralized by the antidote, which is still active, and the victim takes the remaining 15 points (assuming another dose of antidote is not consumed). Any damage taken before consumption of the antidote or any damage beyond the strength of the antidote is unaffected by the antidote.

Regular antidotes cost 200gp per point of damage neutralized, strength S antidote costs 2000gp per dose, and strength X antidote costs 30,000gp per dose.

Poison types

Ingested: All types of poison have full effect if swallowed, but only this type of poison can be mixed with food or drink to full effect. All other types of poison give off an odor or change the color of the material they are mixed with; also, other types of poison are diluted to one-quarter strength if mixed. Only ingested poisons of strength S are available to non-assassins.

Strengths available to Assassins are AA - JJ plus Sand X. Price to assassins is 50gp per maximum points of damage done by the poison. S strength poison, if available to adventurers, costs 500gp per dose. Strength X poison costs 7,500gp per dose to assassins.

Water soluble: This type of poison is applied to blades, arrows, darts, or other objects. and when it contacts blood or bodily fluids it dissolves and does the appropriate amount of damage. If the user of this type of poison is rained upon, falls into a pit of water, or takes a swim, the poisoned blade had better be waterproofed in a scabbard or wrapped in waterproof cloth. or else when he needs the envenomed steel he may find a rather ordinary blade without the extra damage he is counting on. Strength S poison of this sort is usable by all party members; this is the sort sold to magic-users and thieves (see above).

Strengths available of this sort are AA - J plus X and S. Prices for most strengths are 75gp per maximum points of damage; strength S costs 750gp per vial, and strength X costs 11,250gp per vial.

Skin contact: This type of poison takes effect upon contact with the naked skin. This type of poison is"'2 to hit above the number needed for the weapon to hit. so that the poison may take effect even though no wound was sustained. This type of poison can do wonders as a trap, but a little goes a long way. Coins, gems and weapon hilts coated with strength XX skin contact poison and scattered about a dungeon level will soon kill even a high-level party, but it will almost as surely kill a campaign.

Strengths available are AA - J plus X and XX. Regular skin-contact poison costs 200gp per maximum points of damage; strength X costs 30,000 gp and strength XX costs 45,000 gp per vial.

Poison gas: This type of poison is carried as a liquid, and as soon as it is touched by air it dissolves into a gas. This gas spreads into a cloud 5' by 5' and affects up to four creatures, after which time enough of the toxin has been absorbed to neutralize further effects. If more than four creatures are within the cloud, the four which are closest to the center of the cloud are affected. If all of the poison is not breathed in it will last for five rounds, subject to wind, djinnis. etc. This type of poison is used in more valuable traps, and if somehow obtained it is favored as a missile weapon by adventurers. It may also be set on the dungeon floor and activated by missile fire from long range. Because of the small size of the vial, any missile weapon fires on it at -3 to hit {in addition to any called shot modifiers}.

Strengths available are F - J, plus S and XX. The price for regular poison gas is 500 gp per maximum points of damage; strength S costs 3,000gp per vial and strength X costs 67,500gp per vial.

The above listed prices should be considered minimums. Prices may go up as materials or equipment become scarce for any given poison strength or type of poison. The high prices for more powerful strengths help reinforce the idea that high-level poisons should be used only by high-level assassins and then only on the most dangerous (i.e., high-level) targets; otherwise, there is no profit to the assassin involved.